In the past couple of weeks, my social media feeds have been flooded with news about new “anti-rape underwear” that was developed by a group of engineering students in India to protect women from rape. Apparently, this underwear is capable of sending out 82 electric shocks when pressure sensors are activated by a rape attempt, and is also equipped with GPS and can send out an SMS to the local emergency number, as well as the victim’s family.
This approach to prevent rape reminds me of the “female condom with teeth”, developed a couple of years ago by a doctor in South Africa. This device is essentially a condom that a woman inserts inside herself. Within the condom are jagged, sharp “teeth”, which will attach on a man’s penis during penetration in a very painful manner. Once the teeth have been lodged into the flesh, only a doctor can remove it – so not only does the man now have a condom with teeth stuck to his penis, but he can now also clearly be identified as an attempted rapist, given that women who were willing participants in a sexual act would probably have removed the device before engaging in consensual sex.
There is heated debate over these types of approaches towards curbing sexual violence, and for a good reason: Essentially, expecting women to wear electric shock underwear or insert devices with teeth inside their bodies puts the responsibility of not being raped on women and girls. In the end, there is only one way to stop rape: for men to stop raping women and girls, and for societies to stop coming up with excuses and justifications for sexual violence. Condoms with teeth or electric shock underwear are not a permanent solution – so by coming up with such approaches to “protect women”, are we just perpetuating the victim-blaming culture and the idea that rape is always somehow a woman’s fault, and that she could have and should have taken measures to stop it or prevent it?
I think the answer is everything but simple and straight forward.
Yes, these approaches do place the responsibility of preventing rape on women and girls. They do send out a message that preventing rape is up to women, and that there are measures women can and should take to minimize the risk of becoming a victim of sexual assault. Personally, I think that instead of constantly coming up with new ways to tell women and girls how to not get raped, we should switch our focus on telling men to just not rape, and holding them accountable if they do – period. In the end, that is the only way to prevent rape in a sustainable way, and that is the only way that truly respects women and girls.
On the other hand – in South Africa, where the condom with teeth was created, rape and sexual assault are rampant. According to recent statistics, over 60,000 rapes are reported to the police in SA every year, which is more than in India despite the huge difference in population. Given that only a fraction of rapes actually get reported, the real figure of rape and sexual assault cases in SA could be even ten-fold. In India, stories of rape and sexual assault are in the news every day – young girls, children, women, grandmothers. Being born a female in India is almost like having a target on your back. Victim-blaming is common place, and while the recent terrible case of the Delhi bus rape brought the prevalence of sexual crimes in India to the consciousness of the entire world, whether the recent changes to laws and policies to protect women will actually result in women and girls being safer remains to be seen. Without a major societal shift in attitudes, values, and thinking around rape and women’s and girls’ role in sexual assault, it is unlikely that neither SA or India will be able to curb the rampant violence against women and girls that both countries are currently struggling with.
So, given these realities of females in India, South Africa, and in countless other countries around the world – are devices like the condom with teeth and electric shock underwear still better than nothing? Despite the fact that they do promote an entirely backwards way of looking at rape prevention, is it still worth it if some women and girls are protected from rape and sexual attack by these devices?
These are not black-and-white issues. On a personal level, I strongly believe that it is not women’s and girls’ responsibility to not get raped. It should not be on our shoulders to take precautions to minimize our chances of being raped or assaulted, it is not women’s and girls’ fault if that does happen, and no amount of covering clothing, curfews, pepper spray, electric shock lingerie or condoms with teeth will prevent rape from happening as long as there are people who continue to choose to rape. Women and girls get raped despite their age, their race, what they are wearing, sober and drunk, in day light and at night time, by friends, relatives and strangers. We could be wearing a bra that has a machine gun built into it, and that wouldn’t stop rape and sexual assault as long as violence against women continues to be as broadly accepted and prevalent as it is in South Africa, India, and many other countries around the world.
However, I don’t know that it is like to live in constant fear of violence and assault. If I did, maybe I would choose to arm my body with every device that there is to make sure that I never become a victim, or that I never become a victim again if something has already happened to me. I wish no woman and girl ever had to do that, and I hope some day we will see a world where the responsibility of not being raped is not placed on women and girls any more. I wish to see a world where rape prevention becomes obsolete, because rape becomes obsolete. Unfortunately, we are still a long way from such world – so until then, are these kinds of measures justified? I really don’t know.
What do you think?