Sunday, July 18, 2010

Are anti-rape condoms "empowering"?

Okay, let's get serious here. Most of my posts are chock-full of fluff, bad puns, and sorry attempts at humor, but this post doesn't warrant any of my usual silliness. I recently came across something disturbing: it's called Rape-aXe, the anti-rape condom. The basic idea is that women can insert this "device" like a tampon and if she were to be, you know, violated, little barbs lining the condom would grab onto the perpetrator's you-know-what and cause mild discomfort. But since the only way to get rid of the thing is to have it surgically-removed, it would be incredibly easy to convict them.

This makes me uncomfortable on several levels, and I'll let you know why. First of all, I checked out Rape-aXe's
official website and was less than impressed. I find it hard to take any product seriously when its (should-be professional) website is littered with grammar and spelling mistakes:

The Rape-aXe anti rape condom was developed by a South African woman ,Sonnet Ehlers, after witnessing first hand the horrific aftermath of an sexual assault. She felt that something had to be done to stop this growing thread against woman. and start to work on the anti rape condom the Rape-aXe. The first prototype was launched on 31 August 2005, at Kleinmond, Cape Province, South Africa.
How are women supposed to respect and trust a product when its major marketing campaign seems to have been written by an 8-year-old? Not only is the site poorly written, it doesn't even make a strong case why Rape-aXe would be useful:

One of the major benefits of the Rape-aXe system is the fact that it helps in the prevention of the rape victim contracting an STD like HIV. An additional benefit of the anti rape condom is the fact that it helps in the prevention of unwanted pregnancies resulting from rape.
Correct my tenth-grade Health class education if it's wrong, but don't all condoms reduce the risk of unwanted STDs and pregnancies? Adding little, junk-grabbing "teeth" to the equation seems a little sadistic. Of course, that's not to say rape itself isn't an incredibly horrific and sadistic act.

I just can't help but think: what woman on the face of this earth would want to walk around wearing this thing? It's not as if she would have time to slip it in if (Heaven forbid) she were to be sexually assaulted. Does that mean she'd have to wear it all day, every day for it to be effective? What does that say about the condition of our world if women are seen as constant targets for rape? Has our society crumbled so much that we have to live in constant fear of being taken advantage of?

I think Victoria Kajja, a fellow for the Ugandan Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention, hit the nail on the head:

The fears surrounding the victim, the act of wearing the condom in anticipation of being assaulted all represent enslavement that no woman should be subjected to.
And back to a point I addressed in my essay Should men and women be treated equally?, I don't understand why so much time, energy, and money has been invested to make sure women protect themselves when a considerably less amount of time has been spent educating young people about the seriousness of sexual harrassment and abuse in the first place. It's like the situation with Middle Eastern women being forced to conceal themselves from head to toe because "men can't control themselves." Are we forced to live in fear because of the same reason? Not only is that the lamest excuse on the planet, it's a horrible insult to the men in our lives.

In short, I don't support Rape-aXe. It seems like a mediocre product that will never gain widespread acceptance. No woman - scratch that, no person - deserves to be violated or sexually abused, that much is certain. But in the case of this product, no woman deserves to walk around with a ticking time-bomb in her body, constantly tortured by the idea that she could be violated at any moment. What kind of life is that?

Want to read more? Check out this CNN article: "South African doctor invents female condoms with 'teeth' to fight rape."


  1. I don't know where to start because there is so much wrong with what you just said so I'll just focus on the main things...

    "Has our society crumbled so much that we have to live in constant fear of being taken advantage of?"

    Well fortunately our society hasn't, but this product was designed for use in the Congo where women are raped on a weekly basis and rape is a weapon used in a war. Most women living there have been raped hundreds of times. They live in fear of their lives, not fear of being taken advantage of.

    "no woman deserves to walk around with a ticking time-bomb in her body, constantly tortured by the idea that she could be violated at any moment. What kind of life is that?"

    It's their life, sadly.

    And yes, all condoms do go some way to preventing pregnancies and std's, but rapists in the congo don't generally wear them.

    I know where you are coming from, I think it would be awful too if we even had to consider wearing these things. They are not aimed at us lucky people. I think you should have thought more about who these were designed for before you wrote them off completely.

    I hope it never does gain widespread acceptance. Hopefully it will never need to. I cannot stress enough, these women are raped hundreds of times in their lives and sometimes have 10 children because of rape. When they are raped their husbands disown them. They are almost always battered and sometimes killed. If the men in the congo thought that every single woman was wearing one of these they would probably find some other way to torture them. These women are just trying to find ways to survive and I have to support them in trying.

  2. I can see where I came off as ignorant regarding women in other countries; for that I apologize. I always mentally cringe when I have to deal with ignorant people in my own life, so I have no excuse to act the same way.

    I made the mistake of having a very narrow focus when I wrote this article - I only thought of American women (like myself) and how they might feel having to walk around wearing this thing. In my defense, the Rape-aXe website doesn't emphasize its intended market. In fact, on one page Sonnett Ehlers suggests that the product should be worn "when you're meeting someone for a blind date" (and similar situations), so I immediately had an image in my mind of the type of woman expected to buy this thing.

    But you're right, as horrifying and sad as it is, Rape-aXe might be useful to women in other parts of the world who are constantly fighting for their lives. That's an angle I hadn't considered, but if I dare call myself a "humanist" - someone concerned for the rights of ALL people - I need to broaden my focus and address ALL women.

    I think I'll split this article into two parts: one side will be FOR the product, and the other will be AGAINST it. I'll try to cover both perspectives to the point that readers can make their own decisions.

    I appreciate you calling out my mistake.

  3. Well I'm mentally cringing now because I think I was perhaps too harsh earlier! So this has been a learning curve for both of us... I think your response to me showed just how broad minded and mature you are. Your blog is fantastic, so keep doing what you are doing :) I don't want to sound patronising or anything horrible like that, but if all teenagers were thinking critically and using their brains like you are, it'd be a very good thing

  4. I really appreciate that! But you had every right to be upset; I'll be rewriting this article as soon as I get the chance.

    If everybody could learn from each other and compromise like we have, it would ALSO be a very good thing :)

  5. The July 21 "anonymous" commenter offers a good point concerning the market for this product. However, the actually utility of this product may not change at all.

    Put yourself in the shoes of a lawless, malicious, brutalizing male who intends to rape you. What do you think is going to happen when he pulls out of you with a penis that is bleeding and an excruciating toothed object that won't come off? You think he's just going to run away crying? No, he's going to get really angry in the heat of the moment and beat you to death for your trickery.

    I'd rather be raped than killed. And murder is the only imaginable outcome of the Rape-aXe.

    For that reason alone NO ONE should use this anti-rape condom. But furthermore, if men knew that women might be wearing this, then the answer is simple: just rape them in the anus instead. Sadly, that makes it even easier for STD's to spread.

    So no, I don't see any reason why this product should ever be used.

  6. @blakerivers - I agree. If a man was in pain and realized the thing wasn't coming off, would he turn docile all of the sudden, leaving the woman alone? He already raped her, for God's sake, he's not above treating her sadistically. I shudder to think how a man might act in that situation...


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