Recently you might have seen a video circulating Facebook about “anti-rape underwear ”.
The video, originally from the underwear’s manufacturer AR Wear, is not new. In fact this video has been kicking around since at least 2013, resurfacing for whatever reason in 2016, as well as in the last few weeks.
At face value I understand a lot of people would admire AR Wear for producing anti-rape wear.
“Wow,” you might say,
“Finally we are developing technology that can protect women from sexual assault. I feel totally safe walking home alone now.”
These aren’t the first “rape-preventing” devices to be developed either. Nail polish that can detect spiked drinks, anti-rape condoms, tampons with needles sticking out of them – these are just some of the many inventions created in an attempt to reduce sexual assault.
The developers of these products no doubt mean well. Trying to prevent women from being sexually assaulted? How noble is that?!
Unfortunately while anti-rape tech may be well intentioned, they fall into one of the biggest traps surrounding the combating of sexual assault. They put the responsibility of rape on the victim. They victim blame.
Let’s say it altogether now: it’s not the responsibility of the victim to prevent their rape.
We don’t all walk around wearing bullet-proof vests in case of gun violence. We don’t blame victims of one-punch attacks for not wearing helmets out to clubs. Still, companies keep producing anti-rape devices and in doing so shift the responsibility of sexual assault onto victims.
Moreover, many if not all anti-rape technologies ignore the fact that rape is not just unwanted vaginal sex that happens only to straight, cisgender women while walking home at night.
Men are raped. So are children. LGBTI+ people. Disabled people. Older men and women. Sexual or indecent assault is not just forced vaginal or anal sex, but also forced oral sex, groping and kissing. And the idea that rape only occurs down dark back alleyways is a dangerous myth that needs to stop. Most rapists are in fact known to the victim, with the rape itself occurring in the the house of the victim or rapist.
When you start to acknowledge the true reality of sexual assault, you begin to see why a simplistic fix such as anti-rape underwear really misses the mark. Unless everyone wears rape-preventative body stockings 24/7 from the time they’re born, technology that tries to prevent the act of rape (not the culture that causes it) are highly unlikely to make a meaningful impact.
Which is not to say technology cannot be used at all to reduce rape. But rather than making potential victims responsible for stopping sexual assault, technology needs to address changing the attitudes that can lead to rape, as well as supporting victims. Projects such as Hollaback!, SARA, Pandora’s Aquarium and Project Unbreakable have led the way in giving those who’ve been sexually assaulted a voice, as well as support and anonymous reporting options.
It’s 2017. We need to move past the idea that raped is stopped by giving women high-tech chastity belts.