Does an Anti-Rape Device Solve the Problem?
The Rape-aXe -- also called the "rape trap" -- is like a female condom... with bite. Inspired by a rape victim who said, "If only I had teeth down there," the device was created by South African woman Sonnet Ehlers.
How It Works
It's fairly simple. The woman inserts the device before going out -- to work, to school, or to visit family or friends. (With 1.7 million women raped each year in places like South Africa, this might not be such a bad idea.)
The hollow inside of the device has inward-facing barbs. These barbs would latch onto the attacker's penis in the event of rape. To add insult to injury, the device would not be removable except by surgical procedure.
It is easy to see why a device like this might be desirable. With millions of women raped every year across the planet, this is a cheap and quick way to "give women their power back," according to Ehlers. Often governments are slow to move in prosecution of rape, and rape victims are often disempowered socially and culturally, as well.
Critics have stated that the device is "medieval" and takes us back to the days of chastity belts, that it is vengeful or man-hating. Lisa Vetten from the Center of Violence and Reconciliation in Johannesburg rightly points out, "It is a terrifying thought that women are being made to adapt to rape."
Ehlers responds by saying this is a "medieval device for a medieval deed."
There is also the concern that the Rape-aXe could incite further violence, but the hope is that the extreme pain would distract the rapist long enough that the woman would have a chance to get away.
Personally, I see no problem with medieval-style torture of rapists. The device is not man-hating; if anything, it is rapist-hating. I do, however, see two problems with the device that are much bigger than those many critics have pointed out.
1. If the Rape-aXe device becomes popular, there is nothing to stop a rapist from simply checking to see if the woman is wearing one before raping her. If he finds it before it traps him, he will be even more enraged and prone to violence to "get back at her" for trying to hurt him. A similar problem could happen in the event of a gang rape, where the woman would receive a serious beating (or worse) for so badly injuring the first of the men to rape her.
2. More importantly, though, the device puts the responsibility on the woman to not get raped (as opposed to the responsibility being on the man to not rape). If these are on the market and a woman gets raped, people can say, "Oh well she wasn't wearing a Rape-aXe so it's her fault." And if a woman is wearing one, then the attitude is, "She was expecting to get raped." That's a no-win situation for the woman.
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The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that this device (and others like it) does not solve the problem. Supposedly it is currently sold in drug stores in South Africa. And while it is nice to try to give women back some power, there is a fundamental imbalance in power that is causing the rape (or allowing it to happen) in the first place.
The South African government (and, indeed, all governments) must not be slow to act in the case of reported rape. Punishments should be harsh enough to deter rapists from raping at all. Hopefully the Rape-aXe does not give governments a false sense that they have less responsibility since women are taking matters into their own hands. If anything, the emergence of devices like this is proof that governments are not doing enough to prevent rape.