Sonnet Ehlers, a doctor in South Africa, has designed, patented, and manufactured an "anti-rape female condom" with the unambiguous brand name Rape-aXe. Women who believe they are at high risk of being raped insert the device into themselves like a tampon, and wear it around indefinitely as a form of protection when anticipating risk. The "teeth" inside cause intense pain and potential injury to a male upon penetration, and basically clamp down, making exit from the device painful. The thing does leave damage. Snip:
I'm not sure how I feel about this. The design is ingenious, and it's certainly an interesting thing to talk about in a blog post. But I think I agree with the concerns of critics who say the device isn't a real solution to the problem of rape, and I worry that it could place the women who use it at higher risk for violence from men who find their "parts" trapped in the thing. Without getting too graphic here—other forms of sexual assault are still possible. And beyond that, the idea of carrying this thing around inside one's body is very strange:
Ehlers said she sold her house and car to launch the project, and she planned to distribute 30,000 free devices under supervision during the World Cup period. "I consulted engineers, gynecologists and psychologists to help in the design and make sure it was safe," she said. After the trial period, they'll be available for about $2 a piece. She hopes the women will report back to her.
It's also a form of "enslavement," said Victoria Kajja, a fellow for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the east African country of Uganda. "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."
"It not only presents the victim with a false sense of security, but psychological trauma," she added. "It also does not help with the psychological problems that manifest after assaults."
That said, have I come up with a better solution?
I can't fault the device's inventor for at least trying to help women at risk for sexual assault, even if she's doing so in a way I might find odd, imperfect, or unorthodox. Her country, South Africa, has one of the highest number of rapes per capita in the world:
A 2009 report by the nation's Medical Research Council found that 28 percent of men surveyed had raped a woman or girl, with one in 20 saying they had raped in the past year, according to Human Rights Watch.
The product website is here, and the FAQ page is pretty intense. This page includes a surreal and explanatory Flash video. The Rape-aXe website includes a "Links" page which bizarrely points to a single external website: a South African resort which is "a haven for bird watching and fly fishing." Not sure what the message is there.
(Images courtesy of Dr. Ehlers / Thanks, Frikkie Terreblanche!)