I feel like until we address this culture of rape head-on and teach folks not to rape, we are going to continuously head down the rabbit hole of ill-conceived rape prevention ideas.
Take for instance, this Indiegogo campaign for a line of anti-rape apparel called AR Wear. That’s right, clothing to prevent you from being sexually assaulted. There is a demo video, which presents what an anti-rape garment would look like. According to the pledge page, an “innovative skeletal structure” along with the cut-resistant thigh material and straps, webbing, and “unique” combination waistband lock, makes the garments both ergonomic and functional. And in terms of fashion, the garments actually look pretty normal. For example, there are workout pants, and shorts, and more shorts…basically, right now it’s just workout pants and shorts. However, the creators are planning on introducing an entire link of apparel, “suitable for different situations and the styles of individual users.”
So far, AR Wear has raised nearly 20k out of the 50k it is asking for through Indiegogo. Writes the AV Wear team on its pledge page:
“We believe that the tools of self-defense currently available are not effective in many common settings of sexual assault. Training in martial arts or products such as pepper spray, tear gas, stun guns, etc. can only help if the potential victim is extremely alert and bold when an attack occurs. Worse still, products of self-defense can be taken from the victim and used against her. We read studies reviewing the statistics of resisting assault, whether by forceful or non-forceful means. We learned that resistance increases the chance of avoiding a completed rape without making the victim more likely to be physically injured. We concluded that an item of clothing that creates an effective barrier layer can allow women and girls to passively resist an attacker, in addition to any other form of resistance they may be able to carry out at the time of an assault.”
After reading the pledge, part of me weeped on the inside at how pervasive sexual assault is in society, to the point that we are seriously contemplating the validity of anti-rape clothing for women. But as also pointed out on the pledge page, there is plenty of research to support their claims of various resistance strategies and fending off sexual assault. We are definitely at a point in society where these conversations need to happen. But isn’t it kind of self-defeatist and pessimistic to put the onus of rape prevention on those who are likely to be the victim? I mean, can we get a crowd-surfing campaign on a radical new project, which teaches potential predators not to rape instead?
And there are other concerns too. Like, how cost accessible is such a product to every woman on the market? In order for it to be effective they have to be reasonably priced. While the anti-rape garments still appear to be in the prototype stages, a hint about its potential selling point comes by way of the special gifts the company will give to potential funders. More specifically, for a donation of $1,000 or more, AR Wear will provide the equivalent in apparel at 30 percent off discount of any AR Wear garment to a “charitable organization that provides anti–sexual violence services,” which “will help get AR Wear to women and girls who do not have the means to buy it themselves.” While the company’s efforts at getting some of these potentially helpful garments into the hands of women and girls should not go unnoticed, clearly price is a consideration. And without an accessible price, we are essentially making rape prevention a matter of luxury and exclusivity than getting the bottoms to one who might be in need of protection the most.
And then there is the fact that rape, most times, is not a crime of stranger danger. In most instances, sexual assault occurs among people who are already acquainted with each other. Perhaps even a person for whom you might already know or share some ancestry with? When Apple iPhone 5s first came out and announced the new fingerprint identity sensor, cheating spouses and partners across the world high-fived and celebrated with their misters and mistresses at the prospect of being able to sext each other without getting caught. That was until a team of German hackers cracked the security feature a week later. Point I’m making here is that nothing is fool proof. Even armored trucks and museums with priceless works of art get robbed too – sometimes successfully. Unfortunately, some industrious perpetrator will find a way to figure out how to get these pants off (even if it’s through the time-honored practice of coercion). And I would hate to see the position a woman is in who just so happens to be sexually assaulted while wearing her supposed Anti-Rape running shorts. Law enforcement, prosecutors and juries, as is, still use evidence regarding victim’s use of resistance to evaluate the legitimacy of a victim’s claims that the sexual act was non-consensual. Can you imagine the legal difficulties – and more importantly, traumas – when the alleged rapist, along with his defense attorneys, try to argue that the victim’s cracked anti-rape waist lock is proof of consent?
Then there are my concerns about potential abuse by overly-protective parents and abusive spouses/boyfriends, who could turn AV wear into their own personal chastity belt. And there are also my concerns about the lack of safeguards in place to deal with emergency responders, who might find themselves impeded in their ability to save a victim’s life due to their inability to break through the security of the garment; and then there is the big elephant in the room: What about the men and boys? Sexual assault is not gender specific so why should anti-rape garments be?
As noble as a gesture as it is, these rape pants have the potential of lulling women and girls into a false sense of security at absorbent prices. Sure, prevention and resistant strategies are all beneficial, but they should be part of a larger and more comprehensive approach to preventing sexual violence – and not be seen as a solution.