I cannot place myself in the shoes of a rape victim. I cannot begin to imagine the blinding fear that comes with walking the streets of Johannesburg, or the pangs of helplessness, hopelessness, and indiscriminate fury that rape victims attempt to deal with. I cannot relate to those who have felt like they have had their humanity violated, their decency trampled, and their norms of order and stability stripped down violently in an act of shameful cowardice.
I would rather be angry. I would rather lash out at the societal hierarchy and cultures of violence that breed such despicable violence. I would rather champion the greater need for women advocacy and stronger law enforcement measures. I would rather use the mounting and growing global concern over the rape epidemic to approach social and political change with an unbridled sense of urgency. However, I would not support Sonette Ehlers creation of the anti-rape condom Rapex. Launched in August of 2005, the device attempts to protect women against the snowballing rape rates in South Africa, documented at 50,000 a year in 2005 and claimed to be nearly 4 times as high as that. This preventative condom is marked by hooks and barbs that lock into place upon penetration. The rapist allegedly will only be able to remove the device from his penis surgically. Sonette Ehlers, the mastermind behind the device, plans on marketing Rapex at the price of regular condoms in stores across the country.
It is not difficult to understand where Ehlers or other advocacy groups who have championed this device are coming from. I can understand the frustration with a system with no help to offer, a crisis with no end in sight, and a population left with no answers. But Ehler’s anti-rape condom is not the answer. It is not a step forward, or even a temporary solution. Rapex will only exacerbate the very problem it hopes to remedy: women’s safety.
A rapist does not think in terms of sex, but in terms of power. The act is a means to an end: an emotional high that quenches his depraved desires. Rapists are not going to concede defeat and walk away when this power is stripped from them. They will try to regain it, and the heightened struggle could very easily spiral into deadlier forms of violence. South Africa is especially notorious for high rates of gang rape. What is to be said for women’s safety when these anti-rape condoms only protect against one instance of rape at a time? Violence breeds violence and the history of rape is riddled with examples of rapists using other paraphernalia. The possibility of skirting Ehler’s invention is far from an unlikely scenario.
What is to be said for women’s safety when these anti-rape condoms only protect against one instance of rape at a time? Violence breeds violence and the history of rape is riddled with examples of rapists using other paraphernalia.
Not only does Rapex carry glaring questions of effectiveness but also, in a more dangerous way, may undercut the success of rape education and social reform. Even in the face of safety criticisms, many would argue that the system has failed and that it’s up to women to arm themselves. However Rapex serves to further normalize the acceptance of rape by conceding the shift in action to the women themselves. If any good at all may come out of the Rapex controversy, it would be the fact that it brings the desperations of South African women to the forefront. Hopefully that in itself will catalyze the needed reforms, resources, and education that are vital to approaching the epidemic from a long-term perspective. However, the distribution of the anti-rape condoms will undermine that cause by feeding on base desires for cure-alls and for retaliatory vindication. Rapex will be the story fed as the necessary response to a situation that transcends the act of rape to the emotional, psychological, socioeconomic, and political issues that are spiraling South Africa further and further into this epidemic. I cannot criticize the urge to respond with such an invention but I also cannot accept the message it sends. When broken down, Rapex is little more than a concession of defeat that admits the futility of inspiring policy and normalizes the desperation with which women in South Africa need action now. I think measures need to be conveyed, but there is no chance that Rapex is the answer. Rape education and treatment are two of the most fundamental issues. Rapex not only will fail at its own purported claims but will back-track the cause even further.
A sense of urgency without perspective is pointless. Neither are short-sighted, ineffective, and inflammatorily conceived devices.