Can’t we do better than anti-rape devices?

We need to stop trying simple fixes for a complex problem

senior citizens alarm button isolated on white background

As a society, we love technology. It’s exciting, it’s interesting, it’s making all of our lives easier in little ways by solving bigger problems, and problems we didn’t even know were problems, but they sure are in hindsight now that technology has solved them. But when it comes to the problem of sexual assault, is turning to technology really the best avenue? Is it a very superficial way to try and fix a very deeply ingrained societal problem that requires much more attention and effort? Yes. But people still try it. The most recent attempt is from two students at the University of North Carolina who are working on a high-tech anti-rape device for university campuses. The device is at the moment called PRO(TECH)T (clever name) and it’s essentially a wearable panic button that when held down for three seconds sends an alert to campus police.

There are many devices and technological innovations like this on the market which purport themselves as rape ‘prevention’ technologies. They range from the well-intended but misguided to the realms of insulting and “please tell me this is a joke.”

The line of things available ranges from drug detecting nailpolishes and anti-rape belt buckles, to weaponised condoms and underwear designed to shock attackers. This isn’t even mentioning the endless deluge of personal safety apps. Then there’s the things that have to be seen to believed for their lack of understanding and delicacy, like the hairy tights developed in China that make you want to slam your head against a wall, or this mind-boggling anti-rape dress which will disguise you as a vending machine. A fucking vending machine.

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Products like these, it should be noted, are probably very rarely released with bad intentions, but they’re misguided, and they indicate a bigger problem in our attitude towards and understanding of sexual assault. It should also be noted that women who want to buy these products are in no way at fault, nor do they deserve ridicule: I, like anyone, want to feel safer, and sometimes even the smallest things that will help you feel like you can go about your day without a sense of imminent danger are nice to have.

But these devices do leave me with a bad taste in my mouth and an uncomfortable sinking feeling in my stomach for a number of reasons. For one thing, they contribute to this oddly singular cultural vision of rape as something that happens when a woman is walking alone and is set upon by a man she doesn’t know. In such a situation, maybe apps and the PRO(TECH)T device could be useful, if the victim is actually able to get access to them. However, statistics show that around 90% of victims already know their attacker, suggesting that most of these attacks won’t take place in a place where the victim will be alert to any danger and poised to use their device or app, not when they’re with someone they think they’re able to trust.

The idea that there is only one narrative for rape needs to stop. Assault and consent are much more complicated than the situation presented by these devices, and it’s the creation of singular narratives like this, the attitude that they’re the most common way that rape occurs, that leads to a misguided understanding of what rape actually is.

Is this honestly the best solution? Image via the huffington post

Not only this, these products continue to place the responsibility for attack on the victim. It’s bad enough that rape is an established and common enough occurrence that people have manage to create a consumer market for it, and it’s worse that some of them actually have the gall to say they’re rape “prevention” products, because it shows a massive lack of understanding for what the word “prevent” actually means.

If a woman has all these things and they fail her, will this be held up against her in court? Will the fact that they didn’t work, when they’re supposed to “prevent” such an attack, be used to argue that she wasn’t actually raped? Or will the fact that a woman hasn’t purchased any products like this be used against her in attempt to say that she’s not invested enough in her personal safety and was (shudder) “asking for it”? “Well no wonder she was attacked, she didn’t have her anti-rape pants, her safety app, and her high-powered cock block blaster hooked to her chastity belt.”

None of these products prevent sexual assault, they just try to help women avoid it; they might as well be advertised as “don’t prevent, just circumvent.” But no matter what they buy, wear, or do, the fault isn’t with the victims. It’s always with the attackers. At the rate we’re going there’ll be anti-rape wearables and fashion lines – there’ll be anti-rape everything except society. The answer isn’t products, it’s attitudes: it’s a world where people are educated to understand that the bodies of other people are not theirs, and their actions are their responsibility, not anyone else’s.

Besides this, most of these products are targeted at women. I don’t know if this is because there’s a belief that men don’t get raped, or whether the people who create these products believe that men should be able to protect themselves without any technological assistance. It doesn’t really matter- we just need to understand that men can be raped too. Everyone is a potential victim, and pretending otherwise will only lead to the perpetuation of the problem.

I’m not saying these products shouldn’t exist at all just because they can’t stop rape. They do have their place, and if they help even one person then they’re worth creating – but it just seems so hopeless. Product after product adds to the  “don’t be a victim” narrative, rather than the “don’t be an attacker” attitude we should have, and right now they feel like all women have. All these things do is add to the self-blame, the blame from others, the general atmosphere of victim blaming that is just not okay. Sexual assault is not a problem that has a simple, quick fix, because it’s not a simple problem. You can’t go on Dragons’ Den and end rape.

I can’t help but wonder when we’ll acknowledge this hard truth and address the root of the problem, the perpetration of the violence, rather than trying to invent our way out of it.

Main Image: iStock © JamieRogers1