COLUMN: Although sadistically satisfying, Rape-aXe isn't enough to stop rape

Friday, July 23, 2010 | 1:30 p.m. CDT

It’s time to hang up your vuvuzela. The World Cup is over.

Being the sports fan that I am not, I only read a handful of news articles about the World Cup. Most of these reads resulted from my piqued curiosity after someone told me about Rape-aXe, a female condom equipped with sharp barbs that catch rapists' penises, and how 30,000 of them were being distributed to women during the World Cup because of the high rape rate in South Africa.

Rape-aXe was developed by Sonnet Ehlers, a South African woman who worked as a blood transfusion technician, after she treated a woman who had been raped. Rape-aXe’s website states that Ehlers was inspired to create the condom after the woman told Ehlers, “If only I had teeth down there.”

So, Ehlers did just that. She created a latex female condom with teeth that is inserted with an applicator, much like a tampon. After the condom has latched onto the rapist, it must be removed surgically by a doctor, which essentially incriminates the rapist. The condom’s barbs don't pierce the skin, so there's no risk of bleeding that could lead to contracting a sexually transmitted disease, such as HIV, but they are also painful enough to stop the rapist from being able to walk or urinate. 

My initial thought about Rape-aXe: Awesome. Rapists deserve the punishment it dishes out. Yes, Rape-aXe looks like a medieval torture device, but as Ehlers states, " ... it's for a medieval deed that has been around for decades." After recently watching the movie "Teeth," a terrifying flick where a woman with vagina dentata, a toothed vagina, bites off the penises of men who have wronged her, even Rape-aXe seems tame. Quite tame, in fact, compared to the amount of rape occurring in South Africa.

Human Rights Watch published in 2009 that South Africa has the highest rate of rape reported to police in the world, and arrest and conviction rates are extremely low, which contributes to the normalization of rape in culture. The study found that 28 percent of South African men surveyed had raped a woman or girl. One in 20 said they had raped in the past year.

Also in 2009, the BBC reported that the same research council found that one in four South African men surveyed said they raped someone. More than half admitted to repeated attacks. Three out of four first raped when they were teenagers. Scarier still, men said that gang rape was common because it is considered a form of male bonding.

Justice aside, women in South Africa have difficulty accessing health care once they’ve been raped, according to Human Rights Watch. They face delays in medical treatment and an absence of counseling services. If it works as billed, Rape-aXe would lead to more arrests. If the threat is great enough, it could deter the crime from being committed in the first place.

But here’s the problem with Rape-aXe: It claims to be an anti-rape device, but in order to work, penetration has to occur. If a rapist has already gotten this far, chances are the victim has been beaten, restrained and hurt. Rape-aXe is wonderful because it stops the attack, gives the victim a chance to get away, prevents disease and marks the rapist. But it doesn’t stop the woman from being hurt — physically or emotionally. It's not going to stop rape.

There’s also the claim that it chains women to wearing this device for protection. The problem with rape is not that women aren't trying to prevent rape from occurring. The problem with rape is the rapist.

Rape will never stop, and women should take precautions to prevent it. You will never see me walking alone on public streets at night without my pepper spray in hand and my finger on the trigger. But carrying pepper spray is not a big inconvenience. Wearing razor-sharp barbs in my vagina is. Although I'm sure it's empowering to wear a weapon in your female sex organ, it's also a constant reminder of your vulnerability.

If the rape rate is so high where I am living that using Rape-aXe is my only option, sign me up. But it seems more sensible to change our attitudes about violence against women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2008, out of 9,684 U.S. adults surveyed, 10.6 percent of women reported experiencing forced sex. Earlier this month, The Maneater’s Samantha Sunne talked to the Columbia Police Department to get its take on the condom. Columbia Police Department spokeswoman Jill Wieneke said she thought the condom wouldn’t make it in the U.S. because the rate of stranger rape isn’t as high as in South Africa. Rape is committed in the U.S. by acquaintances of women when the women don't expect it.

Still, in countries like South Africa, Rape-aXe has the potential to help a lot of women, but only as a short-term solution. Rape-aXe isn't anti-rape. It's a last resort. In addition to thinking about how women can protect themselves against rape as it's happening, we should also be focusing on how we can stop rapists from raping in the first place. Idealistic, I know, but attitudes toward violence against women need to change in order to decrease the number of rapes that occur each year. Rape-aXe can take care of the men who need to learn the hard way.

Amanda Woytus is the managing and calendar editor for Vox Magazine and a copy editor for the Missourian.

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Mike Martin July 23, 2010 | 4:17 p.m.

Interesting and well-told.

But as I've heard many an editor say, "although this is a fascinating story, it doesn't fit into our editorial mission."

I applaud the J-school for opening the op-ed pages to students, and their columns are usually well-written and insightful.

But this column is one in a series of recent student-written op-eds that have had little or nothing to do with the Missourian's editorial mission -- local issues.

George Kennedy -- and to a lesser extent, Hank Waters at the Trib -- are the only columnists writing much about local issues, and that's a shame, especially in this age of hyper-local journalism as a hedge against declining newspaper economics.

How about a student-written op-ed on the implications of local businessman Dave Griggs pushing REDI toward the IBM deal while benefiting his own company?

How about a student-written op-ed on the sewer-billing scandal, or those odd, un-apologetic comments in the Missourian from presiding commission candidate John Sam Williamson, about why he didn't pay his property taxes?

This John Sam story is filled, in fact, with personal contradictions and political gaffes -- in other words, it's a gold mine of potential op-ed issues:

Getting students up to speed on county, city, and university governance; local business; and local personalities, so that they are well-informed and interested enough to tackle them on the op-ed page would be refreshing -- and, I think, more relevant to the Missourian's editorial mission.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro July 23, 2010 | 5:49 p.m.

Bear traps in the vagina? Are these women licensed?
This article about South African culture and their third world solution should be in National Geographic.

On the local front, the only Christian thing that this article might yield is some "born again" virgins at the fraternities and dorms.
As for me, I'm certain that tonight I will have nightmares of the Langoliers.

Whatever happened to the good old fashioned chastity belt and avoiding unsafe people?

Potential violence surrounds us all.
Don't get drunk or stoned, don't behave improperly and avoid situations which puts you in harms way.
Learn to defend yourself and try not to live in fear.
(And stay out of South Africa.)

(Report Comment)
Matt Pearce July 23, 2010 | 6:05 p.m.

Mike: In Amanda's defense, rape is always a local issue.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking July 23, 2010 | 6:22 p.m.

I've never heard of an armed woman being raped.

Perhaps, rather than this probably uncomfortable and expensive "condom", women would opt to learn self defense, and learn how to shoot. Rape is a crime of opportunity, like many others, and removing that opportunity through preparedness would greatly decrease the rape rate.

Unfortunately I'm thinking South Africa has a ban on citizens carrying guns. Am I right?


(Report Comment)
Danielle Rodabaugh July 23, 2010 | 10:16 p.m.

Unfortunately the issue here should not be what women need to do to best protect themselves against rape, but, as Amanda suggests, how to change worldwide views regarding rape, whether over in South Africa or here in our community. Her point should be well-taken: it's not the responsibility of women to take precautions to protect themselves against rape via condoms with teeth, pepper spray, or self-defense classes. It is the duty of our men, as well as all members of society, to act respectfully toward women (and other men) and speak out against such a crime. No matter the scenario, rape is an atrocity that can never be justified.

(Report Comment)
Spencer Engel July 24, 2010 | 8:26 a.m.

You guys are missing the point. Sure, a woman can take self defense classes, carry mase, etc (both of which are surely more expensive than the teeth condom, Mark Foecking, if cost is your main worry). The problem is that there are so many sexual deviants out there in the first place, especially in South Africa, because the culture doesn't necessarily discourage it.

And although the condom seems somewhat effective (and extremely painful to us penis-owners), it's not going to stop rapists from forcefully shoving their member into alternate orifices in their victims. I believe that rape should be prosecuted just as aggressively as murder, and I'm all for giving rapists that chemical that keeps them from ever having the ability to get another erection. Also, and this applies to S. Africa mainly but also the U.S. in a way, the culture has to change. I'm not sure how to go about it, but I know that as long as men (and women; women rape too, you know) view sexual conquests as a notch on his or her belt, then crazy Medieval inventions such as the teeth condom will keep evolving while the rape culture still persists.

p.s. Mike Martin, that stuff you mentioned made me fall asleep halfway through your comment. You have a blog; you can write about that mundane crap. Great column, Amanda. Books/BoB for life.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin July 24, 2010 | 10:41 a.m.


Your profile indicates you're a Missourian reporter who has written twelve local news stories. Is that true? If so, I'm shocked you find that important local issues are "mundane crap" that "put you to sleep." Why are you working at a local newspaper?

(Mace, btw, is not spelled with an "s.")


Any national or world issue -- like rape -- is also a local issue. But especially in today's digital news environment, we can get news and opinion about national and world issues everywhere. We can only get local news locally.

Occasional columns about non-local issues are great. But here's a recent Missourian selection, all from this month. Where's the editorial direction?

COLUMN: Reliving 'Now! Vol. 1' a delightfully tacky trip

COLUMN: Lip balm is insidious, evil, makes me feel so good

COLUMN: USA lacks love for soccer

COLUMN: 'Twilight' never sounded so good

COLUMN: Improved intelligence just an outdoor activity away

COLUMN: God's the eternal trash remover

COLUMN: Twilight is not for lovers

(Report Comment)
Amanda Woytus July 24, 2010 | 11:49 p.m.

Everyone, thank you for reading and for your thoughts. I generally try to stay out of the comments section of the Missourian, but there are some things I'd like to clear up.

Mr. Martin, I'd like to preface what I'm about to say with this: I realize that if you would like to see more columns about local issues, others probably do, too. I’m happy to work on that for the future.
That said, you’re right that my columns are not always hyperlocal. In the case of my strip club bill column, I took a hyperlocal angle. In this case, not so much, though I do always try to spell out what my topic of choice means for Columbia women.
My mission for these columns is to write about issues that concern women; to give women a voice on the opinion page. The fact that it was suggested I dump this topic in order to write about sewer bills kinda proves the point of the column: Our attitudes about these issues need to change. Is a column about CoMo sewers more local? Sure. I’ll even grant you that it’s an important issue. But is my column worthless? Should they be trashed completely? I’d say not.
(P.S. — National Geographic declined to comment on my column. ((That was a joke.)))

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking July 25, 2010 | 4:06 p.m.

Danielle Rodabaugh wrote:

"It is the duty of our men, as well as all members of society, to act respectfully toward women"

I agree with you. Unfortunately, getting that to happen has a pretty small chance of success. Practically, empowering women through knowledge of self defense is something any woman can do, and does not depend on the education of one's fellow humans.

Many times, it's quite a bit more effective for at risk individuals to prepare for a risk, than it is to remove that risk. Even this Rape-aXe condom can help, but a knowledge of self defense, arming oneself where practical, and situational awareness, can also help prevent crimes to the person other than rape.


(Report Comment)
Betsy Murphy August 2, 2010 | 8:48 a.m.

Considering that our local prosecutor's office has gone on record (in the Missourian) for not prosecuting rape UNLESS it's stranger rape, this might be a good item to stock in the MU bookstore...

(Report Comment)

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