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.