An anti-rape invention is making the rounds on FB again. Marcus Williams appreciates the appeal, but doesn’t think the product would succeed at stopping rape.
[Author note: It took me several attempts over three days to write this, scrapping more than one near-complete draft along the way. Ultimately, I'm indebted to a rape victim who wished not to be named for hopefully transforming my tone from defensive man, to man who understands and even agrees with the appeal of the subject matter, despite my objection to it on practical grounds. My heart and thanks go out to her, even if she doesn't read it or is ultimately disappointed by my take. --M.W.]
There’s an image I’ve been seeing making the rounds on Facebook lately, of a painful-looking invention being celebrated as an ingenious anti-rape device.
I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the blurb that usually accompanies the picture, but here’s the most recent version I’ve seen accompanying the pic on Facebook:
Rape has become endemic in South Africa, so a medical technician named Sonette Ehlers developed a product that immediately gathered national attention there. Ehlers had never forgotten a rape victim telling her forlornly, “If only I had teeth down there.”
Some time afterward, a man came into the hospital where Ehlers works in excruciating pain because his penis was stuck in his pants zipper.
Ehlers merged those images and came up with a product she called Rapex. It resembles a tube, with barbs inside. The woman inserts it like a tampon, with an applicator, and any man who tries to rape the woman impales himself on the barbs and must go to an emergency room to have the Rapex removed.
When critics complained that it was a medieval punishment, Ehlers replied tersely, “A medieval device for a medieval deed.”
- Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof
This is the kind of picture and narrative that always sends me running to Snopes.com for an analysis of how much is bullshit and how much might be true. This story gets a “Partly True” verdict from Snopes, which explains that the named inventor did indeed unveil the device for the first time in 2005, but that they could find no evidence that it ever went into production or is likely to do so. If anyone can find a confirmed case of one of these things actually being used and doing what it’s designed to do, please share the link in comments, but my Google search didn’t turn up any evidence that it ever made it past the prototype stage.
Aside from the reflexive “OUCH!!” reaction I have in common with many men when I see the picture, I have two separate aspects I react to. There’s the function it symbolizes, which I support and can empathize to some degree with the women who say enthusiastic things about it, and then there’s what I think of it’s real-world prospects, which I think are so bad it never will or should make it to market.
Symbolically, this thing represents a way to hurt a rapist the way he most deserves to be hurt, as a direct consequence of raping, so he’d be bringing it on himself. While this invention fits my idea of “cruel and unusual” and would bother me as an after-the-act punishment, I can’t say I’m troubled by the idea of a rapist being injured in this way, just like I’m totally cool with the idea of a rapist getting kicked in the balls out of self-defense. My hypothetical tolerance, though, is mild compared to how I think many if not most rape victims regard this thing. In a discussion about this device, one survivor of an especially vicious and violent rape confided to me that her raw reaction to this invention, and men who argue against it, was this:
So for all of human history men have carried a deadly weapon in their pants, and the minute we get something that barely evens the odds, that damages but cannot kill, guys are freaked out. How guys feel when they see that device, the fear that a sexual encounter could end in bodily harm, is how we feel all the time.”
Having been told of just some of the details of what happened to her, I can’t blame her for feeling that way, and on that symbolic level, where this invention is almost like anti-rape art, I share that feeling, albeit less intensely than someone who has actually been raped. Looking at the real-world prospects, though, I think this thing has far too many drawbacks and potential for failure to be a good idea.
One of the first problems that occurs to many men is that while few have any sympathy for a rapist getting “bit” by a RapeX, it could also be used by vindictive women to punish partners for whatever wrongdoing they decide merits some phallic mangling as retribution. I have seen it argued that it would be highly unlikely for that to occur because any remotely attentive lover would detect the device during foreplay and be able to remove it. Even ignoring how a man might react upon discovering the device that way, I think the argument fails in two ways: 1) Foreplay doesn’t always include the kind of contact or visualization of the vagina that would lead to detecting the device before penetration with the penis; and 2) Even if it would take an inept or selfish lover to miss it, it does not follow that he deserves the same fate, during consensual sex, as a rapist.
While the “innocent penis” argument is compelling to me and I would imagine most men, it’s not the only argument against this thing. I think the downsides are pretty obvious just by thinking about how it’s supposed to work in a best case scenario, and then how likely those best case scenarios are to achieve.
Imagine a woman wears this thing and it works exactly as designed – it incapacitates her rapist, she gets away, and he gets apprehended and imprisoned when he has to seek medical attention to have the RapeX removed. Maybe he’s even so physically damaged that he’s rendered physically incapable of ever raping again, and/or so tramautized that he’s too afraid to ever rape again. In such a scenario, the woman still got raped. It was cut short, which is good compared to a prolonged rape, but penetration still occurred if the rapist got snagged, so her rape was not prevented. In the best case scenario that rapist is prevented from going on to rape again, but the incident does not prevent other rapists.
For other rapists (i.e. any would-be rapist who has not encountered a RapeX) to be deterred by the RapeX, they would have to be aware that it exists, and concerned enough about how likely they are to encounter it to be worried. Paradoxically, if the awareness of RapeX is high enough to scare potential rapists, it’s also easy to simply check for and remove the device if they’re about to rape. Remember that attentive lover being safe from it? So would an attentive rapist.
In the ideal scenario, RapeX lets a victim get away. I can only speculate, but I would imagine that if a rapist was not completely incapacitated as hoped, or there were other attackers or accomplices present, or it was one of those careful ones that found and removed the device, it would not present an opportunity to escape, and it would increase the risk of bodily injury or death to the victim. This could be said of any attempt to resist that failed (screaming for help, struggling, etc.), but compared to those, I would expect a direct attack (or threat to attack) on a rapist’s penis would be even more likely to be met with violent retribution. The RapeX would not only increase chances of injuring the rapist, but also increase the risk of severe physical injury to the victim, beyond those normally incurred during a rape. I can even imagine a rapist who finds one cutting it, inverting it, and using it to inflict greater damage on the victim.
What are the health and hygiene implications of how to use this device? I don’t have any specific risks to cite, but one scary-ass looking prototype doesn’t establish that it would be safe, easy, and affordable to use.
Even if the ambient risk of rape is high, victims don’t know when and where it’s going to happen. Obviously, they can’t reach into their purse once a rape has begun to insert this thing, so using it would be like wearing a seatbelt—you wear it pretty much all the time just in case, so it’s there when you need it. That raises lots of questions:
- Is that something a lot of women are going to be willing to do—walk around with what is essentially an internal chastity belt most of the time?
- Is it comfortable enough to tolerate having in so much?
- Would there be risks of infection and toxic shock to contend with?
- If it has to be switched out with new ones periodically, would it be affordable?
- What are the implications for young girls? If women become “too dangerous” to rape, won’t young girls need to routinely use these to avoid becoming the most frequent targets?
- How extensive is the damage? Presumably, any soft tissue is at risk, not just rapist’s penises, so it seems likely that inexperienced or clumsy users (or their partners) might accidentally impale their fingers while trying to adjust or remove it. If, as the description suggest, the only way to get it off is surgery, that’s a pretty severe consequence for clumsy handling.
I might be wildly underestimating women’s willingness to use this if it were available, but I have a hard time imagining it catching on as just a routine thing women do as a rape countermeasure. It seems like a lot of hassle, expense, and potential risk to their own health—even without encountering a rapist—for a best case result that wouldn’t even prevent them from getting raped. I strongly doubt that even the most fanatical proponent of this device would support making its use compulsory, so I think the end result even if it was brought to market would be that very few women would adopt it into their regular routine.
However, many of those same risks and inconveniences that would deter regular use are not a factor for that first problem mentioned a while back, of women being able to use it intentionally to punish a non-rapist man—for whatever reason. For that kind of use, it would be like putting in a diaphragm before sex that was expected to occur, and it would be easier to lure an unsuspecting partner into penetrating the barbed sheath than a rapist. Even if RapeX was known as a popular anti-rape device, the unsuspecting partner wouldn’t feel any need for caution, and to ensure maximum penetration and damage on the first thrust, a woman could be sure to be all lubed up, unlike a rape scenario.
In terms of the logistics of it, I think it would work so much more effectively against a consensual partner than a rapist, and without all the day-to-day hassle of “just in case” use, that as much as I’d love to see rapists RapeX’ed out of circulation, I think the real-world prospects would harm women and non-rapist men a lot more than they would harm those rapists.
What do you think? Do you think I underestimate the prospects of much good this product could do if it ever made it to market? Do you think it poses a risk to non-rapist men? Would your reaction be similar to some kind of anti-rape-by-envelopment device, like a weaponized cock ring, or is there something special about the anti-penis kind of device?
Photo: Unverifiable image courtesy of Facebook