In no-this-is-not-a-joke news, one of the latest innovations in technical fashion is AR Wear – a series of garments designed to prevent rape.
Early prototypes include underwear, shorts and running pants; outfitted with leg and waist straps that make it extremely difficult for another person to shift them, and a combination lock to prevent their removal. Over at The Guardian, Vicky Simister calls AR Wear the "modern day chastity belt" and she isn't far off: AR Wear literally locks up your crotch.
As ludicrous as anti-rape pants may seem to some, AR Wear has surpassed its $50,000 goal with well over a week before the campaign's end. Clearly the concept is striking a chord, and with good reason.
Ruth and Yaval, the two women behind AR Wear, are well intentioned. They wrote on their Indiegogo that they want to "provide products to women and girls that will offer better protection against some attempted rapes while the work of changing society's rape culture moves forward." The goal is to give women and girls "security" and "peace of mind" as they do normal-person things, like going on blind dates, running at night or travelling.
Even though Ruth and Yaval acknowledge their product alone will not stop rape, their campaign has many issues. Firstly, there's the fact that while tough clothing might prevent a rape, it doesn't necessarily prevent other kinds of harm.
Secondly, there's the targeting. Though young women and girls are more likely to be raped, people of all ages, body types, races, abilities and genders experience it. Furthermore, AR Wear is technical clothing and as such, will likely not be cheap – reducing their wearer base significantly.
Then there's the bizarre campaign video that reinforces almost every rape myth there is. It primarily features a conventionally attractive woman bouncing around happily while donning AR Wear. All the video's scenarios involve potential stranger rape, despite research that suggests 70 per cent of perpetrators are known to the people they assault. And even though 80 per cent of assaults happen in victims' homes, there is a scene in which girls in miniskirts walk past a panhandling black man that the voiceover identifies as an example of "potentially risky situations." Blech.
Finally, there's the displacement of blame. As an occasional rape crisis line counsellor, it is hard for me to put down initiatives trying to help people feel safe.
A common sentiment in calls (and victimization surveys) is self-blaming. "I shouldn't have been drunk;" "I shouldn't have gone on that date;" "I should learn self defence." What happens if AR Wear becomes a mass produced offering? Let's say a woman who owns AR Wear goes out with a friend she deems safe, doesn't wear it, and is raped by that friend. She is more likely to ask herself why she wasn't prepared than blame her attacker. This is what already happens to survivors.
Many of those I speak to long for a lost sense of security and control, so I cannot begrudge anyone wanting to carry whistles or pepper spray, or even invest in lockable shorts. But for the same reason, I cannot support an invention that adds to the burden that so many survivors already carry.
But AR Wear's founders aren't the first to invent this stuff – anti-rape devices (even fictional ones) have been making headlines for a while now. There was the awful, probably-a-joke Anti-Pervert Stockings on Weibo; Society Harnessing Equipment (SHE), underwear that sends electric shocks once activated; and Rape-aXe, a barbed condom worn by women to injure rapists – just to name a few. That the idea of creating products to prevent rape isn't unique reveals the uncomfortable truth that our current tactics simply aren't working.
While these products might seem ludicrous to some, they are simply last resorts– attempts to reduce rape at any cost. They're indicative of a more widespread sense of powerlessness that isn't exactly unfounded, even here in Canada.
In October, Kirk Makin wrote in The Globe and Mail about how the justice system consistently fails rape survivors, highlighting that: "Less than half of sexual assault complaints made to police result in criminal charges and, of those charges, only about one in four leads to a guilty verdict." From the same article, we learn that 90 per cent of sexual assaults aren't brought to the police at all, and that two-thirds of surveyed survivors "said they had little to no confidence in the police, the courts or the justice system."
And while there are organizations working to end rape at high levels, such as the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centers and the up-and-coming Femifesto, that work takes time – decades – to be seen.
We can criticize AR Wear all we want – and rightfully so – but ultimately we have to face that this is the state of things: Some women have bought so completely into the inevitability of sexual assault that they are turning to anti-rape devices for security.
When all other systems are failing, is it really so surprising that so many women are willing to literally lock themselves up?