Anti-Rape Device Locks Out Women Most Vulnerable to Sexual Assault

[Content Notice: sexual assault, rape, transphobic violence]

A few days ago, an Indiegogo campaign came to my attention. Called “AR Wear – Confidence & Protection That Can Be Worn,” the product is basically underwear that attempts to thwart rape by being… impregnable? impenetrable? (I can’t seem to think of terms that don’t sound like bad wordplays here).

The two women behind the project claim that they do not endorse victim-blaming:

The only one responsible for a rape is the rapist and AR Wear will not solve the fundamental problem that rape exists in our world. Only by raising awareness and education, as well as bringing rapists to justice, can we all hope to eventually accomplish the goal of eliminating rape as a threat to both women and men. Meanwhile, as long as sexual predators continue to populate our world, AR Wear would like to provide products to women and girls that will offer better protection against some attempted rapes

While it’s wonderful that the makers have taken these factors into consideration, the product remains unquestionably problematic — and the fact that its very existence will likely be used to victim-blame despite its makers’ ideas is just the start.

Practically speaking, three issues to come to mind. In the first place, sexual assault is not a crime that requires access to vaginal or anal openings. Next, in order for AR Wear to provide any even limited level of protection against forcible vaginal or anal penetration, it would have to be marketed as all-day every-day wear, not just for situations that neatly fit into the myths surrounding stranger rape (clubbing, travel, and so on). Thirdly, the studies cited in the campaign are about fighting back during attempted sexual assault, not the use of restrictive clothing. Other well-meaning devices designed to help women, like the RapeaXe “condom,” haven’t been shown to reduce rape rates.

More troubling than the practical concerns are the exclusionary ones. Colorlines calls out the marketing’s reinforcements of rape myths and Alexandra Brodsky has a dozen excellent questions for the makers of AR Wear, but I have just one.

Why is it being advertised using only white-seeming, thin-bodied, presumably adult cis women or adult trans women who have had genital surgery?

In the United States, the country in which this project originates, women of color, particularly black and Native American women, are more likely than white women to be sexually assaulted. There are some women of color shown in the stock photos near the beginning of the video, but none are shown wearing any of the garments in question.

Furthermore, women of color are less likely to be thin. From what I see of it, the garment is only for women whose bodies fall within a certain narrow size range. There is no data showing that being overweight decreases the risk of sexual assault.

Genital configuration is also an issue. Trans women, especially those of color, are more likely than their cis counterparts to be sexually assaulted, especially if incarcerated. Some trans women are barred from access to desired genital surgery by economic factors while others do not wish to have bottom surgery; the garment does not seem to accommodate AMAB anatomy. For that matter, it seems pointless to pay lip service to men in the preface when the product is clearly not intended for their use if they are cisgender.

view of prison walls with barbed wire

To return to the issue of incarceration, being imprisoned carries with it the high risk of sexual assault. I somehow doubt that AR Wear is going to be approved to become part of standard prison garb.

Cost is another barrier. People living with less socioeconomic privilege are not only more likely to be incarcerated, they are more likely to experience violence in general; this includes an increased risk of sexual assault for women.

Anything allegedly designed to help and empower women against a problem should probably look at the concerns of the women most at risk for said problem. For women who fall under one or more of the above categories, i.e. categories that place them at higher risk for sexual assault, the marketing of AR Wear is another way by which their struggles and pain are erased from the discussion of sexual assault and rape.

Heina Dadabhoy

Heina Dadabhoy [hee-na dad-uh-boy] spent her childhood as a practicing Muslim who never in her right mind would have believed that she would grow up to be an atheist feminist secular humanist, or, in other words, a Skepchick. She has been an active participant in atheist organizations and events in and around Orange County, CA since 2007. She is currently writing A Skeptic's Guide to Islam. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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  1. I especially liked how when mentioning “risky situations” they cut to a video of not only a black panhandler but also a black man walking behind some women.

  2. While this product should be under the dictionary entry for “problematic”, I’m wondering about your point about its cost. Would this not apply to pretty much any product that’s not being given away? Personally I think that if it was actually a worthwhile product, it would still be worth it with a second phase of making it more accessible — maybe it’s the capitalist in me. Of course, this is NOT that product.

    Another really icky thing about it is that it’s explicitly saying that wearers can continue to look fashionable as they supposedly use the “product” to prevent their rape — which is pretty heavy-duty normalising of rape…

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