In November 2013, a campaign was launched to fund the manufacture of a new type of garment designed to prevent rape. Recently, the videos promoting this “anti-rape underwear” have begun to recirculate on social media, with many people proclaiming it to be an excellent idea. The underwear consists of webbing and cut-resistant straps to prevent an attacker from removing the garment, and looks like tiny workout shorts. But while the inventors may have great skill and ingenuity, the concept itself leaves a lot to be desired.
The fundamental problem with this product and every similar product: it puts the responsibility for not being raped directly on the potential victim, and misses the perpetrator (THE cause of the rape) entirely. These products are always (or almost always) marketed towards women, with the message being that it is on her to take every possible precaution to prevent a sexual assault. You’ve heard the drill: if you’re going out for a night on the town, you better paint your nails with drug-detecting nail polish, put on your anti-rape underwear and your very modest, non-provocative clothes, pack your purse with pepper spray and a rape whistle — and then be sure to not have more than one drink (which you will check beforehand with your special nail polish) and stay with a group at all times. The message is clear: instead of working to end rape culture, the focus — and the burden — of preventing rape is placed squarely on the shoulders of potential victims. Products like these flip the responsibility of preventing rape from the perpetrators to the victims — an end result that cannot be tolerated. In this way, they also give a false sense of security — as though a person can guarantee she will not be raped if she just takes these steps. Nothing could be further from the truth.
These products also ignore the very basic reality of sexual assault, which is that the overwhelming majority of assaults (82%) are committed by someone known to the victim, which includes intimate partners (25%), friends or acquaintances (47%), or relatives (5%). Anti-rape underwear plays on fears of the stranger in a dark alley, which is the minority of sexual assault cases — so it is unlikely that anyone would even consider wearing this underwear in most situations where sexual assault is likely to occur.
While we understand the importance of the message that every person should do their best to make smart, safe choices in all parts of life, the bottom line is that the only person who can truly prevent a sexual assault is the one committing the crime. Products like anti-rape underwear put all of the responsibility for preventing a crime onto the potential victim, and they reinforce a victim-blaming mentality. We don’t need anti-rape underwear — we need comprehensive education and training to help to end rape culture. At Blackburn Center, we believe in primary prevention as the best way to truly stop rape. If you would like to join our mission to end all forms of gender violence, you can do so by volunteering for or donating to our organization.