Recently, a couple of new “anti-rape” product lines have been brought to my attention. The first, AR Wear, is a line of pants and underwear that are made of ultra-strong fabric that cannot be cut and lock in place to so that they cannot be removed. The second, DrinkSavvy, is a line of cups and straws that will detect beverage contamination with certain date-rape drugs like Rohypnol, GHB, and ketamine. Neither has officially hit the market yet, as both are still in preliminary/fundraising phases.
There’s an immediate part of me that wants to rejoice. The prevalence of rape is starting to make its way into the public consciousness. People are donating their time and their money to projects that aim to reduce the incidence of rape. Both of those are good things. My kneejerk reaction to AR Wear in particular was a really positive one. But, as I thought more about these products, there was something that just wasn’t sitting right with me.
There’s been a lot of criticism echoing around the blogosphere that AR Wear will promote victim blaming, which is not necessarily something that I agree with. I would think that it’s pretty obvious that there are practical reasons that would prevent women from exclusively wearing expensive, high tech anti-rape underwear every day of the week. Of course, there are plenty of obvious rebuttals to every other victim-blaming line of reasoning, but the old arguments are more culturally entrenched and pervasive. Since anti-rape underwear is a relatively new thing, one would hope that “It’s her fault because she wasn’t wearing protective undergarments” isn’t a line of thinking that would be able to establish a foothold in today’s society without being an old argument that’s passed down from generation to generation. Again, this is just speculative on my part, so my hopes should be taken with a grain of salt. In light of the fact that AR Wear has already raised over $50k to start up their business, it seems that it will just be a matter of time before we find out.
So if my problem isn’t the potentiality for victim-blaming, what is the problem? I guess the first thing is that I don’t think that either product line will be particularly successful in achieving what each sets out to do: prevent rape. As far as AR Wear is concerned, there are unfortunately various ways to sexually assault victims without removing underwear. Also, in a coercive situation, an attacker can threaten, manipulate, or use physical violence to get the woman to remove the garments herself. In this situation, the product meant to mitigate risks can actually lead to the escalation of an already bad situation.
As far as DrinkSavvy is concerned, the most common form of drug facilitated sexual assault involves alcohol only. Date rape drug detection won’t do anything to prevent the overwhelming number of rapes that occur after a victim has had too much to drink – either willingly or because they were being pressured or misled by their attacker to drink to the point of incapacitation (as was the tragic case with 14 year-old Daisy Coleman of Maryville, MO). Additionally, an incredibly wide variety of drugs can be used to facilitate sexual assault, including but not limited to anti-anxiety drugs, sleeping pills, and cold medicines. DrinkSavvy’s website says that initially the drinkware will only detect Rohypnol, GHB, and ketamine, but even with updated versions it’s difficult to imagine that the drinkware will ever catch up. If these cups become as popular as their inventor wants them to be, potential rapists will likely just avoid using the particular drugs that the cups detect, as there is a wide variety of other options.
I don’t feel good about being too hard on the creators of these products – both companies drew their inspiration from awful first-hand experiences. I truly believe that the people behind these companies have the protection of potential victims at the forefront of their minds.
That being said, there’s an elephant in the room: money. There have not yet been prices released for these products, but considering the costs of research, development, and technology involved, they can’t possibly be cheap. It’s likely that only people who are relatively high-income will be able to afford to make casual purchases of these items. I can’t help but think though, that there is likely a market for these items with people who will spend money, even money they can’t really afford, in hopes of preventing future sexual assaults: actual rape victims. Many people who have survived rapes are traumatized, excessively anxious and plagued by intense fears of re-victimization.
When I saw the AR Clothing, my immediate thoughts were to wonder how I would be able to obtain at least one of the garments. Money was barely a concern, because the prospect of being able to go an entire day without the fear of rape was something that couldn’t be given a price. Believing in these products felt so important. I had to sit with my thoughts for a few days before coming to the difficult conclusion that anti-rape products would not make me rape-proof.
Despite my own conclusions, I can’t help worrying over the idea of victims sinking their income into investing in DrinkSavvy straws and cups over and over again, regardless of cost. I worry about the idea of victims feeling the need to purchase enough AR Wear to be able to outfit themselves in it every day. The products and the companies that make them are walking a fine line between offering a service and financially exploiting a particularly vulnerable population, if not outright crossing that line altogether. If there was good reason to believe that the products would be efficient in preventing rape, it would be worth it. Considering the obvious weaknesses in both product lines, I don’t believe that’s the case.
We all want for there to be quick fixes and easy solutions for preventing sexual violence. Anti-rape products play into these desires, becoming more and more profitable as the desperation for protection increases. At this point, I’m not sure what the best course of action should be. Should we protest these products, or should we sit back and cross our fingers, hoping our collective skepticism will be proven wrong?