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Where sexual violence prevention starts.

July 5, 2010

A new female condom made in South Africa is being marketed as “rape prevention”. The condom, which has teeth on the inside, attaches to the penis when inserted into the vagina – and can only be removed by a doctor. This product has a lot of benefits: it can prevent pregnancy and the contraction of some STIs, it will help to catch and prosecute perpetrators, and it may be very empowering for women who wear it. I applaud Dr. Sonnet Ehlers on her efforts.

But let’s be clear on one thing: this product does not prevent rape. It prevents only one specific form of penetration. Marketing it as otherwise contributes to a false understanding of what is sexual violence is and the trauma caused by any unwanted sexual contact.

Let’s contrast this with an anti-rape ad from Scotland, called “Not Ever”:

See I think sexual violence prevention is not just penetration prevention. It has to start at the source: rape culture. Cara, from The Curavature, sums it up pretty well:

Here is what I love about this ad: it treats rape apologist attitudes as a problem, regardless of whether or not they refer to a specific rape. There is no indication in the commercial that the woman has actually been raped. There is no indication that she will be raped. There is no indication that the man who makes the “she’s asking for it” comment is actually planning on raping her, or anyone else, for that matter. And still, in spite of all of this, his comments are dangerous, they have a real impact, and they are worthy of our attention. They’re worthy, in fact, of a PSA about how incredibly fucked up they are. All on their own.

Here’s what else I love about this ad: while there’s no indication whatsoever that the man is a rapist, there’s no way to tell for sure that he’s not, either. As Thomas has pointed out many times at Yes Means Yes, while not all men who make rape apologist jokes are rapists, rapists do tend to make rape jokes and apologist comments. Leaving the man’s motives up to interpretation thus manages to do two important things: tell guys who aren’t rapists but think that rape is something fun to joke about that it’s not, as well as tells guys that if their friend is making these types of comments, you should probably point out that it’s not cool. As bystander behavior is incredibly important, I have to say that I love this potential dual effect.

So what do you think about the female condom and the “Not Ever” campaign? Where does sexual violence prevention start in your life or in your activism?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Sara permalink
    July 6, 2010 10:48 PM

    This is great, esp. from the perspective of my future job. I’m wondering if I can organize an SVP event around this (and other similar PSAs) to try to create some similar things for the Carleton community.
    Thanks, Becky!

  2. July 13, 2010 4:07 AM

    Brilliant – thanks for sharing this!

  3. Chadrick permalink
    July 13, 2010 5:50 PM

    I’m sure the women wearing that product will feel very empowered when the man* stuck in side her is beating her to death because of it…

    *I say man to signify its’ gender, areal man would never rape a woman

  4. nko permalink
    August 1, 2010 7:02 PM

    I read an article about this on Jezebel, and I think these are two essential paragraphs to bring to this discussion:

    “Ehlers isn’t suggesting that British or American women run out and purchase this product – it was introduced in South Africa to address the terrifying frequency of sexual assault. South Africa has one of the highest levels of rape in the world; a 2006 study found that a woman is raped every 17 seconds. To make matters even worse, a 2009 Amnesty International report found that out of over 20,000 reports of rape, only 8% led to convictions. A quarter of South African men have admitted to rape, half of whom admitted to multiple rapes. Rape is used as a bonding experience for men and a way to “cure” lesbians. Although rape is a problem around the globe, for South African women, it is a far more impending threat. Williams mentions the problematic myth of “stranger danger” and the blame placed on women for their short skirts, but while these are very real problems within rape culture, when sexual violence is as common as it is in South Africa, some of the surrounding issues feel less pressing, almost besides the point.

    For what Ehlers is trying to do is to stop rape now, and by any means possible. She even recognizes that her product may get some women killed, but she justifies this with the thought that at least it could prevent further murders. Her tactics may not prove particularly effective, and they certainly aren’t pretty, but they come from a desire to fight back against attackers. Rape-aXe can’t prevent rape, but in its ideal form it could turn the tables on the rapist, causing him pain, humiliation, and possibly even bringing him to justice. Furthermore, despite the many problems with the conception and design of Rape-aXe, its existence has already accomplished something important: it has opened the dialogue about rape. The shocking nature of a dick-ripping condom makes people, male and female, sit up and take note. Some have suggested the Rape-aXe will do the most good simply by inspiring fear in the hearts of potential rapists. I’m not sure this will happen. However, it has brought new voices into the discussion about rape and rape culture, and while “raising awareness” may not feel like a victory, it is a small step towards a world without rape.”

    Read more:

    The whole article is interesting and worth reading, but I just wanted to highlight the above points.


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