Several people have sent me this article about Rape-aXe (which used to be called Rapex, as those who participated in previous discussions here on the subject will recall), a female condom developed by Dr. Sonnet Ehlers which is lined with "jagged rows of teeth-like hooks" that attach the condom to a man's penis during penetration; rendering it removable only by a doctor. (To be clear: He can pull out; the sheath comes with him.)
The primary objective of the Rape-aXe is a deterrent, the hope being that men who know it exists will be less inclined to rape. And in South Africa—where Dr. Ehlers designed it in response to the country's urgent rape crisis, and where women desperate to protect themselves against rape will insert sponge-wrapped razor blades into their vaginas before venturing outside—some convicted rapists with whom Dr. Ehlers spoke say it may have deterred them.
I'm not particularly inclined to believe that; what I find more compelling is the secondary objective of serving as evidence of sexual assault, as doctors tasked with removing the object will be able to work with law enforcement to connect perpetrators with their crimes. Though, the cynical part of me wonders how long it would be before private removal of the Rape-aXe becomes its own cottage industry.
One of the arguments against the Rape-aXe is that it will lull women into a false sense of security, which I frankly find laughable; there's no sense of security to be had when you're walking around with a proxy vagina dentata in the fervent hope that, if you get raped, maybe the $2 apparatus in your cunt will help convict the asshole who did it.
And on the other end of the spectrum, there is the argument that the Rape-aXe necessarily keeps women in a heightened state of terror.
It's also a form of "enslavement," said Victoria Kajja, a fellow for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the east African country of Uganda. "The fears surrounding the victim, the act of wearing the condom in anticipation of being assaulted all represent enslavement that no woman should be subjected to."Hmm. Well. That doesn't particularly resonate with me, either. I'm certain for some women, that could be true. But for others, it could feel empowering. Insert broken-recordery about how women aren't a monolith and all that.
Kajja said the device constantly reminds women of their vulnerability.
"It not only presents the victim with a false sense of security, but psychological trauma," she added. "It also does not help with the psychological problems that manifest after assaults."
The criticism which does resonate more strongly with me is that using the Rape-aXe could expose women to retributive violence, particularly since gang rape is prevalent in South Africa. If one guy is debilitated with the Rape-aXe during a gang rape, that leaves several other men to wreak immediate vengeance. And that is worrying.
Still, that concern must be balanced against the potential positives, which also include increased protection against the transmission of HIV/AIDS, another serious concern in South Africa.
Where does that leave me? On the fence.
I don't think the Rape-aXe is something I would personally opt to use, but it is certainly a tool I would support making available to other women.
And, in a broader sense, I wish we weren't having a conversation about an item that tasks women with rape prevention in the first place. Which is not a criticism of Dr. Ehlers, nor the women who might want to use the Rape-aXe, because they are dealing with an immediate reality of daily life. It's just so frustrating that all the discussable proposed solutions to a human rights violation as old as humankind are still so heavily skewed toward the victims of that crime, rather than its perpetrators.