Does anti-rape underwear really make women safer?
Every few years, it seems someone comes up with a new piece of clothing that will prevent rape. Earlier this month, a Nyack, New York–based group called AR Wear, spearheaded by entrepreneurs Ruth and Yuval, launched an Indiegogo campaign for “undergarments” that will apparently stop a sexual assault.
The clothing line, which boasts “confidence and protection that can be worn,” includes panties, leggings, and running shorts. In the video accompanying the campaign pitch, the company breaks down exactly what will stop a sexual assault: Only the woman wearing the undergarment can take it off, it’s resistant to cutting or pulling, and there are “thigh locks” as well as a lock on the waistband. AR Wear is also in the process of making “traveling shorts.”
This is all very well intentioned, but essentially, the message is that if a woman wants to prevent an assault, she needs to lock up certain parts of her body with a modern-day chastity belt. This subtly shifts the responsibility for avoiding rape from the attacker to the victim. As Anne Theriault of the Belle Jar points out, there are other factors to consider:
It also bears mentioning that idea behind this clothing operates off the assumption that most rapists are strangers, who attack women in dark alleys late at night, when actually the opposite is true—most rapists are acquaintances with, or even romantic partners of, the victim. So what would happen if a woman did have AR Wear’s Anti-Rape clothing on, removed said clothing of her own volition, and then was raped?
But AR Wear has read studies:
We read studies reviewing the statistics of resisting assault, whether by forceful or non-forceful means. We learned that resistance increases the chance of avoiding a completed rape without making the victim more likely to be physically injured. We concluded that an item of clothing that creates an effective barrier layer can allow women and girls to passively resist an attacker, in addition to any other form of resistance they may be able to carry out at the time of an assault.
In attacks like the ones AR Wear seeks to prevent, where the rape is largely about power, what’s to stop an attacker from inflicting violence on a woman—regardless of her undergarments?
The company is asking for $50,000 to complete the product line. A donation of $1,000 or more “will help get AR Wear to women and girls who do not have the means to buy it themselves,” and they will donate the clothing to a “charitable organization that provides anti–sexual violence services.”
Admirable. But these ideas for anti-rape clothing never go anywhere, and that’s because preventing rape has nothing to do with what a woman is wearing, or not wearing, and everything to do with the rapist and a culture of victim-blaming. Are panties with thigh locks really making us safer, or is every woman’s fear simply being exploited for profit?
Photo via AR Wear/Indiegogo