Sexual assault is a huge concern worldwide. Currently in the United States, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 33 men will be sexually assaulted in the lifetime. But even more surprising is that in South Africa, a country with the highest incidence of sexual assault worldwide, one doctor has decided to do something about it.
According to an INTERPOL study conducted in 2006, it has been estimated that every 17 seconds a woman is sexually assaulted in South Africa and that in 2009, there were 20,000 sexual assaults and only 8% of those were convicted. It’s shocking numbers like these that led Dr. Sonnet Ehlers to create the “Rape-aXe”, a sexual assault prevention device that looks oddly similar to a receptive condom except for one thing: it has teeth.
The “Rape-aXe” is essentially a receptive condom, made out of latex, that is to be inserted the same way a regular receptive condom would be before a woman goes walking alone at night or goes to an unfamiliar part of town. The device contains rows of jagged teeth-like plastic hooks that latch on to an unsuspecting perpetrator’s penis during a sexual assault. The device is unique in that the penis can still withdraw from the victim, but the device will still be attached and requires medical personnel to remove it. The device causes extreme pain and the perpetrator would not be able to urinate with it on, let alone walk very far without extreme discomfort. This is supposedly to allow the victim time to get away and allow police to be able to make an arrest while medical personnel remove the device. The device does not draw blood, however, and has been proven “safe” to use in the extremely HIV+ country. Engineers, gynecologists and psychologists throughout the country worked on the innovative design of the device to ensure safety. 30,000 of these devices were distributed for free to women in South Africa during the World Cup games in 2010 as a trial run and were supposedly to be sold for $2 a piece after the trial period. These devices have not been sold to the public thus far and are not available in the United States.
Seems like a great idea, right? Some people aren’t so sure. There are several criticisms of the device. For one thing, although the device is supposed to allow the victim time to get away by immobilizing their perpetrator, it has the potential to enrage them even more, making victims more vulnerable to violence and presenting them with a sense of false security. The device also does nothing to help deal with the psychological trauma that often occurs after an assault. The biggest criticism of the device is that it is merely a risk-reduction technique, and that by wearing the device everyday, victims are just in anticipation of an assault—which is something no one should have to go through. The device is a constant reminder of the victim’s vulnerability.
Although South Africa has certainly taken a unique approach to the prevention of sexual assault, we need to remind ourselves that it is more important to focus on primary prevention techniques, instead of simple risk-reduction ones. Instead of teaching people ways to not get sexually assaulted, we should be focusing on teaching people not to sexually assault.
Want to read about the “Rape-aXe” further? Check this article out: