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Do we need anti-rape underwear?

Posted by Alex Pearlman  November 11, 2013 10:10 AM

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You've heard the debates over steps women should take to protect themselves from sexual assault. Where does "Anti Rape Underwear" fit in? After putting a request on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, two women from New York raised more than $50,000 to manufacture what amounts to body armor: stylish, flexible, able to fit sleekly under a little black dress, and removable only by the wearer. It's not an entirely new idea.

In India, where sexual assault is an ever-present threat, engineers have manufactured underwear that uses electricity to shock a would-be rapist. Both evoke those Middle-Age chastity belts that probably never existed (see below). And they've sparked renewed debate over rape, risk, and messaging.

We've collected some opinions, and some historical context on armored underwear. Watch the video proposal and tell us where you stand. Would you wear it? Recommend it? Or do you think it sends the wrong message to women and men? Add your thoughts to the comments or tweet us @BostonComment.

ARWEAR from ARWEAR on Vimeo.

Education, not underwear

40.thumbnail.jpgWhy don’t the founders of AR Wear use their mission to make a woman’s world a safer place by targeting the source? Not all men are rapists, and heck, it’s not even just men. Women can very well be the perpetrator of rape, too...Let’s start with education. Let’s find the root to the rape culture problem in our society and work on fixing it from the bottom up, not top down with AR Wear. If we teach women to live in fear and lock their vaginas up, we’re not helping anyone.
Christine Varriale, @certaintragedy
BDCwire blogger

Exploitation, but also peace of mind?

9c5ce91fd7d9bad2f8c6a708b8a8b912.pngThere are so many offensive fear-mongering ways in which I can imagine this product being deployed: an overprotective mom buying a whole set of these for her daughter who's about to travel Amongst Foreigners, a girls' cross-country team forced to wear these when they're running through the "urban" part of town. But I also don't want to dismiss the possibility that, to some women, this product could feel tremendously welcome. I'm thinking of Maya, the woman I interviewed who was raped by a stranger in a club, as a virgin. On occasion she still feels flashes of sickness and panic in rowdy party situations; I wonder if underwear like this would feel like a welcome protection in the recovery process. I don't know. The world is awful.
Jia Tolentino, @jiatolentino

Close! But no cigar

IMG_2855.jpgUsing technology to prevent rape is a good idea, but this isn't the way to do it. AR Wear suggests that victims can prevent violence on their own, but rapists are the only ones who can ultimately stop a sexual attack. In other words, rape is not preventable, but rape culture is. AR Wear also perpetuates the myth that men are not victims of sexual assault. Women and girls may be the primary targets of sexual violence, but men and boys are also suffering – and to see a campaign blatantly disregard their experiences as victims and survivors is adding to our country's rape culture.
Sarah Tedesco
Emerson College student

The true history of the chastity belt (and why it's' about women's power)

download.jpegThe first concrete evidence we have dates back to 1405. There was a German writer who created a book about siege machinery. It’s a monstrous thing and it became, very quickly, a men’s joke throughout the following century. The whole idea was: what do poor crusader knights do when they go on a crusade for a whole year? How do they protect their wives from unwanted sex? The chastity belt never works, either. The lover already has the replica key or the whole thing fails utterly and the wife dies...I think the ultimate cause of the whole myth is that people think about how to control women’s bodies. What is coming up now sounds little more like self defense. But the whole notion of the chastity belt is an expression of how an impotent husband tries to hold on and control his wife.
Albrecht Classen, professor of German studies, University of Arizona
Author, "The Medieval Chastity Belt: A Myth-Making Process"

It's all about the mindset

7c3e7f456a3480f5bf550818dd1e93c7.jpegWhile we’re working on that whole rape culture thing, AR Wear will help women move freely about the world with the confidence that only a reinforced skeletal structure around her vagina can provide. After all, nothing makes a woman feel comfortable in her own body like a constant physical reminder that she's expected to guard her genitals against potential sexual assaults at all times. Then again, it beats explaining to mom, dad, and the local public defender why you failed to strap on your rape-deflecting bootie shorts when you fell asleep at a friend's house and 'things went wrong.'
Amanda Hess, @amandahess

A little help is worthwhile

headshot 100x100.jpegAccording to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, a woman in the U.S. is a victim of sexual assault every two minutes. Annually, more than 230,000 women are victims. While sexual violence tends to be perpetrated by friends or relatives, a third of assaults are perpetrated by strangers. If AR Wear helps deter rape for even that one third of assaults, it's already worth it. If it deters just one rape, it will be worth it to that would-be victim.
Alex Pearlman, @lexikon1 product manager, Globe editorial board

Modest proposal for men: 'Don't Rape Wear'

IMG_0102.JPGThere will be two versions of this item. The first will be a line of Don’t Rape men’s underwear. These underwear will be manufactured so the only people who know the combination to unlock them will be consenting adults. If the men try to remove them by themselves, they will simply explode. The other version will protect men from being victims of rape, considering that many men fall victim to crimes of sexual assault daily. If the AR Wear company can create undergarments for women to feel safe, the DR company would also like to create a line for men.
Eve Vawter, @evevawter
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weiss.jpegBoston.comment is an exchange for ideas about Boston and beyond, brought to you by the Boston Globe editorial page and edited by Globe columnist Joanna Weiss. We're the sponsor of's #LabDebates and the creator of the Choose Your Own Adventure mayoral game.

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