Is a condom with teeth the answer to South Africa’s rape problem?
Dr. Sonnet Ehlers hopes it will help.
South African Dr. Sonnet Ehlers was on call one night four decades ago when a devastated rape victim walked in. Her eyes were lifeless; she was like a breathing corpse.
“She looked at me and said, ‘If only I had teeth down there,’” recalled Ehlers, who was a 20-year-old medical researcher at the time. “I promised her I’d do something to help people like her one day.”
Ehlers said she sold her house and car to launch the project, and she planned to distribute 30,000 free devices under supervision during the World Cup period.
Dr. Ehlers is behind a product called Rape-axe. The Rape-axe is a condom-like device that a woman can wear in her vagina and is meant to incapacitate a rapist by latching on to his’ penis and not letting go. Dr. Ehlers claims the device only gets tighter if anyone but a doctor attempts to remove the device.
South Africa is reported as having the highest incidence of rape in the world, with a woman born in South Africa being statistically more likely to be raped than to learn to read. 1 in 4 girls will be raped before they reach the age of sixteen.
While the Rape-axe has attracted quite a lot of attention, there are significant drawbacks to the device. Specifically, it doesn’t in any way prevent rape.
By the time the condom has latched on to a penis, the woman has already been raped. And while the immediate pain may give one time to get away, it may also be the impetus that changes a rape into a murder. Nevermind that it only works for vaginal rape, so women can still be anally and orally raped.
And specifically for South Africa, it will do nothing to counter the prevalent gang rapes, and will possibly make them even more dangerous.
While it would doubtless assist law enforcement, what is law enforcement going to do in a country where up to 25% of men admit to having raped? Lock up more than 10% of the country’s population?
Of the 27.6 percent of men who had committed rape, “23.2 percent of men said they had raped two to three women, 8.4 percent had raped four to five women, 7.1 percent said they had raped six to 10, and 7.7 percent said they had raped more than 10 women or girls,” the report said.
The concept, which works on an old myth of vagina dentata, is presumably that if these became used widely in culture that potential rapists would be dissuaded by the possibility that their intended victim was wearing one. But making it widely used is problematic for the reasons I listed above and because we, as a society, are then putting the burden of preventing rape on the shoulders of women. We’re also asking them to start every day with rape on their minds.
Women aren’t being raped because we lack teeth in our vaginas. South Africa and all other countries need to continue to work towards a society where men do not want to rape and women are safe.
Will the Rape-axe condom help? Maybe. Would you wear one?
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