I woke up this morning and checked my Twitter feed (which makes me seem very sad, but I was actually searching for details on the DW 50th anniversary screening... Not helping my case), when I saw a very heated debate being fought by feminist Roweena Russell and the EVB Campaign.
Under normal circumstances, I don't read many posts and links of that nature in Twitter. There's only so much of society's victim-blaming attitude that I can take, and you get to a point where if you read everything that crops up, you're going to lose the will to live.
But something about this caught my eye.
Sure, the suggestion of rape prevention as a female responsibility is misogynistic and dangerously avoiding the real issue of male perpetrators in control. But I was sure the situation couldn't be as bad as EVB were making out. Surely all those outraged feminists were over-reacting, at least a little bit. I was also mildly curious. How could a pair of shorts actually prevent rape? What was so special?
So I went to have a look.
The first thing that struck me was that the product seriously misunderstood the reality of rape. It was designed to protect people from assault on the street, for a start. It is estimated that most women who have experienced rape have been assaulted by men that they knew. Quite often, it is within a relationship, perhaps in bed at night, not when you'd necessarily be wearing shorts or trousers.
How would anti-rape trousers protect a woman who woke up to find her partner inside her, are we suggesting that to protect themselves, women must wear such clothing every minute of the day that they are not willing to have sex? Would this become permissible evidence in court? And if they are raped at night, as suggested, did they consent by not wearing their preventative clothing?
Of course, it is ridiculous that a pair of shorts or trousers can prevent a woman's rape. You would need an immovable, tear-resistant gag to cover the mouth too, you see. Because the legal definition of rape also includes penetration of the mouth. So now, to ensure that women are protected, we must remember that their mouths are also fully covered at all times too!
The second thing that struck me was that all the images of women, all the prototypes, the whole campaign was geared towards young, slim, beautiful women. Some might say that this is a side effect of the fashion industry, but anyone who genuinely cares about and advocates on VAWG issues will know and understand that rape and related sexual assault happens to women of all ages, of all sizes, of all appearances and from all backgrounds. Genuinely caring and ethical companies would reflect that in their campaign, to lessen the isolation and counteract the myths surrounding society's perceived victim profiles.
Oh, the myths. It was bad enough when they talked about protecting oneself when on a run, when on a first date and so on, but then they spoke of "risky situations", they used accusatory language about "even if she's had too much to drink", as if alcohol intake is a reason for rape. It really isn't. Every single part of the video and the campaign put the responsibility on the woman for the hypothetical attack, and it also put the responsibility on her for prevention. It proliferated myths and stereotypes that research has proven to be simply untrue.
This product, and the way it is being marketed, is dangerous and damaging to women everywhere and could seriously impair and hinder the emotional well being and recovery of those who have suffered serious trauma.
And if only they were my sole concerns.
What is to stop an attacker coercing the woman into giving him the release code for the clothing? What if she has, in fear, forgotten it? The company claims research disproves an increase in violence, but what research is this?
The first time I was raped, my attacker tried to strangle me. He repeatedly smashed my head against the concrete. I don't remember him leaving, but do remembering opening my eyes and him not being there, so presumably he had left me for dead. He said he would kill me. If I had been "protected" by this clothing, would he have just killed me anyway? Would the enhanced rage and frustration given him the power to actually do it, rather than just render me unconscious?
You see, rape itself is rarely an act of passion, connected with sexual attraction or a spur of the moment, lack of control type of event. Usually, it is premeditated in some way, and it is always about control. Yes, by wearing supposed anti-rape clothing, you are removing some of that control from the perpetrator, but aren't you also opening these women up to even more danger when he loses control in that moment of anger?
I don't know the answer.
Another concern that struck me is practical and medical. This clothing is designed to be resistant to tearing cutting and all sorts of other destructive methods. Just suppose a woman is involved in an accident and needs to be rushed to hospital. There, the doctors find that they are unable to remove the clothing. What happens then? Yes, significant portions of the clothing are normal fabric, but that doesn't get rid of the leg bands, waist bands or the gusset. And in the event that there is a safety code to unlock the garments in these circumstances, what prevents potential rapists from obtaining that same code?
There are many other problems with the situation, such as the financial implications and the fact that anti-rape wear is going to heighten the unfounded stereotype that sexual assault doesn't happen in "nice" communities.
Perhaps the company genuinely thought they were doing a good thing. Yes, if women feel confident and empowered in this clothing and want that choice, it is no bad thing, but to campaign using stereotypes, victim-blaming and create a product that potentially puts women in a more dangerous position, that is not. The company has shown that, fundamentally, they don't understand what rape is, who it happens to, why it happens, where it happens or what the real implications of such violent crime are. Let's help educate.
Edit: I have been informed on Twitter that hospital scissors can cut through tough materials, such as biker gear. However, I think clarification from the company would still be a good idea on this matter!