A South African doctor is handing out an anti-rape condom to women during the World Cup in an effort to help women there combat sexual assaults in a country that has one of the highest rape rates in the world.
The device’s creator, Dr. Sonnet Ehlers (depicted above with the device) said the condom, called Rape-aXe, is similar to when a man catches his penis in a zipper.
"Rape-aXe will have the same effect, just worse," she says in the Q&A portion at the condom's website.
Ethers says the condom is completely safe for women, but will inflict serious pain on a male perpetrator, even more so if he tries to escape:
“It hurts, he cannot pee and walk when it’s on,” she told CNN yesterday. “If he tries to remove it, it will clasp even tighter...however, it doesn’t break the skin, and there’s no danger of fluid exposure.”
She said she sold her house and car to launch the project, which will enable her to hand out 30,000 free condoms during the World Cup, which wraps up July 11. After that, the anti-rape condoms will be available for $2 each.
South Africa has one of the highest rape rates in the world. A 2009 report by the nation's Medical Research Council found that 28 percent of men surveyed had raped a woman or girl, with one in 20 saying they had raped in the past year, according to Human Rights Watch.
It is also believed that 16 percent of the population is living with HIV.
In most African countries, rape convictions are uncommon. Affected women don't get immediate access to medical care, and DNA tests to provide evidence are too expensive.
"Women and girls who experience these violations are denied justice, factors that contribute to the normalization of rape and violence in South African society," Human Rights Watch says.
Women take drastic measures to prevent rape in South Africa, Ehlers said, with some wearing extra tight biker shorts and others inserting razor blades wrapped in sponges in their private parts.
Critics have accused her of developing a medieval device to fight rape.
"Yes, my device may be a medieval, but it's for a medieval deed that has been around for decades," she said. "I believe something's got to be done...and this will make some men rethink before they assault a woman."
Human Rights Watch also notes arrest and conviction rates for attackers are extremely low and the victims of sexual assault often face numerous obstacles in accessing health care.
She hopes the condom will be worn by women as a preventative measure. She said she’s talked to convicted rapists in jail to see if such a device would make them think twice about their actions, and she said some of them said it would:
“The ideal situation would be for a woman to wear this when she’s going out on some kind of blind date...or to an area she’s not comfortable with,” she said.
The condom is inserted into a woman the same way she'd use a tampon. It is a latex condom worn by females who feel in danger of being raped. The device features jagged rows of teeth-like hooks that will latch on to a man’s penis upon penetration When an attacker penetrates the woman, the condom attaches to his penis with barbs that are found inside the condom.
Rape-aXe causes the attacker discomfort. If a man tries to take the condom off, it will become even tighter. Once the spikes attach to a man’s penis, only a doctor can remove it, something Ethers hopes will be done by authorities upon arrest.
The company's website says while the condom won't prevent the attack, it can help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV, and unwanted pregnancies resulting from rape.
As well, because a doctor has to remove the condom, the hope is that authorities will catch more attackers.
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." Forty years later, Rape-aXe was born.
"I consulted engineers, gynecologists and psychologists to help in the design and make sure it was safe," she said.
Her advice to men who don't want to be on the receiving end of Rape-aXe: "Don't put what belongs to you where it does not belong and you will never run into trouble."
But critics say the condom puts its women users in even more danger because instead of being able to run away and escape the perpetrator, he is stuck inside of the victim until authorities can be reached. Thus, women are even more vulnerable to the rapist trapped by the device, and remains so as he grapples with the reality of getting caught and convicted. That scenario could result in an even more violent outcome.
Critics add that this female condom is not a long-term solution.
It's also a form of "enslavement," said Victoria Kajja, a fellow for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the east African country of Uganda. "The fears surrounding the victim, the act of wearing the condom in anticipation of being assaulted all represent enslavement that no woman should be subjected to."
Kajja said the device constantly reminds women of their vulnerability.
"It not only presents the victim with a false sense of security, but psychological trauma," she added. "It also does not help with the psychological problems that manifest after assaults."
Various rights organizations that work in South Africa declined to comment, including Human Rights Watch and Care International.
This is one of those stories that is so far removed from my personal reality/experience that it’s impossible to comment on its pros and cons in an analytical way, so I am going to comment solely based on emotion. (I was repeatedly molested as a child, but I have never been raped, nor have I ever been threatened with rape.)
It is inconceivable to me that I would live somewhere that I would have to even consider inserting razor blades into my own vagina to protect me from being raped if I went outside to events. This condom with teeth beats the hell out of that.
It worries me that the vicious rapist would remain glued to me, intimately, or if freed would know he might be arrested because of the device. Might some guy who was willing to rape me, also be willing to kill me to prevent being arrested?
One critic said this is not a long-term solution. No damn kidding. But I say until that society ensures the safety of its female populace from sexual assault, women there have an undeniable right to protect themselves in any way they see fit.
Thanks to my dear friend, SurvivingSurvival for directing me to this important account.
— The Curator