By CAMYLLE FLEMING ’14
After several years of development, an unprecedented line of high-tech anti-rape wear is inching toward its debut in the consumer marketplace with female-bodied individuals as its targeted audience. A duo of women and their team of researchers have produced a prototype that is essentially panties, in the form of compression shorts, made of a material resistant to tearing, cutting and pulling. AR Wear, the production company, is touting its undergarment as “comfortable,” “innovative and ergonomic,” with waist and thigh straps that are initially adjustable to the wearer, and ultimately inaccessible to a potential offender. The idea for this product came in response to one of AR Wear’s founders’ narrow escape from a sexual attack, twice. After reviewing papers on “the empirical studies of rape avoidance,” the two female creators produced the form-fitting underwear with the intention of “frustrat[ing] an attack,” sending “a clear message to [someone’s] would-be assailant that she [or he] is NOT consenting.” On AR Wear’s crowdfunding site, the founders have explicitly prefaced their products as “not solv[ing] the fundamental problem [of] rape exist[ing] in our world,” but rather providing “confidence and protection that can be worn” while the “work of changing society’s rape culture moves forward.”
AR Wear recently surpassed its Indiegogo proposal for raising $50,000, which will allow the clothing line to hit store shelves next summer. As the product has gained greater publicity in the media, there has been an incredible backlash from a majority of newscasters, political pundits and self-identified feminists in the public arena. Despite AR Wear’s claims on its website, critique of the underwear has ranged from skepticism concerning its mechanics, fear that it might further infuriate an attacker and indignation of a product that places the responsibility on female-bodied individuals to not get raped. My response to these initial critiques is disappointment as I feel that they do not thoroughly address the gravity of the problem that this product is attempting to mitigate. The quick dismissal of a product that has placed rape under the spotlight—without the hollow hoopla that accompanies most cases of rape that are leaked to the press—is absolutely unacceptable. I believe a product like this deserves much more of a thorough analysis of its pros and cons than we’ve been giving it.
According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), every two minutes, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. Given the current crisis that we are dealing with, AR Wear provides the potential to not only provide greater feelings of security, but also access to a fail-safe device that will make it significantly harder for a sexual assault to be completed. AR Wear suggests, in its promotional video, that its line of products—soon to include running pants and traveling shorts—could be used particularly to make “women and girls feel safer when out on a first date, or a night of clubbing, taking an evening run, traveling in another country and other risky situations.” This is where our critique and fact-checking are overdue. Firstly, not only are female-bodied individuals assaulted, but male-bodied people are as well: one in 10 rape survivors is male-bodied, as reported by the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC). AR Wear’s illustration of “risky situations” for would-be victims completely supports a shallow understanding of rape as being an event that is perpetrated in the dark, when women are in foreign spaces with strangers. Research shows that less than one-third of sexual assaults are carried out by the stranger who jumps out of the bushes or waits in the crevices of a parking lot. Seventy-five percent of all sexual assault survivors know their assailants, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, and 80 percent of all rapes occur in the home. We must correct AR Wear in its exclusion of one’s own home as a “risky situation” and the possibility that one’s own acquaintances can be repeat offenders. To bring it home, let us remind AR Wear’s researchers that “90 percent of rape survivors on college campuses know their assailants,” and thus the company is doing future customers a disservice by not making them aware of the arenas where this product would certainly be most useful.
Given my coming debut into the world at the end of next semester, I am grateful even at the prospect of a product like this making it onto the shelves of a major department store. Sadly, I have every intention of purchasing an item from AR’s line. An analysis of my own motives in buying a pair of workout pants or traveling shorts is that it is based on my desire for greater feelings of security in this world. The starting price for AR’s underwear is expected to be roughly $60 a pair, which I think is unreasonable and will be inaccessible to most. Even so, I regretfully admit that the feeling of “confidence and protection” for me is worth every penny that I can afford to give.
The mere prospect of anti-rape wear has forced me to accept that I’m not at all content with the glacial pace at which we are addressing rape culture. In the meantime, I appreciate how this product might revoke some of the privilege, given to few people, of not having to think about rape. Once the products are out on the market, I will seriously have to consider: would I give these to my friends? Receive them as a “gift” from my elders? Buy them for my siblings? Or recommend them to a friend whom I know is being sexually assaulted, quite frequently, by a family member at home? The pain of having to answer these questions is close to unbearable, but the potential of restoring, at the very least, the peace of mind of one person in this victim-blaming society makes it worth it.