Column: Stopping rape by any means necessary

By Jenette Sturges

Two weeks ago, Sonette Ehlers, a South African gynecologist, unveiled her controversial invention, the Rapex. The polyurethane device is inserted into the vagina by a woman who thinks she is at risk for rape (say, before heading out to the bars or a wild party) and works during an attack by lodging burr-like teeth into the penis of the attacker. Once implanted, it can only be removed by surgery, allowing rapist identification by physicians and creating evidence to further support convictions should the victim choose to report the rape.

It certainly does seem to solve the problem of a woman’s word against her attacker’s by providing more solid evidence against him, particularly in cases where force was not used. However, serious questions are obviously raised concerning the Rapex, namely doctor-patient confidentiality issues and the admittance of the Rapex into evidence during trials. A specific concern is whether or not judges and jurors would see the use of the device as suggesting that the victim were somehow setting up the accused, thus weakening her case. Moreover, the device would fail to help those women who are victims of rape within abusive relationships, in which the power balance is so that women would not have access to the device.

However, the Rapex does have one major strength. It’s a definite signal that the victim was not a willing participant in intercourse. Acquaintance rape is a huge problem, particularly on college campuses where alcohol inhibits good judgment and body language of relatively inexperienced people is often misinterpreted. People often perceive a gray area when it comes to acquaintance rape, using excuses like inebriation or mixed signals, to say that while it technically could be considered rape, maybe it wasn’t really that bad. Maybe she kinda did want to.

Either she wants to have sex, she doesn’t want to, or she isn’t sure. Something like Rapex takes the guesswork out of the “unsure” response. Guys, if you get stabbed with something like this, odds are that you shouldn’t have coerced the drunk and otherwise celibate girl into sleeping with you. She didn’t want to.

More importantly, however, is the power that a device like this would have as a deterrent. Ehlers is hoping her invention will make men think twice before attacking a woman, making sure that he has consent before proceeding and serving justice to victims of rape who, thanks to Ruphenol, do not even remember the attack.

But I think the importance of this invention does not lie in its ability to stop rape. There are too many legal problems to keep something like Rapex from really being effective. Instead, this device is important for the message it sends out to society. If rape is a societal ill, then it can be considered an epidemic. It has become so common in society that nobody really gasps anymore when you say it’s happened to you. As a victim myself, it’s easy for me to talk about because I can think of a number of other women who share my experience, and it’s no longer seen as something to be ashamed of. If it were, one third of the women you knew wouldn’t be able to show their faces in public.

The biggest fault in Rapex seems to be its placing the responsibility on women to protect themselves from sexual assault, a responsibility many women seem to be taking on because they still feel threatened and believe the system has failed them. Opponents of Rapex claim that putting it on drugstore shelves next to condoms would normalize rape to the same level as premarital sex, as though admitting that a problem exists will make it worse. In reality, admitting that rape is a problem will only urge more people to do something about it.

The truth is that rape is already prevalent in society. Ehlers is simply acknowledging this fact, and trying to end it any way she can. While her method may be flawed, I have to say that I applaud her efforts.