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Could anti-rape underwear work?

 Creata's Images/Thinkstock
Creata's Images/Thinkstock

Last fall, New York company AR Wear's Indigogo crowdfunding campaign generated a slew of headlines. That's because the "AR" in AR Wear stands for "anti-rape," and their goal is to manufacture a line of "anti-rape" underwear to provide women, in their words, "wearable protection for when things go wrong."

Made out of tear-resistant cloth with a waistband that locks into place, the boy shorts and jogging pants AR Wear designed appear virtually impossible to remove from someone's body with out her assistance. Their product rationale straightforward: "We wanted to offer some peace of mind in situations that cause feelings of apprehension, such as going out on a blind date, taking an evening run, "clubbing", traveling in unfamiliar countries, and any other activity that might make one anxious about the possibility of an assault."

The AR Wear campaign surpassed its funding goal and last reported that it's expanded its team (although no word as to when AR Wear might be available for purchase). As a woman who is admittedly too nervous about the prospect of assault to go jogging after dark, part of me likes the idea of so-called anti-rape clothing, but I also wonder if it really works. The fact of the matter is if someone wants to attack me when I'm running in my neighborhood, the sight of AR Wear pants isn't going to stop people in their tracks; violence, in all likelihood, will still ensue. The big difference is that my crotch will be shielded -- but that's only one part of my body. And as Alexandra at Feministing astutely pointed out, sexual assault isn't confined to vaginal penetration.

That said, AR Wear acknowledges that its products can't solve the persistent, global problem of rape: "The only one responsible for a rape is the rapist and AR Wear will not solve the fundamental problem that rape exists in our world. Only by raising awareness and education, as well as bringing rapists to justice, can we all hope to eventually accomplish the goal of eliminating rape as a threat to both women and men." Nonetheless, a number of feminists took issue with the product line since they believed it perpetuates the myth that "stranger danger" is the source of sexual assault. According to the Rape and Incest National Network (RAINN), around two-thirds of assault victims knew the perpetrators, and 38 percent of those perpetrators were family members or intimate partners. So statistically, me being too afraid of the dark to go running isn't all that logical, and it isn't outside of my home that AR Wear would come in handiest. And on top of that, some interpreted AR Wear as a "modern chastity belt," reinforcing sexist ideas about it being a woman's responsibility to dress and act in such a way to prevent rape, which a) is impossible and b) does nothing to uproot the actual causes of sexual assault and rape.

Debates like these have sparked before as AR Wear isn't the first of its kind, at least conceptually. Earlier in 2013, students at the National Institute of Fashion and Technology in New Dehli designed a stun gun-like jacket women could wear to ward off attackers. Prior to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, an anti-rape female condom reminiscent of vagina dentata also made the media rounds. Not to mention how women have long been offered a variety of prevention strategies from pepper sprays to self defense classes to misguided warnings about the skirt lengths and cleavage exposure -- to no avail, as sexual assault takes place every two minutes in the United States. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledges that "little is known about what works to prevent sexual violence," so surely if some type of locktight undies like AR Wear truly worked we would've already heard about it.

In terms of sexual assault prevention strategies, what jumped out to me from the CDC's research wasn't victim-focused (i.e. pepper spray and anti-rape jogging pants), but bystander focused: "The goal of bystander prevention strategies is to change social norms supporting sexual violence and empower men and women to intervene with peers to prevent an assault from occurring." In other words, it focuses on uprooting rape culture, the only true long-term solution which will require far more than crowdfunding to fix.

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