Monday, January 27, 2014

Stopping Rape: IMPACT Chicago Instructors Reflect on Anti-Rape Underwear

The internet is abuzz with news and reactions to a new product: anti-rape underwear. Two designers put their concerns for women’s safety into an underwear design that prevents a rapist from being able to remove a woman’s underwear and raised the funds to start production. 

Is anti-rape underwear for you? The situations people encounter are so varied that we suggest the following criteria to help you assess the effectiveness of any tool, not just anti-rape underwear, for preventing, minimizing, or stopping rape.

1.      Can you access the tool any time you need it, do you know how to use it, and are you willing to use it?

At IMPACT Chicago, we focus on encouraging people to learn to use their own bodies for keeping themselves safe but we do not discourage people from using any tool that increases their feelings of confidence. Instructor Rob Babcock says, “if a weapon (e.g. pepper spray) or wearing particular clothing  makes you more confident (and is legal), then by all means go for it because we know that projecting confidence is a key self-defense tool.” 

Instructor Margaret Vimont says that the effectiveness of any tool (including our own voice, hands, feet, and legs) depends upon “having it available, knowing how to use it, and a willingness to use it.” We extend that recommendation to anti-rape underwear—just like compliance, mace or an elbow strike, for anti-rape underwear to be a viable option to reduce, minimize, or interrupt rape, you have to have it available, know how to use it, and be willing to use it.  

Anti-rape underwear was developed to increase women’s safety in the bar scene. Given that the majority of perpetrators know the women they rape (78%) and are more likely to rape a woman in her own home or the home of someone known to the victim (67%), it seems unlikely that anti-rape underwear will be an effective tool for most women.

2.      Do you have other tools available if one tool is not effective for a particular situation?

We encourage people to have many tools and to choose tools mindfully. Instructor Mark Nessel says, “No matter how effective a tool can potentially be, we recommend you minimize your risks by maintaining awareness and using your judgment skills. No single tool is going to work for every situation. If you are going into a situation where your awareness and judgment are likely to be impaired (e.g. drinking or drugs) and you are relying on only one tool (e.g. anti-rape underwear, pepper spray, or a knee to the groin),  then you are at greater risk than when your awareness and judgment are unimpaired and you have a range of tools in your toolbox.”

Instructor Nat Wilson says: “At first glance, I thought anti-rape underwear was ridiculous; it looks uncomfortable and reminds me of the chastity belt of yore. From an attacker’s perspective, it would not deter attacks in some situations, however, it could in others. For instance it might deter an attack where 1) the attacker is easily discouraged by complications or 2) the woman would be able to escape or fight back if given a little more time to act. So though anti-rape underwear would not be something we would incorporate into our self-defense courses, I would avoid saying that it would never work to stop rape.”

So, even if anti-rape underwear is useful in some circumstances, we would recommend that women have other tools available to them so that they are not solely reliant upon it.

3.      Does the tool enhance your feelings of self-worth and empowerment?

Another consideration is whether or not a tool enhances or restricts an individual’s sense of empowerment.  Instructor Molly Norris emphasizes the importance of having a variety of tools to underscore the message that you are worth protecting: “In IMPACT we emphasize using your awareness, leaving situations, and your voice to avoiding physical altercations if you can, but knowing your body can be there for you if you are in danger adds much weight to the message that you are worth taking care of.”

Instructor Katie Skibbe asks people to consider: “Even though anti-rape underwear might enhance some women’s feeling of safety, how might unlocking one’s underwear to go to the bathroom or to engage in consensual sex affect women’s feelings of strength and empowerment? How might such underwear reinforce the idea that women are second-class citizens? I believe the most effective tools are those that increase your feelings of strength and empowerment.” 

In conclusion, IMPACT Chicago encourages people to assess all tools—whether ones you have within you or those external to you—do you have it available at all times and are you willing to use it? Do you have more than one tool? Do the tools you have—whether or not you need to use them--enhance your feelings of self-worth and empowerment?

Martha Thompson, IMPACT Chicago Senior Instructor

Thanks to feedback from Rob Babcock, Karen Chasen, Brett Stockdill, and Nat Wilson.

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