The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

A Condom That Protects Against STDs, Unwanted Pregnancy, and Covers Your Penis in Tiny, Razor-Sharp Barbs

Posted by Daphne Shum on October 8, 2008

In 2005, South African blood technician Sonnet Ehlers invented the anti-rape female condom. Worn in the vagina like a tampon, the device immobilises the attacker by attaching razor-sharp barbs to the penis during the act of vaginal rape. The barbs can only be removed via surgery, effectively identifying the surgical patient as a rapist to health authorities.

Evocatively named Rape-aXe, Ehlers insists its purpose is less to inflict suffering upon rapists than to buy victims crucial time to escape their attackers. Furthermore, the device protects wearers against sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy.

There has been scant literature and debate surrounding this fascinating invention, and many questions unanswered regarding its effectiveness, accessibility, cost, and potential for misuse. Some have condemned the invention as a man-hating instrument of torture, a criticism Ehlers succinctly addresses by suggesting it is a “a medieval device for a medieval deed.”

Although Rape-aXe cannot protect against all forms of rape – it can only prevent further rape after an initial act of vaginal rape has already occurred, we should address its potential for empowering certain women, such as those living in areas with high rates of crime, or potential victims of war rape.

I am surprised and disappointed that this device has not received greater coverage in the popular media. If Rape-aXe became widely available, I wonder if its users would be lauded for taking a stand in self-preservation, or accused of sadism.

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13 Responses to “A Condom That Protects Against STDs, Unwanted Pregnancy, and Covers Your Penis in Tiny, Razor-Sharp Barbs”

  1. Tom Jackson said

    It’s a good idea. But I wouldn’t want to be in the path of the man who has just stuck his penis in it. I think it puts women at risk of being murdered in vengeance.

  2. Mel said

    I also recall that in South Africa (and other developing countries with high HIV infection rates), there’s a belief that men can avoid – or even cure – AIDS by having sex only with virgins, which leads to some horrific rapes of children. In that cultural context, where protecting against STDs, safeguarding especially vulnerable rape victims and identifying the HIV status of rapists is especially relevant, I think this device definitely has a place.

  3. scal said

    Surely any potential “misuse” would be pretty minimal; it’s not something you’d do for a laugh.

    Mel – can you imagine putting this inside a child though?

  4. Kat said

    There are lots of issues with this type of device which needs to be considered and discussed. The obvious issues I can think of are:
    – Would this result in those not using the device being told they wanted it/ expand on victim blaming
    – How is it removed, what is preventing violent assault to remove prior to rape?
    – Does this only work on one on one strange rape? I would think that repeat abuser or a gang rape would be able to work around the device
    – If it is not easily removed, how does someone safely participate in consensual sex or masturbate

  5. When I first read about Rape-aXe I was all for it. My mind was a bit clouded by my sadistic joy at the idea of punishing rapists that it took me a little longer to think of some wider implications.
    – Will women be able to go about their daily activities wearing this device?
    – Is the condom visible externally, and if so, will it be easily removed by the rapist?
    – If its use becomes widespread will rapists adapt by changing their practices?
    – Will Rape-aXe be misused by women to hurt or punish their sexual partners?
    The sad thing is we cannot determine the efficacy of this product until women have been sexually attacked while wearing it.

  6. thomasr said

    Surely this is not they way women want to live?

    Take this story:

    …a satellite in a decaying orbit was thought to be likely to crash-land in an remote area of Lapland that was virtually unpopulated save for a few nomadic reindeer-herders.

    The Swedish Govt. offered to chopper the reindeer herders out of the area, at vast cost to the Swedish taxpayer.

    Hermann Bondi, a famous British statistician, crunched the numbers and pointed out that the probability of any reindeer herder who stayed put having the satellite land on them was several orders of magnitude less than the chance they would be killed in a helicopter crash on a routine flight.

    Effectively, women would be in a state of fear for the sake of avoiding something that is unlikely to occur. I would also add that it’s my understanding that rapes are mostly committed by men you already know- and therefore you would be unlikey to “remember the Rape-aXe”.

    I would also add that a “device” such as this would also be likely to cause all sorts of issues: thrush, toxic shock and so on.

    Perhaps a good self defense course instead?

    Tom

  7. Meils said

    Tom – According to Interpol, South Africa (where the Rape-aXe was invented) holds the dubious title of “Rape Capital of the World.” The Law Reform Commission of SA estimates that 1.7 million rapes occur each year, and it is estimated that one in two women in the country will be raped in their lifetime.

    Whilst the bloodlusty Amazonian woman inside me is tempted to agree with Ehler’s “medieval device for a medieval deed”, when you consider that a significant proportion (up to one in three, from the articles I’ve had a quick scan of) of reported rapes are gang-mediated; I can’t see how her simplistic response to “is it possible that the rapist will kill their victim?” –

    Luckily rapists do have brains they loose it for a few moments, when their blood rush to a certain body part, after that he will realize that is tagged and he knows he will be in double trouble should he kill you.

    – really fits in with power complexities and a multiple perpertrator situation.

  8. Mel Campbell said

    To me this still reveals a uniquely South African cultural context of helplessness and inevitability about rape – like it will happen to you sooner or later, perpetrators don’t seem to get punished, and it’s up to women to take action.

    There appear to be plenty of problems with how it’d work in practice, but perhaps it’s equally trying to change a ‘rape culture’ through deterrence: if rapists think it’s a widespread device, do they want to take the chance?

  9. thomasr said

    @meils I was putting this device in the context of- as this blog proclaims – “Australian Feminism..” and ask my questions about this device in that light.

    In South Africa… thats a whole different roll of barbed wire.

    Tom

  10. mscate said

    I think it’s rather bizarre, like the idea that chemical castration will prevent rape. It may prevent or reduce penis related vaginal assaults in some incidences but also smacks of women again having to take responsibility for their sexual safety rather than placing the onus on men to take responsibility for their behaviour. Will women in certain communities who forgo the device (for whatever reason) be considered ‘asking for it’?

  11. tina_sparkle said

    totally agree, mscate! once more we have to shift the focus back from women taking precuationsto men taking responsibility for their behaviour

  12. dudette said

    @ Tina sparkle.

    Of course you need to take responsibility for your own safety! Anything else i like saying you don’t need to be careful abt being robbed while carrying a hundred thousand dollars. I support this Rape Axe, self defence and Mace carrying for women. It’s a fact that we’re vulnerable, don’t be blind to it.

  13. No woman is blind to it, Dudette, far from it. But it is absolutely NOT our responsibility to not get raped. We don’t get raped because we didn’t protect ourselves against rape – we get raped because someone wants to rape us.

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