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Over the last few weeks, the internet has been abuzz with the introduction of a rather interesting product: anti-rape underwear. AR Wear, a New York-based retail company, started a campaign via Indiegogo to sell "wearable protection when things go wrong." Their line of anti-rape pants, shorts and underwear—think Lululemon with a special lock component instead of hidden pocket—will have a super fitted design, making it hard for predators to pull the clothing off their victims. AR Wear has since raised almost $55,000 in crowdfunding to start their new line.
"We developed this product so that women and girls could have more power to control the outcome of a sexual assault," the underwear's creators, Yuval and Ruth, wrote on the funding page. "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 product has webbing and cut-resistant straps to create an "innovative skeletal structure." Photos on the campaign show a scissor can't even cut through the material. The item locks at the waistband, so it can't be pushed aside or pulled, but can be easily pulled off by wearers who can release the hold to unlock.
The company makes sure to note that "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." But based on their research, they say, they have learned that, "resistance increases the chance of avoiding a completed rape without making the victim more likely to be physically injured."
"We concluded that an item of clothing that creates an effective barrier layer can allow women and girls to passively resist an attacker, in addition to any other form of resistance they may be able to carry out at the time of an assault," they write.
But is it fair to market a piece of clothing as a way of combating sexual violence?
Many are suspicious, and even offended by the idea of the product, insisting the suggested idea that women need to wear such specified items places blame on the victim instead of the perpetrator.
"Aside from the fact that the company decided to take on a series issue like rape to promote their own product, their marketing campaign was extremely misinformational," Cora Harrington, who blogs at the Lingerie Addict, told Racked in a phone call. "Pointing to a specific piece of clothing to be worn in familiar territory only addresses stranger rape, when sexual assaults are more likely to come from someone they already know. The product seems to prey on a myth that women are more likely to get raped by strangers."
AR Wear is not the first to take a stab at creating a product to prevent rape. Earlier this year, students from India created their own version of anti-rape underwear, a high tech garment which releases 3,800,000 volts to an attacker and issues an emergency text message to police. Back in 2010, a doctor in South Africa created an anti-rape female condom, which inserts like a tampon and has jagged ends to attack any penetration.
But the target desire and marketing for these products provide a false sense of security, Harrington noted. Often, these products are promoted in the company's own interest without providing helpful information to women who could face an attack, painting a false picture they can be saved by an item of clothing.
"I'm really skeptical you can ever make a product that stops sexual assault," said Alexandra Brodsky, an editor at Feministing.com. "I worry these retailers don't have the knowledge base or input from rape survivors to even understand the problem."
"An invention like magical underwear doesn't help to understand sexual violence for individuals. It's a collective problem with a collective solution. Saying you can stop rape by buying something is a problem because it makes it seem like its an individual problem," she added.
Another look at an AR Wear style.
AR Wear's creators, who did not respond to emails, insist their vision came from the desire to combat rape. One creator, Yuval, told the Daily News she had heard a story about a woman who was raped with people nearby, and thought if something like a stubborn garment could have slowed down the attack, bystanders might have noticed. Yuval's partner, Ruth, said she experienced two near-rape situations, where one time a man had ripped off her jeans in "one fluid motion."
"She started screaming and something caused her attacker to run off," AR Wear, who have not revealed their last names, said. "The memory of how he had pulled down her clothing so quickly made her believe that AR Wear could be effective at preventing some rapes by causing delay."
Despite negative reactions, there are people who are praising its creation—the crowdfunding did, after all, well surpass its desired goal. AR Wear's Facebook page is just one home to the array of opinions.
"Wow, sorry to see any negative comments at all. I think this is a fantastic campaign and don't see how it could hurt. Sure, it may not work everytime, but this is the first thing I've seen that could realistically prevent sexual assault. Even if it worked one time, for one woman, then why not? What's the alternative?" one Facebook posts reads. "This is good news! Where is the matching muzzle to pull over my head preventing a potential rapist from violating my mouth? Can't wait to get it," retorted another.
Lisa Scheff, who heads the women's nonprofit Impact Bay Area, said she could understand the appeal to create and market such a product, but believes it will result in a dangerous impact, especially in telling women what to wear to prevent rape.
"I don't see retail as a place to teach about rape prevention. Pointing to a piece of clothing lends itself to blame, and its not feasible to tell women what to wear to prevent rape," Scheff, whose organization teaches self defense classes and other tools to combat sexual violence, said. "AR Wear is taking a passive approach to rape by not teaching women they can fight back. Instead, they are creating a myth around clothing."
Scheff said she was frustrated the company has raised over $50,000 for a product that could not even be guaranteed to work. Her organization has since created a counter campaign on Indiegogo to respond to sexual violence; instead of promoting lingerie, she's raising money to fund classes for "effective boundary setting, personal safety, and physical self-defense skills."
"The notion that women should dress differently to keep themselves safe from sexual assault is dangerous and wrong. Clothes do not cause or prevent rape. Nuns and women in burkas are raped. Rapists cause rape," the campaign reads. "And rape culture, including the offensive notion that women need to keep their sexuality under lock and key to be safe, perpetuates the myth that women are helpless, that they cannot physically defend themselves."
· Confidence and Protection that Can be Worn [Indiego]