By Betsy Webster
Efforts to build a company marketed as selling anti-rape underwear has created controversy.
The product is called AR Wear, which stands for anti-rape.
Two women are trying to get their business off the ground, saying the panties, shorts, knickers and tops are designed to prevent a rapist from gaining access to a woman’s body. They said the product will give females additional power over their bodies in the event of an assault.
The product is essentially a type of lower-body garment that locks in place, made with fabric that is extremely difficult to cut or for anyone but the user to remove.
But the company’s slogan, as stated on its IndieGoGo site, “A clothing line offering wearable protection for when things go wrong,” immediately drew criticism.
The New York women have launched a campaign on the crowd-funding site, IndieGoGo.com. The promotional video features a slim, young woman admiring herself in the mirror while wearing a pair of boy shorts. She then slips into a snug black dress.
“We wanted to provide a product that will make women and girls feel safer when out on a first date or a night of clubbing, taking an evening run, traveling in another country or in other potentially risky situations,” the voice on the commercial intones.
Sexual assault awareness groups and feminist groups have taken issue with what they fear will be a mistaken message. They worry that women assume that rape stems from “risky situations,” when experts say the vast majority of sexual violence in the United States involves people who know and trust each other.
“Given their risk scenarios that they outline,” said rape victim advocate Amanda Thompson. “I think it does perpetuate the idea that it’s not rape unless it’s a violent attack in that area of the body.”
Thompson works for the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault. She worries the product launch reinforces misinformed stereotypes about rape.
“If these become mass produced,” Thompson said, “and certain people can fit into them and certain people can’t and certain people can afford them and certain people can’t, we don’t want that to turn into another instance where people can reference, ‘Well, I didn’t have my anti-rape wear on. Maybe it was my fault.'”
The inventors, who use only their first names, have faced similar criticism worldwide.
“We abhor the culture of male violence in society and wish we could invent a magic formula to end rape,” said Ruth, one of the women behind the campaign. “Our product line does nothing to undermine efforts to educate the public and change rape culture. It offers another tool of defense that might work in some cases of assault. Providing a new option for protection from sexual assault is not victim blaming, nor does it perpetuate rape myths. We are sorry that some disagree.”
Women on Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza had mixed feelings about whether they would use the underwear, but generally the opinions ranged on whether they believed it would be useful, not whether the campaign was harmful.
“If it works, then I think it’s great,” said Robin Yakaitis, “But how could it work? I keep running through the scenarios and I don’t see how it could work.”‘
Others said they see the need. They are also grateful that the topic is being discussed.
“I could’ve used a pair of those before,” said Francie Biggs. “I think that’s kind of cool. I like what they’re doing. I think it sends a good message out there.”
Biggs said she cares a great deal about stopping sexual violence and took offense at any criticism about some unintended negative message that could come from the product campaign.
The company’s founders cite a study, “A 10-Year Update of “Review and Critique of Empirical Studies of Rape Avoidance,” which concludes that resisting an attacker reduces the chance of a rape.
Ruth told PolicyMic that she was, herself, a victim of sexual assault.
“I got attacked two times when I was in college,” Ruth said. “The first time, I fought the guy off. He thought he heard a noise somewhere, and I kept fighting. He ran away.”
The inventors seem to have anticipated having their motives questioned. The very first paragraph of the product pitch page contains the following statement:
“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. Meanwhile, as long as sexual predators continue to populate our world, AR Wear would like to provide products to women and girls that will offer better protection against some attempted rapes while the work of changing society’s rape culture moves forward.”
The investors are about 20 percent short of their $50,000 goal. You can see more by clicking here.
Ruth issued the following statement to KCTV5 about the controversy:
“We appreciate your interest, but do not feel it is productive to engage in a debate about whether providing a product that some women would want to use for protection in some circumstances should be seen as ‘victim-blaming.’ I believe that we make our position very clear in the ‘Preface’ text of our campaign page.
“We do not claim to be providing a product that prevents rape under all circumstances. We do not use victim blaming or rape myths in our campaign, nor do we place the responsibility for ending rape on women or assume that the only type of rape is stranger rape. We abhor the culture of male violence in society and wish we could invent a magic formula to end rape. Our product line does nothing to undermine efforts to educate the public and change rape culture. It offers another tool of defense that might work in some cases of assault. Providing a new option for protection from sexual assault is not victim blaming, nor does it perpetuate rape myths. We are sorry that some disagree.”