This week, the world is turning its attention to Africa for the World Cup games, but a terrible problem that’s been plaguing the continent for years is still going largely ignored. According to Human Rights Watch, South Africa has one of the highest rape rates in the world, and many women in the country live in constant fear of being attacked. One South African doctor, Sonnet Ehlers, is saying enough is enough — she sold her house and car to finance and invent a female condom laced with sharp tooth-like hooks that clamp onto an attacker’s penis upon penetration. The design is controversial, with many saying that the device is a “medieval” solution, but Ehlers believes it’s a way to make rapists think twice about the crime they’re about to commit.
Called Rape-aXe, the female condom is inserted by a woman much like a tampon. Of the effects of the condom on an attacker, Ehlers explained, “It hurts, he cannot pee and walk when it’s on. If he tries to remove it, it will clasp even tighter… however, it doesn’t break the skin, and there’s no danger of fluid exposure.” Further more, only a doctor can remove Rape-aXe once it’s lodged on, meaning that hopefully, police can be on standby to make an arrest when the injured assailant look for medical help.
Ehlers designed the spiked condom after seeing the devastation in the eyes of a rape victim that came to her for help 40 years ago. She consulted engineers, gynecologists and psychologists to confirm that the design was safe and now plans to distribute 30,000 of them for free during the World Cup, after which they’ll be available for about $2 each. “The ideal situation would be for a woman to wear this when she’s going out on some kind of blind date … or to an area she’s not comfortable with,” she said.
Ehlers even visited prisons to speak to convicted rapists about whether such a device would have made them rethink their actions. “Some said it would have,” she said.
Some critics are saying that the device could lead to more violence by an attacker trapped by it, and that it is a medieval solution, a criticism to which Ehlers, a mother of two daughters responded, “Yes, my device may be a medieval, but it’s for a medieval deed that has been around for decades. I believe something’s got to be done … and this will make some men rethink before they assault a woman.”
We do have one question about the design though – how does a woman take the device out herself and how can she prevent an attacker from doing the same?