[Content Notice: sexual assault, rape, transphobic violence]
A few days ago, an Indiegogo campaign came to my attention. Called “AR Wear – Confidence & Protection That Can Be Worn,” the product is basically underwear that attempts to thwart rape by being… impregnable? impenetrable? (I can’t seem to think of terms that don’t sound like bad wordplays here).
The two women behind the project claim that they do not endorse victim-blaming:
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 it’s wonderful that the makers have taken these factors into consideration, the product remains unquestionably problematic — and the fact that its very existence will likely be used to victim-blame despite its makers’ ideas is just the start.
Practically speaking, three issues to come to mind. In the first place, sexual assault is not a crime that requires access to vaginal or anal openings. Next, in order for AR Wear to provide any even limited level of protection against forcible vaginal or anal penetration, it would have to be marketed as all-day every-day wear, not just for situations that neatly fit into the myths surrounding stranger rape (clubbing, travel, and so on). Thirdly, the studies cited in the campaign are about fighting back during attempted sexual assault, not the use of restrictive clothing. Other well-meaning devices designed to help women, like the RapeaXe “condom,” haven’t been shown to reduce rape rates.
More troubling than the practical concerns are the exclusionary ones. Colorlines calls out the marketing’s reinforcements of rape myths and Alexandra Brodsky has a dozen excellent questions for the makers of AR Wear, but I have just one.
Why is it being advertised using only white-seeming, thin-bodied, presumably adult cis women or adult trans women who have had genital surgery?
In the United States, the country in which this project originates, women of color, particularly black and Native American women, are more likely than white women to be sexually assaulted. There are some women of color shown in the stock photos near the beginning of the video, but none are shown wearing any of the garments in question.
Furthermore, women of color are less likely to be thin. From what I see of it, the garment is only for women whose bodies fall within a certain narrow size range. There is no data showing that being overweight decreases the risk of sexual assault.
Genital configuration is also an issue. Trans women, especially those of color, are more likely than their cis counterparts to be sexually assaulted, especially if incarcerated. Some trans women are barred from access to desired genital surgery by economic factors while others do not wish to have bottom surgery; the garment does not seem to accommodate AMAB anatomy. For that matter, it seems pointless to pay lip service to men in the preface when the product is clearly not intended for their use if they are cisgender.
To return to the issue of incarceration, being imprisoned carries with it the high risk of sexual assault. I somehow doubt that AR Wear is going to be approved to become part of standard prison garb.
Cost is another barrier. People living with less socioeconomic privilege are not only more likely to be incarcerated, they are more likely to experience violence in general; this includes an increased risk of sexual assault for women.
Anything allegedly designed to help and empower women against a problem should probably look at the concerns of the women most at risk for said problem. For women who fall under one or more of the above categories, i.e. categories that place them at higher risk for sexual assault, the marketing of AR Wear is another way by which their struggles and pain are erased from the discussion of sexual assault and rape.