LETTER FROM THE SENIOR COPY EDITOR: Anti-Rape Wear: the fine line between victim blaming and vigilance

Posted on Apr 13 2014 - 3:16am by Kels Mejlaender

Rape has been a problem throughout human history, but one company claims it can help be part of rape prevention — AR (Anti-Rape) Wear. Advertised as “a clothing line offering wearable protection for when things go wrong,” according to its Indiegogo campaign page, AR Wear is a collection of shorts and pants for women that only the wearer can remove. The product is still just a prototype.

AR Wear has noble intentions, and though it is rife with a variety of problems on both practical and cultural levels, it should also not be completely dismissed. In a country where one in every six women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape,  according to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the idea of anti-rape pants does not seem like such a terrible one.

People could see anti-rape pants as simply another form of preventing an attack, like pepper spray or a rape whistle.

However, AR Wear is ridden with issues ranging from its advertising to its potential for encouraging victim blaming.  To start with the advertising flaws, AR Wear doesn’t exactly scream diversity. In the website’s video, a young, white, slim woman models the product. If you’re wondering where the women of varying body types, women of color and men are, the company has an answer.

AR Wear site managers posted an update to the website five months ago, explaing its budget only allowed for one model — she just happened to be young, white and media-ready pretty — but also said it plans to market to all women.That’s not a perfect response, but it’s hard to castigate AR Wear for flawed advertising portrayals when every other company does the exact same thing.  AR Wear also promised there will be a line of clothing for men once its budget increases — so that’s promising.

One glaring problem of AR Wear is that it promotes the stereotype that rapes occur down dark alleys by unknown villains. RAINN’s website states that  in reality approximately 2/3rds of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows.
This is particularly pertinent to college students. More than 75 percent of women who reported rape in 2008 were younger than 25 at the time of the assault, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey  National Institute of Justice.

Traditional college age students are thus more likely to face rape.  However, 85-90 percent of college students who were victims of rape in 2008 also knew their attackers, according to the National Institute of Justice. So while someone might use AR Wear for a run late at night, she or he might not think AR Wear is necessary when having dinner with a friend.

Another is that women and men both face the possibility of a variety of sexual assaults and physical violence from an attacker even if the attacker cannot get the victim’s pants off.  AR Wear does not promise perfection. Most concerning of all, AR Wear can seem to put some of the responsibility for rape in the hands of the victim. Not wearing anti-rape pants could become a new form of victim blaming. Questions like, “what were you wearing at the time of the attack?” could become “why weren’t you wearing anti-rape pants?”

AR Wear does seem to recognize the potential problem. In its campaign page’s preface, AR Wear states, “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.”

It goes on to say that the world needs awareness and education to end rape and that AR Wear seeks to provide products to women to protect against some rapes until society progresses. Though an interesting product, AR Wear is not going to become a must-have for women, and it seems highly unlikely it will join the lineup in victim blaming, especially since the second sentence on its website is essentially a statement against victim blaming.

Additionally, the first update AR Wear made to its website addressed victim blaming concerns, saying, “While we are trying to educate and change the rape mentality in society, thousands of women are being raped every day. They cannot wait for education to change mentalities.”

Obviously, the focus on preventing rape should be on education and awareness. Women and men can and should educate and speak about the extreme problem of rape, but progress takes time. Education about consent and rape culture is not going to reach everyone. While your money definitely should go to foundations and education systems that teach consent and fight against the potential for rape perpetuated against all people, that increased education and those systems of awareness are going to take time to implement.

We can tell people not to worry about sexual assault because it’s not their fault, but that very true knowledge is not going to do a lot of good during an attack — though it may help with the psychological aftermath. The primary message should always be that no one can ever blame a rape victim for an attack. You should be able to walk down the street in the nude and drunk without anyone thinking that gives him or her any sort of right over your person. But other messages and tools that hone in on confronting the fact that rapes do happen shouldn’t be maligned.

There needs to be a dialogue about it, certainly. Any anti-rape product advertised to potential victims should create a controversy, because it means we recognize how easy victim blaming is and how rampant it is in society.

Still, if someone wants to take a few extra steps knowing we have not yet reached a society where rape is a rarity — be that in learning self defense or by purchasing AR Wear — that person should not be accused of automatically perpetuating victim blaming. Taking steps to protect yourself in an imperfect world that does have a strong rape culture shouldn’t be shamed either. Though the campaigning period for AR Wear ended in November and AR Wear is not yet available for purchase, you can still leave a comment on the AR Wear website voicing your concerns or support:  https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/ar-wear-confidence-protection-that-can-be-worn.