Anti-rape underwear: Do women really need to put themselves under lock and key?

We need to stop confusing people’s levels of crime prevention with blaming victims for what has been done to them

Anti-rape underwear: it’s made for a Twitterstorm. An idea more likely to inspire heated opinions than a debating radiator. Only it’s not just a concept.

Anti-rape knickers have not only been designed, but their American creators have already crowdfunded more than their target $50,0000 needed to get the pants - complete with cut-resistant fabrics, a “reinforced skeletal structure” around the crotch, and combination locks around the thighs  - from prototype to the shelves.

Cue outrage. It’s being dubbed a modern-day chastity belt, and one that blames victims of rape, rather than rapists. The gear is condemned for making the world seem a more dangerous place than it is; whilst a police officer entering a violent fracas would want a riot shield, and a soldier going into a war zone would want protection, are our streets so risky that women need to put themselves under lock and key?

Some believe the “AR Wear” could make an awful situation even worse: would a rapist confronted with the clothing turn even more violent, to devastating effect?

And one critical blogger has even gone so far as to come up with a parodic version of the anti-rape clothing for men. “Since many sexual assaults are tied to student and professional athletes, these items will include a sound chip in helmets that plays on constant loop that simply states, “don’t rape anyone,” whilst businessmen could wear a “tie version” with audio reminders, “Remember! Don’t be a rapist!”

Then there are those tweeters who focus on the anti-rape gear’s practical problems – like what if the pants-wearer forgot her own combination. It could get messy, particularly after a few glasses.

It’s easy to mock a new idea. But one of the creators of the AR Wear says she was subjected to two attempted rapes, which made her think that preventative clothing could help others in similar situations. In the investment pitch, AR Wear’s designers say they know that “rape is about as wrong as it gets” and that “the only one responsible for a rape is the rapist”. The kit isn’t aimed at changing society’s views of rapists or of their victims, but a practical measure to help save its wearers from dangerous, potentially life-threatening, sexual assault.

Every so often we still have news reports of rape that focus on what the women were wearing or doing or drinking at the time of their attack. Each of these comments reveal that society still needs to wake up to its smearing of victims. We need to stop confusing people’s levels of crime prevention with blaming victims for what has been done to them: if someone forgets to padlock their belongings in the gym locker, or neglects to password-protect their smartphone, then sees their belongings being stolen, it’s not their fault – although using the locks is one way to prevent crime. 

If these knickers come to market, a woman who opts not to wear them and becomes a victim of rape should not be judged. That people believe this could happen shows just how much society needs to re-think its response to rape.

But if a police officer enters a riot scene sports a bulletproof vest, it isn’t regarded as an incitement to shooting.

Likewise AR Wear. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t have to exist. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Most women in this country wouldn’t want to pull on these pants of a morning. But the streets of Britain are far safer than those in many other countries around the world. And if some women feel safer and happier putting themselves under lock and key, others shouldn’t judge them.