India’s anti-rape underwear: mask to a larger problem

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April 11, 2013 by

Lingerie is now getting lethal.

Three Indian engineering students have created Society Harnessing Equipment (S.H.E.), a type of lingerie designed to protect Indian women from the frequent crime of sexual assault.

The lingerie, designed like a nightgown, releases a 3,800-kilovolt shock capable of knocking down assaulters if pressure sensors around the breast and underwear are activated. However, the woman wearing the garment would not be harmed due to protective insulation. The students have also equipped the outfit with a GPS and alert system that contacts police if the pressure sensors go off, allowing them to arrive to the scene quickly.

Rimpi Tripathi, Niladri Basubal and Manisha Mohan created the lingerie after the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old student on a moving bus in New Delhi last December.

Though the innovative lingerie could be helpful and protect Indian women from sexual assault, it raises the question: Why is sexual violence against women so prevalent?

The invention of this “anti-rape underwear” is a mask to a larger problem affecting 1 in 3 women worldwide. As a Women and Gender Studies major at DePaul University, it both angers and frustrates me that women must resort to literally wearing armor in order to protect themselves from attack. It is a denial of the basic right of security if a woman has to live every day of her life in fear of attack.

In light of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I raise the question, how do we bring an end to the rape culture that permeates our communities?

One solution is through education on sexual violence in not only college classes but high schools and middle schools. Discussions would lead to an outline of behavior that is not tolerable, and the exploration of the traumatic effects that result from such violence would create an understanding of why it is intolerable as well as lay a foundation of empathy for others.

It is also the responsibility of lawmakers to create regulations that protect women, and it is the responsibility of public officers to enforce these rules, justly punishing culprits. It is not enough to imprison a criminal of sexual violence; they must be educated on the severity of their actions, why it is not acceptable and the lasting effects of their crime rather than wait for their sentence to be completed.

Though the anti-rape underwear is designed for situations where strangers are the assaulters, most of the people that commit crimes of sexual violence know the victim/survivor in some way. In cases like these there is a need for legal consent from both parties when sex is in the equation. Like we saw with the Steubenville rape case, being drunk or unconscious does not mean, “yes,” and it certainly does not make it ok for someone to take advantage of that person. The question of whether both parties are comfortable and agree that sex can happen is a must. Without permission it is indeed, rape.

There must also be a shift in the view of the victim/survivor. Society must protect and support those affected by sexual violence and believe their stories instead of dismissing it as false. According to the U.S. Department of Justice only 54% of instances of sexual violence are reported. We owe it to the brave women and men who have come forward to listen to their stories and take them seriously. Shaming them into silence, telling them they are overreacting and saying they brought it on themselves, especially when alcohol is part of the situation, only dehumanizes them more.

For too long have we been living in a rape culture and far too many have suffered from the physical and emotional pain of sexual violence. It is not enough to armor oneself, but dialogue and education must continue to dismantle the house of oppression that is sexual violence.


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