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What the Company Marketing ‘Anti-Rape Underwear’ Gets Wrong About Rape

The line includes several different types of underwear and shorts that are intended to be difficult for a sexual predator to remove.

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That’s a subtle dynamic, but it furthers a dangerous myth about rape: The idea that it’s about sexual desire. In fact, rape doesn’t happen because men are wildly attracted to beautiful women, even though that’s been society’s longstanding approach to female sexuality. Rape is about  power and entitlement. That’s why  teaching women to cover up isn’t actually an effective rape prevention strategy.
Purity and whiteness have also typically been linked in our culture. Society has a troubled relationship with  black women’s sexuality, and tends to portray women of color as  inherently promiscuous. That ultimately means they’re assumed to be at less risk for sexual assault. Our deeply-ingrained rape culture typically eschews the idea that  promiscuous women can beraped — since they must have “asked for it.”
4. It’s misleading to suggest there are simple steps women can take to guarantee they won’t be raped.
AR Wear’s founders acknowledge that their new line of underwear won’t put an end to all sexual assaults. “No product alone can solve the problem of violence against women,” they  note. But putting forth this type of product in the first place suggests that there are small steps every woman can take to mitigate her risks. It’s understandable that many people are eager to help women feel safer. That’s arguably why so many well-intentioned public figures continue to  tell women to drink less, hoping that advice will help protect them.
But every time we tell women that they should take another precaution to keep themselves safe — wear more clothing, stop drinking as much alcohol, watch their drink carefully, and don some anti-rape underwear — we’re furthering the fundamental premise upon which rapeculture rests. As  Slate’s Amanda Hess notes, “Rape is a societal problem, not a self-help issue.” Even if women follow all the instructions that are given to them, that still won’t necessarily prevent them — or other women — from being victimized. It will simply end up  laying the blame at their feet if they do fall victim to a sexual crime, since they’ll wonder what more they could have done to protect themselves.
5. We already know about some very effective strategies to prevent rape; we’re just not implementing them.
Of course, this isn’t to say we’re all powerless in the face of the  global sexual assault epidemic. There are very real ways to  tackle rape culture. Sexual assault prevention advocates believe that it starts with  comprehensive sex education, to help educate kids about how to recognize when someone is violating their consent. And when kids age, the education campaigns should continue. College activists are attempting to implement more  bystander intervention programsto teach students how to get involved when they see something that might turn into a sexual assault. Strong criminal justice policies that make it  easier for victims to report crimes, and that actually hold the perpetrators  accountable for those crimes, are another important area ripe for policy change.
It’s easier to develop products like anti-rape underwear than it is to take on the actual roots ofrape culture. It’s easier to raise awareness about sexual assault than it is to actually implement the  right policies to prevent it. It’s easy to have good intentions. But it’s also largely unhelpful when it comes to advancing the real goal of creating a world that’s safe for women.

Tara Culp-Ressler is the Health Editor for ThinkProgress. Before joining the ThinkProgress team, Tara deepened her interest in progressive politics from a faith-based perspective at several religious nonprofits, including Faith in Public Life, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and Interfaith Voices.

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