Rape-aXe was a female 'condom' intended to be worn as an anti-rape device. It will be familiar to many of us as a low-tech version of the vagina dentata described in in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash; it serves exactly the same function, although in a more painful form. Rape-aXe is a latex sheath with inward pointing barbs designed to impale the male sex organ.

It was originally designed by South African inventor Sonnet Ehlers. She worked as a blood technician for the non-profit organisation SABTS, where she met many rape victims -- one of who made the fateful comment "If only I had teeth down there".

The result was essentially a female condom with the important addition of inward facing barbs, designed to pierce into the penis deeply enough that the rapist would need surgery to remove the condom. The theory was that the rapist would 1. be in too much pain to keep the victim from escaping, 2. be marked for easy identification, and 3. think twice before raping again, and perhaps, be prevented from doing it in the first place, if he knew this product was out there.

Released in 2005, the product was originally called RapeX, but this name was already in use by a European company (one that provided a completely unrelated service), so in 2006 the name was changed to Rape-aXe. Unfortunately, the name change was the least of the product's problems. While the sheath did not have any obvious shortcomings in form or function, it did have two major shortcomings -- a PR problem, and a distribution problem.

Strangely enough, the idea of rapists getting crippling groin injuries was not as popular as you might expect. Some argued that what money was available for rape-prevention initiatives could be spent on more positive programs -- prevention rather than revenge. There was also the rather abstract argument that women shouldn't have to be the ones doing something to discourage rape -- that burden should fall to the rapists. While I sympathize with the ideal that one should not have to insert things into one's body because of the immoral actions of other people, I also can't help but think that anyone who puts noble ideals over the prevention of rape by means that are actually available probably deserves some crippling groin injuries of their own. But I editorialize...

These issues fell into insignificance in light of a more problematic issue; in order for Rape-aXe to be effective on a large scale, it had to be in use by a significant portion of the population at the time of a rape. This is a logistical problem that can only be solved by a large-scale buy-in, and as a matter of fact, most women do not walk around expecting to be raped. This made implementation a serious problem, even if funds for free distribution could have been found.

We do not know if any of these problems would be enough to prevent the success of Rape-aXe. While production was expected to start in 2007, as of yet Rape-aXe is not commercially (or otherwise) available. The web-site is here, but gives no information as to when, or if, production is expected to start.

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