Tuesday 21 July 2009

Technical Solutions to Social Problems?

"If only I had teeth down there" was the title of a public discussion organised by Terre des Femmes, a Berlin-based group specialised in women's rights (Monday 20). Sonnet Ehlers, the South African inventor of Rape-aXe, presented the prototype of her "anti-rape condom" for women. Rape-aXe does not prevent rape - it only makes penetration extremely short and painful for the perpetrator: rigid barbs drill into his skin and stay there. The device cannot be removed from the perpetrator's body without medical assistance. For a graphic explanation, consult the official site. Ms. Ehlers says Rape-aXe buys time - while the perpetrator recovers from the shock of finding his parts trapped inside the "condom", his victim may get away.

The overwhelmingly female attendance was divided over the benefits and risks associated with Rape-aXe, which is expected to hit the world market in October 2009. It may be a powerful deterrent. But what if, as an undesired outcome, attacks on young girls, less likely to carry the device than adult women, increase? Ms. Ehlers says she works on a protective device for children as well. Isn't it child abuse, objects a participant, when you insert devices into a girls' body - even if they are meant to protect her from assault? And who can afford these devices, anyway, if they must be replaced every 24 hours?

Ms. Ehlers's answers to the many questions are stern, curt, sometimes polemic and often evasive, especially when it comes to psychological and social issues. As evidence for effectiveness, she mentions discussions held in prisons with "many rapists" and in unspecified townships.
Technical solutions to social problems? I'm unconvinced. But the device is stunning indeed.

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