Eugenia de Altura is a female graduate student conducting research on issues of women and gender in the cities of La Paz and El Alto, Bolivia. Bolivia is the poorest country in Latin America with the exception of Haiti, and over 60% of the country’s population is of indigenous descent. Eugenia’s postings explore women’s rights, sexuality, and reproductive health in Bolivia and in Latin America as a whole.
For the past few weeks, I have been an avid follower of the World Cup. Having lived in Latin America for much of the last ten years, I have always enjoyed watching soccer, but the World Cup is a different experience altogether. I get up at ungodly hours and stake out tables at local bars to find the best seat to watch the game. With a new friend from Holland, I have celebrated Dutch victories. Since many of my friends are Argentine, I cried at their team’s devastating 4-0 loss to Germany. And for the final on Sunday, my loyalties are evenly split—it would be equally exciting to see Spain or Holland take the Cup, since neither team has ever taken it all.
Despite the hours I have spent staring at South African soccer fields and listening to the bee-like vuvuzelas, however, I know very little about South Africa. So, imagine my surprise and horror when I saw this. Sickened by her experiences treating rape victims, South African doctor Sonnet Ehlers has invented a device that she hopes will lead to more arrests and convictions of rapists. The device, which a woman inserts like a tampon, consists of a latex sheath with “jagged rows of teeth-like hooks” on the inside that “attach on a man’s penis during penetration.” Since only a doctor can remove the “Rape-aXe,” the hope is that authorities will arrest a rapist when he shows up at a hospital to have the device removed.
According to the Human Rights Watch profile on the country, South Africa suffers “the highest rates in the world of rape reported to the police.” 28% of men surveyed by the Medical Research Council of South Africa reported having raped a woman or a girl. Folks, this is almost 1 in 3 men. 1 in 20 men from the same survey admitted to having raped in the last year.
As I have written time and time again for Bolivia (where sexual violence is also endemic): WTF??!! How can this be possible? How can so many men have such poor, and dehumanizing, ideas about women that they see no problem with raping them? Make no mistake: high rape rates in developing areas of the world such as South Africa or Bolivia do NOT result from men’s greater access to women, or from greater rates of alcohol or drug abuse, or from poverty, or—God forbid—from their “Latinness” or “Africanness.” They result from sexism, misogyny, machismo, or whatever you want to call it. From cultures of generalized violence toward and disrespect of women.
This was the source of my “horror” when I saw this article on the Rape-aXe. It is not that I believe that Dr. Ehlers should not have invented, or be distributing, this rape-catcher. The horror is that there is such a demand and a need for these devices. Critics of the Rape-aXe call the device a form of enslavement for women that “reminds [them] of their vulnerability,” even if it might result in more arrests of rapists. But the truth seems to be that, in South Africa women are vulnerable, whether they are “reminded of it” or not. And if we cannot correct the misogynistic ideas about women that lead to rape quickly enough, perhaps an acceptable alternative is to trap offending males in the jaws of the Rape-aXe.