A South African doctor has developed a new female condom that she hopes will combat rape in the most painful way possible. Dr. Sonnet Ehlers has invented Rape-axe, a female device with jagged hooks that latch onto a man’s penis during penetration, according to the NY Daily News.
Dr. Sonnet Ehlers was on call one night four decades ago when a devastated rape victim walked in, reports CNN. Her eyes were lifeless and she was like a breathing corpse.
“She looked at me and said, ‘If only I had teeth down there,'” recalled Ehlers in an interview with CNN, who was a 20-year-old medical researcher at the time. “I promised her I’d do something to help people like her one day.”
And forty years later, Dr. Sonnet Ehlers has invented Rape-axe. The woman inserts the latex condom like a tampon. True to her word, Rape-Axe has jagged teeth-like hooks that latch onto a man’s penis during penetration.
Ehlers is distributing the female condoms in the various South African cities where the World Cup soccer games are taking place. Once its in place, it can only be removed by a doctor – a procedure Ehlers hopes will be done with authorities on standby to make an arrest.
“It hurts, he cannot pee and walk when it’s on,” she said. “If he tries to remove it, it will clasp even tighter… however, it doesn’t break the skin, and there’s no danger of fluid exposure.” Ehlers said she sold her house and car to launch the project, and she planned to distribute 30,000 free devices under supervision during the World Cup period.
“I consulted engineers, gynecologists and psychologists to help in the design and make sure it was safe,” she said. After the trial period, they’ll be available for about $2 a piece. She hopes the women will report back to her.
“The ideal situation would be for a woman to wear this when she’s going out on some kind of blind date … or to an area she’s not comfortable with,” she said.
Dr. Sonnet Ehlers said she visited prisons and talked to convicted rapists to find out whether such a device would have made them rethink their actions. Dr Ehlers isn’t worried that would-be rapists will think to check their victims for anti-rape condoms:
“I went into prisons, and I spoke to the rapists themselves. Most of them said to me that it would be such a surprise factor… I said ‘and will you look for Rape-aXe beforehand?’ And they said no because it’s a hit and run, you’ve got to be quick and get away from the scene.”
Critics say the female condom is not a long-term solution and makes women vulnerable to more violence from men trapped by the device.
It’s also a form of “enslavement,” said Victoria Kajja, a fellow for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the east African country of Uganda. “The fears surrounding the victim, the act of wearing the condom in anticipation of being assaulted all represent enslavement that no woman should be subjected to.”
Kajja said the device constantly reminds women of their vulnerability. “It not only presents the victim with a false sense of security, but psychological trauma,” she added. “It also does not help with the psychological problems that manifest after assaults.”
However, Dr Ehlers doesn’t believe her invention could put women in even greater danger. “The men are violent already, so I cannot make them more violent with Rape-aXe. And another thing is if they kill their victim, he will be in double trouble. Because he’s tagged, he cannot remove it, he’s got to go to a hospital, and then he’s identified. So now at least he’ll be up for rape, and not for murder and rape.”
This assumes, of course, that a rapist, finding his penis gripped by invisible needles, will pause to consider the legal ramifications of taking out his anger on his victim. Dr Ehler’s website claims that at this point the anti-rape condom “will buy you time to get away”. She puts it all down to the benefit of the “surprise factor”.
“The moment he looks down – ‘what happened to me?’ – that gives you time to jump up and run. He cannot run after you. You must remember that it’s attached to the penis during erection, and the penis wants to go back to normal, and it can’t because it’s almost like a splint that’s on it now. He cannot urinate, because if he pulls the tip to cut that off so that he can urinate, he pulls the hooks deeper into his body.”
Various rights organizations that work in South Africa declined to comment, including Human Rights Watch and Care International.
South Africa has one of the highest rape rates in the world, Human Rights Watch says on its website. A 2009 report by the nation’s Medical Research Council found that 28 percent of men surveyed had raped a woman or girl, with one in 20 saying they had raped in the past year, according to Human Rights Watch.
In most African countries, rape convictions are not common. Affected women don’t get immediate access to medical care, and DNA tests to provide evidence are unaffordable.
“Women and girls who experience these violations are denied justice, factors that contribute to the normalization of rape and violence in South African society,” Human Rights Watch says.
Women take drastic measures to prevent rape in South Africa, Ehlers said, with some wearing extra tight biker shorts and others inserting razor blades wrapped in sponges in their private parts.
Critics have accused her of developing a medieval device to fight rape. “Yes, my device may be a medieval, but it’s for a medieval deed that has been around for decades,” she said. “I believe something’s got to be done … and this will make some men rethink before they assault a woman.” [Rape-Axe Website via NY Daily News and CNN]