A South African inventor [Sonette Ehlers] unveiled a new anti-rape female condom on Wednesday that hooks onto an attacker's penis and aims to cut one of the highest rates of sexual assault in the world. . . .

Sounds like a great plan, always on the assumption that it works. It may indeed, as some critics seem to say, "enrage the attacker further and possibly result in more harm being caused," in the words of "Sam Waterhouse, advocacy coordinator for Rape Crisis." But it may also make him run screaming in pain, focused more on getting the condom off than continuing with the act. This is especially so when the rapist doesn't have a gun or a knife, and in the U.S., at least, nearly 85% of rapes don't involve a weapon (see table 66 here). Naturally, not a panacea, but a nice try. Plus, it's also life imitating Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash.

But, shifting from Snow Crash to Princess Bride, "Other critics say the condom is medieval and barbaric"; I don't know who the critics are, but I did indeed see one criticism following the story, in a Kansas State University newspaper, calling the device "barbaric." I do not think that word means what you think it means. Rape is barbaric. Sticking hooks into an attacker's penis as a means of interrupting a rape is eminently legitimate self-defense, even setting aside the poetic justice. If barbarians' supposed sins consisted of fending off rapists, even in painful ways, "barbaric" would be a high compliment, not a pejorative.

Please don't confuse this, incidentally, with the question of what punishments are appropriate for rapists — a different matter from what devices are appropriate to stop rape. (For instance, U.S. law does not authorize the death penalty for rape, but it certainly allows people who are in danger of being raped, or who are being raped, to kill the attacker in order to prevent or stop the rape.)

This post is interesting in the context of today's gun control postings. The overall lesson seems to be that one shouldn't try to tell people in exigent circumstances what means they can appropriately use to defend themselves.
9.8.2005 7:47pm
Zed Pobre (mail) (www):
Well, a lot of the gun safety issues that often come up actually apply here as well. What we have is a weapon that is:

1) Easily detected by someone who takes even a casual interest in where he's about to stick his dangly bits.

2) Unlikely to incapacitate the attacker (this makes it very different from Snow Crash's vagina dentata, which caused no pain at all, but incapacitated quickly). Deep penile scratches may be excruciatingly painful and embarassing, but aren't really going to affect an attacker's ability to beat the victim to death for doing it, and are likely to incite an attacker to do exactly that.

3) Difficult to maintain as a preventative. I expect that such a device would not be comfortable to wear 24 hours a day.

4) Unlikely to be deployed in sufficient numbers to act as a deterrent merely by existing.

While I'm entirely in agreement with Eugene Volokh about it being poetic justice, to a certain extent, I'm inclined to be exceedingly skeptical about whether this is more likely to decrease a woman's risk during a rape attempt than increase them.
9.8.2005 8:22pm
nk (mail) (www):
Professor Volokh is correct that deadly force can be lawfully used to stop a rapist -- either by the victim or by a third party. The decision (question by Zed Pobre) as to whether to use it, as far as I'm concerned, is the victim's and nobody else's. If I heard that a rape victim had also poisoned the hooks of the condom with a deadly poison, I would say, "More power to you, lady".
9.8.2005 8:31pm
GMUSL 1L (mail):
I totally agree with allowing the useage of dentata and similar devices to stop rape, but I can't help but analogize to the forbidden spring-guns...
9.8.2005 8:37pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
The classic arguments against spring-guns, as I understand it, are that (1) they use deadly force against relatively minor offenses (their purpose, after all, is chiefly to protect unoccupied dwellings), and (2) they may end up killing entirely innocent people, such as fireman and police officers.

Here we have much less dangerous devices, used against a vastly more serious crime, with little risk of injury to the innocent (unless the woman is quite forgetful, which, come to think of it, also happened in Snow Crash).
9.8.2005 8:41pm
Salaryman (mail):
GMUSL 1L raises an interesting point and I'm waaaay too many years away from law school to have an educated opinion on it. But Prof. Volokh isn't, and I wonder if he has time to discuss why the spring gun isn't an persuasive analogy (I'd imagine the difference between protecting property interests and protecting one's own person is probably the most telling distinction).
9.8.2005 8:43pm
Salaryman (mail):
Oops! The ever vigilant Volokh snuck in ahead of me while I was drafting! How does that guy find the time?
9.8.2005 8:44pm
Michael Williams (mail) (www):
The best reason I've read for women not to use the devices is that rapists will just check for it, remove it, and then commit more violence than they may have otherwise. But the choice should be made by the individual women, right?

When I posted on this topic in June as "building a better rat trap" I wrote that I don't think these devices will be as useful as if women simply decide to start carrying handguns... particularly since the rape has to actually happen before the devices are of any use. Finally, in South Africa anyway, a large part of the problem appears to be that rapists aren't prosecuted very thoroughly and aren't jailed very often.
9.8.2005 8:50pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
News of the Weird had this back in July. I graciously provide my invaluable commentary from that time:
I guess the wearer would need to also sport a sticker along the lines of "This Vagina Protected by a Security Device," if the gadget's to have any preventive value.

Also, a device that encourages a rapist to assault you anally instead of vaginally may not be what most women are shopping for. And wearing two of these is a bit much, particularly given the greater inconvenience of the back-door model.

Still, one has to appreciate the mental imagery that Ms. Ehlers's invention conjures up. I suspect that its main market might be to the S/M crowd, some of whom might have been wishing for such a device for years.
Of course, "invaluable" is ambiguous.
9.8.2005 8:54pm
Spoons (mail) (www):
As an aside, is there a more odious Supreme Court decision in the history of the Republic than the one outlawing the death penalty for rapists?

Okay, sure, there are plenty, but on the odiocity scale, that one has to rank right up there.
9.8.2005 9:10pm
Humble Law Student:
My question is from a more practical side. How useful exactly would these condoms be? I mean, every woman would have to keep one in her purse or on her person and then what, calmly suggest to the rapist to use her condom? Also, how often would a rapist want to use a condom. Finally, and most importantly, what if a woman is carrying it around and it accidently gets used by someone who she intends to have sex with. The condom can't be so obvious that a rapist would be able to tell what it was, on the other hand if has to be obvious enough that it isn't used "in the heat of the moment" on an entirely innocent guy!!! I just don't see how it would really work in practice. Great idea, but God help us if those become widespread.
9.8.2005 9:57pm
Nels Nelson (mail):
Humble, this is a female condom.

"Ehlers, who showed off a prototype on Wednesday, said women had tried it for comfort and it had been tested on a plastic male model but not yet on a live man."

"Not yet?"
9.8.2005 10:12pm
Rick Ballard (mail):
What a wonderful weapon to use on a cheating boyfriend. Do a bit of physical damage AND provide prima facie evidence for a forcible rape charge. Now that would truly be a plate prepared cold.
9.8.2005 10:15pm
What's to prevent a woman from using one to engage in an assault? She inserts one and the convinces some poor guy to have sex with her and *whammo* he's hooked.

cathy :-)
9.8.2005 10:19pm
Jennifer G.:
Of course, Mrs. Brady will be very upset about this and want them banned because she hates violence and things that can be used for a "proper purpose" and an "improper purpose".

Sonette Ehlers forgot chastity belts were invented a long time ago and do not hurt the attacker, and they prevent the attack. Makes me wonder...
9.8.2005 11:23pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Sonette Ehlers forgot chastity belts were invented a long time ago and do not hurt the attacker, and they prevent the attack. Makes me wonder...

You don't want to lose the key, though.
9.8.2005 11:45pm
TheCuriousKitten (mail) (www):
Humble Law Student:

They are worn like tampons (or female condoms). Not carried in purses. The theory is that she'll already be wearing one when she is attacked.

I don't think this is as effective as using a gun, but it does have the bonus of being a form of self defense for a woman who is too passive to try something active. It might not be effective for reasons previously stated (The man might hurt the woman worse than he was planning to, etc.), but I see no reason to completely discount it until we've had some field trials. I am not willing to be one of the testers, though. I have a gun and pepper spray. I'll stick with what I know works.

As a woman who narrowly escaped rape (Thank God for pepper spray), I have to say that I see nothing wrong or barbaric about this. The creature was planning on inflicting great pain and damage to my private parts. It doesn't deserve any consideration on my part for it's private parts.
9.9.2005 12:57am
I realize that a lot of people may think this sounds... I don't know... naive...

instead of focusing on individual ability to deter crime, why don't various places work on solving problems of bad policing, corrupt judicial proceedings...

Someone above pointed out that rapes aren't often prosecuted in South Africa. Setting aside metaphysical questions of punishment, isn't it a bit hard to construct a society where a large portion of the men have disfigured genitals? rapists are awful and should be stopped and every effort should be made either to separate them from society or to reform them, but, well, outside of the really screwy rapes that make it onto Law &Order SVU, aren't there some places on earth where normal men, raised in a culture that doesn't condemn rape, commit rape, and those normal men could be imprisoned and reconditioned and reintroduced to society, sort of the way that former guards in concentration camps were invited to become normal citizens in Germany after WWII? and since it seems that South Africa is a society that doesn't condemn rape all that strongly, there are probably a lot of men like that... and since you're trying to build and reinforce the still-nascent civil society in South Africa, it would be abd to have a lot of men walking around with disfigured genitals?

So mightn't it be bad in the five-to-ten-year-term for South Africa to have a lot of these guys with severe genital mutilation, and therefore a whole host of other psycho-social problems, to be walking around and participating in the attempts to build a country?

Or is it heresy to suggest on this blog that there might be a rehabilitative component to the justice system?
9.9.2005 1:06am
If I recall correctly, Laurence Karp in his non-fiction The View from the Vue recounts a how he sewed up a repeatedly abused woman with barbs inside her and later met the abuser in the emergency room having his privates treated. This took place in New York City.
9.9.2005 1:14am
Nigel Kearney (mail) (www):
If I were a woman, I think I would be concerned that the device might malfunction and hook me instead. Surely you just don't want anything sharp down there, ever.

It also seems like the kind of thing that primarily benefits women other than the one using it. There is obviously going to be deterrence after the fact. For there to be deterrence before the fact, the devices would have to be quite widely used. In that case, surely the offender would check first.
9.9.2005 8:14am
John Brothers (mail) (www):

Please don't confuse this, incidentally, with the question of what punishments are appropriate for rapists -- a different matter from what devices are appropriate to stop race.

AHA! Prof. Volokh used the word "race" where he meant to use the word "rape". HE'S A RACIST. Only a racist would do that, even subliminally! Damn you jews and your incessant racism!





On a more substantative basis, it would make sense (to me) if the condom was coated with some sort of sedative or unpleasant hallucinogen, so that the racistrapist would not able to follow up with physical retribution.
9.9.2005 9:32am
sir mix a lot:
the device is might not be barbaric, but it is certainly barb-rous.
9.9.2005 10:40am
SeanT (www):
Isn't this reportedly how the Genghis Khan went out?
9.9.2005 11:43am
Eugene Volokh (www):
John Brothers: Whoops, thanks for the correction!
9.9.2005 11:47am
Kai Jones (mail):
I have seen men claim that being kicked in the genitals is not always disabling, and that you can learn to work through the pain to defend yourself (or exact retribution on an attacker). It seems possible to me that even having barbs stuck in one's penis might not incapacitate every man.

And what about attacks of more than one man? What's to stop the friend from beating up the woman and raping her now that the barbed condom is out?
9.9.2005 12:49pm
Joshua (mail):
Silly question: In the U.S., would a device like this be legally considered a concealed weapon?
9.9.2005 1:37pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Kai Jones: You are of course correct that this won't be guaranteed to stop everyone. But nothing stops everyone. The question is whether it will stop enough people that the benefits outweigh the costs.

As to attacks by more than one man, Tables 1 and 44 of the National Crime Victimization Survey report for 2003 suggest that about 15% of rapes and sexual assaults involve more than one offender. Of that 15%, sure, some involve offenders where, after one guy ends up with barbs in his penis, the other one will just start raping the woman (while the first one presumably runs off to get medical help). But I doubt that most would, and the remaining 85% involve one offender.
9.9.2005 2:00pm
treefroggy (mail):
I hope to God this thing can't be put on inside-out !!

( Or is that IN ONSIDE-OUT ? )

What ever would the lawyers do ????
9.9.2005 2:00pm
Justin D. Hein (mail) (www):
Imagine if these devices become commonly used: would it really prevent rape? Wouldn't most attackers just rape victims through other "means"? (I.e. sex in the backseat of a Volkswagon?) I mean, would threatened women have to wear one of these condoms there as well?
9.9.2005 3:38pm
The Original TS (mail):
Heh. These won't actually prevent rape. Rape is complete on penetration, no matter how slight. So not only will the guy be "stuck", he can still be fully prosecuted. Plus, he ought to be pretty easy to catch - just check the hosptial emergency rooms.

I wonder, though, what the limits are here. Could, for example, the hooks be treated with a potent allergen, to make it more likely the perpetrator would have to seek medical treatement thereby making him easier to apprehend? How about a debilitating poison? A deadly one? Hypothetically, suppose the barbs could deliver the AIDS virus (without, of course, infecting the woman)? At some point along this spectrum we cross the line into excessive force even though it is perfectly legitimate to kill a rapist in self-defense.
9.9.2005 4:12pm
Going Anonymous on this One...:
Michael Williams above wrote, "The best reason I've read for women not to use the devices is that rapists will just check for it, remove it, and then commit more violence than they may have otherwise. But the choice should be made by the individual women, right?"

In a self-defense class I took years ago, the teacher made the point that if a rapist is busy doing something else (eg, checking for the condom), he's not raping you. Thus it gives the victim an opportunity to take advantage of his distracted attention and limbs doing something other than holding you down to make a more serious defensive move. So the condom's aid is not that it's a be-all/end-all on its own, but that it might be part of a larger defensive strategy.

On the other hand, I'd have to wonder how wise it would be for women to "load up" with the condom every time they went out. It seems that if you're that worried about being raped, in a way you may accidentally invite it - not in the "she asked for it" kind of way, but that if a rapist is looking for someone to overpower, the person who walks around even subconsciously thinking she might be overpowered (since she was consciously thinking it when she'd prepared it earlier) may appear to the rapist to be a promising target. Women are advised to comport themselves as confidently as possible as the first level of a self-defense strategy, but I wonder if that's undermined if the possibility of rape was so distinctively entertained just a short time earlier?
9.11.2005 11:12am