Friday, March 23, 2007

The Man Trap

In South Africa, crime is a national obsession. It touches everyone. If you're not actually a criminal yourself, you're a victim of a criminal, and if per (slim)chance you're neither, it's a certainty that you know someone who is. No dinner with friends is complete without the customary audit of whose been robbed, burgled, mugged, assaulted, hijacked or murdered since you you last met. A strange noise outside interrupted dinner? You can bet that several of your guests will jump up from the table, weapons drawn, while your host fingers the 'panic button' that summons the Armed Response service - a service which South Africans subscribe to as routinely as satellite TV or the Sunday papers.

The South African imagination for dealing with criminal threats knows no bounds. I was particularly impressed with one invention - and flirted with the idea of getting it installed myself - which bolted to the chassis of the car and, when you hit a specially installed button with your foot, would trigger a flame-thrower, roasting anyone within a metre or two of your car. It sounds gruesome, but what other line of defence does one have when a gang of car-jackers thrusts an AK-47 through the driver's window at the 'robots' (traffic lights)?

But finally, I have seen an invention to top that. I can't decide how to feel about it, but it is regrettable that someone thought it necessary to invent.

It is essentially a latex 'femidom' (female condom) with fish hooks inside. It allows the insertion of a penis, but not it's extraction without surgery. It is marketed as an anti rape device. It's called Rapex.


The tragedy is that it has a ready market. In South Africa, there is a rape every 26 seconds - that's over 50 000 a year. Even babies are raped. and with some studies estimating that as much as 25% of the population is HIV+ a rape could be a death sentence.

Some critics have denounced the device as "medieval and barbaric". Perhaps it is, but frankly, I have no concern for the welfare of a rapist caught - or hooked, as it were - in the act. “A medieval device for a medieval deed!” says Sonet Ehlers, the inventor.

A concern that perhaps should be taken more seriously is that being painfully snared by the Rapex device might enrage the rapist and escalate his violence towards the woman. Still, he'll have some explaining to do when he goes to the ER to have it removed.

Promoters of Rapex point out that the difficulty of removing the device from the penis will help identify rapists. They dismiss the criticism of potentially escalating violence by saying that any attempt by a woman to defend herself could be similarly criticised.

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