Anti-rape shorts: Necessary protection, or missing the point? 

Spurred by a violent incident while she was out jogging, a German woman has designed a pair of shorts fitted with an alarm and a padlock to prevent rape. Critics say they would not stop an attack, but fans argue that wearing the shorts makes them feel safer.

One winter morning in 2015, Sandra Seilz was jogging in a forest near the west German city of Oberhausen when three intoxicated men surrounded her.

As the men tried to force themselves on her, one began to pull down her leggings. Luckily, A passer-by with a dog arrived just in time, managing to scare them off.

The feelings of relief weren’t lasting for the 42-year-old businesswoman. Seilz realized that she was vulnerable while out jogging – a big part of her life. “I got home and I couldn’t stop thinking about what could have happened,” she says.

She thought hard about what she could do to feel safer, and eventually came up with an idea: some kind of armour for her groin. She approached a 3D printer to create a prototype.

“I want you to print me out something to put on my sacred area so that no one can go there,” she told the printer technician.

Seilz then realized that she might not be the only woman who felt unsafe jogging outdoors. Inspired to turn her idea into a commercial product, she consulted athletes and experts in the technology and security industries.

The result was Safe Shorts, now available to buy online for 149 euros (180 dollars).

The shorts are designed to prevent sexual attacks through three mechanisms: A padlock that fastens them to the wearer to prevent them from being involuntarily removed; tear-proof fabric; and a 130-decibel alarm.

Style-wise, they are not a far cry from regular running shorts, apart from the lock – which comes in a choice of bright colours.

Could the shorts really prevent rape? Opinion varies. “Men will not desist because of the obstacle. And the shorts wouldn’t prevent other physical assaults,” says an expert from the Berlin Initiative Against Violence Towards Women.

Some even say they could provoke the aggressor further and lead to an escalation of violence. Seilz’s answer? “He can kill me after he rapes me. So why shouldn’t I try to avoid being raped?”

Although the shorts were initially intended for women exercising outdoors, the range has now also extended to include Safe Underpants – worn underneath jeans or skirts as women go about their daily routines. The underpants are currently being sold for 89 euros.

Seilz has had interest from as far afield as India and South America – but to properly provide for these markets, she will have to develop a product that is more affordable, she says.

She has some satisfied customers: One woman called her to say she was pulled off her bike by two men while out riding in the park at 5 am. As she sounded the alarm, the men fled.

However, some people feel the shorts are not a practical solution to violence against women. German feminist Margarete Stowovski says that while anything that makes women feel safe is a good thing, rape is rarely committed on the streets by an attacker who is unknown to the victim.

The Berlin initiative also emphasizes that domestic violence is a far more widespread problem than random attacks: “It is necessary to … strengthen women’s ability to leave violent relationships and [to raise] public awareness,” it says.

Indeed, the vast majority of rapes are thought to be committed by a perpetrator already known to the woman, such as from school, university or work – or by a family member.

Seilz admits that the shorts cannot protect women in all scenarios where rape might occur, but says part of their appeal is that they simply make the wearer feel safer.

“Of course the shorts won’t prevent you from being attacked in the first place, but you feel much safer [wearing them] and if [the] worst comes to [the] worst, when the attacker realizes he is not going to get in there so quickly, he is going to move on,” writes one customer, Anja, on Facebook.

The need to physically block rape with protective clothing could in itself be seen as a defeat. But Seilz believes her invention is a realistic and practical solution to sexual violence against women. 

By Rosalie Delaney

Source: dpa (German News Agency)

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