Punishing rapists: South African vaginal spikes.


This morning’s coffee conversation centered on rape. In particular, mass rape as a tactic of war. Discussion veered toward rape prevention, rape counseling, the whole cultural constellation of psychologies, techniques and frameworks for processing rape, as individuals and in communities. I said something strident, something like, “If your program for dealing with rape does not include training in streetfighting for women, I am not listening to you.” And I’m not. There is an obvious response, readily at hand: prepare women for the possibility of rape. Prepare them by teaching them ‘effective negotiation.’ How to say ‘no.’ How to recognize when saying it isn’t going to suffice. How to make ‘no’ a reality: delivering a warning shot. And when a warning shot does not suffice, how to fight a rapist. How to fight with everything you’ve got. There are ways to reduce or eliminate the usual discrepancies in physical power between rapists and their targets. Eye-gouges, testicle attacks…use your imagination or your experience to illustrate. If you are training women in how to fight, I will listen to your therapeutic suggestions. If you’re not, then I respectfully decline to listen.

A woman in South Africa invented a device that is sold as a rape-preventative. It is worn in the vagina. It assaults any intruding penis with painful spikes. Now, I wouldn’t classify this as a preventative measure, rather, it is a punishment device. And punishment is an appropriate response to rape. On what moral grounds could one possibly deny that?

  1. Mihai said:

    And what about disabled women, 100 years old/ 8 months old women that can’t physically fight? And what about the rapist (usually a very close friend/relative, not only the weirdo jumping out of the bushes)? He’s getting too easy like this because his actions are not questioned and usually covered from the judge to the media (even in Polanski’s case, the most obvious, it was not rape but “illegal sexual activities”). It is not only the responsibility of the victim not to be raped. Educating men not to rape maybe? But I guess that is kind of difficult in a culture that encourages rape and expects only the victim to take action (if not, it’s her fault). But not impossible. I like a lot Mellisa’s post on rape culture 101:http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2009/10/rape-culture-101.htmland this is the wiseness of a rape victim. Cheers,Mihai

  2. S said:

    Mihai – I wrote a long and impassioned response to your comment yesterday, but it was lost in transmission by a spotty internet connection. C’est la guerre – I suppose that comments, like guns, are sometimes best when subject to a waiting period :)So, again, to answer your points:1. Disabled and 100-year old women CAN fight. And they can learn techniques that can help them be more effective. Besides, just because not EVERYONE can do something doesn’t mean NO ONE should. 8-month-olds are typically under the care of adults. Their caretakers should fight for them (just as they procure food for them, and everything else.) 8-month-olds also can’t participate effectively in group therapy, or call crisis hotlines, or march to Take Back The Night, but no one is arguing that we shouldn’t use these reponses to rape on the grounds that 8-month-olds are excluded. Because that would be silly.2. Yes, most rapes (and most murders) happen inside the family, not outside. Again, what’s the argument? That you should fight against bush-weirdos but not against your uncle or your husband? I think I described a very reasonable sequence of action: Say no. If saying it doesn’t work, show that you are willing to defend yourself physically. If that doesn’t work, fight. That course of action can be effective both inside and outside the home. You probably even have an advantage inside the home, because you know the terrain and where the weapons are.3. I have never, and WOULD never, claim that it is “the responsibility of the victim not to be raped.” Of course, we should challenge the widespread cultural acceptance of rape, of course we should educate men, of course we should use our collective power to alter our collective norms. However. I respectfully submit that tectonic shifts in culture happen very slowly. Too slowly. We cannot wait around for the mystical transformation of humans into decent and sensitive ethical beings. We’re getting assaulted NOW, and we need tools that are effective NOW, when we are alone and vulnerable and under attack. As Melissa says in the post you cite above, “Rape culture is tasking victims with the burden of rape prevention. Rape culture is encouraging women to take self-defense as though that is the only solution required to preventing rape.” I did not suggest that self-defense is the ONLY solution required – however, it is ONE PART of an effective program. To me, it is a very important and under-emphasized part. People can do what they think is best in approaching the problem of rape. I just choose not to participate in efforts that do not include self- and community-defense tactics. That’s my choice, and I’ve considered it carefully.4. Your last sentence is perhaps the most tricky to address, but it’s also something that stirred strong feelings in me. “This is the wisdom of a rape victim.” In Melissa’s post, she cites a frequently-repeated statistic: “Rape culture is 1 in 6 women being sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.” If you accept that as true (which I think most of us do) then there is a 1-in-6 chance that ANY woman you are speaking with has been raped, and anything a woman says has a 1-in-6 chance of being “the wisdom of a rape victim.” Maybe the arguments I’ve made are ALSO “the wisdom of a rape victim.” Assuming the opposite is unrealistic. But it shouldn’t matter. Being raped does not confer any special weight to an argument, or any special authority to speak. It doesn’t (necessarily) make you wiser or more profound in your analysis. I hope to create communities and cultures in which women’s ideas are respectfully heard, and then adopted or discarded, on their MERITS. We shouldn’t need ‘extra’ authority to be taken seriously. Anyway, thanks for reading and commenting and debating – I always enjoy hearing from you. Cheers,S

  3. Mihai said:

    dear Dominatrix :PThis is not a war after all (I assume we are on the same political side). I try to answer the 4 points in short:1. “Their caretakers should fight for them” – what happens when those caretakers are the rapists? What happens when women do NOT have agency/awareness in the rape culture that surrounds them (that tells them constantly that it is not really rape, that is part of domesticity, that maybe it was their fault) and they are not actually in power to make these radical moves. Blaming them is not an option in any case, as i see it. My problem is when your responses to rape are seen as mandatory (if the victim didn’t took the streetfight class she becomes responsible for her situation). 2. I am saying it’s more difficult to fight and argument your fight with someone that controls you emotionally/financially/hierarchically. Saying no sounds simple but is not so easy in fact in very complicated power relations and there are tons of feminist writings on this. While the priest that you respect tells you that “you should not refuse your husband” how can you actually argue that in the same discourse? (it’s an example from my family) . I agree with you “that course of action can be effective both inside and outside the home. You probably even have an advantage inside the home, because you know the terrain and where the weapons are.” But to come to that awareness that you can actually do something is the difficult part. 3. I agree with you that social changes are too slow but there is also the problem of radical actions becoming part of the dominant discourse/being shortcircuited by the mainstream discourse on rape so that in the end the rapist is an ethically free spirit and the rape victim is blamed for not taking the right actions. But I understand now that self-defense is not the only way from your perspective.4. Well, I disagree here for several reasons: my intention was not to link Melissa’s post as a counterargument to your post but to give a larger horizon to the whole issue (and she covers a lot in that post!). And the fact that she is writing from the point of view of a rape victim changes a lot. Because lived experience makes a difference in our arguments. As being non-white, underprivileged or subaltern can make a difference and change your argument. Otherwise we have all the same subject position from which we can explain everything theoretically: the white/Western male perspective. As i cannot speak from the perspective of the rape victims, my involvement in this debate is also based on my own experience: I do not agree that rape discussions are only for “girls” and the only way is to organize themselves to be protected. It should also address men and their involvement actively or passively in this. Because on the other hand, as a white man, you have a lot of messages telling you that rape is not actually rape, rape can be fun, a raped woman is not your concern and so on. Or as a PhD student in Gender Studies you have some professors telling you that “rape” is not a hot topic anymore. have to run now but if you are still in town maybe we can discuss live these issues. and i repeat, we are not at war :)cheerioMihai

  4. S said:

    Of course we’re not in a war – at least not a war against each other :) This is what’s called a tactical debate. Between allies. Cheers.That said….1. Look, 8 months old is very, very young. Arguably, it is too young to have become saturated in culture or disempowered. At 8 months old, you’ve never been EMpowered. You are dependent on other people to feed you, clothe you, shelter you, and defend you. This is not a ‘cultural’ condition; it’s a material fact. Baby birds can’t fly; baby wolves can’t hunt; baby humans can’t defend themselves – they probably can’t even understand the concept of violence, beyond a simple pain aversion. So, yes, caretakers should fight for them. If caretakers are rapists, the community should remove children from their care, and punish them. It is our COLLECTIVE responsibility.Your insistence that these exceedingly reasonable proposals are somehow “blaming the victim” makes me wonder if you would EVER accept ANY proposal that involves training in physical self-determination. Frankly, it’s reactionary hyperbole to characterize my comments as asserting that “rape is mandatory” or that vicitims are “responsible” for rape. To repeat: I have not, and would never, claim that it is the responsibility of the victim not to get raped. When I advocate self-defense, there are practical concerns that you seem to overlook in my arguments. My initial comments were not directed to individual women as potential rape victims. They were directed to groups and organizations that are formed for the purpose of addressing the problem of rape. As one person with limited time and ability, I must prioritize my commitments. Rape is a very important issue. When I choose my allies, and decide which groups to join, I choose to form allegiances with those who share my view that self-defense training is ONE component of a larger strategy. I choose NOT to spend my energy on projects that reject that component. That’s the role I select for myself – if I suddenly found that my neighborhood was being bombed, I would probably choose to be among the fighters: those who took up arms to defend the community. Other people would provide medical care, counseling, food distribution, etc, and ALL of those efforts would be necessary and valued. Just because I’ve made a choice about how I will spend my time and power does not mean that I think every other individual should do things the same way. I am glad there are rape crisis phone lines, and psychologists, and gender-studies scholars. It’s a collective struggle and individuals can participate in many, many ways. I don’t think self-defense ALONE is a sufficient response to ‘rape culture.’ I think we agree on that – we stand on common ground, here.2. Of course it’s more difficult to resist people who have power over you, whether the power is emotional, familial, political, financial, or anything else. If your priest tells you that you should submit to your husband, it’s hard to argue against him. Saying no is NOT simple, and neither is the process of learning to do so. This is struggle. Teaching self-assertion and self-defense is not something that can be accomplished in a weekend seminar; it requires a life-long commitment to uncovering the mechanisms of oppression and preparing yourself and your community to resist them. You’ve probably heard the phrase “Free your mind, and your ass will follow.” I would turn it around: “Free your ASS, and your MIND will follow.” Learning the practical methods of self defense is a way of learning that another world IS possible, that our deepest fears and misgivings DO have a source, and that we CAN face them, here and now. Our actions change our perspectives. Practicing the art of refusal and resistance, in solidarity with others in the struggle, can be a powerfully transformative experience, EVEN IF you do not escape the oppression in your home or your society. In my experience, fighting an attacker is empowering, EVEN IF YOU LOSE. So, the struggle is a difficult one, and it’s hard to disrupt unjust hierarchies? Well, yes. Everything worth doing is hard. 3. Yes, radical ideas can get distorted and misused when they enter mainstream discourse. We don’t get to control how our words and deeds are interpreted by others. All we can do is choose our words and our deeds carefully, and live as ethically as we can, and keep pushing for power and self-determination. 4. I liked Melissa’s post, and in fact did not view it as a counter-argument. It is a fine piece of writing – I don’t need to know that she has experienced rape to appreciate or understand the post. The fact that Melissa is writing from the position of a rape victim does change something, but it doesn’t change the quality of her arguments or the validity of her propositions. We have a collective responsibility (men, women, everybody) to address the issue of rape, and no individual needs extra authority to participate in the conversation. Conversely, being a member of a dominant group/class/gender/race does not excuse you from participation. Lacking ‘experience’ of oppression is no excuse for disregarding it. We should all be discussing and acting on this problem.OK, it’s a sunny(ish) day in Vienna, and the breeze blowing in the window tells me it’s time to go out – we will certainly continue this conversation face-to-face someday, but I probably won’t be back to Budapest until February. Hope you’re around then – I look forward to a spirited debate! Solidaridad,Sarah

  5. fotfetisch said:

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