Jonathan Clayton, Times (London), June 8
Furious South African women have called for a controversial new anti-rape device, dubbed a “rat trap”, to be banned by the Government.
The tampon-like device, invented by a woman, supposedly protects women from rapists by cutting into a man’s penis.
It has sparked an empassioned debate over the high number of rapes committed each day in the country and the authorities’ apparent failure to tackle the issue.
Activists are outraged and want to stop it going on sale alongside tampons in chemists and supermarkets next month.
Charlene Smith, a leading anti-rape campaigner, said: “This is a medieval instrument, based on male-hating notions and fundamentally misunderstands the nature of rape and violence against women in this society. It is vengeful, horrible, and disgusting. The woman who invented this needs help.”
The device, which Sonette Ehlers, its inventor, has patented, is worn like a tampon but is hollow. In the event of a rape, she said that it would fold around the rapist’s penis and attach itself with microscopic hooks. It is impossible to remove the clamped device without medical intervention.
“We have to do something to protect ourselves. While this will not prevent rape, it will help identify attackers and secure convictions,” Ms Ehlers told the Johannesburg Star.
Women’s groups disputed her claims, which have reopened a debate over violence against women in South Africa. The country has been called the rape capital of the world. Lisa Vetten, of the Centre of Violence and Reconciliation, said: “This is like going back to the days when women were forced to wear chastity belts. It is a terrifying thought that women are being made to adapt to rape.”
The South African Law Commission recently estimated that 1.69 million women a year were raped in the country but that only 52,000 cases a year are reported. Other estimates put the rate even higher.
Ms Smith said: “More than 40 per cent of those raped are children and nationally more than 65 per cent are gang rapes. Whether this translates as a woman raped every 26 seconds or more is irrelevant. It is far too many and not enough is being done to tackle it. This is not a male-only problem, it is a societal problem.”
The activist’s views were echoed by Jenny Crwys — William, the host of a popular radio talk show, who described the device as a “profoundly disturbing” development that underlined how society was in danger of accepting rape as a reality of everyday life. “We need more police and more sensitive police responses to rape. When more rapists go behind bars, rape rates will go down,” she told listeners.
Many callers criticised the Government for a “head in the sand” approach similar to its well-known reluctance to accept the gravity of the HIV/Aids epidemic in the country.
“This will increase the danger to women, who are already in great danger during a rape. The Government must not allow this to go on sale,” one rape victim, who was stabbed twice during an attack, said.