RAPE PROTECTION APPAREL

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AR wear has designed a new line of undergarments meant to prevent incidents of sexual violence. What if, when threatened with sexual assault, a woman could delay the attack for a few minutes by keeping her undergarments firmly in place? Could it thwart the incident altogether? That’s the premise behind AR Wear, a fledgling line of underwear and shorts designed to stay locked in place on a woman's body and, ostensibly, fend off a potential attacker.

At a glance, AR Wear products look like any other boy short underwear, bike short, or pair of track pants found on the market. But they function almost like a new age chastity belt (the crucial difference being, of course, that it’s the wearer’s choice to don the garment). The product can't help but raise serious questions about the responsibilities designers assume when tackling social issues as systemic and contentious as sexual violence.

The creators claim the garments are also cut and tear resistant, thanks to reinforced panels of webbing that deflect blades. Yuvel is seeking a patent for the structure, so Ruth declined to describe the science or R&D behind the textile in greater detail. She did say that the science doesn't make the clothing awkward to wear. "The model that was in them for a day or two found them to be surprisingly comfortable," she says.

AR Wear is just the latest in the long and troubled history of self-defense products for women. Chastity belts weren’t exclusively used to put a lock on fidelity; reports suggest that even in the1800s women working in factories wore them for protection. Around the turn of the 20th century, Edwardian hat pins were regarded as weapons for women in the upper echelon of society--so much so that courts in Berlin, Hamburg, and New York proposed making them illegal. The invention of Mace pepper spray in the 1980s made purse-sized cans of tear gas an option for women; later, it would be considered hazardous in the event the attacker used it on the victim. In 2005 a doctor in South Africa came out with the "Rape-X" spiked female condom designed to painfully hook onto a man’s skin. And just this spring, a team of engineering students in Chennai, India developed a bra that uses sensors to detect violent touch and provide electric shock to the attacker.

As we know, these inventions did not put an end to sexual violence--and neither will AR Wear. The founders acknowledge this on their site, and have clearly touted them as an option for feeling safer during specific activities like going for a run at night, traveling in a foreign country, or hitting the dance floor for a night out. They’re specialty garments, angled towards making you feel equally protected as the girl at the bar who knows Krav Maga.

Ultimately, products like AR Wear--an altruistic project at its heart--can easily wind up in the crossfire. The product provokes questions such as, Will the woman wind up in more physical danger if the locked-in-place pants provoke the attacker to use a weapon? If a woman is threatened to take them off, has she given implied consent? And on, and on...

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