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"Anti-Rape Jewellery" Isn't The Answer To Violence Against Women

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It's safe to say that many women feel totally unsafe going about their daily business. Earlier this year, a YouGov survey found that almost two-thirds of women in the UK have faced unwanted sexual attention in public places. Out of 889 women asked, 64% said they have experienced sexual harassment, with 35% saying they had suffered "unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature". 63% of women felt unsafe in public places, compared to 45% of men polled.

Given these statistics, it’s hardly surprising that many women take active steps to ensure they get home safe – something numerous women’s charities call “safety work”. While 55% of women said they would pay for taxis to avoid public transport on a night out, 54% would take a different route home at night than in the day if it made them feel safer. Sexual violence is widespread, and our fear of it all too real.

In light of this, a number of entrepreneurs have decided that it would surely make sense to create something to make women feel more empowered. Enter “safety jewellery”, a genre of “anti-rape” products designed to make a difference when it comes to reducing the number of crimes involving sexual violence or harassment, or at the very least, how vulnerable women feel to these crimes.

an alarm will sound, and a distress text message with her location is sent to emergency contacts

ROAR For Good is one such company, looking to bring out its first product in autumn this year. The ‘Athena’ prototype, which can be worn as a necklace, bracelet or secured onto a bag or belt, aims to keep the wearer safe by sending out a distress signal when activated. If a woman finds herself in a situation where she needs urgent assistance, she holds the button for three seconds, an alarm will sound, and a distress text message with her location is sent to emergency contacts.

The idea for the product came to founder Yasmine Mustafa after she discovered a need among fellow female travellers when trekking around South America. However, a horrific incident near her own home provided her with the final push to “start a movement”; a young woman was brutally raped when a man grabbed and dragged her into an alleyway. After hearing this, Yasmine got in touch with her close friend Anthony Gold to set up a movement to end violence, starting with this product.

ROAR For Good is set to start shipping later this year, but many other similar products haven’t manage to make it as far; safety jewellery brand Artemis sought to bring out a necklace that records audio and sends a distress text message once activated, but never hit shelves due to funding issues. The brand Cuff faced similar issues. In 2015 it received a tidal wave of media attention after unveiling its stylish line of safety jewellery. Since then, its Facebook and Instagram pages have been removed, and this week a short statement has been placed on its website informing people it’s no longer in business.

Despite there being a strong potential market for these products, clearly, something is going wrong.
Rachel Krys, co-director at the End Violence Against Women Coalition, believes these products are problematic as they place responsibility of sexual violence with women instead of the perpetrators. She explained that: “A lot of the blame when it comes to sexual violence is already placed on women, where they haven’t taken the ‘right’ safety measures or were wearing the 'wrong' clothes."

“There are many entrenched long-term rape myths that women experience and have to live with," Krys continues. "Creating more ways for women to take responsibility for their own safety is not what should happen. All the blame should be placed on the perpetrators.”

Krys also fears that if a woman was not wearing a safety device it could be used against her and increase victim blaming. “You can see how it could be spun into – 'Why wasn’t she wearing one?' And that way you get back into this whole conversation on what steps women should take to avoid being raped,” she says.

Lieve Hehenkamp, a psychologist and researcher who specialises in sexual violence, points out that there are many circumstances in which the devices wouldn't be particularly useful. In her experience, rape is not always black and white – something that safety jewellery fails to take into account; “In a lot of cases, women freeze up. And sexual violence is not always immediately apparent. In some instances women don’t realise their boundaries are being broken. Only afterwards they’ll realise what happened wasn’t okay,” she says.
This is exactly where things get tricky. According to 2013 figures by the Office for National Statistics, approximately 90% of those who are raped already know the perpetrator. As a result, they might not be as likely or willing to use an anti-rape device. “These stats show that women are often raped by people they trust in places they feel safe, like their own homes. We are told to be scared of the wrong thing. I think anything that feeds that is quite problematic,” Krys says.
However, Hunter Vargas, marketing co-ordinator at ROAR For Good, believes safety jewellery can make a difference to women who experience violence from those closest to them: “As we developed our product, we realised some women might be domestic violence victims. They don’t want an alarm to go off when the device is activated. We made some changes, so that the product can be used in a discrete way and silently alert others to send help – so it can help in those situations,” she says.

Unfortunately, Hehenkamp believes that despite their good intentions, safety jewellery brands need to own up to a tough reality – their products simply won’t change society on a bigger level. “It won’t be a silver bullet solution. No product is going to prevent sexual violence. It’s an uncomfortable truth,” she says.

A bigger focus needs to be put on sexual education if it is to change young people’s attitudes towards women’s rights and sexuality. Krys points out that a discussion around consent and relationships is really lacking in schools. “There is a massive education job still to do in order to achieve big level culture changes. We need to teach young boys in a much more practical way what consent is and what healthy relationship look like. We need to be in schools, at home and in youth groups, having lots of discussion around women, gender and women’s rights. This cycle of violence can end – it’s not inevitable.”

ROAR For Good agrees that more needs to be done. Besides launching its product, it’s hoping to start a social movement and end violence against women by partnering with non-profit organisations that specialise in women’s issues and sexual education.“We don’t just want to put a bandage on the problem. As we accept pre-orders, we steadily donate to non-profits that teach young girls and boys about empathy and consent. These programmes have shown success of decreasing violence in the long-term. We don’t just want to make women feel safer, we also want to get to the root of the problem,” Vargas explains.

It makes complete sense for women to want to feel safer by wearing anti-rape jewellery, and it can admittedly provide peace of mind to specific groups like solo travellers. Still, it seems safety jewellery could potentially do more harm than good on an ideological level, as it seeks to solve a problem without involving the perpetrators. Krys concludes: “We need to have streets where women are as safe as men, which is why we need to tackle the inequality women face on a broader level – these devices are a bit of a distraction from the work that needs to be done.”
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