Updated: 6:04 p.m. ET Aug. 31, 2005
KLEINMOND, South Africa - A South African inventor unveiled a new anti-rape female condom on Wednesday that hooks onto an attacker’s penis and aims to cut one of the highest rates of sexual assault in the world.
“Nothing has ever been done to help a woman so that she does not get raped and I thought it was high time,” Sonette Ehlers, 57, said of the "rapex," a device worn like a tampon that has sparked controversy in a country used to daily reports of violent crime.
Police statistics show more than 50,000 rapes are reported every year, while experts say the real figure could be four times that as they say most rapes of acquaintances or children are never reported.
Ehlers said the “rapex” hooks onto the rapist’s skin, allowing the victim time to escape and helping to identify perpetrators.
“He will obviously be too pre-occupied at this stage,” Ehlers told reporters in Kleinmond, a small village about 60 miles east of Cape Town. “I promise you he is going to be too sore. He will go straight to hospital.”
The device, made of latex and held firm by shafts of sharp barbs, can only be removed from the man through surgery which will alert hospital staff, and ultimately, the police, she said.
It also reduces the chances of a woman falling pregnant or contracting AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases from the attacker by acting in the same way as a female condom.
South Africa has more people with HIV/AIDS than any other country, with one in nine of its 45 million population infected.
Ehlers, who showed off a prototype on Wednesday, said women had tried it for comfort and it had been tested on a plastic male model but not yet on a live man. Production was planned to start next year.
But the “rapex” has raised fears amongst anti-rape activists that it could escalate violence against women.
“If a victim is wearing such a device it may enrage the attacker further and possibly result in more harm being caused,” said Sam Waterhouse, advocacy coordinator for Rape Crisis.
Other critics say the condom is medieval and barbaric — an accusation Ehlers says should be directed rather at the act of rape.
“This is not about vengeance ... but the deed, that is what I hate,” she said.