Rape alarms won’t protect women from rape.
In response to the rape of a woman in her apartment complex, student Rebecca Pick has designed a rape alarm:
simple electronic device that uses a mobile phone to alert police to the exact spot of an ongoing attack. It also turns the phone into a recording device that gathers evidence for later use in court.
We applaud Pick for trying to find a solution to protect women from rape, but a rape alarm won't protect women from rape; nor will it provide effective 'evidence' for a criminal case. Firstly, the chances of the police arriving in time to prevent a rape is infinitesimal. It won't help identify an attacker since its only an audio recording. It will also cost £5-10 a month to have the audio recording listened to at a central station, which means it will cost too much for many women to use. Those who can afford the monthly fee will still be dependent on a staff member recognising that a rape is occurring and them reporting it to the police. We'd need to see a comprehensive breakdown of the training staff will receive before commented further, but it's worth noting that many people do not recognise the validity of the freeze, flight, and fight responses.
There are a number of issues around policing: Are there enough police officers available to answer these alarms in an era of 'austerity' which has seen freezes in hiring? Will the officers who respond have been trained appropriately to support rape victims? When police are still consistently no-criming rape without actually bothering to investigate, can women really trust them to show up when a personal alarm goes off or trust the police to treat them with respect?
Other questions to ponder include: At what age should women start wearing these rape alarms? What about women and children who are raped in their home? How will this help women being raped by police officers (domestic violence)? Children raped by their fathers, uncles or brothers in their own home? Women raped by their employers? Teachers? What happens if a woman has a button but is incapable of pressing it during the attack? What will be the response to women who cannot afford this product?
How will this alarm challenge the belief that women lie about being raped?Will it help women who have been drinking or will it still be their fault for being in public with a glass of wine?
How will it actually help to secure more convictions for rape. How will it deal with systemic victim blaming within the police? CPS? Juries? Judges?
Another issue that must be raised is that it will be "neutrally" coloured so it won't show up under clothing. "Neutral" is code for white skin. It's possible the designers are already aware of the racist coding of language and will be developing the product in a series of colours to reflect the natural variation in skin colour. But, we're not going to hold our breathe.
If we want to prevent rape, we need to start by challenging masculinity and male entitlement to sexual access to women's bodies. We need mandatory sex and healthy relationships education. We need to insist that police, CPS, juries and judges have appropriate training.
More importantly, we need to recognise that technology won't stop rape. Stopping rape requires stopping perpetrators. Not forcing women to curtail their lives and invest in technology on the off chance that the police will investigate.
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