Clamping down on rapists in South Africa


Later this month, South African women will be able to purchase the Rapex device, marketed as the "anti-rape condom." The rapex, shaped like a female condom, is worn internally and equipped with 25 teeth in its lining. The razor-sharp teeth fasten on the attacker's penis if he attempts penetration. Since the device does no lasting damage to the attacker, it is completely legal and will sell for 1 Rand (around 14 cents) when it hits stores. The majority of women surveyed about the device said they would be willing to use it.

The inventor of Rapex, South African Sonette Ehler, a former medical technician, got the idea when a traumatized rape victim lamented to her, "If only I had teeth down there."

Of course, the product is not without controversy or critics. Some argue that the device may encourage rapists to attack their victims further, placing women in even greater danger. Ehler's response is that women are already faced with that danger, and at least this way the man is disabled momentarily, allowing the victim to get away. Others criticize the method as "vengeful," to which Ehler responds: "[It's] a medieval device for a medieval deed." More philosophically, some argue that the idea places the burden of stopping rape on the victims rather than the perpetrators. But the reality, according to Ehler, is that "[n]obody can make you safe except you." Given that South Africa has the highest per capita rate of rape of any country in the world, at a reported 119 per 100,000 people (which translates to around 1.7 million women raped each year), she may have a compelling argument.


Timor-Leste doesn't reflect well on international community

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The march of democracy has hit yet another road bump. Hopes had been that presidential elections in tiny Timor-Leste would help the country move on from widespread violence and disorder that had broken out last year. Sadly, that looks not to be the case. Five opposition parties are disputing the results and the party leading at the polls has made accusations of "manipulation"—before any results have even been announced. Heavy United Nations support and the sign-off of the EU on the fairness of the process have not put these concerns to rest. More violence before a likely run-off election is possible.

The importance of the elections go far beyond the well-being of the country's estimated one million inhabitants, most of them desperately poor. In 1999, when the territory then known as East Timor voted to secede from Indonesia, it was seen as a test case for the ability of the international community to help along political and economic development. The U.N. ran the place as a fiefdom for three years and maintained a peacekeeping contingent there through 2005. Whatever lessons it tried to teach obviously didn't take. Now, the U.N. is back, albeit in a supporting role and with the help of Australian troops. And still, there seems to be no obvious path to political stability or even the beginnings of economic development.

It's a sobering thought that the best of intentions and the support of the entire international community have not been enough to help a country with a population roughly the same size as San Diego's.