Clothing: The Newest Weapon Against Assault
All too often, victims of sexual assault are blamed for the very acts of violence perpetuated against them. Back in March, a survey in the UK found that one out of seven people find it acceptable to hit a woman wearing “sexy or revealing clothes in public.” Such attitudes are nothing more than victim-blaming, and they are inexcusable.
Rather than simply criticize those who unfairly blame women for attacks against them, however, a group of MIT researchers are developing clothing that may actually reduce violence against women. Adam Whiton, an MIT student, and Yolita Nugent, a clothing designer, are leading a research project to develop sensor-studded clothing for women that will record data about an attack in real time and store that information on a computer. Having such hard evidence about an attack may persuade more women to turn to the authorities in crisis situations, and this evidence may make it easier to prosecute and convict offenders.
This project is one of many initiatives launched as part of Yoda Patta‘s End Violence Against Women series, which she was inspired to spearhead after reading the accounts of violent attacks against women around the world. The Boston Globe explains Patta’s inspiration and the origins of this particular project:
The columns of Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times were among the reports that moved Patta, and she recruited him and his wife, writer Sheryl WuDunn, to kick off the program with a joint talk in October. Graduate student Adam Whiton, who is working on the sensory clothing with collaborator Yolita Nugent, an apparel designer, said the idea for their project sprang from a discussion on how much more vulnerable she felt walking alone at night than he did.
Clothing, they realized, was a factor. Running from a pursuer in high heels “is near impossible,’’ Whiton said.
They began brainstorming on how clothing could be made not only to leave women unhindered, but to aid them.
The clothing designed by Whiton and Nugent is brilliant and could very well be a key step in preventing (or at least prosecuting) violence against women. But as Globe correspondent Rich Barlow points out, “The clothing may never be a practical way to protect victims from abuse.” Certainly, to a point, Barlow is right. At this stage, the clothing is nothing more than a student research project, leaving women facing sexual assault in the same situation as always. Until this technology is incorporated into mass-produced, affordable clothing, it won’t have any real impact on violence against women.
Which begs the question — why isn’t this technology being incorporated into mass-produced, affordable clothing? Is it the cost and accessibility of the technology? Most likely, but that’s not a good enough reason. If this technology is tested and proven to work, it would be irresponsible to not push for its implementation on a wide scale. My hope is that this MIT project is the first step in launching the mass-production of similar clothing. It won’t happen overnight, naturally, but this is the sort of creativity and innovation that we need in stopping violence against women. This technology might really make a difference, and I would hate to see researchers and clothing designers give up on a larger incarnation of this project because they don’t view it as practical or feasible. It may not seem practical now, but it could be the solution we’ve been waiting for.
What are your thoughts? Will it ever be feasible to mass-produce sensor-studded clothing? And, if so, will it really be effective in appropriately preventing and punishing violence against women?
(h/t to Evan.)