FROM CHASTITY BELTS TO SMART FROCKS: THE PROMISE OF RAPE DETERRENT TECHNOLOGY
In 2018, Schweppes partnered with Ogilvy Brazil to design a smart dress that used touch-sensors to illustrate how women are groped in nightclubs (Dickson 2018). The dress is a strong example of a host of digital devices that mobilise smart technology to legitimate women’s testimony of sexual assault in public space. It also belongs to a growing category of technology closely attached to the body and designed to either protect it from harm or lend credence to previously silenced publics.
Devices like the Ogilvy dress draw attention to the marginalisation of victims’ voices; it owes its existence to institutions of power refusing to listen to women’s testimony. However, the devices also reinscribe the same silencing dynamic by positioning themselves as necessary and more “reliable” evidence of women’s experience than their verbal statements. These devices are sorely undertheorized as potential erosions of the legitimacy of individual testimony and experience that are part of digital culture more broadly speaking (Couldry 2010). The devices are also problematically framed as “solutions” to broader and contextually-sensitive social issues in ways that reify their power dynamics. These devices materialise a relationship among the wearer, bodily threat, and the corporate brand selling the device as a means to further brand recognition and to cohere associations among the brand, a social cause and, perhaps most enticingly, its solution.