The Four-Handed Condom

Content warning: rape.

You’ve probably seen the news about people taking a technological look at the issue of consent, lately. One thing that’s been getting a lot of attention is the Tulipán Placer Consentido, an Argentinian condom which comes in a packet that requires the cooperation of two pairs of hands to open it.

Four hands opening a Placer Consentido packet
I’ve seen simpler escape room puzzles.

Naturally, the Internet’s been all over this shit, pointing out how actually you can probably open it with just two hands [YouTube], how it’s inaccessible [YouTube] to people with a variety of disabilities, and how it misses the point by implying that once the condom is on, consent is irrevocable. A significant number of its critics try to make their claims more-sensational by describing the Placer Consentido as “a real product”, which is a bit of an exaggeration: it was a seemingly one-off promotional giveaway by its creators: it doesn’t look to be appearing on their store pages.

Hands moving to the magic pressure points on a condom packet.
Move your fingers just a bit lower. No… up a bit. Yes! Right there! That’s the spot!

One fundamental flaw with the concept that nobody seems to have pointed out (unless perhaps in Spanish), is that – even assuming the clever packaging works perfectly – all that you can actually consent to with such a device is the use of a condom. Given that rape can be and often is committed coercively rather than physically – e.g. through fear, blackmail, or obligation rather than by force – consent to use of a condom by one of the parties shouldn’t be conflated with consent to a sexual act: it may just be preferable to it without, if that seems to be the alternative.

Indeed, all of these technical “solutions” to rape seem to focus on the wrong part of the process. Making sure that an agreement is established isn’t a hard problem, algorithmically-speaking (digital signatures with split-key cryptography has given us perhaps the strongest possible solution to the problem for forty years now)! The hard problem here is in getting people to think about what rape is and to act appropriately to one another. Y’know: it’s a people problem, not a technology problem! (Unshocker.)

"It's a no", from the advertisment.
“If it’s not a yes, it’s a no.” If you ignore the product, the ad itself is on-message.

But even though they’re perhaps functionally-useless, I’m still glad that people are making these product prototypes. As the news coverage kicked off by the #MeToo movement wanes, its valuable to keep that wave of news going: the issues faced by the victims of sexual assault and rape haven’t gone away! Products like these may well be pointless in the real world, but they’re a vehicle to keep talking about consent and its importance. Keeping the issue in the limelight is helpful, because it forces people to continually re-evaluate their position on sex and consent, which makes for a healthy and progressive society.

So I’m looking forward to whatever stupid thing we come up with next. Bring it on, innovators! Just don’t take your invention too seriously: you’re not going to “fix” rape with it, but at least you can keep us talking about it.

Beware: Necrophiliac Paramedics!

A conversation I had this morning with JTA, via text message:

I sent:

Boiler update: this is getting silly. The probability-weighted Markov-chain based predictive text system I’m using this morning saw me type “boi” and suggested “Boiler update:”? /sighs/
On the upside, I’ve successfully arranged for the new distributor valve to be installed on Friday, when I’ll be around.

To give a little background, we’re having trouble with the boiler on Earth. You may have observed that it broke last year, and then again this year: well – it’s still broken, really. Nowadays it’ll only produce a little hot water at a time, and makes a noise like that scene in Titanic where the ship begins to tear in two. You know – a bad noise for a boiler to make. Over the last two or three weeks we’ve repeatedly fought to get it repaired, but it’s been challenging: more on that in a different blog post, if JTA doesn’t get there first.

JTA replied:

On the plus side, at least this saga is overriding your phone’s memory of your previous life as a male prostitute. :-)

I was once mistaken for a gay prostitute, actually – by a gay prostitute – but that’s another story, I guess. In any case, I responded:

Until now! you’ve just mentioned that again, which means it’ll be the “last message received” when the paramedics go through my phone if I’m killed on the way to work this morning. And they’ll say, “yeah; I’d pay to have sex with him.”

Quickly followed by:

And his mate will say:
“Now he’s dead, you don’t HAVE to pay.”
If my corpse is raped by a paramedic, I’m blaming you.

To which JTA said:

You’re talking about people who drive blacked out vans full of drugs. I’m pretty sure they never pay.

From prostitution to necrophilia to date rape over the course of only a handful of text messages. What a great start to a Wednesday morning. I do like the image of an ambulance as “a blacked out van full of drugs,” though…

Mr. Smith’s Robbery

This piece of fiction’s been floating around the Internet, recently: I first saw it on Faye‘s blog and wanted to share it. I believe it’s originally written by a Susan from Glasgow, but I haven’t find anything else to pinpoint the original author.

The law discriminates against rape victims in a manner which would not be tolerated by victims of any other crime. In the following example, a holdup victim is asked questions similar in form to those usually asked a victim of rape:

“Mr. Smith, you were held up at gunpoint on the corner of 16th and Locust?”

“Yes.”

“Did you struggle with the robber?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“He was armed.”

“Then you made a conscious decision to comply with his demands rather than to resist?”

“Yes.”

“Did you scream? Cry out?”

“No. I was afraid.”

“I see. Have you ever been held up before?”

“No.”

“Have you ever given money away?”

“Yes, of course–”

“And did you do so willingly?”

“What are you getting at?”

“Well, let’s put it like this, Mr. Smith. You’ve given away money in the past–in fact, you have quite a reputation for philanthropy. How can we be sure that you weren’t contriving to have your money taken from you by force?”

“Listen, if I wanted–”

“Never mind. What time did this holdup take place, Mr. Smith?”

“About 11 p.m.”

“You were out on the streets at 11 p.m.? Doing what?”

“Just walking.”

“Just walking? You know it’s dangerous being out on the street that late at night. Weren’t you aware that you could have been held up?”

“I hadn’t thought about it.”

“What were you wearing at the time, Mr. Smith?”

“Let’s see. A suit. Yes, a suit.”

“An expensive suit?”

“Well–yes.”

“In other words, Mr. Smith, you were walking around the streets late at night in a suit that practically advertised the fact that you might be a good target for some easy money, isn’t that so? I mean, if we didn’t know better, Mr. Smith, we might even think you were asking for this to happen, mightn’t we?”

“Look, can’t we talk about the past history of the guy who did this to me?”

“I’m afraid not, Mr. Smith. I don’t think you would want to violate his rights, now, would you?”

It’s an effective story, I think, despite the reinforcement of the illusion that rape victims are at most risk from the hypothetical “stranger in a dark alley” (when in actual fact, most rape is conducted by somebody known personally to the victim).

The crime of rape is a whole minefield of complications: the issue of consent; the fact that the only witnesses are generally the victim and their attacker(s), and the sometimes-fuzzy definitions used in many countries’ laws, to name a few. We’re less than a week since a particularly troublesome and emotive case being tried in Cheltenham. In this particular incident, a 15 year-old girl accused a 14 year-old boy of raping her, but it later became clear through the vast inconsistencies in her story that this almost certainly a fabrication. Now, naturally, she’s now being convicted of attempting to pervert the course of justice.

The statement from Women Against Rape? “It is awful that a girl so young has been prosecuted in this way.”

Whoah, whoah – let’s step back a moment. Let’s get this clear: it’s awful that a young woman who lies about being raped, threatening a young man with prison and a lifetime of being on the sex offenders’ register, is being convicted for this? That’s your stance on this? Did I accidentally turn over two pages at once, because I feel like I’ve missed something here.

It’s already awful and tragic that we live in a world where a majority of rape goes unreported. Let’s not also try to make it into a world where it’s acceptable to knowingly make false accusations of crimes, especially those with life-altering consequences.