Can “smart dress” technology provide a solution to the widespread sexual assault?

Sexual assault is a major menace in the world, no doubt, and there seems to be no way of stopping it.

That view is about to change as a new technology has being developed to checkmate sexual harassment, especially on women.

Screenshot from Dress for Respect video

In a campaign tagged Dress for Respect, global advertising firm, Ogilvy, collaborated with beverage company Schweppes Brazil back in May,2018, to design a smart dress with sensors sewn in to detect and measure when and which part of the body is touched by another person.

MobilityArena reports that the data gathered by the smart dress is transmitted to a control unit in real time via WiFi. The choice of Brazil for that particular campaign was likely informed by the country’s notoriety for female harassment in nightclubs.

According to statistics from a 2016 survey, an estimated 86% of women have been sexually harassed in nightclubs in Brazil. The wearable technology campaign planners invited three young ladies; Luisa, Tatiana and Juliana to participate by wearing the smart dress to a Sao Paolo nightclub.

After wearing the dress for about three hours and forty-seven minutes, the data revealed that the women were non con-sensually touched 157 times. That averages out at forty times per hour and even if shared between the three women, that’s more than ten times per hour!

The Challenge of This Smart Dress

Major issues of the smart dress are highlighted below:

  • Its sensors cannot distinguish between consensual touches and otherwise,
  • Obviously slight discomfort of wearing a techy dress,
  • Cannot stop the offender from carrying out or stopping the obnoxious act,
  • Cannot identify the offender or record the offensive act for proper prosecution. It probably has very little legal value, and
  • Making actionable sense of the vast amount of data from a compact environment like the one where the experiment took place.
However, this is not the first time wearable technology has been proposed as a solution to sexual assault. 

According to Vox, last year, an MIT graduate student created a Bluetooth-enabled sticker that would alert the wearer’s emergency contacts if an assailant took off their clothes by force, unless they specified the encounter was consensual within 30 seconds.

Earlier this year, as well, a design firm developed a bracelet that tracked blood alcohol levels and alerted prospective sexual partners if the wearer was too inebriated to provide informed consent.

Will this technology work? and if it does work. Can it stand the test of time?

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