Thanks to four male college students from North Carolina State University, you may soon be able to buy some nail polish that detects date rape drugs to go with your anti-rape underwear. Throw in your rape whistle and pepper spray camera, and you might be able to delude yourself into believing you’re 100% safe from sexual violence.
The students came up with the idea because they’ve all personally known someone who’s experienced sexual assault, and I applaud their desire to put their engineering skills toward combating rape. But after reading Undercover Colors’ product description, I have a few questions…
In the U.S., 18% of women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. That’s almost one out of every five women in our country. We may not know who they are, but these women are not faceless. They are our daughters, they are our girlfriends, and they are our friends.
While date rape drugs are often used to facilitate sexual assault, very little science exists for their detection. Our goal is to invent technologies that empower women to protect themselves from this heinous and quietly pervasive crime.
Actually, date rape drugs, like Rohypnol, Xanax, and GHB, are not used to facilitate sexual assault all that often. While exact estimates vary, it’s safe to say that plain old alcohol is the substance most commonly used in drug-facilitated rape. Are you at all worried that by overstating the prevalence of date rape drugs, your product might give its users, who are no less likely to become victims of other kinds of sexual assault, a false sense of security? And given that your product only addresses a relatively tiny subsection of the sexual violence in this country, do you have any plans to donate your profits to help protect the remainder of the 18 percent?
For our first product, we are developing a nail polish that changes color when it comes in contact with date rape drugs such as Rohypnol, Xanax, and GHB. With our nail polish, any woman will be empowered to discreetly ensure her safety by simply stirring her drink with her finger. If her nail polish changes color, she’ll know that something is wrong.
Is your product free? Will if be universally available in bars and on college campuses? What if I’m interested in ensuring not only my safety but also the safety of all the other women who have not heard about — or cannot afford to buy — your nail polish? Do you recommend that I just purchase a bulk order and set up a nail-painting table outside my local bar? Can you provide some advice for how to discreetly ask strangers if they’d like me to stir their drinks as well? If your product becomes popular, won’t drink-spikers just learn to target the drinks of nail polish-free women? Will you have a clear polish to avoid this problem? Are you at all concerned that women who weren’t wearing your polish when they were drugged and raped will be blamed for not doing everything in their power to “ensure [their] safety”?
Through this nail polish and similar technologies, we hope to make potential perpetrators afraid to spike a woman’s drink because there’s now a risk that they can get caught. In effect, we want to shift the fear from the victims to the perpetrators.
If your product becomes popular enough to have a real deterrent effect — in other words, to actually “make potential perpetrators afraid to spike a woman’s drink” and not just afraid to spike a nail-polish-wearing woman’s drink — what is stopping rapists from simply using other means, including the current go-to drug, alcohol, to facilitate the crime? Are you working on developing a product that will make them afraid to actually rape?
We are Undercover Colors and we are the first fashion company empowering women to prevent sexual assault.
Do you know the definition of “empowering“? It involves giving someone the power to do something. “Giving” is not synonymous with “selling.” More importantly, do you know the definition of “prevent”? It is not synonymous with “avoid.” Personally avoiding sexual assault — or one particular, rather uncommon type of sexual assault — is not the same as preventing sexual assault. I’m not against the former, but I personally prefer to donate to folks working to do the latter. And I’m not so into a company that raises money by conflating the two.
Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.