Georgia Kennelly is the National Women’s Officer for the National Union of Students.
Trigger Warning for Rape.
In the news this week is a new product created by male students in the US – nail polish that will detect date rape drugs in drinks. As described on their Facebook page Undercover Colors – “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”
I can understand that at first look this seems like a fantastic idea. Worried parents will be buying this for their daughters, universities will sell it discount on campus – the Daily Mail went so far as to say that this will save lives. With the reaction from commentators, I’m surprised nobody has given these boys a Nobel Prize yet.
But this product has missed the mark completely.
This is yet another product that time and money is poured into that focuses on what women can do to protect themselves from being sexually assaulted instead of teaching men not to rape. Usually when I leave the house on a Saturday night I think I’m covered safety wise; wearing my skirt that’s not too short, my shoes I can run in, the pepper spray in my handbag, sharp implement on my keys, anti-rape underwear, headphones out of my ears, emergency app on my phone, but hang on I forgot my anti-drink spiking nail polish! I am so sick of it being our job as women to constantly protect ourselves with no effort made by men to actually change the culture. You have four men here who clearly care about this issue, and $100,000 and this is what they came up with? They could have pushed for consent workshops for young boys in schools, better policies at university colleges and sporting departments, education campaigns for the broader public, stricter regulation for advertising, tv, movies, & music that promote rape, challenging a culture that doesn’t believe women when they report rape, police that take women seriously when they report harassment that all too often turns into assault – but instead they chose to create a product that puts the onus on the victim.
By putting the responsibility on the woman to protect herself they’re contributing to the culture of victim-blaming that exists when a woman reports sexual assault. We already ask women what they were wearing, how much they’d had to drink, how sexually active they are, if they defended themselves and if they called for help. Thanks to this product, it’s only so long before a woman is assaulted outside a club after having her drink spiked and she is asked on the witness stand why she didn’t wasn’t wearing the nail polish. Rape is never the victim’s fault and this product is only going to exacerbate the problem.
Furthermore, this product is not actually that practical. The majority of drink spiking occurs not with drugs but actually with extra alcohol poured into a drink, something that you can’t trace. For the minority of drinks that are spiked with drugs, there is a large range of different drugs used and these drugs are constantly evolving, it is nigh impossible to trace all of them. Even aside from the fact that this is not going to detect the majority of spiked drinks – what happens when it does? In a scenario where a woman does detect a spiked drink by dipping her finger in it, what happens next? Does she call the police? Does she go home immediately? What happens if the perpetrator follows her outside and attempts to assault her anyway? More than likely, if she does escape safely, the perpetrator will turn his attention to a different woman sporting bare nails. Not exactly something that solves the problem.
Lastly, it’s important to note that the data shows that most sexual assault isn’t a stranger attacking you in a dark alleyway but is very likely to be someone that you know, a relative, a coworker, a friend. Someone that you never suspected would ever harm you. It’s unlikely that you’ll be on your guard around every man close to you, let alone checking the drinks they give you.
The boys behind Undercover Colors are asking for donations on top of the $100,000 they already have – and with the recent spike in interest people have been more than happy to donate. Once the product is on the market I have no doubt they will start raking in the profits. So now we have men profiteering off a rape culture in society that they; as men, already benefit greatly from, without doing anything to address the causes of rape. I would suggest to anyone keen to donate that they instead give money to greatly underfunded rape crisis centres that could really use it.
As someone who has had my drink spiked at a club, it’s a terrifying experience that is not solved by magic nail polish, but by teaching men that they’re not entitled to women’s bodies.
And if there are men reading this who really want to stop Rape – then maybe this will give them some handy tips.
I love the direction of using sensors to help read our environment. I agree that this implementation doesn’t seem functional at all. Marketed the wrong way this thing could cause more harm then good by giving a false sense of security. I see potential to design a new product here and educate people on how to use it. As for victim-blaming, its a good point. That will definitely happen, but ultimately, I believe the responsibility to protect yourself is on yourself. We haven’t been able to educate people enough on speeding to avoid the need for air bags, so I don’t see any reason why we act differently with rape. Technology is reliable, combine with education/awareness and we’re miles ahead. @Georgia Don’t hate on innovation and change. We never get it right the first time.