#BBCtrending: Backlash against polish to detect 'rape drug'

  • 28 August 2014
woman painting nails

Four male college students at the North Carolina State University are developing a new kind of nail polish that changes colour in the presence of date-rape drugs, like GHB and Rohypnol.

The goal of their company, Undercover Colors, is "to invent technologies that empower women to protect themselves," specifically against sexual assault, they said on their Facebook Page.

"With our nail polish, any woman will be empowered to discreetly ensure her safety by simply stirring her drink with her finger," they said. "If her nail polish changes colour, she'll know that something is wrong."

Undercover Colors initially garnered praise, with hundreds of thousands of likes and shares across Facebook and Twitter.

"There are already bulky devices that can be used to test drinks for date rape drugs," writes Adam Clark Estes for Gizmodo .

"But it's not necessarily easy to carry these things around on a night out and whip them out at bars."

However, the inevitable internet backlash came from a surprising source - anti-rape advocates.

"I'm appreciative that young men like want to curb sexual assault, but anything that puts the onus on women to 'discreetly' keep from being raped misses the point," writes Jessica Valenti for the Guardian.

"We should be trying to stop rape, not just individually avoid it."

Valenti argues that promoting products like Undercover Colors is not only ineffective, but also can lead to "victim-blaming," if women don't take all the suggested precautions.

"Women are already expected to work hard to prevent themselves from becoming the victims of sexual assault," writes Tara Culp-Ressler for Think Progress.

"Now, remembering to put on anti-rape nail polish and discreetly slip a finger into each drink might be added to that ever-growing checklist-something that actually reinforces a pervasive rape culture in our society."

Additionally, date-rape drugs are not necessarily a factor in the majority of sexual assaults as much as alcohol.

Writing for Jezebel, Erin Gloria Ryan says that improving education around sexual assault could prove more beneficial than colour-changing manicures.

"Teach men that having sex with women too incapacitated to consent is rape," she writes.

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