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Why Rape Prevention Activists Don’t Like The New Nail Polish That Can Detect Roofies

  1. Beenthere2Hippie
    NORTH CAROLINA - A group of four college students is taking the media by storm with the development of an innovative nail polish that can detect date rape drugs that have been slipped into young women’s drinks.

    While the new product has captured its fair share of headlines over the past week, sexual assault prevention advocates warn that it’s not necessarily the best way to approach the sexual assault epidemic on college campuses.

    Four male students at North Carolina State University have created a nail polish that changes color when it comes into contact with several common drugs intended to incapacitate victims. According to the undergrads, their goal is to “invent technologies that empower women to protect themselves from this heinous and quietly pervasive crime.” Although the product isn’t available yet, their Facebook page has already been flooded with positive responses from people who can’t wait to give it a try.

    The response isn’t entirely unprecedented. Products that promise to help women detect the colorless, odorless “roofie” drugs have become more popular in recent years. And more broadly, anti-rape tools to help women protect themselves from potential predators have become increasingly prevalent.

    Although these products typically get a lot of press and are sometimes hailed as complete breakthroughs in the fight against sexual violence — “Soon, a fresh manicure could have the potential to save your life,” the Daily Mail proclaimed in a story about the new nail polish — activists working in the field aren’t convinced. They believe innovations like anti-rape nail polish are well-meaning but ultimately misguided.

    “I think that anything that can help reduce sexual violence from happening is, in some ways, a really good thing,” Tracey Vitchers, the board chair for Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER), told ThinkProgress. “But I think we need to think critically about why we keep placing the responsibility for preventing sexual assault on young women.”

    Women are already expected to work hard to prevent themselves from becoming the victims of sexual assault. They’re told to avoid wearing revealing clothing, travel in groups, make sure they don’t get too drunk, and always keep a close eye on their drink. Now, remembering to put on anti-rape nail polish and discretely 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.

    “One of the ways that rape is used as a tool to control people is by limiting their behavior,” Rebecca Nagle, one of the co-directors of an activist group called FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture that challenges the societal norms around sexual assault, explained. “As a woman, I’m told not to go out alone at night, to watch my drink, to do all of these things. That way, rape isn’t just controlling me while I’m actually being assaulted — it controls me 24/7 because it limits my behavior. Solutions like these actually just recreate that. I don’t want to fucking test my drink when I’m at the bar. That’s not the world I want to live in.”

    According to Alexandra Brodsky, one of the founders and current co-directors of Know Your IX, a survivor-led group working to address campus sexual assault, well-intentioned products like anti-rape nail polish can actually end up fueling victim blaming. Any college students who don’t use the special polish could open themselves up to criticism for failing to do everything in their power to prevent rape.

    Indeed, the argument that women simply need to be more responsible is a common response to the current conversation about sexual assault on college campuses — and one that activists say doesn’t get to the heart of the issue.

    “The problem isn’t that women don’t know when there are roofies in their drink; the problem is people putting roofies in their drink in the first place,” Nagle pointed out.

    “I think a lot of the time we get focused on these new products because they’re innovative and they’re interesting, and it’s really cool that they figured out how to create nail polish that does this. But at the end of the day, are you having those tough conversations with students, and particularly men, who are at risk for committing sexual assault?” Vitchers added. “Are you talking to young men about the importance of respecting other people’s boundaries and understanding what it means to obtain consent?”

    Activists point out that most students are assaulted by people they know in environments where they feel comfortable — situations when wearing anti-rape nail polish doesn’t necessarily make sense. Plus, the vast majority of those assaults don’t involve date rape drugs in the first place. According to a 2007 study from the National Institute for Justice, just about 2.4 percent of female undergrads who had been sexually assaulted suspected they had been slipped a drug.

    So, rather than targeting efforts at helping women identify roofies in their drinks, it would likely be more effective to focus on larger efforts to tackle the cultural assumptions at the root of the campus sexual assault crisis, like the idea that it’s okay to take advantage of people when they’re drunk. There’s a lot of student-led activism on college campuses around these themes, as well as some college administrations agreeing to implement more comprehensive consent education and bystander intervention training programs. The advocates who spoke to ThinkProgress said they wish more of those campaigns would start making headlines.

    “One of the reason we get so excited about these really simple fixes is because it makes us feel like the problem itself is really simple. That’s a comforting idea,” Brodsky noted. “But I really wish that people were funneling all of this ingenuity and funding and interest into new ways to stop people from perpetrating violence, as opposed to trying to personally avoid it so that the predator in the bar rapes someone else.”

    Think Progress.com/August 25, 2014


    Graphic: elle.com

    Newshawk Crew

    Author Bio

    BT2H is a retired news editor and writer from the NYC area who, for health reasons, retired to a southern US state early, and where BT2H continues to write and to post drug-related news to DF.


  1. Rob Cypher
    North Carolina State students developing nail polish that detects date rape drugs

    A team of recent graduates from North Carolina State are developing a new kind of nail polish that changes color when it's exposed to date rape drugs. Just stirring a sketchy drink with a finger could let a woman know she's being targeted for assault. Although a little odd, it does sound like a pretty good idea.

    They're calling it Undercover Colors. The four young men working on the project all come from NC State's Materials Science & Engineering program and are piloting the school's first-ever Entrepreneurship Initiatives Fellows Program as they develop it. Their prototype and business plan was enough to win the Lulu eGames contest this year, and they've even raised $100,000 to get the business off the ground. Of course, a prototype and an award do not mean that Undercover Colors can successfully grow into a business. But the concept itself is most certainly worthwhile.

    As awareness of the growing problem of rape—especially rape on campus—grows, several companies have attempted to use technology to combat the problem. There are already bulky devices that can be used to test drinks for date rape drugs. But it's not necessarily easy to carry these things around on a night out and whip them out at bars to carry out little lab experiments. Smart nail polish just seems like an easier solution.

    That said, it's obviously ridiculous that the date problem has gotten so bad that women need to resort to such measures just so they can have a safe night out. It'll take more than nail polish to keep women safe; sexual assault on campus has been skyrocketing in recent years, and three-fourths of all incidents come from a non-stranger. Still, any little bit of progress—or at least of more creative solutions—is certainly welcome.

    Adam Clark Estes
    August 25, 2014

  2. rawbeer
    Re: Why Rape Prevention Activists Don’t Like The New Nail Polish That Can Detect Roof

    While I think it's shame women need to protect themselves from rape, many of these criticisms are idiotic. Rapists know what they're doing is wrong, that's a big part of why they do it. Not the kind of world you want to live in? I don't want to live in a world where I have to lock my car or my house. But I don't think teaching people not to steal shit is going to solve the problem, because a portion of the population isn't ever going to care if they're hurting someone.

    It disgusts and infuriates me that probably 50% of the women I have been close to in my life, including family members, have been sexually assaulted to some degree. It's disturbing how common a problem it is and our attitudes towards rape do have to change. But we need to change the mindset of everyone BUT the rapists. Anyone who forces themselves sexually onto an unwilling victim is a sociopath or otherwise mentally fucked, the problem is that it's such an ugly crime society chooses to ignore it. The majority of the women I have known who were raped did nothing about it, because they were ashamed. That's awful, that's what needs to end. But I don't see how rape prevention and blaming the victim have anything to do with each other.

    Everyone should watch what they drink and travel in groups at night, it's common sense. Everyone should be on guard because we live alongside sick fucking people who just don't care about us, who see us as resources to be exploited. No amount of education or legislation is going to make the world safe from these fucking people. And unfortunately we can't just purge the world of them, because the only people who would be willing to violently exterminate the sick people of the world or imprison them would be...those very people! It's something we're doomed to live with.

    It is our responsibility as the mentally healthy members of society to strengthen our group against these people. Don't just shrug your shoulders and say nothing can be done. Yes these people will always exist but we can make it harder for them to get away with it. If you get raped, fucking report it. DO NOT falsely accuse someone of rape for vengeance or you are part of the problem. If you know someone who raped someone else, don't just ignore it even if it's a friend or relative, report it. Or better yet ostracize and socially harm the person as best you can because rape is criminally under-prosecuted because it's very hard to prove when it's not done violently, and yes our judicial system is biased towards males.

    The law won't help, it's up to society to protect itself. We need a culture where rapists feel ashamed about their actions, not their victims. We tend to ignore the ugliest things...for example Ebola is NOT the worst thing happening to Africans right now, the worst things are so horrific and depressing the media won't dare report them. It's the same with rape, so I think it's good how much media attention this crime is getting lately. We need to tackle this as a group and confront it, not sweep it under the rug as we have for so long.

    In the meantime, women need to protect themselves, and men need to help too. You don't have to go around wearing coveralls and carrying a taser, just be aware of your surroundings, have friends you trust, and keep in mind that the world is full of monsters.
  3. tidruid
    Re: Why Rape Prevention Activists Don’t Like The New Nail Polish That Can Detect Roof

    Extreme radical groups will always try to find the negatives in everything. I understand how it sucks that women are having to use extreme measures like this to keep themselves safe, but I find it frustrating that women are already saying how this precautionary method is wrong or sexist. I think that the nail polish is a really good invention. It was made to help women protect themselves from date rape, yet there will always be some that have to point out the negatives of a good thing.
  4. TheBigBadWolf
    Re: Why Rape Prevention Activists Don’t Like The New Nail Polish That Can Detect Roof

    And already this way of thinking is sexist.
    As long as people think this kind of stuff it is declared a normalcy that women (and not only women) get sexually assaulted. More than known to outside persons this daterape behaviour is also used against male homosexuals - or those deemed homosexual - by homo haters for humiliation only.

    Rape has nothing to do with the sexual satisfaction of sick people, it is a tool of general suppression, humiliation and control and it has no place in a world that calls itself free.

    Freedom does not mean the freedom to try and see what one can get away with.

    It has been for thousands of years and it will stay so, until victims don't have to fear being humiliated even more for reporting of any sexual assault.

    It is still seen as a gentlemen's crime to touch, to talk in an assaultive way or to make demeaning comments.
    This stuff has to finally end.

    To the topic:
    I find it a good idea to try and give people new self-protection possibilities - it's sad. but desperate situations need desperate measures. The world is not (yet) populated with 'normal' people.

    Hope it covers a real broad spectrum of substances from opiates to benzos and cleaners. It's hard enough not to drink too much acohol, anyway...


    BTW: I think this is posted in the wrong subforum - funny and bizarre is something different.
  5. Joe-(5-HTP)
    Re: Why Rape Prevention Activists Don’t Like The New Nail Polish That Can Detect Roof

    I don't think women taking precautions against rape like this is an example of victim blaming.

    No one would say it is a woman's responsibility to not get raped. However, it is up to a woman how much time she wants to spend of her life guarding against this possibility.

    We are unfortunately not in a perfect society. There is no argument to be made against women doing whatever they choose to attempt to guard themselves against rapists.

    So I understand the perspective of feminists who claim this is trying to put responsibility for not being raped on the woman. That perspective is right if people think it does put responsibility on women. I don't though. It's not necessary that anyone does. So that's the end of the argument.
  6. MikePatton
    Re: Why Rape Prevention Activists Don’t Like The New Nail Polish That Can Detect Roof

    The invention of any technology that might help to prevent rape should be praised. The invention of such tools in no way justifies sexual assault, in the same manner that installing a car alarm doesn't justify car theft.

    The alternative they suggested, which is putting more emphasis on anti-rape education for college students, is quite futile in my opinion. In my university, you have to complete a short sexual harassment class to get your degree, and it's just a fucking joke. It basically aims to define which acts qualify as sexual harassment, and thus make people aware if they are doing something that they didn't know was in fact sexual harassment.

    The problem is, everybody knows what sexual harassment is. This class failed to deliver even a shred of new information to anyone who took it, it was an absolute joke. If you were to make male students take an anti-rape class, what insights could that class possibly provide them with? "Rape is bad, M-kay"? How is it going to change any rapist's mind? Is he supposed to respond with "Oh my god! I never realized raping people was a bad thing! I'm gonna stop right now!".
  7. rawbeer
    Re: Why Rape Prevention Activists Don’t Like The New Nail Polish That Can Detect Roof

    ^^^ Excellent points. I had to take such a class in college, and I wondered how anyone would ever enter into an intimate relationship without engaging in activities that qualify as sexual harassment. Basically expressing any sort of interest in a woman can be defined as sexual harassment. In real life it's a lot more complicated, because you need to response to subtle social cues and let them determine what's appropriate. Sometimes expressing sexual interest in a woman is exactly what she wants you to do, sometimes it's creepy and wrong. If you can't figure out which is which, go become a monk or something, and stay the fuck away from everyone else.

    You can't teach social skills very easily, or morality. These are things that exist below the level of reason and logic.
  8. TheBigBadWolf
    Re: Why Rape Prevention Activists Don’t Like The New Nail Polish That Can Detect Roof

    Oh I very well believe that there are more than one person around who are so from out of the woods of the second to last century that they don't have a clue what sexual harrassment means.

    Who grew up under a patriarch system with no information about that it is not correct not to harrass someone sexually. Same as e.g. that it is not right to keep someone as a slave...

    These (parts of) societie(s) do exist until today, not only in countries one would call backstanding.
    Therefore I find t very important to have things like these classes - even in universities there are people from sch an obscure moral background.

    And no, they will not change their minds (I fear). But at least someone has told them what they do or think is considered an assault on othes' human rights.

    Short example from my experience:
    Years ago I was walking with a friend of mine, female, 160cm, 50kg. Town, by night.
    Other side of the road two persons (obviously male) were holding a person by their arms (obviously one female), shoving them around.
    My friend shouted over :" hey - whatever you do there, carry on, but be told from now on someone watches."
    The two guys stopped and walked away quickly without one word.
    My friend has been thanked for and was invited to a party by the woman.

    Don't know if it's done in the classes you talk about - but civil rights and moral courage belong together.
    Sitting there thinking "oh how interesting" is not enough. If so, of course the classes are in vain.

    This of course needs people who care for people. Not only for their "own" people.

    People composing a roofies-detection nail-polish care.

  9. MikePatton
    Re: Why Rape Prevention Activists Don’t Like The New Nail Polish That Can Detect Roof

    BBW - I just don't think a critically acclaimed University would be a good place to find any of those caveman style shovenists you speak of. Either way the class featured drawings of certain social situations and dialogues that from my point of view would definitely strike any person as explicit sexual harassment. There was no discussion of the fine line between flirting and sexual harassment and the social context that differentiates them. It was just silly cartoon drawings, which I felt insulted the intelligence of every one in the room.

    If you were to take someone who is completely ignorant to the subject and teach him social norms and how to interpret subtle interpersonal cues and react accordingly, that would definitely take more than one class.
  10. TheBigBadWolf
    Re: Why Rape Prevention Activists Don’t Like The New Nail Polish That Can Detect Roof

    I have most of my life lived in or around a German University middle town of 200.000 inhabitants, so had contact to students all through the last 30 years. Cavemen? no. Wolves in sheep's fur. give em three beer and the caveman comes out, and Dick does the thinking. And I'm going so far to estimate it about a third of the males.
    Because I can't explain in a different way how more than half of all females I know have reported sexual assaults of some kind... not talking about demeaning comments..
    This of course is sad and adds to my persuasion that this topic is absolutely not taken seriously , right because of the structures that "be", people hypocritically constructing a half-arsed program that doesn't hit the point, just to have it standing on the curriculum and to appear politically correct. Pretending and make-believe.
    The exact contrary of caring.

    Half a year of humiliation and some good thrashing I'd say. ;)[/sarcasm]

  11. MikePatton
    Re: Why Rape Prevention Activists Don’t Like The New Nail Polish That Can Detect Roof

    Agreed, when you put it that way, it's pretty accurate to say a third of the males I've met are at least partially shovenist, or just treat women like meat (yet somehow still succeed in attracting them, which makes me very sad). But not in a 'put roofies in your drink' kind of way, that is clearly a step beyond that.

    I think if they want to teach this subject they should tackle it head on instead of doing a half ass job for the record. I also think women should be taught not to put up with even a shred of disrespectful behavior, which unfortunately many of them do. Usually women with low self-esteem would convince themselves that even though their partner is a shovenist pig, and maybe even abusive, they should settle for him because that's probably the best they could get, or because he has some positive qualities that supposedly make up for it. This is the kind of thinking that really needs to be completely uprooted.
  12. TheBigBadWolf
    Re: Why Rape Prevention Activists Don’t Like The New Nail Polish That Can Detect Roof

    A step beyond on the exactly same steps.

    And btw, I subscribe to what the reporting person above in your post says.

    Thats why I took this thread quite a bit off it's topic :D

    On the first glimpse the Article in the OP looks plain weird and makes one think whether we don't have any other societal problems than roofie-detection nail-polish - the article itself is trying not to be too sarcastic about it.
    The problem is that this article actually is about how the majority of people are treated in this society so that there could eventually be a need for said nail-polish.

    And that needs quite a bit of thinking it over, else it's easy to get stuck between generalisations and a misunderstanding about the facts of todays society.

    If that stuff ever goes on sale I could love an experience report - including reaction of the person who gets caught spiking a drink (may also include my above proposed good thrashing).
    Anyone remember the recent Article about the guy who left his kids in the hot car whilst drinking a beer?

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