- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Four students at North Carolina State University grabbed headlines this week with a prototype for a nail polish that supposedly detects date-rape drugs, but some feminists argue that the innovation may further promote rape culture that seeks to control women’s behavior.

“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 in an article published Monday. “But I think we need to think critically about why we keep placing the responsibility for preventing sexual assault on young women.”

Ankesh Madan, Tasso Von Windheim, Tyler Confrey-Maloney, and Stephan Gray founded Undercover Colors, a line of nail polish that is meant to help women better protect themselves from predators. A woman paints her nails with the polish, and when her nails come into contact with a liquid, the color will change if drugs like Rohypnol, Xanax, or GHB are present.

The innovation grabbed national headlines as the four-person company continues to ask for money for the venture. But ThinkProgress argues that women are already told not to wear revealing clothing, to travel in groups, to make sure they don’t get too drunk and to keep an eye on their drink. “Now, remembering to put on anti-rape nail polish … actually reinforces a pervasive rape culture in our society,” the article says.

“One of the ways that rape is used as a tool to control people is by limiting their behavior,” Rebecca Nagle, a co-director of FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, told ThinkProgress. “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.

“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,” she added.

Alexandra Brodsky, a co-founder of Know Your IX, a group working to address campus sexual assault, said well-intentioned products like Undercover Colors can actually end up fueling victim blaming. People who don’t use the product could open themselves up to criticism.

“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,” she told ThinkProgress. “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.”

So instead of seeking to control the victim’s behavior, ThinkProgress argues, “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 OK to take advantage of people when they’re drunk.”