A nail polish that can alert its wearer to date rape drugs has been celebrated as an innovative way to promote women’s safety, but some women’s rights groups are holding their applause. 

“Undercover Colors,” a nail polish developed by four male students at North Carolina State University, can detect the presence of Rohypnol, Xanax and Gamma Hydroxybutyrate, also known as GHB --  drugs that are often used in sexual assaults. While news outlets like Adweek have touted this as an innovative way to protect women from rape, some women’s rights groups see roofie-detecting products as a  Band-Aid on a larger societal problem.

“What does it mean to ask a woman to accessorize in response to the threat of rape?” feminist blog Glosswatch, wrote in reaction to the new nail polish. “You start to get the feeling that rape isn’t an act that rapists choose to commit, but an inevitability for which all women should prepare, like bad weather or traffic jams.”

While the nail polish may bring awareness to the issue of sexual assault on college campuses, the product “falls into the category of risk-reduction rather than prevention,” Tracy Cox, a spokesperson for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, told International Business Times. “We need to take a step back and address the problematic thinking that it’s OK for a rapist to take advantage of someone in the first place.”

The  Facebook page for Undercover Colors touts the product as a way for a woman to feel “empowered to discreetly ensure her safety” by stirring her finger in a drink. The nail polish will change color if any of the drugs are detected.

For some feminist bloggers, members of anti-sexual assault groups and social media users, the nail polish could create “false a sense of security” for women who believe using the product can effectively prevent rape -- when there’s still no definitive proof it can. The nail polish can also reinforce victim-blaming: Any college student that does not wear the nail polish and is targeted by a rapist could be faulted for not using the tool at their disposal, Alexandra Brodsky, co-director of a survivor-led group working to address campus sexual assault, told ThinkProgress.

“I don’t want to f---ng test my drink when I’m at the bar. That’s not the world I want to live in,” Rebecca Nagle, a co-director for the activist group called FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, told ThinkProgress. In her opinion, the nail polish places another demand on women to alter their behavior rather than the men who perpetrate the crime.

The nail polish’s developers have been wary of this line of reasoning. In their description they outlined the ways the product would not shift onus onto the victim. “We hope to make potential perpetrators afraid to spike a woman’s drink because there’s now a risk that they can get caught,” the team explained.

For Maya Dusenbery, executive director of the blog Feministing, the nail polish should be free and universally accessible. This way all women will have the opportunity to reduce their risk of being sexually assaulted rather than just the ones who can afford to buy it. But even then, the nail polish alone probably won't be enough to deter enough potential rapists, she said.

In a blog post, Dusenbery posed a question to the Undercover Colors creators: “Are you working on developing a product that will make them afraid to actually rape?” 

Tracey Vitchers, the board chair for Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER), agrees that Undercover Colors barely scratches the surface.

“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 told ThinkProgress. “Are you talking to young men about the importance of respecting other people’s boundaries and understanding what it means to obtain consent?”

Twitter users have had mixed responses. While many have lauded the product and its inventors for their socially responsible innovation, others are discouraged that products like it have to exist in the first place.

Nail polish isn’t the only anti-rape product that has been developed. Anti-rape underwear (that is difficult to remove) and drug-detecting straws and stirrers have also made headlines as ways to prevent sexual assault. But rape-prevention products may not necessarily correlate to the facts. Statistics shows that most sexual assaults on college campuses do not involve drugs as an aggravating cause. Not only that, 73 percent of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, oftentimes a close friend or romantic partner – not a stranger. If a woman is spending time with someone she knows and might trust, she is not likely to be testing her drink for date-rape drugs.

 

 

 

Still, sexual assaults on college campuses are a widespread, dangerous problem that need to be addressed somehow. Studies estimate that 20 percent to 25 percent of college women are victims of forced sex during their time in college. While 90 percent of victims may not report the assault in the first place, data shows the incidents are rising. The nail polish may not be the solution, but it may not harm the situation either.

“Isn't it possible for it to be both a win for women and a fail for society?” Reddit user Lapland_Lapin wrote about the nail polish. “The antecedent problem of date rape is clearly a huge failure, but doing something to try and combat it seems like a win for everyone, frankly.”