Date rape nail polish drug detectors – Creative concept, flawed in practice and misguided criticism

A recent rocket on media street is a new drug detecting nail polish , marked “Undercover Colors”. Created by four North Carolina State University students, it’s an innovative little cosmetic that changes colours after being exposed to date rape drugs like Rohypnol, Xanax and GHB. Simply stirring one manicured finger discreetly into any drink could alert a woman of a potential sexual predator.

Sounds pretty handy, (excuse the pun), right? A cleverly thought out mini stranger danger drug detector tailored to fit into many everyday female beauty regimes. While it’s a creative concept, unfortunately I can’t imagine women readily dunking their fingers into their glasses anytime soon. Neither is male nail polish ever likely to become a fashion trend in the near future. Worryingly, the product marginalises rape and sexual assault cases to only female victims and disregards that men are also targets.

But the problems don’t seem to end in practice. According to Animal New York’s Backdoor Pharmacist, date rape drug testers simply aren’t reliable. It’s a “false panacea”. The over sensitive nature of colorimetric indicators, the impossibility of compacting a universal indicator to test the extensive list of potentially incapacitating substances and the horrendously busy, bustling bar/night club conditions all skews the accuracy of the detectors. The consequential danger is a widened false sense of security and scope for damning false allegations.

Yet the most troubling criticism and rejection of the drug detector that caught my attention was by spokeswoman of Rape Crisis England & Wales, Katie Russell.

“It implies that it’s the woman’s fault and assumes responsibility on her behalf and detracts from the real issues that arise from sexual violence.”

This is absurd. Defence mechanisms have been developed to give people the means to protect and defend themselves when necessary. Far from victim blaming women for the burden of being raped by not taking adequate precautions, these tools are preparing and empowering people for our current reality. Certainly, these measures are not the solution to the matter of ending sexual violence. But in the meantime why shouldn’t we welcome and advance these efforts to minimise our chances of encountering a threat or danger? Being cautious is part and parcel of everyday life. Motorists shouldn’t be running people over and neither should people be drunk driving but that doesn’t mean we stop looking both ways when we cross a road or stop wearing seat belts. Taking responsibility and being cautious for one’s own safety shouldn’t be misconstrued as being responsible for getting attacked. Rape is wrong and the concept of consent is institutionally taught over and over again. But the world we live in is, sadly, not utopian so we need to take that extra step to protect ourselves.

Related reads
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/26/anti-rape-nail-polish-stop-rapists

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