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Here’s the Problem With This New Date Rape Detection Tool

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is the Health Editor at SheKnows. She is a bioethicist and writer specializing in sexual and reproductive health and the intersection of bioethics and popular culture. She is an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham ...

Straws that detect date rape drugs in drinks aren’t an invitation for victim-blaming

Last month, three Florida women won a high school business competition with Smart Straws, which change color if they detect common date rape drugs in drinks.

Susana Cappello, Carolina Baigorri and Victoria Roca of Gulliver Preparatory School wanted to create something to help reduce date rape, initially considering a piece of jewelry before landing on straws, which are inexpensive and easy to carry. Despite the fact that drug test kits are already available, Cappello, Baigorri and Roca doubted the kits were frequently used by college students, and aimed to create a more user-friendly product.

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Smart Straws are the latest addition to a category of products designed to detect date rape drugs, which include nail polish, coasters, cups and a smart device. With an estimated 1 in 5 women in the United States sexually assaulted during college, this is clearly a significant problem that needs to be addressed. But are straws and coasters really the solution or just another way to ensure the blame is placed squarely on "unprepared" victims?

There's also the issue of cost. Perhaps these straws would be available for free at student health centers at colleges, but if not, is it another expense for women (or really, anyone) who want to take all available steps to prevent date rape?

This is in no way meant to diminish the work of these innovative women from Florida. It’s just that we’ve seen time and again that the more “tools” we have to assist us in our own rape prevention, the more we’re blamed when something goes wrong.

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This is what happened to me a few years ago when I reported my sexual assault to the NYPD. Along with the usual victim-blaming-centered questions like “What were you wearing?” the officer taking my report also asked whether I had a phone with a built-in camera. When I said that I did, he informed me that it would have really been helpful if I snapped a photo of the assailant to assist with the investigation.

The officer made it abundantly clear that because I was in possession of a phone with a camera (i.e. basically any phone from the past decade), it was my responsibility to use it to photograph sex criminals. Because I failed to do that — given the fact that I was in shock and my first instinct was to get away rather than snap a pic — I was not a “perfect victim.” I hadn’t tried hard enough.

This also reminds me of my college orientation, where the women were each given a bright red rape whistle, but at no stage where any of us — male or female — instructed not to rape or perhaps more fittingly, how to navigate consent. Unfortunately, this is only one of many ways rape culture is perpetuated, even when people — like the college counselors who handed out the rape whistles and the women in Florida who invented the straws — have the best intentions.

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If people feel empowered using these straws on a night out, that’s great and a definite step forward. But these, like any “anti-rape” technologies or strategies, cannot and should not be used as another means of victim-blaming.

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