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Color-changing nail polish detects date rape drugs

Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and runs the popular health and fitness website of the same name, where she tries out a new workout every month, specializing...

Is anti-rape nail polish just a way to make women responsible for their own rapes?

The next time you meet a new guy at the bar you might want to give your drink a seductive swirl with your finger — not only will it catch his eye but thanks to an innovative new nail polish it can also warn you if you're about to be drugged. Girl's gotta cover all her bases, right?

Undercover colors

Undercover Colors, a company started by four college guys, sells nail polish that will change color when exposed to date rape drugs like Rohypnol, GHB and even Xanax.

"With our nail polish, any woman will be empowered to discreetly ensure her safety by simply stirring her drink with her finger. If her nail polish changes color, she’ll know that something is wrong," says the Facebook page.

Inventors Tyler Confrey-Maloney, Stephen Gray, Ankesh Madan and Tasso Von Windheim say they came up with the idea after the topic of drug-fueled sexual assault came up during a discussion of big problems in society. "All of us have been close to someone who has been through the terrible experience [of sexual assault], so we began to focus on preventive solutions," Madan explains.

I want to give the men mad props for recognizing the very serious problem of sexual assault, especially on college campuses. But, as a survivor of a college sexual assault myself, it also makes me a little nervous. Of course women should be encouraged to protect themselves and should have all the super-cool, high-tech gadgets to do so. (If for no other reason than the middle schooler in me thinks color-changing polish is rad!)

But I worry that this polish and products like it give the message that if we ladies are just vigilant enough we can prevent ourselves from getting raped and the even more dangerous corollary that if we do get raped then it means it was our fault. How could you let yourself get drugged; weren't you wearing your James Bond nail polish?

Every time the topic of rape comes up, people start breaking it down into scenarios: Was it a stranger dragging you into the alley by your hair? Was it date rape? Was it statutory rape? And, heaven help us all, was it "rape rape?" And then people start asking about what you could have done to prevent it: Where were you? What were you wearing? Were you alone? Were you drinking? Did you put your drink down? Did you take your eyes off it for a second?

These questions are helpful insofar as they help women think about what they can do to best protect themselves — a sadly necessary reality whether or not it "should" be that way — but when used after the fact they're more guilt-inducing and shaming than productive.

Every time a story like this comes out I think, "Would that have helped me?" To be honest, it might have. However, what would have made the biggest difference was if he had decided not to do something that was criminal and cruel.

This ambiguity is the issue. Color-changing nail polish, sneaky jewelry alarms, special cups, cell phone apps and other protections can be great tools but we need to educate people about the larger context of rape and how to use these tools.

"Don't rape people" should be a larger issue than "Don't get raped."

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