Since I first heard about the date-rape-drug detecting nail polish Undercover Colors on Wednesday, I’ve had a lot of conflicted reactions and thoughts. I seriously cannot stop thinking about it.
Last night, my partner and I had a thought-provoking conversation about our reactions, other people’s reactions, and the necessity of this kind of product.
My thoughts and ideas sort of went down the rabbit hole quickly, from feeling generally positive about the product to anger about the world we live in and the constant urge to place the brunt of responsibility on the survivor, not the perpetrator.
This isn’t fair, but it’s definitely something that happens.
I’m still sorting through all of my thoughts about Undercover Colors. While I ultimately want to commend Ankesh Madan, Tasso Von Windheim, Tyler Confrey-Maloney, and Stephan Gray for what is, truly, a good attempt at creating a tool that integrates with someone’s lifestyle in order to help prevent a disastrous situation.
First, full disclosure: I am a survivor of alcohol-related sexual assault. My drink was not drugged. Society tells me I should be more responsible, more aware, and less trusting if I do not want this to happen to me; otherwise, society places part of (or all of) the blame onto me. This experience definitely affects my reactions to and opinions of Undercover Colors.
As many have pointed out, UC is an ultimately useless preventative measure when the majority of sexual assaults and rapes are not a result of these date-rape drugs. As ThinkProgress points out, only about 2.4 percent of female undergrads who are sexually assault — and this is the target demographic for this product — suspected they had been drugged. And this is about suspicion, not hard evidence: it’s possible about more than 3 percent of sexual assault survivors are drugged without their knowledge and never know; that, like many rapes, the reality is sadly under-reported due to a culture of victim-blaming and slut-shaming (two phrases I’m struggling with typing because I ultimately do not like the messages they convey).
Of the many women I know who are survivors of sexual assault, none of them have been drugged with anything other than alcohol. Many of them were not even drunk, but pressured and coerced in other ways. In responses to Undercover Colors, many women have come forward as victims of drugging-induced sexual assaults in praise of the product. If this nail polish can prevent, alert, or make feel better even a handful of users, then I think it is ultimately a good idea, worth the time and money to invest, develop, and distribute.
I still have two more troubling thoughts, though. These are centered on the actual distribution and implementation of this product.
Many people have made wonderful suggestions on the UC Facebook page, including designing the product as a clear coat that could be worn over any color nail polish or plain nails, thus making it more marketable to everyone, not just women. Scientifically, I wonder if this is possible, but I love the suggestion. Color change nail polish itself is not new, but I have only ever seen polish that goes from one color to another color, not from clear to colored. This would certainly allow the product to reach more individuals. Awesome!
My real questions with distribution come in with cost effectiveness and availability. These are questions that UC likely will be unable to answer until they move from prototype to production, something that actually looks promising. Will this be an affordable product for all women? Will it be widely available? It’s difficult for me to imagine walking into Walmart and seeing a UC rack next to Essie and Sally Hansen. And, I’m saddened by a world that requires me to actively attempt to imagine this.
With the goal being to aid college students (or so it seems), I think this would be an excellent product for women’s centers and health centers on university campuses. I would love to see grants available to make these products free to students–men and women–who want to take an extra step in “self-protection.” Yet, this availability would certainly lead to more victim-blaming, especially if the survivor had not armed hirself with Undercover Colors.
And finally, what good is a detection method without a proper exit strategy in place? I hope that if a woman I was friends with were wearing this to the bar, she would have discussed with the people she was with her desires for what should happen should a date rape drug be detected. Obviously, the first step is not to drink the drink, but what comes after that? Immediate exit? Purchasing of another drink? What if she met up with a potential partner and suspects him of being the one who drugged her? How does she exit the situation.
Sadly, I feel like these are conversations that society expects women to be having anyway. And it’s not a bad idea to have a disaster plan in any situation. However, I can totally see this product being ultimately paranoia- and fear-inducing. If I’ve met a guy at a bar–or even if I was out with my BFFs–and I stick my finger in my drink and my nail polish turns color, I’m going to have a major freak out, regardless of where the drink came from. Other than completely fleeing the situation–which really only polices the potential victim’s behavior and not the perpetrators–what strategies do people in this situation actually have? This is a conversation that desperately needs to happen because society teaches us how to avoid rape, but does not go so far as to stopping a rape as it happens save for physically fighting back. And sometimes, that isn’t any option.
Here’s the thing: I don’t think this product is inherently bad or damaging. I think there is plenty of promise for it being a tool to reassure women who want to use it. But there are considerable risks if you consider things like reliability and shelf life, affordability and availability, and what we can seriously expect from those who discover their drugged beverage through its use. I don’t see how this will make potential rapists fearful of being caught because there’s no sense of how the repercussions will increase because of this product. Like others have pointed out, this nail polish could stop one woman from being raped while simultaneously resulting in another woman being raped.
I’m still not sure these are completely formed ideas or not. There’s a lot of conversation that needs to happen around this topic, and this product still needs to go through a lot of steps before it even becomes a reality. I may feel completely differently about it. I know that there are probably flaws in my logic and places where I could articulate my thoughts and ideas.