Opinion: Products preventing sexual assault don’t address rape culture

Some problems can’t be solved by getting your nails done.

Recently, four N.C. State University students developed and unveiled a nail polish called Undercover Colors designed to prevent rape by changing colors when exposed to date-rape drugs like Rohypnol, Xanax and GHB.

While this product was created with good intentions, anti-date-rape nail polish will not address the root cause of sexual assault on campus and might even undermine such efforts —efforts that prompted UNC to release a 60-page update to its sexual misconduct policy this week.

In the Campus Sexual Assault study conducted for the National Institute of Justice in 2007, it was found that one in five undergraduate women experienced attempted or completed sexual assault since entering college.

Of the women that participated, less than one percent were sexually assaulted after they were given a drug without knowledge or consent. The majority of sexual assaults that occurred while the victim was incapacitated involved alcohol. The most common “date-rape drug” is alcohol, rather than other drugs slipped into drinks.

The Undercover Colors website says the nail polish will “empower” women to prevent sexual assault.

It is not empowering for women who feel it is necessary to have this product in order to protect themselves. Wearing this nail polish will not shift the fear from the victims to the perpetrators — the fear of sexual assault will not have shifted from women at all. Instead, the responsibility for preventing sexual assault will continue to be put on victims.

The phrase “choice matters” was also used on the website, but women should not have to make the choice to not be sexually assaulted. The language used unintentionally frames victims as individuals who have agency with respect to whether they are attacked.

This nail polish will be added to the list of precautions women are told to take in order to prevent their own rapes. But it will not address those who believe it is acceptable to target women who are unable to give consent.

It is comforting when a solution to a widespread problem seems to be as simple as wearing nail polish. This logic creates the potential of fault being placed on the victim if she does not use the nail polish to test her drink and is sexually assaulted.

It is commendable for four male students to try to prevent sexual assault. If this product prevents just one rape, it will have been worth developing.

These tools are valuable, but they will not solve the problem. Students must start thinking more critically about what makes rape culture possible.

Thanks for reading.

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