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Manicure with a mission: College students develop nail polish to detect date rape drugs - The Pitt News

The Pitt News

Manicure with a mission: College students develop nail polish to detect date rape drugs

By Jesseca Muslin / Staff Writer

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Most women have heard the warnings: “Don’t take drinks from strangers,” or “Don’t leave your drink unattended at a party.” Now, a new product may inspire an additional piece of advice: “Don’t forget to paint your nails.”

Four college students from North Carolina State University created a nail polish that when wearers dip in a drink can detect commonly used date rape drugs like Rohypnol, Xanax and GHB. If detected, the nail polish changes colors, alerting the wearer that his or her drink is contaminated. 

The students founded the nail polish company, Undercover Colors, in April in Raleigh, N.C. The creators of the polish and company — Ankesh Madan, Stephen Gray, Tasso Von Windheim and Tyler Confrey-Maloney — said they are refusing all media inquiries at this time. The group is still developing the first product before releasing it to the public. 

According to the company’s website, its slogan is “Choice Matters,” and the creators are promoting it as “The First Fashion Company Empowering Women to Prevent Sexual Assault.” 

Some have criticized the product for perpetuating rape culture — the idea that society trivializes and normalizes rape and sexual assault — instead of solving the problems surrounding it. 

Rebecca Denova, who teaches a class on women and religion at Pitt, said the preventative nail polish is not going to full the expectations urrounding it for two main reasons. 

“It’s helpful in the immediate sense, but what’s the rest of the instructions?” Denova said. “You tell a girl to dip her nails, making them romanticized CSI agents, then what does she do? What’s the next step?” 

Detecting drugs in your drink before you take a sip is a good thing, Denova said, but finding a way to discreetly call the police could present another obstacle.. 

“Do you shout it to the bar?” Denova asked. 

Many media outlets have denounced the nail polish. A recurring complaint is that instead of teaching men to stop spiking drinks and attacking women, the nail polish pressures women to be careful. In an article for the Huffington Post, “What ‘Undercover Colors’ Gets All Wrong About Date Rape,” writer Sophia Kirby agreed that the nail polish places a lot responsibility on women. 

“It puts it all back on the woman. It’s women who have to watch out for men. No one is addressing training groups for men,” Denova said. 

According to the website for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), one out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted rape or rape, which in total is 17.7 million American women. 

Also according to RAINN, “97 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail.”

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s webpage said 35 out of every 1,000 college women report an incident of rape, and nine out of 10 victims know their attacker. 

But the product also has its supporters. Students Jay Kim and Nick Fosco said they took a more neutral stance. 

“It’s not me wearing the nail polish,” said Kim, a sophomore biology major. “If it makes the girl feel safer, then why not?”

Fosco, also a sophomore biology major, acknowledged the implications of the nail polish.

“I can see how someone could turn the argument around and say it’s her fault for not wearing it,” Fosco said. 

The Facebook page for Undercover Colors addressed the complaints that some Facebook users pointed out. The inventors launched the page in April, and it has since garnered more than 109,000 likes.

“Through this nail polish and similar technologies, we hope to make potential perpetrators afraid to spike a woman’s drink because there’s now a risk that they can get caught,” the company’s account said in a comment. “In effect, we want to shift the fear from the victims to the perpetrators.”

Comments on the company’s Facebook page are largely supportive, with many people commenting that they would purchase the nail polish for their daughters who are college students.  

Billy Cooper, a Facebook user, commented in support of the polish.

“This is an amazing idea that I support wholeheartedly. I have a daughter myself, and [I] will ensure that she uses the product. I’m a chemist with an MBA and would absolutely love an opportunity to come to work for you guys,” Cooper said.

Young women are also expressing their support for this product on Facebook.

“Love in your description where it says ‘shifting fear from the victims to the perpetrators,’” Lauren Teal, a Facebook user, posted on the Facebook page. “As females we shouldn’t have to worry about things like being date raped, but since sadly we do, I am so glad there are people like you guys making it so we can protect ourselves!!!!” 

At Pitt, the Campus Women’s Oranization is a student organization that raises awareness about women’s issues. The organization’s president Eleanora Kaloyeropoulou supports the idea behind the nail polish. 

“I’m in favor of anything that will empower women and make them safe,” said Kaloyeropoulou, a junior Africana studies and history major. “It’s not solving the problem of sexual assault, but it’s giving women another piece of armor.” 

 

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Manicure with a mission: College students develop nail polish to detect date rape drugs