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A new way to prevent date rape

Published: Thursday, Aug. 28 2014 4:45 a.m. MDT

JuNi Art, Getty Images/iStockphoto

What if preventing date rape was as easy as painting your fingers? Thanks to four North Carolina State University’s undergrads that is a real possibility.

Tyler Confrey-Maloney, Ankesh Madan, Stephen Grey and Tasso Von Windheim have created a nail polish called “Undercover Colors" that turns a different color when exposed to the chemicals found in common date-rape drugs such as Rohypnol, Xanax, and GHB (Gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid).

“To see if one of the drugs has been slipped into her drink, a woman has to stir it with her finger. Not exactly discrete (or good manners or very hygienic), but arguably more stylish than similar inventions, like these coasters, cups and straws, that do the same thing,” The Washington Post’s Gail Sullivan wrote.

The inventors of the polish won an $11,000 contest at NC State. The contest was established to confront the statistic that 1 in 5 women have been sexually assaulted on college campuses. The inventors also found an investor through the contest, who has given them $100,000 to expand the availability of the product.

Undercover Colors’ Facebook page has nearly 40,000 likes and has received support from its subscribers. One fan of the page, Eleanora Passarelli Kattus, wrote, “I think I can confidently say that I speak for moms everywhere, when I say to you gentlemen, thank you, thank you, thank you!”

But not everyone sees the nail polish or similar products as an effective way to confront the problem of sexual abuse and rape.

"I think it reflects the cultural reality where we actually put the blame on women. Often when they are the victims of rape,” Elizabeth Plank, a senior editor at Mic, told Today. “We put the onus on them, to prevent rape, when we very well know that this is not an effective way of actually reducing sexual assault."

“Well-intentioned products like anti-rape nail polish can actually end up fueling victim-blaming,” wrote Tara Culp-Ressler of Think Progress. “Any college students who don’t use the special polish could open themselves up to criticism for failing to do everything in their power to prevent rape.”

Another criticism is that these products distract us from having tough conversations while oversimplifying the problem. Though statistics vary, date-rape drugs aren’t considered the primary substances used to inebriate or control women. The No. 1 substance involved in cases of substance-associated rape is the alcohol itself.

“I think a lot of the time we get focused on these new products because they’re innovative and they’re interesting, and it’s really cool that they figured out how to create nail polish that does this," Tracey Vitchers, the board chair for Students Active For Ending Rape, told ThinkProgress. "But at the end of the day, are you having those tough conversations with students, and particularly men, who are at risk for committing sexual assault?”

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @NicoleEShepard EMAIL: nshepard@deseretnews.com

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