Four North Carolina State University students have recently developed plans for a ‘date rape nail varnish,’ which, in contact with common date rape drugs such as Rohypnol and GHB, alters in colour. Designed to give women agency in preventing sexual assault, ‘Undercover Colours’ in fact highlights society’s failure to address the root cause of rape; the societal factors that motivate people to carry it out rather than those who are victim to it.
The responsibility to prevent sexual assault is constantly placed as a burden upon women, and subsequently the attitude that it is a woman’s fault if she is attacked has become worryingly common. Victim-blaming occurs almost every time sexual assault is reported: from the Steubenville rape case, with tweets including “I honestly feel sorry for the boys in that Steubenville trial. That whore was asking for it,” to the recent incident of video footage of Ray Rice punching his then fiancée unconscious, after which his NFL club the Baltimore Ravens tweeted “Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident.” Undercover Colours encourages this attitude as it creates more opportunity to blame victims; it becomes their responsibility to wear the polish. If a woman chose not to use it and was subsequently date raped, she would undoubtedly be blamed by some for not protecting herself sufficiently, just as wearing too short a skirt, getting too drunk, or some character fault are used as excuses to demonise women, rather than recognising them as victims, shifting the focus of responsibility and assigning blame to those who have been assaulted.
The aim of the developers was supposedly “to reduce the overall rate of drug-facilitated sexual assault by creating a risk for potential perpetrators to get caught, shifting the fear from the victims to the perpetrators”. Why, however, do perpetrators of rape currently have no fear of getting caught in the first place? According to the American organisation RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), sixty per cent of rapes go unreported, while Rape Crisis suggests the true figure is as low as fifteen percent. Of those cases, only three per cent of those accused of rape are convicted. A huge reason behind the appallingly low report levels is the shame and self-blame that women are made to feel, and Undercover Colours only has the potential to exacerbate this. Undercover Colours, along with countless other anti-rape products such as Rape-aXe, a barbed condom, are looking in the wrong direction in attempting to reduce rape. Encouraging reporting of rape and improving conviction rates would be much more progressive and productive ways of putting fear into perpetrators.
Supporters of the product have argued that any new way for a woman to protect herself if a good thing. Whilst everyone should be vigilant against potential crimes, in this instance it only serves to emphasise the key problem in our society when addressing rape; very little is done to address male entitlement, lad culture, and other causes of violence towards women, while women are constantly told how to live their lives to prevent attack. This cosmetic may be an effective defence for women against spiked drinks, but it should not have to be. Women should not be obliged to test for Rohypnol with their nails; it should never be there in the first place. As a society, we need to change the dialogue on rape to discussions on why it takes place, and how it can be limited.