Does ‘Anti-Rape’ Nail Varnish Promote Rape Culture?

Four students have taken social media by storm today, after creating a nail varnish that turns a different colour when it comes into contact with date rape drugs. The men from North Carolina State Universtity say that “any woman will be empowered to discreetly ensure her safety by simply stirring her drink with her finger.” This means that soon, women will be able to buy an anti-rape nail varnish to match their anti-rape underwear, anti-rape outfits, uncuttable anti-rape shorts, anti-rape non-alcoholic drinks, anti-rape test kits, anti-rape keyrings and anti-rape alarms. If you buy the whole anti-rape kit – for no extra cost, you’ll be led into a false sense of security that you won’t become the victim of sexual assault! Is there anything empowering about having to check your drink for drugs? Is sticking your finger down a bottle neck or in a shot glass really that discreet?

The product has been hailed by the press as a breakthrough in the fight against sexual violence. “Soon, a fresh manicure could have the potential to save your life” – proclaimed the Daily Mail. Buzzfeed called it “Lifesaving.” However, activists aren’t convinced and believe that although the product means well, it’s destructively misguided. One of the ways that rape is used as a tool to control people is by limiting their behavior,” Rebecca Nagle, one of the co-directors of an activist group called FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture that challenges the societal norms around sexual assault, explained. “As a woman, I’m told not to go out alone at night, to watch my drink, to do all of these things. That way, rape isn’t just controlling me while I’m actually being assaulted — it controls me 24/7 because it limits my behavior. Solutions like these actually just recreate that. I don’t want to fucking test my drink when I’m at the bar. That’s not the world I want to live in.”

Ideas to reduce sexual violence from happening are undoubtedly admirable. However, we should  be putting the focus on preventing men from raping, and beginning to think critically about why we continue to place the responsibility for preventing sexual assault upon women. This nail varnish, along with other anti-rape gadgets are normalising rape and and portraying a spiked drink as an inevitability. It is also condoning the ridiculous notion that women should take more and more precautions to prevent themselves from being raped. It crosses the line between sensible precaution and constantly living in fear. And although this product might  prevent some women from consuming a spiked drink, it will also add to the long list of revoltingly hurtful comments people make when they continuously blame the victim of a sexual assault.

We should be striving to turn these comments:

 “She shouldn’t have being wearing a dress that short, she shouldn’t have had so much to drink, she shouldn’t have walked home alone, she should have had an anti-rape alarm, she shouldn’t have had her tits out, she shouldn’t have been wearing those stripper shoes, she was probably all over him, she wasn’t wearing anti-rape nail varnish – what did she expect!?”

 Into this sentence:

“He shouldn’t have raped her.” 

 As well as being morally unprincipled, this product has raised many unanswered questions about how effective the nail varnish will actually be. Approximately two thirds of rapes are committed by somebody known to the victim, be it friend, partner, colleague or relative, in a place where they feel most comfortable. Are women really likely to test every drink from/around a person they trust? Probably not – nor should we expect that succumbing to that level of paranoia is a reasonable expectation of women if they don’t want to be sexually assaulted. Will a woman get so wrapped up in the false sense of security that the nail varnish brings that she may overlook any real warning signs? 

In 2007, a survey of female sexual assault victims in college found that only 0.6 percent were sure they’d been drugged. Alcohol alone is used more than any other drug to facilitate rape. The biggest risk with drinking isn’t date rape drugs, it’s that aspirant date rapists know that a good way to incapacitate a woman is to disguise the amount she’s drinking, for example, bringing her doubles rather than singles. If you’re anything like retiring Judge Mary Jane Mowat – the solution to this would be to stop women from drinking. Just two days ago, Mowat said that rape statistics would not improve until “women stopped getting so drunk.” Not only is it damaging to hear such an anti-feminist remark from an influential female member of the justice system, but it’s just plain illogical. If you were going to take alcohol away from anybody, surely it would be the perpetrator? It’s almost like telling somebody that if they don’t want to be robbed, they shouldn’t be allowed to have nice things.

Contrary to popular belief, rape isn’t exclusively a crime against women, by men. Men rape women, men rape other men, women rape men, and women rape other women. It’s difficult to compile accurate statistics for victims of female sexual offenders, as men are often too embarrassed to report violent crimes committed by women. It’s not common for men to wear nail varnish, and other date rape detecting devices such as keyrings and test kits are targeted primarily at females. So are we dismissing male victims by creating products specifically targeted at females? Feminism has fought long and hard to battle rape myths, it was only a mere two years ago that the FBI altered it’s definition of rape to include male victims. You could argue that these female oriented products are prolonging these myths and there’s an obvious injustice here.

The students’ company Undercover Colors also claims that the presence of the nail varnish alone will deter people from using date rape drugs. However, you’d think that developments in DNA testing, ever-increasing presence of CCTV, the invention of the Rapex (a female condom with spikes on the inside), and wider use of photographic devices would have deterred this a long time ago. Evidently not. You could also argue that rapists will now limit their targets to women who choose not to wear nail varnish. Realistically, other drugs may be used or different methods of spiking are likely to be adapted around such technologies.

What happens if a woman does detect the date-rape drug? Now that the news of this colour-changing nail varnish has gone viral – surely the perpetrators have been made aware of it, and will most likely be on the lookout. Will they give up and go home? Or will they simply slip off elsewhere and target somebody else? Will somebody willing to date-rape and intentionally harm another human being be at all phased by this? How will it end?

Alexandra Brodskey, one of the founding members of Know Your IX, a survivor-led group working to address sexual assault on campuses said “One of the reason we get so excited about these really simple fixes is because it makes us feel like the problem itself is really simple. That’s a comforting idea,” Brodsky noted. “But I really wish that people were funneling all of this ingenuity and funding and interest into new ways to stop people from perpetrating violence, as opposed to trying to personally avoid it so that the predator in the bar rapes someone else.”

Evidently, the anti-rape nail varnish will only be effective in a very specific circumstance. Rape isn’t an individual incident, it’s a systemic and pervasive problem.

This product has good intentions, but it’s completely missing the bigger picture. People are praising the nail varnish and similar rape prevention products and gadgets because they seem like a simple solution. But the problem isn’t simple. Sexual assault and victim blaming is more complex than that, therefore, a more effective solution than these quick-fix gimmicks would be to educate people about sexual assault, sexual harassment and predatory behaviour. To force the education system to teach our children about consent and respecting boundaries, to ensure that more than the current estimated 15% of victims feel comfortable enough to report these crimes without being blamed or victimized by hate groups, and to tackle the cultural assumptions that it’s okay to take advantage of people when they’re drunk. Because it isn’t a anybody’s responsibility to prevent themselves from being raped, it’s everybody’s responsibility to not rape.