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Rape Culture: What The Media Is Missing

Caitlin Plummer |
September 12, 2014 | 4:49 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

(Caitlin Plummer)
(Caitlin Plummer)
It appears not everyone considers new steps toward preventing date rape admirable. The company Undercover Colors is currently testing nail polish designed to help women detect the presence of common date rape drugs by dipping a finger in their drinks. The product is not even on the market yet and it’s already receiving more unwarranted backlash than support from the media.

When Undercover Colors first appeared across social media platforms in late August, the public response was generally positive. Countless people posted encouraging messages on the company’s Facebook page, and the Tumblr page NowYouKno featured a photo about the product that went viral on Twitter.

“Can we just make this a feature in all nail polish?” asked The Mary Sue, the self-proclaimed “entertainment news site for geek women." Though the article expressed minor reservations about the message of the company, it recognized the merit in its intentions to protect women living with the reality of date rape.

However, other media sources expanded on the article’s reservations in the following days, leaving the Internet with a largely negative view of the product.

Undercover Colors, which was founded in 2014 by four male undergraduates studying at North Carolina State University, is mainly criticized for what opposers refer to as "victim-blaming." By giving a woman a way to detect if her drink has been drugged, critics argue, the company is not addressing the source of the issue: men are still drugging drinks. Andrea Grimes, a senior political reporter at RH Reality Check, made her point on Twitter when she accumulated over 8,000 favorites and retweets within 48 hours of her post.

(Andrea Grimes/Twitter)
(Andrea Grimes/Twitter)

Other Twitter users echoed her sentiment, expressing their concerns that preventing date rape starts with teaching males not to take advantage of women using drugs or otherwise.

(Patrick Lindsey/Twitter)
(Patrick Lindsey/Twitter)

(Maia Jacobson/Twitter)
(Maia Jacobson/Twitter)

The website Feministing published a popular article on Aug. 25 asserting that the nail polish will actually do more harm than good by giving young women a false sense of security. The article argues that because date rape drugs are not always used in sexual assault cases, women will assume they are safe merely because their drink isn’t drugged.

“Actually, date rape drugs, like Rohypnol, Xanax, and GHB, are not used to facilitate sexual assault all that often,” the article states. “While exact estimates vary, it’s safe to say that plain old alcohol is the substance most commonly used in drug-facilitated rape.”

This kind of defeatist argument indicates that just because Undercover Colors will not prevent all cases of sexual assault, its intentions and possible future success stories are irrelevant. This stance is insulting to the countless women who have been assaulted using date rape drugs, because it implies that their stories are so rare that their demographic is not worth protecting. 

READ MORE: Do Self-Defense Products Necessarily Contribute To Rape Culture

The Huffington Post published a critical article by Sophia Kerby, the State Policy and Partnerships Coordinator for Advocates for Youth, two days later. The article listed “three things college campuses can actually do to help keep all students safe,” treating Undercover Colors as if it is a mail-order gimmick sold on television after midnight. The bottom line is that even if modern culture stops blaming women for being victims, even if men are engaged in the conversation of ending sexual assault, and even if rapists are held accountable by the colleges they attend - as Kerby suggests - her goal of “shifting rape culture where consent, on both sides, is seen as the norm" will not magically be realized.

While it would be ideal to live in a world where such nail polish was unnecessary, the fact remains that the current reality justifies its existence. Implementing various social strategies will not change the mind of every rapist, and women cannot control their attacker’s intentions. Undercover Colors was not created to blame women for being sexually assaulted. It is attempting to give women something they can control: their own protection. It is not shifting responsibility on them; it is aiming to give them power. 

Even more, although it does not explicitly prevent men from sexually assaulting women, it does create a conversation that many usually sweep under the rug. By merely existing, Undercover Colors is acknowledging the everyday presence of date rape and asserting the importance of its prevention. That alone makes it a worthwhile and honorable invention.

Reach Staff Reporter Caitlin Plummer here. Follow her on Twitter here.



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