National view: Prevent rape by blaming the men
A group of male college students from North Carolina State University are developing a nail polish called “Undercover Colors” that would change color when it comes in contact with common date-rape drugs such as rohypnol. From the creators’ Facebook page, the young men state that their goal is to “empower women to protect themselves from this heinous and pervasive crime.”
Undercover Colors falls in line with many other companies that have created products that are meant to protect women from sexual violence. Last year, DrinkSavvy Inc. started a campaign to raise money to create cups and straws that would detect date-rape drugs. Damsel in Defense allows women to purchase anything from pink pepper spray to purple stun guns.
For some women, these products can help them feel safe and empowered; however, the underlying implications support the belief that the responsibility of rape prevention must fall on potential victims, namely women.
Rape culture perpetuates the idea that the only way that rape can be prevented is if women take certain precautions to avoid being raped. She shouldn’t go out alone at night. She should carry her keys between her fingers when walking to her car. So when a woman is sexually assaulted, rape culture points its finger at her and judges her by her actions or inactions: She shouldn’t have gone out drinking; she should have known better.
The problem with products such as drug-detecting nail polish, straws and cups is that they support the idea that women are raped because they weren’t being responsible or careful enough. The blame is completely taken off of the perpetrator.
Moreover, these products support the stereotype that most rapes are perpetrated by strangers when the U.S. Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Study (2005) reveals that more than two-thirds of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knew. Women are more likely to be raped in situations in which they trust the perpetrator and wouldn’t feel the need to use drug-detecting nail polish in the first place.
The goal of this product is well-intentioned. Could Undercover Colors prevent a sexual assault from happening? Yes, it is possible. Will this product help some women feel safer when drinking? Perhaps.
On the surface this product can be very useful and helpful in preventing a sexual assault; however, in terms of eradicating sexual violence from our society, this product may do very little.
If our society is to truly prevent sexual violence, it starts with putting the blame and responsibility on the perpetrators. Instead of teaching “don’t get raped,” society needs to teach “don’t rape.” And instead of teaching “don’t leave your drink alone,” society needs to teach “don’t drug someone.”
Michelle Mar is a health promotion specialist based out of Southern California. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.