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Polished Prevention



Claim:   Students have developed a nail polish, "Undercover Colors," that can detect the presence of drugs linked to date rape.

MIXTURE

In August 2014, interest in an in-development product called "Undercover Colors" swept the social web. According to the students who hatched the idea behind Undercover Colors, this nail polish formula works to detect the presence of drugs commonly used to facilitate date rape.

Undercover Colors maintains a Facebook page, and on it the brand's social media team explained why the product was conceived and how it will work:

While date rape drugs are often used to facilitate sexual assault, very little science exists for their detection. Our goal is to invent technologies that empower women to protect themselves from this heinous and quietly pervasive crime.

For our first product, we are developing a nail polish that changes color when it comes in contact with date rape drugs such as Rohypnol, Xanax, and GHB. With our nail polish, any woman will be empowered to discreetly ensure her safety by simply stirring her drink with her finger. If her nail polish changes color, she'll know that something is wrong.
 

On their Facebook page, the young men behind the Undercover Colors start-up recently posted an announcement about their product's current development status:



However, it's unclear whether Undercover Colors is any more than concept at this point: we've seen no evidence offered that the start-up has produced an effective prototype, as some critics have maintained that the concept of such a drug-detecting fingernail polish isn't even a practically feasible one:

While the media cheers, we suffer from a severe lack of any actual data on whether these testing kits function. A study of commercially available "date-rape" drug testing coasters found that they were unreliable — changing color for things like different brands of mineral water, taking an extremely long time for ketamine, and giving a false positive once milk was used. Another study of commercially available card testing kits found that in laboratory conditions, testers only correctly detected two out of three drugged samples. An interactive lesson at University at Buffalo found that the GHB test was only an acid test. Anything acidic: wines, fruit juices, would have caused it to turn positive. Compounding the issue, GHB also occurs naturally in wines.

While the most frequently used drug in date rapes or DFSAs (drug facilitated sexual assaults) is alcohol, multiple studies found the most common substances were cannabis, cocaine, and MDMA. GHB and Rohypnol were found to be relatively rare.

These tests focus their attention on three to four drugs, GHB (y-Hydroxybutyric acid), Rohypnol or “roofies” (flunitrazepam), Xanax (alprazolam), and Special K (ketamine). All of these drugs can weaken your resolve, and knock you out at a high enough dosage. Even if these kits worked and were 100% reliable, this is a losing battle. Wikipedia lists over 100 benzodiazepines like Xanax and Rohypnol including phenazepam (which can cause you to black out for days) and etizolam. Going beyond benzos adds hundreds more sedatives/hypnotics like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and Unisom Sleep Tabs (doxylamine) which can be bought over the counter.

The designer drug explosions means that there’s an entire galaxy of drugs that are just a molecular tweak away. Rapists watch TV and read the Huffington Post. They will know when these things come out and they’ll adapt accordingly. So pack up a 40-pound combined gas chromatograph and the mass spectrometer, and let's drop in a Raman spectrometer as well to test every drink and then learn to read the results. But this too, is futile.
 

While interest in nail polish that detects common drugs used in date rape remains high, not everyone is pleased with the idea. Rape prevention advocates have posited that the nail polish drug detection system is a form of tacit victim blaming, suggesting the onus should not be on potential victims to prevent rape.

Feminist writer Jessica Valenti explains in a column on The Guardian:

I'm appreciative that young men like want to curb sexual assault, but anything that puts the onus on women to "discreetly" keep from being raped misses the point. We should be trying to stop rape, not just individually avoid it.

... Prevention tips or products that focus on what women do or wear aren't just ineffective, they leave room for victim-blaming when those steps aren't taken. Didn't wear your anti-rape underwear? Well what did you expect?
 

The nail polish date rape prevention product is still in the development stage and is not yet available for purchase.

Last updated:   30 August 2014

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