For some women, slapping on a coat of nail polish before a night out could now mean the difference between returning home safely and ending up in the hands of the wrong person. But some experts said it’s still not so simple.
A new nail polish brand, Undercover Colors, is designed to change color in the presence of certain date rape drugs, and the product is quickly gaining popularity among college-aged women.
“I honestly have told probably 10 people about it,” said Kendal Searer, a first-year in biology at Ohio State. “It just seems really simple to use. Just dip it in the drink without being too noticeable — act like you’re stirring your drink — and then make sure it’s safe.”
The nail polish was created to protect women, according to the Undercover Colors Facebook page.
“Our goal is to invent technologies that empower women to protect themselves from this heinous and quietly pervasive crime,” the page reads.
Despite the product’s good intentions, though, the nail polish is receiving flak from many sexual violence prevention experts who said it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Michelle Bangen, sexual violence prevention coordinator for the Student Wellness Center, said she’s seen lots of different technologies aimed at preventing acquaintance rape — which is when the victim knows the perpetrator — throughout her time in the field, and she doesn’t encourage the use of any of them. She said the products aren’t foolproof and won’t be able to detect every type of drug.
“We have to remember when we’re testing a drink, there’s no coaster, napkin or nail polish that will be able to test for every date rape drug that’s out there. Just because you have a negative test, doesn’t mean that your drink hasn’t been drugged,” Bangen said.
In 2012, a total of 21 forcible sex offenses were reported on OSU’s campus, according to the OSU Department of Public Safety 2013 annual campus report. The report states there were an additional five forcible sex offenses reported off-campus that same year.
In Spring Semester, six cases of sexual imposition were reported at various on-campus locations, a few of which were inside of residence halls, according to the Department of Public Safety daily log. One case of sexual battery was also reported at an on-campus location, according to the log. And University Police issued a public safety notice to the OSU community in February after a rape was reported in a residence hall.
In about 90 percent of the sexual assault cases that occur on college campuses, the victim and the perpetrator know each other, Bangen said.
“It’s not necessarily that stranger-rape myth we’ve come to believe,” Bangen said. “It’s not always some guy in a dark alley who scares you. It’s usually someone you know.”
Bangen says another problem with the new nail polish technology is that alcohol, not roofies, is the No. 1 date rape drug.
“Getting drunk and hooking up seems like a typical college experience,” Bangen said. “It doesn’t look like a weapon.”
One of Bangen’s biggest concerns, though, is that women could rely too heavily on the Undercover Colors nail polish to keep them safe.
“It’s not a foolproof plan, and it’s not 100 percent guaranteed to work,” Bangen said.
Despite the warnings, some women said they’re still open to the idea of using the product.
Joelle Hemmelgarn, a first-year in food, agricultural and biological engineering, said women like herself should always be aware of their surroundings when going out, but said she thinks the nail polish still has some benefits.
“The nail polish is sort of an added bonus,” Hemmelgarn said. “Knowing before putting it on that it may not detect all types of drugs is important … (but) because it does detect some types, it is better than nothing.”
Bangen said red flags typically surround potential acquaintance rape perpetrators. She said to pay particular attention to anyone who’s targeting a substantially impaired individual, anyone who tries to isolate that person and anyone who takes that person out of a party or bar.
Ultimately, Bangen said one of the keys to being safe is staying vigilant.
“I don’t want us to let our guard down,” Bangen said. “I want us all to be looking out for our friends.”
Undercover Colors did not respond to emails requesting comment from The Lantern.
Bangen said victims of sexual assault should call the sexual violence support coordinator, Natalie Spiert, in the Student Advocacy Center, who can help victims walk through their options. Spiert can be reached at (614) 292-9111.