You might have heard about the latest “rape prevention” innovation. This time around it is nail polish that tests for date rape drugs such as Rohyphnol and GHB. Past innovations have included anti-rape underwear, coasters that test for GHB and Ketamine, and even anti-rape condoms. It seems every few months there is some new idea that gets a lot of media coverage as a successful innovation to stop rape. On one hand, these stories bring attention to sexual assault, which is a huge public health problem—1 in 5 college women experience sexual assault. Obviously we need lots of people talking about and working on this issue. However, this new nail polish follows a long line of past innovations that do not actually help to decrease rates of sexual assault.
There are many reasons I take issue with this nail polish—one of which is that the most common date rape drug is alcohol, which generally people know when they are consuming. Many perpetrators use alcohol to incapacitate their victims, and this new nail polish will not address the role of alcohol in sexual assaults.
The nail polish also raises a great deal of questions around responsibility and assumptions—Why should a woman have to pay for a product that sells itself as ensuring she won’t be assaulted? If I don’t wear the nail polish and I am drugged, does that make me at fault for being assaulted? What about men, who are also sexually assaulted and don’t generally wear nail polish? Will the guy who roofied the drink of one woman who was wearing the nail polish just try to do the same to another woman? What about the fact that the majority of rapists are someone the survivor knows?
These questions aside, the main issue I have with this nail polish is that it doesn’t tackle the root of the problem—which is that the onus of preventing rape should not be on the potential victim. To fight sexual violence, we need to teach people not to rape, rather than simply redirecting rapists to another person. We need to target the underlying reasons why people sexually assault others and take a community-wide approach to prevention, rather than an individual approach.
So this leads us to the question of “What is sexual violence prevention then?” Sexual violence prevention means several things. First, it means teaching about what consent is and isn’t. Everyone should be able to define consent and feel comfortable asking for consent. This education should begin early so everyone has the same baseline and knows what sexual violence and consent looks like. In addition to teaching about consent, there is also bystander intervention, which trains people how to be active bystanders and safely intervene in situations where they are worried about a possible assault. Bystander intervention has been proven to be successful, and UNC’s One Act program has adopted this approach to teach students how to be active bystanders. This includes learning how to observe, assess, act, and follow up when someone sees a situation and is concerned about interpersonal violence taking place. To learn more about One Act and sign up for trainings, visit the One Act website and learn how to help prevent sexual violence.
I am tired of “innovations” that tell me what I should do to avoid sexual assault. While I believe that the four men who created this new nail polish have good intentions, they should have looked at the research and created an intervention that actually decreases the number of sexual assaults, rather than create a product that enables them to profit from a woman’s fear of being assaulted. We need to move away from all these so-called “prevention innovations” that wrongly place the burden of prevention on potential victims, and implement actual evidence-based sexual violence prevention programs like One Act that work.
Find more information on prevention programs at UNC and when you can get trained here!