We’ve all heard about Rohypnol and GHB, otherwise known as roofies, sedatives invented in the 1970s that were unfortunately later repurposed as date rape drugs. Many times more potent than Valium, these odorless, colorless, and almost tasteless drugs can be next to impossible to detect if slipped into a drink. Four North Carolina State University students are working to change that by developing a nail polish that changes color if it touches these drugs. All a wearer has to do is dip her finger in her drink and she’ll know whether it’s safe.
The nail polish is called Undercover Colors, and if it works, it could be even more effective than cups and straws that can detect the presence of date rape drugs (martinis don’t come in cups and most of us haven’t sucked beer through a straw since college). The company cites the sobering statistic that 18% of women in the U.S. have been or will be sexually assaulted during their lifetimes, and many of those assaults happen on college campuses, including 14 reported assaults at North Carolina State University between 2010-2012 (and many more at neighboring Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill).
Therefore, the team’s goal is to “invent technologies that empower women to protect themselves from this heinous and quietly pervasive crime.” Sounds good to me. They also want to create an environment in which the women aren’t the ones who are afraid, but rather, the perpetrators are, which both turns the tables and acts as a deterrent.
The idea has generated a lot of support, as evidenced on its Facebook page. It also just received a cool $100K from a single investor after presenting their product at the K50 Startup Showcase. They won the North Carolina State Entrepreneurship Initiative this spring as well. Right now, the company is in the beginning of the research and development stage, and hasn’t given away too many secrets with regards to how exactly their product will work, when it will be released, how much it will cost, etc.
Some critics have spoken out against the nail polish, arguing that sexual assaults don’t only happen at bars or when people are drinking, and that the vast majority of sexual assaults involve people the victim knows, thus making her less likely to dip her finger in a drink—if drinks are even part of the scenario. Even though it’s a roofie detection tool, some believe that the nail polish puts the onus on women to protect themselves, which while inevitable, takes the heat off college campuses, bars, and culture at large. I get that point, but I don’t think that a product such as Undercover Colors “perpetuate[s] rape culture.” It gives women a tool to protect themselves, because frankly, we shouldn’t wait around for society to catch up and successfully instill proactive behaviors when it comes to sexual assault. Maybe that’s where RoboCop comes in.
Now, if someone would just invent a nail polish that prevents you from taking that one last tequila shot.