“One in four women will be sexually assaulted during their time at college.” I’m sure many of you remember this statistic from the SANet posters on the back of the bathroom doors in the freshman hall bathrooms. It was a running joke among my guy friends that, according to the posters in the male bathrooms, they could be the “one in thirty-one” guys who experience a sexual assault. This poster faded into the background of my every day life, a frequent joke that I never questioned. Until I experienced for myself the dangers that women face at college parties, the statistic didn’t really sink in. As much as we would like to feel safe within the Boston College bubble, the fact is, sexual assault is an all too real threat, and as a woman, I feel pretty powerless to stop it.
Four male students at the North Carolina State University decided it was time to take action and invented a nail polish called Undercover Colors that changes color when it comes into contact with common date rape drugs such as Rohypnol and GHB. Women can apply the nail polish before going out and then simply dip their fingers into their drinks to ensure their own safety. When reading about this product for the first time, women should be ecstatic. This nail polish empowers women in a way that hasn’t been done before, giving us the opportunity to look out for ourselves while still participating in the social scene.
Unfortunately, the Undercover Colors garnered almost as much backlash as it did support from the surprising source of anti-rape activists. Some women across the country claimed that this nail polish puts the burden on women to prevent rape rather than teach men not to rape in this first place. In addition, the argument was made that this nail polish could lead to victim blaming if women did not take all the possible precautions to prevent being sexually assaulted. According to these protestors, the best solution to the sexual assault problem is to educate men that consent is never implied, no means no, and only yes means yes. Education and prevention training are very valid solutions, but their effects won’t be immediate enough to combat the sexual assault crisis at hand now.
I personally find the extent of this backlash to be unwarranted. The basic premise here that we can all agree upon is that sexual assault is happening to women with an alarming frequency, and it needs to be stopped. And as unfortunate as it is, there is no immediate switch we can flip to suddenly stop sexual assault. Better education and culture change will of course help stop future attacks, but right now, people are in immediate danger. Giving them a weapon against the very real chance of rape isn’t a problem; it’s part of a greater solution. Besides, what educated person would accept the argument that “because she didn’t wear nail polish to check her drink, she was asking for it.”? Under no circumstances is a victim ever to blame for being sexually assaulted.
There’s no issue with a defensive approach. Sexual assault is a problem both genders face, but this nail polish focuses on the more frequently targeted population, women. If men have the tools, resources, and incentives to sexually assault women, then women can either a) try to convince men to not use their power and resources or b) they can come up with something to compete with and/or stop the men who assault women. Option B is the proactive choice and would almost definitely be more effective. This new nail polish is challenging the group of men who see raping women as acceptable. This nail polish is fighting back. I will agree that this is certainly more of a short-term solution to an issue deeply rooted in our society’s values, but frankly, the problem is too severe to postpone any action. We can’t wait around for men to learn what consent is, and supplying this nail polish to women in no way interferes with other educational efforts to eradicate rape.
I am a woman on a college campus and I have experienced situations in my time here that make me fear for my own safety and the safety of other women around me. I truly believe that sexual assault stems from the skewed values that are propagated in our society, but I also don’t believe in sitting back and waiting for a long-term solution to such a serious problem. Women deserve to stand up for ourselves and to be treated with respect in whatever way possible. Supporting this nail polish is making the statement that women will no longer play the part of victim, regardless whether you use it or not. I want to be able to go out on a Friday night with my friends and not have to worry about being drugged or take advantage of. And I am not going to wait around for men to change.