By Olivia Marple, Contributing Writer

One in four women will be date raped or will experience an attempted date rape during her college years, the University of the Sciences’ webpage declares, and a new company is attempting to alleviate this startling fact by giving women the power to know through the color of their nails.

The company, Undercover Colors, is creating a nail polish that will change color when it comes in contact with some of the major date rape drugs, and the development of this product has caused mixed reactions in the University of New Hampshire community.

“I think the product is a great idea,” said senior Kelsey Walsh. “It would be helpful in preventing rape and sexual assault, as people will be able to find out immediately if their drink has been tampered with.”

The company, which was founded this year in North Carolina, is hoping the nail polish will do just that, and it describes its product on its Facebook page as “Nail Polish that Changes Color in the Presence of Date Rape Drugs from the First Fashion Company Working to Prevent Sexual Assault.”

However, some of the faculty on the UNH campus does not agree that this nail polish would actually prevent sexual assault or rape. One such faculty member is Jane Stapleton, who is the co-director of Prevention Innovations, a program with the ultimate goal of ending sexual assault through educational seminars. 

“[The nail polish] is not really rape prevention,” Stapleton said. “It is more like risk reduction or risk aversion.  It does nothing, really, to stop perpetrator behaviors. While risk reduction can keep people safe, it’s not going to stop perpetrators from perpetrating.” 

Another faculty member who echoes Stapleton’s sentiments is Maggie Wells, the outreach coordinator of UNH’s Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP). Wells illustrated how a product like this adds to the societal messaging women receive starting at birth.

“From the moment [women] are born, they are being told all the things they have to do to prevent their own rape,” Wells said, “and then women do those things, and rape still happens. And that’s one of the reasons why there’s so much shame and embarrassment. [The victim] feels responsible, when in reality the only person who had the ultimate power to allow this not to happen was the person who made the choice to commit the sexual assault.” 

In addition, Wells is unsure of the effectiveness of the nail polish as there are many different kinds of date rape drugs and a lack of color change in a woman’s nails after they have been dipped in her drink might encourage a “false sense of security.” Undercover Colors’ Facebook page says the nail polish would protect against “date rape drugs such as Rohypnol, Xanax, and GHB,” but does not imply that it protects against all forms of date rape drugs. 

Also, as this company has chosen to produce nail polish in order to hinder sexual assault, it is automatically excluding some parts of the population from using its product, Wells pointed out. 

“This product is targeted towards very feminine women,” Wells said. “Not all women wear nail polish. And it’s not just women who get drugged. Date rape can go the other way as well.”

Indeed, according to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, about three percent of American men have been raped or have experienced an attempted rape in their lifetime. Stapleton suggested that the company could produce a clear colored polish in order to make its product more marketable to men or women who do not normally paint their fingernails.

Wells stressed that, in addition to this nail polish, there are many other forms of risk reduction that college-aged women should know about, such as traveling in packs, finding friends you can trust to get you out of bad situations in a party setting, being careful and cautious, and paying attention to your gut feelings above all else. 

On a larger scale, Wells listed the parts of American society that need to be changed in order to reduce the number of sexual assaults. She noted actions such as fixing accountability systems, like the judiciary process, so more rapists receive jail time for their actions; teaching about healthy sexuality and how to better verbalize sexual desire and raising awareness about gender stereotypes.

She also said that men can do a lot to prevent rape in party situations, such as when a man sees his friend pressuring a woman who is drunk.

“We’re not asking you to go over there and be like, ‘Halt. I think a sexual assault is about to happen,’” Wells said. “I couldn’t do that. But you can intervene in other ways. You can be like, ‘Hey, let’s go get some pizza,’ or, ‘Hey so-and-so just arrived. I think they’re outside and they wanted to talk to you.’ Breaking it up that way, or going to get the woman’s friends.”

Stapleton said evidence has shown that bystander intervention like this is the most effective way to stop sexual assault, and the Prevention Innovations she co-directs has created an in-person prevention program called Bringing in the Bystander as well as a bystander social marketing campaign. 

“In order to stop sexual assault you need to teach people how to stop it,” Stapleton said. “So it’s necessary to engage all community members to create an environment where sexual assault is not tolerated.” 

Stapleton opined that if this nail polish is used in conjunction with bystander tactics, the combination could be quite helpful for reducing sexual assaults.

“That’s where I think this would be a good combination,” Stapleton said. “You’re at a bar, and somebody is wearing the nail polish, dips their finger in a drink and it’s positive. So you and your friends try to find out where the drink came from or let the bartender know. You do some kind of pro-active action to try to expose what someone has done.”

She also noted that the best ways to intervene are “with others and at a distance.”

Indeed, Stapleton believes this nail polish is a “stepping stone” or a “tool” women, and men, might use in combination with other tactics.

Walsh agrees and, while she believes it could help underclassmen at UNH who are not accustomed to the partying environment, she also thinks it should just be a backup.

“I believe that people should still learn safe partying protocol by not having too much or accepting drinks from strangers,” Walsh said. “The nail polish should be a plan-B safety measure rather than something people depend on every weekend.”

Executive Editor