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Everyone's Losing Their Shit About a Nail Polish that Detects Date Rape Drugs

Rapists will always exist. What's so terrible about an invention that protects you?

by Bertie Brandes
29 August 2014, 1:50pm
A lot of people on the internet are dumb. This we can take for granted. We all remember . But dig a little deeper, and behind your bog standard pick-up artist or generic troll (very last season) you'll find another, more considered breed of moron. These people are not hastily brainstorming which tabloid journalist's tired career to revive via an onslaught of illegible sexist drivel, instead they see themselves as campaigners for social justice. These internet vigilantes are intent on scrubbing the world clean of anything remotely offensive to absolutely anyone anywhere. They make cartoons like . They are the human equivalent of a red biro.this guythis

I'm pointing this out because of nail varnish, weirdly. More specifically, the nail varnish that those American students are developing which will enable people to dip their finger into a drink and find out if it has suddenly transformed into a Rohypnol-on-the-rocks. This is a pretty "whatever" idea as long as you're cool with using your finger to mix your drink, which to be honest most of us are because it's often halfway down our throats trying to bring up the eight shots of tequila we knew weren't a good idea for a weeknight. Unfortunately, the invention has been hit with a barrage of fury from across the internet – and I'm not completely sure why.

This is not an unbelievably earth-shattering idea. Nobody has suggested installing microchips into immigrants that explode when their VISA expires, or mandatory mood rings for people with bipolar disorder. Sure, there are a bunch of issues at play, particularly whether this product could potentially enforce the dangerous idea that a woman who isn't wearing it is "putting herself" at risk. But a hyper-awareness of that kind of horribly sexist, victim-blaming mentality should not impinge on research into things that simply make you feel safer in a situation where you may otherwise have felt vulnerable or concerned.

Basically I think this idea is a) fine and b) nowhere near as problematic as the NHS rape awareness posters that featured a (unforgivable phrase alert) "scantily-clad" woman with mascara dripping down her face.

Photo via Flickr

As somebody who writes online and tweets and identifies as a feminist however, I appear to have drastically missed the mark. The BBC reported yesterday that a whole lot of people have been outraged by the invention of this safety precaution, and not because the scientists have failed to release an extensive colour chart. The BBC also noted, quite hilariously, that "the inevitable internet backlash came from a surprising source – anti-rape advocates", as though they initially expected to be dealing with a group of pro-rape advocates furious that people might have a new way to stop them attacking women. I can imagine the online team rolling their eyes in anticipation, "Just wait til the rapists get wind of this guys, it's going to get pretty rough on Twitter."

But no, so far the pro-rapists have kept suspiciously quiet. Instead, we have a lot of people who are actively interested in gender politics and feminism denouncing this invention. Why? Well mainly for a lot of reasons that are absolutely true, but in no way related to one another or even practically enforceable. The most annoying and widespread response has been along the lines of "Hey, instead of making women wear this nail varnish, how about you just DON'T RAPE THEM," as though, if these armchair activists could command the power they deserve, there would be study-groups of rapists across the world being lectured in the writings of Jezebel, their palms glued to their foreheads in disbelief, wondering how they could ever have been so gross and inconsiderate.

I don't mean to devalue the work of those anti-rape activists, obviously, but when somebody's response to the news of a product that might help to ensure the safety of a vulnerable person is: "WELL HOW ABOUT YOU ASK THE RAPIST TO WEAR THE ANTI-RAPE NAIL VARNISH" it's hard not to wince. Yes, of course in an ideal world the rapist would be apprehended before they even became a rapist and nobody would rape anybody ever. But unfortunately we don't live in an ideal world. Not yet.

Arguing in absurdly simplistic moral absolutisms makes you sound like a five-year-old struggling to grasp the concept of crime. Equipping people with the tools to better look after themselves is not the same as victim-blaming or advising them to take "preventative measures". What's sad is that these and other safety measures – rape alarms or mace, for example – are largely only marketed towards females. Maybe if more people started talking honestly about how men are also at risk from both physical and sexual violence, it would feel a lot less like women were being blamed for simply being women.

Finally, it's important to remember that this nail varnish does not claim to prevent rape but simply detect the presence of a drug. And you know what? That's pretty useful. A study of American college students put the rate of attacks carried out on people who have had their drink spiked at around 5.3 percent.

And yet, despite this relatively low percentage of actual rapes, the act of spiking of drinks seems to happen depressingly regularly. Basically, a lot of scumbags are apparently pretty willing to try their luck. I have at least two friends who've had to be carried into taxis from nice bars with pizza ovens and seasonal beers because they suddenly blacked out and fell over. Both described the ordeal as overwhelmingly embarrassing because everybody assumed they'd just got super wasted on their own when they said they were going to the bathroom, which really sucks. The quicker you can identify that you've been spiked, the sooner you'll get the serious attention you need. And if that means wiggling your finger in a drink to see what colour it turns, so be it.

Someone once gave me the advice to stick to the middle of the road if you're walking down a quiet dark street because you'll know immediately if someone's approaching you. It works (do it). Maybe that strips me of my divine right to walk on the pavement, but it doesn't feel like a huge sacrifice in order to be significantly more alert. Obviously in an ideal world the creep who might approach me would have been advised to walk in front of a bus, but until I see a squishy mess of a rapey psychopath under the wheels of the 242 I'll stick to doing whatever the hell I want to feel safe – and so should you.

@bertiebrandes