Undercover Colors aims to prevent date rape

By Kimberly Jane

Do you know five women? The majority of the population has at least some of the following: female friends, wives, daughters, mothers, grandmothers, nieces, aunts, sisters, and cousins. Have you known any college-aged women?

Rape is a recurring problem that affects us all, particularly young women. Through extensive surveying, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded one in five women will be raped in the United States. With numbers like that, we are apt to at least know a victim of rape during our lifetime. The CDC has also found that for 37.4 percent of these victims, the rapes will occur during the years they are likely to spend in college or between the ages 18–24. Perhaps even more startling are the 42 percent of women who are raped while younger than eighteen years of age. This does not include sexual assault. If it did, the figures would be even more alarming.

Statistics vary on just how common rape is among college campuses. The Washington Post revealed that out of the 1,570 U.S. colleges/universities with more than 1,000 students, 55 percent reported one or more on-campus sex offenses during 2012. Smartersex.org, a site dealing with sexual education, states that for every 1,000 female college students there will be 35 rapes during an academic year. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states 97,000 U.S. college students are sexually assaulted or date raped every year. Rape is higher among college-aged individuals in large part due to date rape drugs.

It is no secret that many college students drink. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provide staggering statistics. Four in five students drink with half of those binge drinking. The drug used for date rape is often administered by dropping the drug into the alcoholic beverage of an unsuspecting individual. Oftentimes, the drug is administered by the victim’s own date. Once the drug is in the victim’s drink they have no way of telling since the drug lacks taste and smell. These factors only add to the drug’s danger. Its effect is powerful. In fact, since many of these pills are made in at-home labs, overdoses often happen and deaths have occurred. The onset of symptoms typically appear between 15–30 minutes and will last up to several hours.

Most date rape victims have a difficult time telling they have been drugged. They may wake feeling unusually hungover with punctuated memory. Victims may also find their clothes disheveled or missing and wake feeling as though they’ve had sex. People who recall how they felt prior to the rape may report a wide variety of feelings, such as marked impairment, nausea, sweating, loss of vision, difficulty talking, and a dream-like feeling.

These are not individuals sober enough to make decisions on whether or not to have sex. Oftentimes others will observe the drugged individual needing assistance walking. Other times they will need to be carried. Someone who believes they were drugged and/or raped should never do any of the following for testing purposes: change clothes, brush teeth or bathe. The victim should immediately obtain medical assistance and keep in mind that it is not their fault and help and resources will be provided.

Tyler Confrey-Maloney, Stephen Grey, Ankesh Madan and Tasso Von Windheim—four North Carolina State University undergraduates majoring in materials science and engineering—hope to make a significant, positive impact against the scourge of date rape. The young men are sparking a lot of media and activist attention, perhaps being the only college-aged men who have taken an initiative to combat the date rape drug problem on such a scale.

The undergraduates entered the annual Lulu eGames competition at North Carolina State University, a competition that focuses on real world issues and entrepreneurship. The young men came in first place with their invention, a fingernail polish that detects date rape drugs. The four call the fingernail polish Undercover Colors. While the product is still in development, it is intended for women to especially wear while they are out. Wearers may simply dip their polished fingers in their drink and stir. If there is a presence of one of three chemical components of the date rape drug, the fingernail polish changes color. At the point the polish changes color, the victim may seek help. Undercover Colors Facebook Page states, “Our goal is to invent technologies that empower women to protect themselves from this heinous and quietly pervasive crime.”

It is easy to assume there is nothing but applause for the young men who have taken on such an altruistic endeavor. They have sought to give women some form of empowerment when it comes to date rape. Perhaps it is especially commendable when considering these men fall into the very demographic usually held accountable for the epidemic. However, not everyone is sharing the enthusiasm. Opponents of the date rape prevention polish contend this invention diverts the responsibility on women to prevent the rape to begin rather than the perpetrator. Historically, defense lawyers and even the media have shifted focus onto the rape victim by being critical of issues like dress, drinking habits and prior sexual partners. Wouldn’t it make sense then that blame could be shifted once again to the victim for choosing not to wear the fingernail polish while drinking? Historically, it has been sometimes easier to blame women for the crime than to acknowledge the prevalence of it.

Secondly, makers of the date rape drug are perpetually changing the chemical composition. Undercover Colors does not test every single chemical component, but rather three of the major drugs: Xanax, Rohypnol and GHB. Specifically, Ketamine is sometimes used. Would this chemical along with others that are not tested slip through the cracks? Activists have raised public concern that Undercover Colors would provide wearers with a safety guarantee that simply does not exist. While Undercover Colors declined our interview, their Facebook Page states their product is still under development and before releasing it they want to ensure the polish tests for a comprehensive list of drugs.

It makes sense that a perpetrator would be less likely to drug others if they posed a larger fear of being caught. Other safety products which could similarly provide us with a false sense of security go to market all the time. These products are used everyday, but do not protect us 100 percent of the time. Some safety products may even divert some of the safety responsibility to us.

Unfortunately, life jackets do not always stop drownings. Opponents could even argue the use of life jackets on passenger boats puts undue pressure on the passengers to secure a life jacket in case of emergencies. Do these two arguments substantiate not using life jackets at all? This is similar to the arguments we have heard from Undercover Colors’ opponents. Coincidentally, The U.S. Coast Guard states 90 percent of boating and accidental drownings could have been prevented with life jackets. In light of The Coast Guard’s figure the aforementioned concerns seem rather short sighted. It is easy to conclude if these young inventors can prevent even a handful of rapes it would be beneficial to help those individuals and their families out.

One thing is certain, Undercover Colors has given the issue of rape much needed attention, and we can hope in the future it provides women with a needed sense of empowerment. Education is part of empowerment. Please speak to your loved ones about what to watch for and how they may protect themselves against the date rape drug.  If you decide you would like to do more Tyler Confrey-Maloney, Undercover Colors’ CEO and cofounder, is asking for additional donations to help lift their product off the ground. Donations can be made at this website address: http://undercovercolors.com/undercover-colors–support-us.html.

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