Colour changing nail varnish isn't going to prevent rape, or the vicious culture of victim blaming

We must stop focusing on what victims can do, or could have done, to prevent assault

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Before a night out, I run the following checklist passed my housemates. Purse? Check. Lipstick? Check. Keys? Check. Date-rape drug exposing nail varnish? OK, maybe not the last one.

New nail vanish ‘Undercover Colours’, created by four male students from the North Carolina State University, changes colour in the presence of date rape drugs such as Rohypnol, Xanax and GHB (Gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid).

Simply slick a bit of Undercover Colours on before you leave the house and if you think your drink has been spiked, stir discreetly with a painted nail.

It’s very clever and almost certainly well-intentioned. I’m sure some women will feel empowered by the varnish which allows them to check inconspicuously whether their drink is safe to consume. And really, anything that helps prevent rape should be celebrated.

Unfortunately, handy as it may be, this cunning little gimmick could actually do more harm than good. Undercover Colours implies it’s a woman’s responsibility to make sure she is not raped. If she is raped? Well, she should have been wearing her special litmus-paper polish.

Suggesting rape is inevitable and women should be armed to the teeth just in case it happens to them is dangerous, and doesn’t tackle the root of the problem. It’s the equivalent of sticking a plaster over a septic wound. It might stem the bleeding, but it won’t cure the infection.

Anti-rape inventions such as these, that focus on what women can do to avoid being raped, not only tell girls that they should be on their guard and primed for an assault at all times, but also that if they’re not prepared, it is they who are at fault, not the men intent on drugging and assaulting them.

Just like saying a woman shouldn’t wear revealing clothes (“she was asking for it!”), walk home alone (“she put herself in danger”), or drink too much (“well, what did she expect?”), encouraging a woman to paint her nails and turn detective on the dance floor puts the onus on her and fuels an already vicious culture of victim-blaming.

It’s a culture that is ingrained in our society. Just look at former judge Mary Jane Mowat, who claimed rape statistics would not improve until women “stop getting so drunk”, or the NHS rape awareness poster which shows a woman crying next to the words: “One in three reported rapes happens when the victim has been drinking.”

On the Today Programme this morning, John Humphrys asked one of the victims of the Rotherham child abuse scandal whether she could have done anything differently to save herself from her perpetrators, as though a young girl could be held in any way responsible for the violent and deplorable acts against her.

With a cooler head than I could have managed, the victim replied: “I was a child. These were adult men.”

We must stop focusing on what victims can do, or could have done, to prevent assault. Instead, let’s educate young men about consent, teach them not to rape and abuse women, and hold accountable those who do not listen.        

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