Undercover Colors: Polish with a purpose

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Photo credit: Valerie Cheatham


Four male students at North Carolina State University developed Undercover Colors, a nail polish that can detect the presence of Rohypnol, Xanax and Gama Hydroxybutyrate- also known as GHB or the “date rape drug”.

The drug is detected once the nail covered in the Undercover Colors nail polish is immersed in a liquid or drink the wearer might find questionable. On average, there is a victim of rape in Utah every 9.5 hours, according to the Utah Department of Health.

The four students intended this method of detection to be discreet. In order for the wearer to identify if GHB is present in their drink, the nail polish changes color depending on what drug was inside.

The Undercover Colors team offers hope that the nail polish will make potential perpetrators afraid to “spike” a woman’s drink, and to shift the fear from the victims to the perpetrators.

“[It’s] good to have a tool to stay safe like this.” Brittany Pitcher, a senior at UVU, said. “It’s better to try and be safe then not to try at all, [but] we should create a more permanent solution.”

Some women’s rights groups believe this is just a Band-Aid on a societal problem.

Katie Russell, a communications coordinator from the charity organization Rape Crisis England and Wales, was critical of Undercover Colors because the product shifts the focus of awareness from perpetrator to victim.

“Rape Crisis does not endorse or promote such a product or anything similar.” Russell said. “It implies that it’s the woman’s fault and assumes responsibility on her behalf and detracts from the real issues that arise from sexual violence.”

UVU senior Kari Jones disagreed with Russell because she considers Undercover Colors to be a step in the right direction.

“Without changing people as a whole, [Undercover Colors] is our best solution.” Jones said. “Ideally we should change society, but until then it’s better to make sure you’re safe.

According to the latest Utah Department of Public Safety analysis, instances of rape increased by nearly ten percent from 2011 to 2012.

“We wanted to focus on preventive solutions, especially those that could be integrated into products that women already use,” Ankesh Madan, one of the founders of Undercover Colors, told Higher Education works in June.

According to the Washington Post, the nail polish is just part of a list of “gimmicky-seeming precautions”. Their list also includes anti-rape underwear and pepper spray cameras.

Brandon Prows, a previous UVU student, loved the idea of the nail polish and plans to buy a bottle for each of his sisters when it’s available.

“I understand rape is a problem,” Prows said. “But I think to change society it has to start with small steps like this.”

Utah is known for having a low rate of violent crime, but for the past ten years Utah has had a rape rate that is higher than the national average, according to the Rape Recovery Center.

Utah is one of 37 states that mandates abstinence-only sex education, according to Guttmacher Institute. This, Prows says, is one reason why rape could be higher in Utah and why all preventative measures, including Undercover Colors, should be used.

“Porn and a lack of sexual education is a massive contributor to the rape rate.” Prows said. “People grow up without knowing anything about [sex].”

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