Assailed by feminists for selling a product, implying rape is ‘the woman’s fault’
Even as detractors argue that college women shouldn’t have to proactively defend themselves against sexual assault, four undergraduates at North Carolina State University are making progress on their efforts to develop a nail polish that can determine when “date rape” drugs are mixed into a drink.
After a summer of fundraising, Undercover Colors announced in late September it had raised enough money to hire a second chemist for its nascent product. It had said in August a second chemist would “double our R&D efforts.”
“Thank you for your support as we strive to bring our product to market as quickly as we possibly can,” said the company, founded by students Ankesh Madan, Stephen Grey, Tasso Von Windheim and Tyler Confrey-Maloney. Backers can continue to donate to their work, though the company raised a giant chunk from a single investor – news it hasn’t shared on its social-media accounts.
Undercover Colors also made the semifinals for NC IDEA’s fall grant cycle, along with 18 other North Carolina-based startups, the nonprofit said last week. NC IDEA, which “bridges the gap” between product development and venture funding, will give up to $50,000 each to four to six recipients when it announces winners in December.
The nail polish that Undercover Colors plans to develop will change color when it interacts with drugs such as Rohypnol, Xanax and gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid (GHB). The idea is that a woman will stir her drink with her finger and her nail polish color will change if it detects such drugs, according to The Washington Post.
“We wanted to focus on preventive solutions, especially those that could be integrated into products that women already use,” Madan told Higher Education Works, an organization that advocates for investment in North Carolina higher education, in June.
The undergraduates’ idea won the Lulu eGames student competition last spring, sponsored by NC State’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, which challenges students to design working solutions to real-world problems, Higher Education Works said.
“We’re focusing on technical development and market testing. We plan to focus on business development and refining our prototype before going to production,” co-founder Madan said.
A writer for the blog Feministing wrote a snarky post about the company in August, arguing that alcohol is the substance most likely to be used in date rape.
“Are you at all worried that by overstating the prevalence of date rape drugs, your product might give its users, who are no less likely to become victims of other kinds of sexual assault, a false sense of security?” Executive Director-Editorial Maya Dusenbury said. She also faulted the company for “selling” a product, rather than “giving” women “the power to do something.”
A rape support nonprofit, Rape Crisis England & Wales, told Newsweek that the company’s idea was “well meaning” but such a product “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.”
But a chemistry professor told The College Fix a nail polish that detects date rape drugs would provide positive results in an emergency.
“The hardest thing about testing for date rape drugs is that by the time a person gets to the hospital and is tested the drugs are almost out of their system and it’s hard to figure out what’s wrong with them,” Ariane Jansma of Point Loma Nazarene University said by email.
“If the creators can create a means of immediate diagnosis of these drugs then that will make it that much easier on the hospital’s end to determine the best way to treat them,” Jansma said.
“Through this nail polish and similar technologies, we hope to make potential perpetrators afraid to spike a woman’s drink because there’s now a risk that they can get caught,” Undercover Colors says on its Facebook page.
The Triangle Business Journal reported that Undercover Colors raised $100,000 from a single investor, citing a securities filing, but the company hasn’t made that known on either its Facebook or Twitter pages. (Its own website is just a landing page for its social media accounts, email and donation page.)
The company noted in late August, after that $100,000 investment became known, that while it has “raised over $10,000 from personal donations … more is needed for adequate and timely development.” Undercover Colors did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
College Fix contributor Samantha Watkins is a student at Point Loma Nazarene University.
IMAGES: Facebook, Undercover Colors