Anti Date-Rape Nail Polish: Victim Saving or Victim Blaming?

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August 29, 2014 by Alex Johannigman

(Source: Undercover Colors Facebook Page)

(Source: Undercover Colors Facebook Page)

In an effort to reduce the frequency of sexual assault, a group of four young men from North Carolina State University – Ankesh Madan, Stephen Grey, Tasso Von Windheim and Tyler Confrey-Maloney – have created a nail polish called “Undercover Colors” that changes color in the presence of common date-rape drugs like Rohypnol, Xanax, and GHB. At first glance, this appeared to be a great step in reducing the frequency of women being taken advantage of by men who use these date-rape drugs to incapacitate their victims before assaulting them. However, their new invention has drawn criticism, after criticism, after criticism from the most unlikely of places- other rape-prevention activists and advocacy groups which claim that it is simply another form of victim blaming which only acts as a Band-Aid without addressing the root of the problem.

“I’m appreciative that young men like want to curb sexual assault, but anything that puts the onus on women to ‘discreetly’ keep from being raped misses the point,” writes Jessica Valenti for the Guardian. “We should be trying to stop rape, not just individually avoid it.”

The common theme of the anti-victim-blaming rhetoric is the need to focus on educating potential perpetrators rather than equipping potential victims, as if the two tactics are mutually exclusive. If we do anything to equip young women with information or tools that could prevent them from being taken advantage of, they say, that must mean that we are wasting time that we could be using to educate young people, especially men, about what consent means and how damaging and evil rape is.

Why is it that we can’t tackle the horrendous crime of sexual assault from both sides of the issue? Why can’t we try to stop rape, AND individually avoid it?

Drive_soberWe have no problem doing this with a number of other crimes. Take drunk driving for instance. We have a number of campaigns about not drinking and driving, we have advocacy groups like MADD, and we have strict DWI and DUI laws. But we also have laws about wearing a seatbelt whenever you’re in the car, and we advise our friends to stay off the road between midnight and 2am on New Year’s morning because there is a greatly increased chance of being hit by a drunk driver during those times. Yet I’ve never once been accused of victim blaming by asking a friend to stay off the road on New Year’s because I care about their health and safety.

Or what about murder? We (rightly) have laws about who can or can’t purchase certain weapons. We have laws detailing very serious punishments for people who kill innocents. But we also advise those close to us to not walk down dark alleys at night, especially alone, because there’s a greater risk of being mugged by someone there than there is if you’re staying at home or travelling in a well-lit area.

Yet if we support products like Undercover Colors, if we advise female friends to travel in groups when they go to parties where alcohol is involved and suggest that they watch out for each other, if we advise people to drink in moderation so they’ll have control over their bodies and will be able to protect themselves better in the case of sexual assault, or, God forbid, if we recommend dressing modestly to avoid unwanted attention when going to a party where alcohol will be involved and you will be surrounded by strangers who you likely don’t trust yet, in the eyes of many, you’re automatically blaming them for any crimes that may be committed against them.

Why can’t we take the same approach with sexual assault that we take with these other crimes, by educating everyone about what sexual assault includes and why it is evil, but also teaching everyone the importance of traveling in groups of people you can trust, of dressing modestly, and of drinking moderately?

However, with that said, we must also always be mindful of the compassion and sensitivity which is needed when interacting with victims. Telling them what they could have or should have done differently is NOT the place to start in a conversation with someone who has recently been raped. They should be treated foremost with love and encouragement, and reminded that what happened to them was the fault of the criminal, not them, just as the fault of an accident involving a drunk driver is placed on the one who was driving while intoxicated and not the person that they happened to hit. The cruel actions of another human being did that to them, not their wardrobe, or the fact that they attended a party alone, or the fact that they intentionally or accidentally drank too much that night.

Encouraging women (and men) to be smart and safe in the situations they put themselves in is admittedly only a starting point, because a woman can do all of the “right” things and still become a victim of rape as long as there are criminals out there seeking to take advantage of her against her will. Educating everyone about not just consent, but about the seriousness of sex, is far more important because rape isn’t a problem that we will ever solve just by educating all young men on respecting boundaries and explaining what consent is for two reasons.

The first is this- Although there is much that we can do to reduce the incidence of sinful activity, we will never reach the ideal society where sin ceases to exist, as many like Solomon Georgio (below) are longing for, because we live in a fallen world where men and women have free will and have license to do whatever they please.

The problem is that she isn’t longing for a society that we will ever see on this fallen earth. Satan, the father of lies, will always be at work on this earth deceiving people to follow their selfish desires rather than willing the good of those around them. Until there comes a day when we are able to invent a device to remove our free will (a truly terrifying thought), we will never be able to remove our sins from this world.

She’s longing for the kingdom of heaven, not an ideal earth that will never come. C.S. Lewis stated perfectly in Mere Christianity “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

But this shouldn’t be a cause for giving up hope and despairing about the continued threat of sexual assault in our society. The second problem with relying solely on education about consent is that addressing consent is yet another Band-Aid for an even bigger and more difficult to cure disease that our society is confronted with. But unlike the inescapable reality of our fallen nature, it does have a solution.

The core of the problem of more and more widespread sexual assault is that our society continues to cheapen sex. We’re now told through our peers and through the media that sex is a casual thing. The problem stems from the fact that we’ve been telling men over and over again that sex is not a big deal, that it can be casual without a commitment, that one-night stands, especially during college, are to be expected and even encouraged. We’ve cheapened sex, and the cheaper something becomes, the less abhorrent it is for someone to steal it.

Let me say that one more time.

We’ve cheapened sex, and the cheaper something becomes, the less abhorrent it is for someone to steal it.

Think of how we react to someone who admits that they stole a candy bar from a gas station as a kid compared to how we react to someone confessing that they once stole their neighbor’s big screen television. The first is much more forgivable and less detestable than the second. The problem is that we’ve created a huge disconnect in value when it comes to sex. We’ve (wrongly) made it not a big deal when it’s consensual, but (rightly) a gigantic deal when it is taken by force. The sexual revolution has been teaching young men and women that sex is worth as much as a metaphorical candy bar, which some have then taken to mean that they can steal it without permission without any more than a slap on the wrist as a consequence. But when young women (or men) have sex taken from them forcefully, they realize that it is far more valuable than the largest big screen TV that they could ever buy.

“Rape Culture” and the “Hook Up Culture,” which promotes casual, contracepted, no-strings attached, purely recreational sex, are two children from the same family because they share as a common parent the belief that sex is cheap and unimportant. This is what makes it simultaneously sad, frustrating, and ironic that many of the most vocal activists fighting against “Rape Culture” are also the same people who are fighting for “Hook Up Culture” by promoting free birth control, increased pornography use, and a society where both men and women can both have sex “without having to worry about any consequences.” (News flash: There will always be consequences with sex)

You can’t promote sex as being nothing more than a recreational activity without simultaneously encouraging a population of immature and selfish people with no self-control to view women as nothing more than their toys for use in that game.

(Source: Slashgear)

(Source: Slashgear)

This is why so many instances of sexual assault occur between friends and romantic partners. The problem of sexual assault in our culture isn’t even primarily one related to unsafe parties and date-rape drugs, but rather it is a problem of sex not being taken seriously enough.

If we return to rightly recognizing that sex represents a serious commitment between two people, one that should be made after a couple has already made the serious commitment of marriage, we can fight sexual assault.

If we teach our youth that sex creates serious emotional ties between two people and (even when contracepted) always has the potential of creating new life, we can fight sexual assault.

If we transform our culture into one that respects sex and returns it to its proper place and time in relationships, we can fight sexual assault and simultaneously transform our culture into one where products like “Undercover Colors” will never be needed again.

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One thought on “Anti Date-Rape Nail Polish: Victim Saving or Victim Blaming?

  1. […] Fr. Dwight Longenecker Does Education Prevent Children From Coming to Jesus? – Str. Smith Anti Date-Rape Nail Polish: Victim Saving or Victim Blaming – Cth Jazz Nick Clegg Should Read Ev. Waugh B4 Writing Next Manifesto – Phillips […]

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