According to sexual assault statistics in the United States, nearly three quarters of all rapes occur during dates or with other people the victim knew as an acquaintance. Of these assaults, one third of women involved report that they believed drugs were a factor in their assault. In a recently National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey carried out by the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense, it was also determined that 18 percent of women in America will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lives.
But now, some women may be able to detect the presence of what are commonly called “date rape drugs” as simply as stirring their drink with a manicured finger.
Recently, a group of four male college chemistry students were inspired to try and help after viewing statistics like those discussed above, which led them to create what they’ve called Undercover Colors, a nail polish that changes color when it’s exposed to date rape drugs, including Xanax, rohypnol, and other substances.
“Our goal is to invent technologies that empower women to protect themselves from this heinous and quietly pervasive crime,” the group wrote on the Facebook page for Undercover Colors. As a result of the merit of their discovery, the four students have been named winners of this year’s Lulu eGames, an annual competition held at North Carolina State University that seeks to address problems through creativity.
According to the Sexual Assault and Trauma Resource Center, drugs commonly associated with sexual assault are sedatives, “usually administered by an acquaintance, to an unsuspecting person to obtain non-consensual sex. The drug is often mixed with an alcoholic beverage which, when consumed, causes varying degrees of sedation ranging from drowsiness to unconsciousness and amnesia. Victims often have no memory of the assault.”
Substances like Xanax, rohypnol and ketamine are often employed in such circumstances to drug victims, as well as gamma hydroxybutyric acid (GHB), which can be slipped into alcoholic beverages covertly even in public places like a bar or restaurant. What’s worse, in many instances these “date rape drugs” leave no evidence of tampering, whether by color or by scent.
“We are grateful for and encouraged by the support we’ve received over the past few days,” the group recently said in a public statement. “Through contributions to our research, personal stories, and thoughtful comments, you have inspired us! We hope this future product will be able shift the fear from the victims to the perpetrators, creating a risk that they might actually start to get caught.”
Yet again, we’re reminded that chemistry is cool, and can be helpful in dealing with societal problems.