Shut That Whole Thing Down

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Two years ago, Missouri Congressman Todd Akin cost himself an election with comments about sexual assault and pregnancy. He said, "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

Akin's words came to mind when I read that four recent graduates of my alma mater, North Carolina State University, had started a company to bring to market a nail polish that changes color when exposed to so-called date rape drugs. Their product would, in a sense, give the wearer's body a way to try to shut that whole thing down.

This nail polish may sound like a great, empowering invention. But the drugs it would detect are used in only a tiny fraction of sexual assaults, so it offers little real protection compared to the extent of the problem. And it adds yet more weight to the pernicious idea that the prevention of sexual assault is somehow the responsibility of its victims.

These young men began developing their product while still students, with the support of advisers at the university. They won grants and seed funding awarded by committees of professors, alumni and business leaders. And that's what bothers me.

University students are young adults.They bear responsibility for their actions and their education. But in many ways, the grown-ups are still in charge -- of guiding those actions and providing that education.


Many people at many junctures had ways to try to shut this whole thing down. Or, perhaps more helpfully, to turn the conversation toward how we treat sexual assault in this country, and who bears the responsibility for its prevention.

The backlash against their certainly well-intentioned nail polish may be educational for the young inventors. There's also a lesson here, though, for colleges and universities everywhere. You're not just teaching chemistry or business. You're building a culture and values. Do better.

With a Perspective, I'm Brock Winstead.

Brock Winstead is an Oakland-based writer and host of an online public affairs program focused on the East Bay.