Would You Buy a Cocktail Napkin That Detects Date Rape Drugs?

It's a cool idea-but how common is the crime it's supposed to stop?


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An entrepreneur at George Washington University has created a napkin that detects date rape drugs in drinks, and she intends to launch sales this fall. Junior Danya Sherman hopes her product, KnoNap, will beat the other date rape drug detection devices on the market. Inspired by her own experience with sexual assault while studying abroad, Sherman has won multiple awards, including her school's New Venture Competition.

It's hard to tell how often surreptitious drugging actually happens; it's typically done secretly and often hard to verify after the fact. Teen Vogue has reported that "one in 13 college students say they have been drugged, or suspect they have been drugged, in the past academic year." KnoNap representatives echoed this statistic when Reason reached out for comment.

But there's a big difference between being drugged and suspecting that one has been drugged. A 2010 study found that only 49 percent of suspected victims actually returned positive urine test results. In a 2007 study, only 19 percent did.

A 2005 University of Illinois at Chicago study found that 4.2 percent of the total subjects (who had all been sexually assaulted) were victims of surreptitious drug-facilitated sexual assault, specifically. A 2015 Brown University study came to a more alarming conclusion, finding that more than one in six freshman women are forced to perform sex acts they don't want to while drugged or drunk. But the Brown study lumps alcohol and other drugs together, making it hard to parse out just how common date rape drugs actually are, compared to plain old social drinking.

Any deceitful manipulation of someone's drink is wrong––whether that be spiking it with more alcohol or a drug designed to lower inhibitions, or taking advantage of someone who's far too intoxicated to know what they're doing.

Finding out how common date rape druggings are, and how common products like these prevent them, would be a step in the right direction for both market research and good public policy. There's demonstrated demand for these products among college students: the creators of Smart Straws, another date rape drug detection device, surveyed current students and found that 85 percent expressed interest in buying their products.

Sherman's product, KnoNap, claims to detects 26 of the 40 most common date rape drugs by changing colors when a drug is detected in liquids; the makers won't reveal precisely which drugs. Although disposable, the napkins can be used up to four times, and easily stored in a purse before going out. Sherman hopes businesses, universities, and other large institutions will adopt her napkins, though she currently has no price estimate for her product, except that she plans on making it affordable to her target demographics, college students and young adults.

"We wanted to create a product that could be seamlessly incorporated into any social setting. Napkins are always around alcohol," Sherman recently told the Florida station Fox4. "They are always in bars and clubs and we're working to have them integrated into fraternities, social events and social organizations."

A competitive market in date rape drug detection will probably do more to keep targets safe than most of the solutions on offer from the government. And Sherman's napkins certainly make more logistical sense than other offerings on the market. (Having a napkin you can dab on your lips or wipe on your hands makes more sense than sticking your painted nails into a drink, as other entrepreneurs have proposed.) Still, before handing out award after award to starry-eyed high school and college students, perhaps the judges and venture capitalists should consider: Just how common is the problem this is supposed to solve? All these napkins, nail polish, and straws might reveal that it's less common than we fear.

Liz Wolfe is a writer in Austin, Texas.