April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. It also happens to be the month that many high schools and colleges take their Spring Breaks. What do these two facts have in common? Unfortunately, plenty.
Statistically, the most dangerous period in a woman’s life, with regard to sexual assault, is her late high school and early college years. There are many contributing factors, but a prime culprit in that increased risk is the prevalence of drugs and alcohol. While drug-facilitated sexual assault (DFSA) is not limited to this age group – women (and men!) of all ages experience it – there are unique circumstances for teens and young adults, especially on occasions such as Spring Break, that drastically increase the opportunity for DFSA.
WHAT IS DRUG-FACILITATED SEXUAL ASSAULT?
First of all, what do we mean when we talk about “rape-facilitation drugs” (commonly known as “date rape drugs”) and “drug-facilitated sexual assault”? Rape-facilitation drugs are any substances that effect judgment or behavior, putting the victim at a greater risk for unwanted sexual activity. Drug-facilitated sexual assault occurs when these substances are used to compromise an individual’s ability to consent to sexual activity or resist unwanted sexual advances. They may also inhibit a person’s ability to remember the assault, making it less likely that the victim will report the attack.
DFSA can occur one of two ways: Either the victim ingests the drugs or alcohol voluntarily and the offender takes advantage of her impaired state, or the offender intentionally forces the victim to consume the substance without her knowledge. It is important to point out that sexual assault is NEVER the victim’s fault, even if she knowingly and willingly took drugs or drank too much. The blame rests solely with the offender who took advantage of the victim’s state.
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON RAPE-FACILITATION DRUGS?
When people hear the phrase “date rape drug”, alcohol isn’t usually what comes to mind. But alcohol is the most commonly used substance in DFSA. Statistically, the link between alcohol and college sexual assault is clear. Over 70% of “date rapes” involve alcohol, used by the attacker or the victim or both. On college campuses, this number goes up to nearly 90%.
(2) THE “BIG THREE”: ROHYPNAL, GHB and KETAMINE
There are a number of “street drugs” used to facilitate sexual assault, but these three are currently the most prevalent. ROHYPNAL is the trade name for flunitrazepam. It is not legal in the United States, but it is brought into the US from Europe and Mexico, where it is used for sleep and anesthetic purposes. GHB (short for gamma hydroxybutyric acid) was recently made legal in the US to treat sleep problems such as narcolepsy. KETAMINE is legal in the US for use as an anesthetic for humans and animals.
These are three distinct drugs, with unique qualities, but as a general guide, they can come in similar forms: dissolving pill, powder or liquid. All can be quickly dropped in a drink and become virtually undetectable. They also have some distinctions in effect, but generally include symptoms such as impaired muscle control, difficulty talking, “drunk” feeling, nausea, dizziness, confusion, sleepiness, loss of coordination, distorted perceptions of sight and sound, and memory problems.
(3) PRESCRIPTION DRUGS
Prescription drugs like sleep aids, anxiety medication, muscle relaxers and tranquilizers may also be used to sedate or impair a target. These can be dropped in liquids much like the drugs discussed above.
HOW WILL I KNOW IF I’VE BEEN DRUGGED?
Depending on the drug, the initial effects may go unnoticed or they may become apparent very quickly. Many victims don’t remember being drugged or assaulted, and the drugs may leave the body very quickly. So while there may be no toxicological evidence that drugs were involved by the time the victim seeks help, some signs include:
- Feeling drunk when you haven’t consumed any alcohol, or a smaller amount than the effect would indicate;
- Sudden increase in dizziness, disorientation, or blurred vision;
- Sudden change in body temperature, signaled by sweating or chattering teeth;
- Nausea; or
- Waking up with no memory or missing large portions of time in your memory.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I THINK I’VE BEEN DRUGGED AND RAPED?
Get medical care right away. Call 911 or have a trusted friend take you to a hospital emergency room. Do not bathe or change clothes; these things may destroy essential evidence. Call the police from the hospital, and be very honest about all you activities. Remember, nothing you did, including drinking alcohol or taking drugs, justifies rape.
Many of these drugs leave the body quickly, within 12 to 72 hours, so if you cannot get to a hospital immediately, take steps to preserve the evidence. Save your urine in a clean container as soon as possible, and place it in a refrigerator or freezer. Also, save you clothes in a clean, sealable container.
Finally, get counseling and treatment. Calling a crisis center or a hotline, such as National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE), can also be a good place to start.
WHAT CAN I DO TO PROTECT MYSELF?
We can protect ourselves against DFSA. First, there is safety in numbers. I tell women in my workshops that we are each others’ best weapons against these assaults; our “Partners in Crime” must also be our “Partners in Crime Prevention”. When going out to bars, clubs, or parties – go out together, stay together, and leave together. Be on the lookout for any signs of unusual or atypical behavior. If someone seems like she is intoxicated beyond what is expected for the amount consumed, or she exhibits signs listed above, get her and the others in your group out of there and seek help.
Additionally, make it a rule to always have control of your drink from the moment is it poured or opened until the very last drop is gone. That means:
- Don’t accept drinks from other people;
- Open containers yourself;
- Don’t share drinks;
- If someone offers to get you a drink, go with the person to order you drink, watch the drink being poured and carry it yourself;
- Don’t drink from common, open containers such as punch bowls. Even if the host did not put drugs in the container, anyone walking by could;
- Keep your drink with you at all times, even when you go to the bathroom;
- If you realize you left your drink unattended, pour it out; and
- If you feel drunk and haven’t drunk any alcohol, or if you feel like the effects are stronger than expected, get help right away.
Finally, there are test strips available to identify the presence of specific date rape drugs. Before taking a sip of a drink, you simply dip a strip into the liquid. If the strip turns a designated color, signaling the presence of one of these substances, you know to pour it out and leave immediately. In 2014, four college students developed a nail polish that similarly detects the presence of these drugs when dipped into a drink. At this point, the formula is still in the development stage and is not available for purchase.
WHAT IS THE TAKEAWAY?
Rape-facilitation drugs are prevalent, especially among teens and young adults. They are not “urban legend” and accounts are not exaggerated. At nearly every workshop or seminar I have taught, I have had at least one person tell me about her experience with date rape drugs. The good news is: We can protect ourselves. But the key is knowledge, paired with awareness. Protect yourself. Watch out for others. Stay safe. You are worth it.
Please share this knowledge with someone you know, and if you want more information on this or other relate topics, please contact us for training and consulting.