Monday, December 15, 2003

Drug-rape: an urban myth?

The Roofie Foundation, a group which seeks to highlight the dangers of 'date-rape drugs', has urged the government to launch a Christmas campaign to highlight the dangers of drinks being spiked. According to the group, named after the street-name for rohypnol which has been implicated in drug rape, cases of people being sexually assaulted after consuming drinks spiked with drugs have risen to over 1000 cases in the UK in the past year. Most UK police forces are already running their own campaigns on the subject and drugs like rohypnol and gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB) have already been restricted with stiff prison sentences for those caught in possession unlawfully. The Roofie Foundation suggests that 'Everyone is aware of their own, personal tolerance to alcohol. If you feel odd, nauseous, slightly drunk, tipsy or wasted after only a couple of drinks, or you know that you cannot be drunk, there is more than a chance that your drink has been spiked. If so get yourself immediately to a place of safety.'

While there have been isolated incidents of such drugs being used, evidence of widespread use is rather thin on the ground. The BBC News report tells us that Essex police found eight spiked drinks among 200 in one club, and that Cumbria police 'received up to seven reports a month from people who believe their drinks may have been spiked'. As for the suggestion that everyone knows their personal tolerance for alcohol, surely painful experience demonstrates that we all get it wrong sometimes? It beggars belief that every time we are unexpectedly inebriated, we should assume we've been slipped a Mickey Finn.

The UK Institute of Biomedical Science noted in December 2000 that, 'Despite a large number of requests for flunitrazepam [rohypnol] analysis, very few positives have been found. Although this could be due partly to the long time delays before the victim has sufficient recall of events to report the incident to the police, it could also indicate that the use of flunitrazepam for this purpose in the UK is not that widespread...There have also been relatively few seizures of flunitrazepam in the UK, and so it is felt that its use in "date rape" is vastly over estimated.'

A study, published in 1999 in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology, examined 1179 samples from across the USA. These were from victims of alleged sexual assault where the assailant was accused of drugging. It was found that in around 40 per cent of cases nothing was found at all, not even alcohol. In the other cases, various substances were found including alcohol (38 per cent), cannabis (18 per cent), cocaine (8 per cent), benzodiazepines (8 per cent), amphetamines (4 per cent), and GHB (4 per cent). In New Zealand in September 2003, a spokesman for the Institute for Environmental Science and Research noted that none of the 162 samples passed on by police over a two-year period in relation to drug rape allegations tested positive for GHB or ketamine.

The truth is that for all the talk of powerful new drugs rendering women senseless and vulnerable, plain old alcohol is by far a more common method to overcome a woman's resistance - hardly a new phenomenon.

Campaign call over spiked drinks, BBC News, 13 December 2003

How to tell, and what to do if you've been spiked, The Roofie Foundation

About the Forensic Science Service, Biomedical Scientist, December 2000

Date rape: drink more common than drugs, Dominion Post, 1 September 2003 (reproduced by NZ Drug Foundation)

(see a later version of this item on spiked)

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