Date rape drug
A date rape drug, also called a predator drug, is any drug that can be used to assist in the execution of drug facilitated sexual assault (DFSA). The unofficial term "date rape drug" came into widespread usage in the early 1990s through U.S. news media reports.
The most common types of DFSA are those in which a victim ingested drugs willingly for recreational purposes, or had them administered surreptitiously: it is the latter type of assault that the term "date rape drug" most often refers to. Date rape drugs often have sedative, hypnotic, dissociative, and/or amnesiac effects, and can be added to a food or drink without the victim's knowledge.
The prevalence of date rape drugs have been questioned, with some calling them a moral panic or urban legend. In various studies of women who have reported they thought they were given such substances, only a tiny minority have tested positive. In most cases it is assumed that the women mistook the effects of alcohol for date rape drugs.
Overview and history
Sexual assaults of men and women who have voluntarily consumed alcohol or drugs is common and not new, being mentioned in the 1938 film Pygmalion. It is also not new to slip something into somebody's drink to incapacitate them. However, it wasn't until the mid-1990s that law enforcement agents began to see a pattern of women being surreptitiously drugged for the purpose of rape, particularly through use of odorless, tasteless incapacitating drugs that produce anterograde amnesia.
Typically, the victim was consuming an alcoholic drink in a non-threatening social or business setting alongside others doing the same thing, when she lost awareness of what was happening. When she regained consciousness, hours later, she was often in a different location, there were signs she had been sexually assaulted (such as disarranged clothing, the presence of semen, or vaginal or anal soreness), she felt after-effects of substance use such as wooziness or confusion, and she had little or no memory of what had happened to her.
The three drugs most commonly used for DFSA are alcohol and two prescription-strength sleep aids. The two prescription drugs are GHB, also known as gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, and benzodiazepines (such as flunitrazepam, also known as Rohypnol or "roofies").
Alcohol remains the most commonly used date rape drug, being readily available as well as legal, and is said to be used in the majority of sexual assaults. Many assailants use alcohol because their victims often willingly imbibe it, and can be encouraged to drink enough to lose inhibitions or consciousness. Sex with an unconscious victim is considered rape in most if not all jurisdictions, and some assailants have committed "rapes of convenience" whereby they have assaulted a victim after he or she had become unconscious from drinking too much.
Benzodiazepines (tranquilizers), such as Valium, Librium, Xanax, and Ativan, are prescribed to treat anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, and several other conditions, and are also used frequently recreationally. Benzodiazepines are often used in DFSA, with the most notorious being flunitrazepam (chemical name) or Rohypnol (proprietary or brand name), also known as "roofies," "rope," and "roaches."
Rohypnol is manufactured by Hoffman-La Roche. It is sold in tablet form in clear bubble packaging, with the tablets inscribed on one side with the word "Roche." It has no taste or smell. Originally the tablets were manufactured only in white and, if dissolved in liquid, did not affect its colour. But once it became known that Rohypnol was being used to facilitate rape, Hoffman-La Roche began manufacturing an additional version coated in a hard green shell to inhibit dissolution, and containing a strong blue dye.
Rohypnol began to be used recreationally in Europe in the 1970s, and in the United States in the 1990s. It can be ingested orally, snorted, smoked or injected. It is used to relieve depression following use of methamphetamine or cocaine, or taken with alcohol to enhance the effects of heroin or to reduce the severity of withdrawal from heroin or methadone. Use of alcohol and Rohypnol together amplifies the effects of both. In one survey of 53 women who used Rohypnol recreationally, 10% said they were physically or sexually assaulted while under its influence.
Once taken, effects are felt within 15 to 20 minutes, peak at two hours, and can last eight to 12 hours or more. Effects include physical relaxation or sleepiness, slowed reaction times, dizziness, slurred speech, reduced ability to focus, tremors, confusion, lowered blood pressure, visual disturbances, headaches, gastrointestinal disturbances and urinary retention. If enough of the drug is taken, a person may experience a state of automatism or dissociation. After the drug wears off, users may find themselves unable to remember what happened while under its influence (retrograde amnesia), and feeling woozy, hung-over, confused, dizzy, sluggish and uncoordinated, often with an upset stomach. They may also have some difficulty moving their limbs normally.
Rohypnol is believed to be commonly used in DFSA in the United States, the United Kingdom, and throughout Europe, Asia and South America. It is available by prescription in more than 60 European and Latin American countries. It is banned in the United States but is commonly imported, often from Mexico, South America or Europe, and sold illegally.
Although Rohypnol's use in DFSA has been covered extensively in the news media, researchers disagree about how common such use actually is. Law enforcement manuals describe it as one of the drugs most commonly implicated in DFSA, but according to research conducted by Michael Robertson from the San-Diego Medical Examiner's office and Dr. Mahmoud El Sohly of El Sohly Laboratories, test results indicated that flunitrazepam was only used in around 1% of reported date rapes according to Robertson and 0.33% according to urine lab tests done by El Sohly. The benzodiazepines midazolam and temazepam were the two most common benzodiazepines utilized for date rape.
Benzodiazepines can be detected in urine through the use of drug tests administered by medical officials or sold at pharmacies and performed at home. Most tests will only detect benzodiazepines for a maximum of 72 hours after it was taken. Most general benzodiazepine-detection tests will not detect Rohypnol: that requires a test specifically designed for that purpose. One new process can detect of 2 mg dose of Rohypnol for up to 28 days post-ingestion. Other tests for Rohypnol include blood and hair tests. Because the most commonly used drug tests often yield false negatives for Rohypnol, experts recommend use of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis.
One clue to which of benzodiazepines or GHB might have been used in a DFSA is the effect on the victim's urination: benzodiazepines lead to urinary retention and GHB to urinary incontinence.
Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is a central nervous system depressant. First synthesized in the 1920s, it is a naturally occurring substance found in nearly all animal tissue, in some fruits, and in wine. It was used as a general anaesthetic in the 1960s and 1970s, and has been used more recently by bodybuilders in hopes it would promote fat reduction and muscle development, until being banned for sale as a supplement in the United States by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1990. It is marketed in some European countries as an adjunct to anesthesia. It is sold as a liquid, or a light-coloured powder that dissolves easily in liquid. It has no odor, tastes slightly salty, and is almost undetectable when mixed in a drink.
GHB is used recreationally to stimulate euphoria and hallucinations, to increase sociability, to promote libido and lower inhibitions. It is sold under names such as Liquid E and Liquid X. It is usually taken orally, by the capful or teaspoon.
GHB takes effect in about 15 to 30 minutes, and the effects last from three to six hours. They are similar to those of alcohol, and if alcohol and GHB are taken together the effects of each are intensified. Small amounts of GHB act as a relaxant, and can slow heart rate and respiration and interfere with blood circulation, motor coordination and balance. Larger amounts interfere with motor and speech control and can cause vomiting followed by unconsciousness or a coma-like sleep. GHB can also cause mental or physical paralysis, nausea, vomiting, tremors, delusions, dizziness, respiratory distress, bowel and bladder incontinence and amnesia. Dizziness can last as long as two weeks in some cases.
GHB has been reported to cause seizures, but some researchers believe those reports are confusing seizures with involuntary muscle contractions. One odd side effect of GHB is that while under its influence a person may stop breathing while simultaneously becoming physically violent. GHB can cause blood to appear in a user's urine.
GHB is only detectable in urine for six to twelve hours after ingestion.
From 1996 to 1999, 22 reports of GHB being used in DFSA were made to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. A 26-month study of 1,179 urine samples from suspected DFSAs across the United States found 4% positive for GHB.
The National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) says that in the United States GHB has surpassed Rohypnol as the substance most commonly used in DFSA, likely because GHB is much more easily available, cheaper and leaves the body more quickly.
Other drugs used in DFSA include hypnotics such as zopiclone or the widely available zolpidem (Ambien), sedatives such as neuroleptics (anti-psychotics) Quetiapine "Seroquel" or Ziprasidone "Geodon", chloral hydrate or some histamine H1 antagonists, recreational drugs such as ethanol, marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine and LSD, and anticholinergics, barbiturates, ketamine, cough suppressant ingredient dextromethorphan, opioids and nasal spray ingredient oxymetazoline. Practically any drug (either surreptitiously or openly given) that incapacitates the subject and preferably interferes with memory-formation could be considered a date-rape drug if used to facilitate involuntary or unwitting sexual intercourse.
In an effort to fully incapacitate the subject and minimize the risk of legal repercussions, the perpetrator may tend to overdose the subject. The subject may also be allergic to the drug used, may be overly sensitive to its effects and side-effects or may also be voluntarily taking a prescription drug that has dangerous interactions with the administered drug.
Respiratory depression, coma with or without lethal outcome may occur, especially when the drug co-administered with alcohol. Especially benzodiazepine drugs are known to be extremely dangerous in combination with alcohol, potentially leading to extreme respiratory depression. Risks are also increased in subjects naive to the administered drug who are without tolerance.
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If possible, victims of a DFSA should seek medical care within 72 hours of the assault. After 72 hours it is much less likely that tests will successfully detect the presence of drugs, because most will have become metabolized and eliminated from the body, resulting in a false negative. Ideally the first urine the victim produces after the assault will be tested for the presence of drugs: if possible, he or she should collect it into a clean container to give to medical authorities.
In addition to urine, medical authorities may take samples of the victim's blood and hair. Hair samples are typically taken 14 days after exposure to the drug (although they may be taken as early as 24 hours), to allow for absorption of the drug into the hair with growth of the hair. Testing of hair can extend the window for date rape drug detection to weeks or even months.
Victims should do their best to describe the effects of the drug, because most laboratories will not do a broad drug screen, and knowing the drug's effects will help law enforcement authorities know which drugs to test for. Advocates for rape victims advise them to tell investigators if they have recently used drugs recreationally because those drugs may be detected in the drug screen, and pre-disclosure will have the least-negative impact on the victim's credibility.
In the United States, law enforcement agencies will generally pay for the drug testing if it's requested by them as part of a rape kit. If a victim requests drug testing, particularly if they have not filed a police report, their insurance will often refuse to pay for the test, and they will need to pay for it themselves.
Testing kits for detection of ketamine, and benzodiazepines such as temazepam in seconds are commercially available. GHB can be tested in hair through private companies. Companies around the world are making or trying to make paper coasters or test strips that change color when dabbed with a drink doctored with a date rape drug.
In many parts of the world, whether a drug was used is irrelevant to the issue of whether or not a particular incident is rape. The legal definition of rape in countries such as the United States also covers a lack of consent when the victim is unable to say "no" to intercourse, whether the effect is due to drugging or simply alcohol consumption.
It is, however, often difficult for victims to come forward and for prosecutors to take cases to trial. For victims it can be extremely hard for them to know if they consented or not or were drugged deliberately or voluntarily. For prosecutors there is difficulty in proving intent or lack of consent where the rape or assault happened without witnesses (particularly in a private home) and where both parties were consuming drugs or alcohol since neither was able to legally give consent. Accusations seldom come to court unless there is independent proof of forced consumption of drugs or forced sexual activity.
The entire concept of date rape is fraught with legal problems, and the possibility of miscarriages of justice is high. Rapists can be released because their victims were seen as being too unreliable or because the victims drank to excess or took drugs voluntarily. At the same time, accusations of rape and sexual assault could theoretically be brought by any person who had sex while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
If a rape or assault can be proved, the use of a drug likely increases the severity of the case. For example, in Indiana it raises the severity of rape from a Class B to Class A felony when the perpetrator drugs the victim or knows that his or her drink was spiked.
Frequency of occurrence
One study in 49 American states used 1,179 urine specimens collected from people who believed that they had been victims of a drug-facilitated sexual assault. The study found that only six (0.5%) tested positive for Rohypnol. 8% tested positive for some other benzodiazepine (though it is unclear what portion of the 8% involved benzos that were knowingly taken by the alleged victims themselves either recreationally or medically), 38% positive for alcohol, and 40% negative for any of the drugs searched for. A similar study of 2,003 urine samples of victims of suspected DFSAs found less than 2% tested positive for Rohypnol or GHB. A three-year study in the UK found 32% of 1,014 rape victims (not necessarily DFSA-suspected cases) had alcohol in their urine 12 hours after the assault. Two percent had sedatives detected in their urine 12 hours after the assault. The study did specify who among the two percent with sedatives in their urine took them knowingly, medically or recreationally. A 2009 Australian study found that of 97 instances of patients admitted to the hospital believing their drinks might have been spiked, tests were able to detect drugs in none.
Media coverage and moral panic aspects
There were three media stories about Rohypnol in 1993, 25 in 1994 and 854 in 1996. In early 1996 Newsweek magazine published "Roofies: The date-rape drug" which ended with the line "Don't take your eyes off your drink." That summer, researchers say all major American urban and regional newspapers covered date rape drugs, with headlines such as "Crackdown sought on date rape drug" (Los Angeles Times), "Drug zaps memory of rape victims" (San Francisco Chronicle) and "Slow DEA Action Gives Women No Relief from the Threat of New Date-Rape Drug" (Detroit News). Date rape drugs were also covered in media aimed at young women such as Seventeen and Sassy magazines. In 1997 and 1998, the date rape drug story received extensive coverage on CNN, ABC's 20/20 and Primetime Live, the Oprah Winfrey Show, and the fictitious TV shows Beverly Hills 90210 and South Park. Women were instructed to never drink from punch bowls, never leave a drink unattended, try no new drinks, drink nothing with an unusual taste or appearance, take their own drinks to parties, drink nothing opened by another person, and, in effect, regard themselves as living in a state of sexual siege from predatory males.
News media have been criticized for overstating the DFSA threat, for providing "how to" material for potential date rapists, and for advocating "grossly excessive protective measures for women, particularly in coverage between 1996 and 1998,. Law enforcement representatives and feminists have also been criticized for supporting the overstatements for their own purposes.
Researchers note that the media scare in the 90's has left a permanent misconception about date rape drug usage: In a 2008 study by the University of Kent, researchers found that young female students often “mistakenly linked sickness, blackouts and dizziness to poisoning by a stranger — when it was likely to be caused by excessive alcohol consumption.” Commenting on the research, Nick Ross, chair of the Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science, confirms that many women’s fear of being drugged — or belief that they have been — is unfounded. “There is no evidence of widespread use of hypnotics in sexual assault, let alone Rohypnol, despite many attempts to prove the contrary.” Though excessive fear and protective measures had significantly subsided by the late 2000s relative its peak in the late 1990s, a 2009 Australian study found that of 97 instances of patients admitted to the hospital believing their drinks might have been spiked, tests were able to detect drugs in none.
Some scholars claim that this extensive coverage has created or amplified a moral panic rooted in societal anxieties about rape, hedonism and the increased freedoms of women in modern culture. Researchers say it has given a powerful added incentive for the suppression of party drugs, has inappropriately undermined the long-established argument that recreational drug use is purely a consensual and victimless crime, has threatened to seriously curtail women's sexual and social freedoms, and by shining a spotlight on premeditated clearly predatory behaviour, has relieved the culture from having to explore and evaluate more nuanced forms of male sexual aggression towards women, such as those displayed in date rapes that were not facilitated by the surreptitious administration of drugs.
For similar moral panics around social tensions manifesting via discussion of drugs and sex crime, researchers point to the opium scare of the late 19th century, in which "sinister Chinese" were said to use opium to coerce white women into sexual slavery. Similarly, in the Progressive Era, a persistent urban legend told of white middle-class women being surreptitiously drugged, abducted and sold into sexual slavery to Latin American brothels. This analysis doesn't contradict instances when date rape drugs are used or sexual trafficking occurs, its focus is on actual prevalence of certain crimes relative to media coverage of it.
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