News reports increase date rape drugging

'Date-rape drugging' increases dramatically

November 5, 2004
Globe and Mail
By Andre Picard

More than one in four sexual assaults occur after a woman has been drugged by her assailant, according to new Canadian research.

The study, published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, shows that the incidence of so-called "date-rape drugging" has increased dramatically in the past decade.

It also reveals that the vast majority of those who are drugged, then raped, are teenagers aged 15 to 19.

The study, conducted by a team led by Margaret McGregor of the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, is believed to be the first to measure the extent of date-rape drugging.

Researchers found that, in 2002, 10.7 females in every 100,000 women were victims of date-rape drugging. That is up from 3.4 in every 100,000 women prior to 1998.

Among teenagers, the increase is much more pronounced, rising to 59.3 per 100,000 girls in 2002, from 15 per 100,000 girls prior to 1998.

The research was conducted at the B.C. Women's Sexual Assault Service, a large referral and counselling program located in the emergency room of B.C. Women's Hospital. The centre deals with more than 250 cases of sexual assault that occur annually in the greater Vancouver area.

Dr. McPherson said the typical "drug-facilitated" sexual assault involves a woman consuming one or two alcoholic beverages and passing out.

She said a broad range of prescription and non-prescription drugs are used to disinhibit or sedate the victim to facilitate the sexual assault.

These drugs include the so-called date-rape drugs Rohypnol and GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate), as well as a number of other lesser-known but easily available sedatives, such as lorazepam, clonazepam, zopiclone and chloral hydrate. All these drugs cause drowsiness and loss of inhibition, along with memory loss.

Another characteristic of date-rape drugs is that they are rapidly absorbed by the body, and rapidly excreted, so there is little evidence of the drugging.

Dr. McPherson said there appears to be a "significant and sustained trend" toward using these drugs. She pointed to easy access to "date-rape kits," which can be easily purchased on the Web.

Dr. McPherson said the increase in reported cases could be part of greater awareness. But, because the number of sexual assault cases that do not involve drugging have remained steady, she believes the increases are real.

As part of the study, researchers examined media reports of date-rape drugs. They found the first reports in the Canadian media were in 1995. Since then, there has been a steady rise in cases.

The researchers say the media coverage may be contributing to the problem: This "Melbourne effect" was seen most directly in a huge spike in drug-facilitated sexual assaults after a case in that Australian city received a lot of media attention.

To conduct the new study, researchers examined 1,594 sexual assaults that were reported to the Sexual Assault Service between 1993 and 2002. A total of 246 cases, 15.4 per cent, were deemed to be drug-facilitated sexual assaults.

Eleven of the victims were male, and 235 were female.

Dr. McPherson said the increasing use of drugs that cause amnesia has implications for the treatment of women who have been victims of sexual assault. It is particularly difficult and challenging to counsel women who are "unsure what may or may not have happened," she said, and the drugs make it more difficult to pursue criminal charges.

Only about 10 per cent of all sexual assaults are reported to authorities.