Love shouldn’t hurt – ever

Date Rape Drugs and Alcohol

by Tersia Smith

Roofies. Liquid ecstasy. Special K. Date-rape drugs that are odorless, colorless, and tasteless. They can be secretly added to a victim’s drink, leaving them defenseless, confused and susceptible. Stories of victims of these drugs have raised consciousness of the need to be aware of your surroundings when you are out with friends. However, statistics show that those drugs may not be the most common used by an assailant. “Quite honestly, alcohol is the No. 1 date rape drug,” said Mike Lyttle, regional supervisor for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s Nashville crime lab. No one is discounting the threat of drink spiking or drug facilitated sexual assault. Statistics can be deceiving because a vast majority of rapes go unreported. Plus many times by the time a victim reports an assault, the drugs used have left the victim’s system so this limits the availability of evidence. “We really don’t know for sure what the actual numbers are,” said Dr. Susan R.B. Weiss, associate director for scientific affairs for the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health. But, she said, “drugs that are sedating drugs or incapacitating drugs probably are not that common in sexual assault. We really don’t know the true prevalence, but we know for sure alcohol is much more common than other drugs.”

Experts tell us that we need to be aware that alcohol can be just as incapacitating as other date rape drugs and we need to raise awareness of the dangers and safeguards needed to protect potential victims of sexual assault. “It’s a time that, I believe, all of us need to be careful,” said Dr. Corey Slovis, chair of emergency medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “The concept of trust, especially with people we don’t know very well, is something that can’t be counted on — especially when alcohol is involved.”

At least one-half of all violent crimes involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, the victim, or both (Collins and Messerschmidt 1993). Researchers have consistently found that about one-half of sexual assaults are committed by men who have been drinking. Also, about one-half of sexual assault victims reported they too were drinking at the time of the assault (Abbey et al. 1994; Crowell and Burgess 1996). It is important to note that although a woman’s alcohol consumption may place her at an increased risk of assault, she is in no way responsible for the assault. The sexual assault perpetrator is legally and morally responsible for their behavior.

Many times in social situations, alcohol is used to promote relaxation. However, as a person’s blood-alcohol level rises with consumption, other effects can lower inhibitions and render a person incapable of consenting to sex. It also may reduce the capacity of potential victims to physically resist a sexual attack, said Kathy Walsh, executive director at Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. “There are date rape drugs in circulation, and innocent women have been raped due solely to a date rape drug or a date rape drug and alcohol,” Slovis said. “However, the majority, it appears, of rapes that occur with non-consenting women occur because they have been either intoxicated more than they believe or they have been given higher quantities of alcohol than they thought they had been given.”

Simply going into a bar and having drinks should not put a person at risk for being sexually assaulted. People don’t get raped because they have been drinking, because they are passed out or because they are drunk. People get raped because there is a perpetrator there — someone who wants to take advantage of them. To protect against that, the community needs more education about bystander awareness and intervention. If you see someone who is vulnerable and possibly intoxicated, and you see someone who might be taking advantage of another person, step up and intervene. Bystander intervention will not make the issue of sexual assault go away. However, intervention programs can engage the community to create an environment where victims feel they can come forward, perpetrators are held accountable and services are available to support survivors. If you have experienced sexual assault, Crisis Services can help. Contact us at 256.574.5826 or our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000.

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