How common is drug-facilitated sexual assault? Should women really live in constant fear of GHB, or "roofies?" Women are often taught to take precautions at parties, because allegedly, predators are waiting to slip a colorless, odorless, incapacitating substance into their drinks. But is this a serious threat, an urban myth, or something in between? Deputy Factual Feminist Caroline Kitchens examines the statistics behind the stories.
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Ladies, have you been told not to drink the punch at parties? Have you asked a friend to watch your drink because you’re afraid to leave it alone, even for a moment? Women are often taught to take these precautions, because there are supposedly predators waiting to slip a colorless, odorless, incapacitating substance into our drinks. How common is drug-facilitated sexual assault? Should women really live in constant fear of roofies? That’s coming up next on the Factual Feminist. Hi, I’m Caroline Kitchens, in for Christina Hoff Sommers, who will return next week. Last month, a story about a predatory fraternity at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee made headlines. After a Tau Kappa Epsilon party, three women became severely intoxicated and were taken to the hospital. All three of these women had been marked with red X’s on their hands when they arrived at the party. That’s all it took for accusations of a color-coded date-rape drug conspiracy to unfold. Finally, Ashe Schow at the Washington Examiner looked at the facts. She found that there was no evidence that the X’s had anything to do with labeling women for the date rape drug. At least one woman marked with a red X mentioned in a Journal Sentinel article had multiple drinks and didn’t end up hospitalized. As for the drugs? Police did find marijuana and Adderall when they searched the fraternity house. But no evidence of date rape drugs ever turned up. This story is not unique. Panic and dubious allegations about the date-rape drug are rampant. Everything from lip gloss to nail polish to coasters has been invented to protect women from rapists armed with roofies. But the evidence does not match the hype. In 2005, forensic scientists in the United Kingdom tested blood and urine for various drugs in more than 1,000 cases where drug-facilitated sexual assault was suspected. The scientists found that alcohol was the most commonly used substance, and it was usually consumed voluntarily. Only 21 of the cases—about 2%-- could be classified as potential drug-facilitated sexual assault cases. But even in these cases, the researchers warned that they couldn't determine whether or not the drugs were taken voluntarily. Numerous other studies from around the world have come to the same conclusion. An Australian study of 101 suspected cases found no toxicological evidence that a sedative had been added any drinks. The vast majority of suspected cases involve high levels of alcohol consumption and sometimes illicit drug use. But there is no evidence that covert drink spiking is widespread. A 2009 study in the British Journal of Criminology proclaimed that date rape drugs are largely an urban myth. But when the researchers spoke with college women, they found that their perception of the risk of being drugged did not match the reality. More than half of the British students surveyed said they personally know someone whose drink has been spiked. Students believed that date-rape drugs were more likely to lead to sexual assault than being drunk or walking alone in a dangerous area at night. The researchers concluded that students often “mistakenly linked sickness, blackouts and dizziness to poisoning by a stranger—when it was likely to be caused by excessive alcohol consumption.” So what does this all mean? Calling date rape drugs a “myth” may not be right. These drugs do exist, and there are some cases in which women are drugged and sexually assaulted. Watching over your drinks at the bar and abstaining from fraternity jungle juice might still be a good idea. But a reality check is in order.
Date rape drugs: Fact vs myths explained