Volume 92, Issue 90
Thursday, March 18, 1999
Lost Innocence: Drug assisted rape gives legal drugs a scary role
By Lena Hassan
Imagine someone awakening after a night of partying to discover they don't know where they are and can't remember where they were the night before. They think they may have been raped, but have no memory of the incident. This is the reality of drug assisted rape.
Rouffies, GHB, Special K, R-2, Rib, Ropes if none of these names sound familiar to you, you may be placing yourself at risk. This includes a new substance being referred to as the "date-rape drug" by officials and the "drug of choice" by college students all over the United States.
Sexual assaults using drugs, especially those involving Rohypnol (also known as Rouffies, La Rocha, Mexican Valium and "the forget pill"), have received wide attention, especially in the United States where magazine articles and web pages devoted to the subject abound.
There is also increasing concern closer to home. In February 1998, a McMaster University student was sexually assaulted after spending an evening in the McMaster campus pub, The Downstairs John. At the time, Sgt. Ken Bond, public relations officer for the Hamilton-Wentworth Regional Police, said there had in fact been a number of incidents involving the drug during the previous year. "We believe we've had approximately six incidents, involving Rohypnol, since July 1997," he said shortly after the reported incident.
Sgt. John O'Flaherty of the London Police says the rumours of Rohypnol in London are just that rumours. "We have no documented cases of Rohypnol," he says. "However, we do have one case which involves the drug, GHB. This drug has the same effects of Rohypnol but it comes in a liquid form."
Although Rohypnol does demand coverage because of its serious side effects, O'Flaherty says to be aware of sweeping generalizations. "GHB and Special K are two drugs which are similar to Rohypnol, but are simply given the title of Rohypnol because everyone knows what it is."
Charlene Foster, volunteer and Crises/Support Line coordinator for the Sexual Assault Centre of London, explains more about the different drugs which are available. "A lot of emphasis is put on the name Rohypnol, however there are many other drugs which are just as lethal and are used in the same way as Rohypnol," she points out. "We have been hearing from women who suspect that drugs similar to Rohypnol have been involved in some of their situations."
Foster also explains the difference between Rohypnol and the other drugs which have been reported to the crisis centre. "Rohypnol is getting a lot of exposure because it is dangerous and it is new. There are other drugs which are legal and just as dangerous but they aren't classified as a spectacular new drug.
"Any drug mixed with alcohol is going to have side effects."
Insp. Bob Earle of Western's University Police Department could not confirm, but has heard of incidents involving Rohypnol in Chatham and Woodstock. "You should always take the standard precautions in order to be safe," Earle says. "Be cautious of anything taken orally and keep an eye on the people you're with.
"Keep an eye on your beverage and do not accept open drinks from anyone but the bartender," he adds.
Foster adds this is not always enough of a precaution. "Well, there is this whole issue of 'prevention' which leads to women fearing to turn their backs," she points out. "It is someone else's responsibility, not women's. She shouldn't be held responsible for someone else's actions. It isn't fair.
"When people speak of prevention, they usually say to be with people whom you can trust. However, it's a sad reality that it is usually those people who commit the crimes."
Potential victims are not totally without help, as incidents involving the use of Rohypnol and other drugs are making bar owners and managers more aware of the unfortunate fact they will probably come in contact with the drug.
Andrew Mes, assistant manager of the Wave, although unaware of any rumours circulating among students at Western involving this type of assault, agrees precautions need to be taken. "We have signs up warning people of drugs such as ruffies and the bartenders know what to watch out for," he says.
"As far as warning people not to leave their drink, there's not too much we can do. Generally if we see someone who is a little spaced out, we will take them to the back and give them something to eat. If we feel that someone is not in the proper condition to leave by themselves, we will try to look after them until they are," he adds.
Although the risk of acquaintance rape is a real one, if someone does find themselves in a position where they cannot remember what happened the night before and suspect it is because of Rohypnol or other drugs, Earle suggests they talk to the people they were with. "Being intoxicated and being under the influence of Rohypnol are completely different things," he clarifies.
"If you seem to be acting in a manner which is unlike anything you've ever done before, don't make excuses, get yourself to a hospital. When you arrive they will be able to do a blood test or a urine test to check for the Rohypnol in your system."
Copyright © The Gazette 1999