Sexual offences have many shades and forms, one of these has the face of drug-facilitated sexual assault (DFSA). It is defined as a sexual act in which the victim is unable to give or take back consent and fight back the assailant after having been drugged. There are two possible ways for the victim to have drugs in the system: either the victim took the drug(s) herself/himself or someone else (the perpetrator) spiked the beverage the victim drank. These drugs dissolve quickly without changing the colour or smell of the beverage so that the victim cannot notice there is something wrong with the drink. With Christmas and New Year fast approaching, many social events can act as the perfect site for drug facilitated sexual assault. I turned to experts to shed some light on this less talked about form of sexual assault.
Dr Lata Gautam is a Senior Lecturer in Forensic Science at Anglia Ruskin University and her expertise lies in the detection of drugs and pharmaceuticals from unconventional matrices such as human and animal hair and spiked beverages. She said, “Drugs commonly associated with DFSA are GHB and Rohypnol are also known as date-rape drugs. However, this term is misleading as spiking drinks (or food) is not limited to dates but extends to any social event: a date, a house party, a pub or even home. And it does not have to be a drug and/or alcohol heavy party – the offender can bring the drugs to the event and covertly spike the drink”. There are a large number of drugs that are found in DFSA cases. “The most common ones are alcohol (yes, alcohol is also considered a drug) and cannabis, followed by sedatives, pain-killers and amphetamines”, she adds.
All this is true for ANY victim. Even though females between the ages of 16 and 24 are at the highest risk of being assaulted, anyone can be a victim of DFSA regardless of age, sexual orientation or gender. Simply being male does not mean that you cannot be assaulted or you should have been able to prevent/ stop the assailant, even if the offender is female. Remember you had been drugged to make you unable to fight back!
Dr. Agatha Grela, a post-doctoral scientist at Anglia Ruskin University with first-hand experience in the analysis of street drugs, who has also analysed evidence in suspected DFSA cases in Poland gives us a few words of caution: Every drug has a different effect and people do not react in the same manner when being drugged. However, these are the signs that something might be wrong:
You are nauseated and have difficulty breathing;
You feel lightheaded and drunk even though you have not consumed any alcohol or consumed very limited amounts;
You are suddenly dizzy, disorientated; your vision is blurred;
You are suddenly warm or cold (you start sweating or chattering with your teeth);
You might have been assaulted:
You wake up with no or little memory of the previous night; -Your muscles are sore;
You have bruises or other signs of sexual assault.
You woke up undressed or your clothes are ripped, missing or stained.
Dr Grela adds, “Your body is your best friend—if it tells you something is wrong, there probably is”. If you suspect you might have fallen victim to DFSA, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible and it would be helpful to the authorities if:
You do not urinate and bring any vomit sample with you to the hospital; have your urine sent for a toxicology test;
Bring the cup/bottle you were drinking from to the police to be tested for the presence of drugs.
Do not wash yourself or the clothes you were wearing during the assault—any evidence will be helpful.
So why is knowing about DFSA important?
According to both these experts awareness is the key. You do not want to put yourself in a situation that may harm you and the more you know the better you can protect yourself. And even if you are intoxicated, you have the right to say no to anything that makes you uncomfortable. Do not accept drinks from people you do not know and trust. Take someone trusted with you to a social event and keep an eye on each other. Tell someone where you are going, with whom and when you expect to be home.
The author is a doctoral candidate and fellow of the Higher Education Academy in the UK