Drug-Facilitated Rape: Looking for the Missing Pieces

General Material
Published Date

It has a section on "Learning from Victims" that may be a useful tool for advocates and investigators.

The article discusses the most commonly used rape-facilitating drugs of Rohypnol and GHB and describes that Anterograde amnesia (memory loss during the time that a drug is in effect) is a common result of ingesting these drugs. It describes projects that have been monitoring usuage (whether voluntary or forced) of these drugs and explains that it is difficult to measure prevalence due to lack of evidence; when a victim is drugged, s/he might not seek assistance until after the drug has passed out of one's system (approximately 72 hours), in part because the victim may not remember what happened and thus may find it difficult to figure out if they've been drugged and possibly sexual assaulted.

The article's section on Learning from Victims by Gail Abarbanel, director of a rape treatment center, covers what victims have taught us, how they are prevented from detecting threats to safety and inhibited from exercising self-defense, how rapists can appear to be rescuers, how rape drugs effect reporting patterns, how the victim's inability to recall the events effect how the system responds, how people misjudge and minimize the victim's trauma, and how the trauma of being unable to forget compares to being unable to remember. It is also notable in naming that drugging is a unique form of trauma and a distinct act of victimization.

The section recommending specific strategies in responding to drug-facilitated rape mentions prevention strategies in the bars and other environments where these druggings are likely to occur. It also recommends some investigation policies including interviewing techniques, and forensic evidence collection including the possibility of collecting a urine specimen, protecting the chain of custody for collected specimens, securing crime scene evidence, and having standardized rape evidence kits.

This article was published as part of Issue No. 243 (April 2000) of the National Institute of Justice Journal.

Comments to consider when using this material:

  • This article highlights some investigation policies and practices. Since, as the article earlier states, "For all victims, the loss of control experienced during an assault is profoundly traumatic" (p.12), many advocates urge that any forensic and investigatory steps such as having a victim provide blood and urine samples be done only with the victim's informed consent and that the victim's choice to say no to any step is clearly respected. Due to memory loss, the victim may not know what has happened, therefore it is important that any investigator working with the victim be trained to have sensitive conversations with the victim about the possibility of sexual assault and drugging and explain the pros and cons of getting tested and the timelimits around testing for drugging.