More sexual assaults are caused by too much alcohol than by 'date rape' drugs

By Sophie Goodchild and Steve Bloomfield
03 April 2005

Alcohol is being blamed as the cause of three out of
every four alleged "date rapes" or sexual assaults.

The controversial findings of a detailed study into
drink-spiking cast doubt over the theory that drugs
such as Rohypnol and GHB are a major factor in sex
attacks on women.

The research has concluded that the majority of
victims had drunk alcohol voluntarily, and just under
half had chosen to take drugs themselves before the
assault took place.

Drink-spiking is a growing concern for many women in
Britain, but no national figures exist to give a clear
picture of whether drugs such as Rohypnol and GHB are
a common feature in sexual assaults. More than 754,000
women in the UK over the age of 16 are estimated to
have been the victims of rape, but there have been
only 15 successful prosecutions for drug-assisted
sexual assault in the past five years.

However, the University of Surrey research, based on
police evidence, says that alcohol is the drug of
choice for rapists, with sexual assault more likely to
be the result of attackers taking advantage of victims
who have been drinking.

Miranda Horvath, who helped to carry out the research,
said the aim of the study was to improve crime
prevention. "The drug of choice does seem to be
alcohol and there is a strong link to binge drinking,"
she said.

The study identifies two distinct types of abuser: the
"predator" who administers the drug, and the
"marauder" who takes advantage of a person who is
already drunk.

Sexual assault referral centres increasingly report
that alcohol is a significant factor in rape cases. Dr
Cath White from the St Mary's Centre in Manchester,
which works with victims of alleged rape or sexual
assault, has analysed evidence from 270 rape cases.
Her results show that the number of victims who had
been drinking alcohol when they were attacked has more
than doubled in the past 10 years.

"There will be some drug-assisted rape, but the main
issue is alcohol," said Dr White, clinical director of
the sexual assault referral centre.

"It's a big factor and is increasing all the time. It
is not just more people drinking, it is the quantity.
If a person is very drunk they cannot consent - it is
rape. There are those who will pick on people when
they are vulnerable."

The new findings are based on an examination of all 33
rapes and sex attacks recorded by Surrey police
between April 2002 and October 2004. These all
allegedly involved assailants spiking victims' drinks
with drugs or plying them with alcohol. Nearly half of
the victims were in their 30s.

Seven police forces, including the Metropolitan and
Derbyshire, are carrying out a six-month pilot study
to evaluate how widespread drug rape is. Backed by the
Association of Chief Police Officers, the results,
expected later this year, will be based on analysis of
hundreds of blood and urine samples taken from every
victim who comes forward to report a drug rape.

Acting Detective Inspector Julie Sproson, from
Derbyshire police, said chief constables were anxious
to get an accurate picture of the extent of drug rape
in Britain.

"We are trying to educate the public, not put the
frighteners on them," she said.

"If we find something like Night Nurse in their system
then we need to find out if they took it themselves or
it was given to them." 

'Some of the girls in here wouldn't need their drink
spiking - they're plastered' 

By Katy Guest

At 11 o'clock on Friday evening, the streets of Derby
are a perfect sample for any Derbyshire police
officers wanting to study the effects of intoxication
on women.

Girls in strappy sandals are dashing between the clubs
and bars of Sadlergate. Others are dribbling in from
the direction of the bus station, some still sucking
the last life out of bottles of Bacardi Breezer before
tumbling into a warm pub. A group of 18-year-olds in
cowboy hats pours into a wine bar on Irongate and
tries to remember a round: three Malibu and coke, four
Archers and lemonade and a white wine for the girl
whose birthday they are celebrating.

It is not their first drink of the evening, but these
girls are not going to be caught by sharks tonight.
They know friends who have had their drinks spiked and
they will all look out for each other.

"I've heard about this kind of thing from magazines
and my mum," says Nichaela. "My mum bought me one of
those tests that shows if your drink has been spiked
with drugs, but I've heard they don't work. You've
just got to keep your drink in your hand at all times
and be aware of anyone around you. My friend got
spiked and was in the toilet, being sick and shaking.
She was lucky that she had her mates with her. We're
the kind of group that looks after each other."

In the pub next door, Liz, 30, is waiting for her
boyfriend. "It's annoying," she says. "If I'm on my
own I'll take my pint to the loo with me so I know
nobody's touched it. To be honest, some of the girls
in here wouldn't need their drinks spiking to be
vulnerable. They're plastered. You'd hope your friends
would notice if you were leaving a pub with a
stranger. I'm more worried about unlicensed minicab

At the back of the pub, a group of women in their 20s
know the dangers. They are careful, but they still
believe they have been caught out. "We think we had
our drinks spiked once," one adds. "We always drink
wine but this time we were paralytic. The people who
didn't drink from that bottle were fine. But we
couldn't prove anything. What would be the point of
telling the police?"

But her friend, Sarah Jane, believes it's not drugs
women should be worried about. "I think someone's more
likely to ply you with drink," she says. "If someone
were to buy me a vodka, lime and soda, I wouldn't have
a clue if it was a double. They'd be making you get
absolutely bladdered, then they could do all sorts."

All but one of these women admit to a drunken
encounter that they regret. Still, they don't always
remember to watch their drinks. "I'm too trusting,"
says Sarah Jane. Instead, they trust that there is
strength in numbers. "We wouldn't be in a pub on our
own," they say, "and we wouldn't let a friend do
anything stupid." Says Clare: "My mum always tells me
if a man offers to buy me a drink I should say, 'Thank
you, I'll just take the money.'" 


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