Date rape: The real problem

Kits to prevent assaults are useless, say scientists.
Drink, not drugs, is the real problem 
By Sophie Goodchild, Chief Reporter 
Published: 05 February 2006

Drink-spiking tests that were hailed as fool-proof
protection against date rape are putting women at risk
by giving inaccurate or misleading results. 

The DIY kits include dip-sticks, credit-card size
coasters and litmus paper-style strips that are
designed to change colour on contact with sex assault
drugs such as Rohypnol and gamma hydroxybutyrate
(GHB). These devices have been endorsed by police
forces and rape charities that say they enable women
to safeguard their drinks against spikers.

But a study by the Centre for Public Health at
Liverpool John Moores University has found that some
types of kits produce such unclear results that anyone
in a dimly lit bar would find them hard to read. Other
tests produced inaccurate results; one kit tried out
by researchers in laboratory conditions identified the
presence of drugs in fewer than half of cases. The
same test also gave false positives or unclear results
in around a quarter of cases where no date-rape
chemicals were present in the drink.

The Liverpool study, which will be published later
this year in the journal Addiction, raises concerns
about how useful testing kits are in avoiding
drug-related sex assaults.

Dr Caryl Beynon, lead author of the report, said that
these tests may give women false reassurance that
their drink is safe - or unnecessarily scare them that
it is not. She added that getting people drunk or
secretly topping up their drinks with shorts is still
a far more common method of spiking than using drugs.

"Public concern about the use of illegal drugs in
sexual assaults can take the focus away from the most
commonly used date-rape drug, alcohol," said Dr
Beynon, an expert in drug misuse. "Buying someone
larger drinks, encouraging them to drink beyond their
capacity or slipping shorts into lower alcohol drinks
are a far more common and effective way of drink

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.

The Government has promised action, with a review by
its drugs advisers of the classifications of both
Rohypnol and GHB, which are currently class C drugs.
Some experts endorse the view, however, that alcohol
is more significant. A study by the University of
Surrey, published in 2004, found that alcohol played a
role in three out of every four date rapes or sexual
assaults. They concluded that alcohol was used by
those intent on sexual assault, with attackers more
likely to take advantage of victims who had been

The Roofie Foundation, which has a helpline for
victims of drink spiking,says that testing kits can
help combat the crime, and endorses a device called
the Drink Detective, one of many kits on the market.
Its spokesperson, Graeme Rhodes, said the kits can
also help with the gathering of evidence when a woman
has been attacked.

A Victim's View: 'Education in safe drinking is the

Juanita Berry was drug-raped in her home three years
ago after inviting friends round for her 35th
birthday. She says safe-drinking education and police
resources are needed, not drug-testing kits.

"I was asked by someone to endorse one of these
products, but I refused because they are not the
solution," said Ms Berry, who is waiving her right to
anonymity, to highlight the issue. "It's a
money-making thing and it shows desperation on the
part of police to back them."

Ms Berry, who is divorced with three children, said
her attacker was a man who had turned up uninvited.
She had drunk moderately with her friends and was
sober when they left her cottage in Fife, Scotland, at
around 11pm. She woke up hours later, naked and
covered in bruises.

Charges were dropped for lack of evidence despite her
injuries; a police surgeon threw away her urine
sample, which could have yielded vital drugs evidence.
"I think back to when I was 19 and I would never think
twice if someone bought me a drink," she said. "Now
you have to be careful." 


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