Club Drugs and Sexual Assault
Club drugs are a group of chemically diverse substances that includes GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate), Rohypnol (flunitrazepam), and ketamine. Their common nickname stems from their frequent use in nighttime settings such as clubs, bars, parties, or concerts. Each of these drugs has the ability to physically and/or mentally incapacitate its users, and in recent years, they have gained considerable public attention for the role they play in cases of sexual assault. While experts agree that the use of these drugs in sexual assaults is a serious problem, no one knows for sure how frequently club drug-related assaults occur.
GHB depresses normal function in the body’s central nervous system and has common effects that include dizziness, drowsiness, visual impairment, short-term memory loss, and loss of consciousness. These effects, which can occur even when the drug is used in small doses, typically set in fifteen minutes after ingestion and continue for up to three or four hours. GHB has a legitimate use as a prescription treatment for narcolepsy; all other uses are classified as drug abuse. Forms of the drug include pills, powder and an odorless, colorless liquid.
Rohypnol is a benzodiazepine sedative that chemically resembles drugs such as Valium and Xanax. It produces effects similar to many of those produced by GHB; in addition, the drug can produce a loss of muscle control that closely resembles the loss of coordination associated with drunkenness. The effects of Rohypnol typically appear half an hour after ingestion and continue for the next several hours. Rohypnol has no legitimate use in the U.S. The drug comes in pill form; in addition, these pills are sometimes ground into powder.
Ketamine is a fast-acting anesthetic approved for medical use in both humans and animals. Like GHB and Rohypnol, it commonly produces memory loss. Other known effects of the drug include distorted hearing and vision, loss of body control, loss of behavioral control, and out-of-body experiences or loss of self-identity. Forms of the drug include powder and liquids.
Other potential club drugs include amphetamines and MDMA (commonly known as ecstasy).
Use in Sexual Assault
Sexual assault is a general term used to describe any form of unwanted sexual activity, conduct, or contact perpetrated against another person. While this type of assault frequently occurs between strangers, many victims of the crime know their attackers either socially or intimately. GHB, Rohypnol, ketamine, and other club drugs can be used to facilitate sexual assault in a couple of basic ways. In some cases, a sexual predator will target a victim in advance, then expose that person to a club drug by sneaking it into a drink or other liquid. In other cases, a sexual predator in a club or other nighttime setting will identify someone already under the influence of one of these substances, then target that person for assault. Because of the role club drugs play in sexual assault, many sources refer to them as “date rape” drugs. However, that term is limited and does not fully describe the circumstances in which sexual predators use these substances.
Identifying Sexual Assault Cases
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, several factors make it hard to identify cases of club drug-related sexual assault. First, because club drugs commonly cause blanket short-term memory loss, many victims simply don’t remember anything that happened to them while under a drug’s influence, including the details of an assault. Also, since club drugs are frequently used without an assault victim’s knowledge or consent, the victim often has no way of telling if any given drug played a role in an assault. In addition, doctors don’t have any easy way of identifying the presence of common club drugs in a victim’s bloodstream.
Potential signs that you have been exposed to a club drug include feeling drunk without drinking significant amounts of alcohol, an inability to remember what happened after consuming a drink, and disorientation or gaps in your memory after a night of clubbing. Potential signs of club drug-related sexual assault include torn clothing, clothing put on your body incorrectly, and physical indications of a sexual encounter you can’t remember.
You can protect yourself from club drug-related sexual assault through methods that include avoiding accepting opened drinks from other people, avoiding drinking from punch bowls or other communal drink containers, avoiding sharing drinks with anyone else, and avoiding leaving your drink unattended in a social or intimate setting. Other steps you can take include avoiding any drink that tastes “off” or unusual, going out with a non-drinking companion who can look out for you, getting rid of any drink you leave unattended, and getting help immediately if you experience disorientation or other unusual sensations while drinking.