Silent but violent

By Kim Stock

Rape can happen to anybody. Only five per cent of those who have been sexually victimized report the crimes that have been committed against them.

There have been a few recent developments regarding the issue of rape and the subculture of illegal drugs and substances that relate to it, as date-rape drugs have been receiving increased attention by sexual assault centres, the police and the media.

The most well-known date-rape drug is Rohypnol, more commonly known on the streets as roofies, cherry meth, easy lay, gamma O, liquid ectasy, or liquid X. Although the most well known, the presence of Rohypnol is not as widespread since it is not legally manufactured or sold in Canada.

Rohypnol is only one of a number of drugs that belong to the same family of benzodiazepines, all inducing similar effects. Many of these other drugs are prescription drugs that are available through pharmacies in Canada.

Hoffman-La Roche is the manufacturer of Rohypnol, prescribed to patients with the intention of curing acute insomnia.

"Hoffman-La Roche is very concerned about the alleged misuse of any of its prescription drugs, and is committed to increasing the understanding of substance-aided sexual assault in Canada," said Public Relations Manager of Hoffman-La Roche Limited Antoinette Meinders.

To try to remedy the situation, as of June 1998, Roche has added a blue dye to the tablets to make them easier to identify if dissolved in a drink. Roche has also changed the formulation of the tablet so that it does not dissolve quickly in liquid. It is important to note that although the blue dye will invoke a noticeable change of colour in most drinks, it will not show up in darker liquids.

Although the changes in the tablet have been implemented in some countries, others are still going through regulatory approvals. This means that Rohypnol prescribed before June 1998 will still be odourless and colourless, as will the Rohypnol prescribed in those countries where the changes have not yet been instigated.

Rohypnol acts as a date-rape drug by making victims experience some of the following symptoms: drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, nausea, an unusually drunk or happy feeling, a loss of coordination, blackouts, or memory loss. Most importantly, a person experiencing these symptoms will be unable to protect him or herself against an attacker.

"The best weapon we have is educating our public," said Campus Security Manager Lanny Fritz, who added that to protect yourself from rape and rapists who use drugs, there are a few simple rules to follow:

"One, use the buddy system; Two, never accept a drink from a stranger; Three, never consume a drink that you have not seen mixed; Four, don’t leave your drink unattended and; Five, if a drink tastes, looks, or smells abnormal, discontinue drinking it and report it immediately," said Fritz.

Because so few cases of sexual assault are reported to proper authorities, there are no statistics available regarding confirmed cases of drug-related rape. What makes drug-related rape especially difficult for the victim is that s/he has little memory of what happened, and credibility is often questioned. Therefore the number of cases of drug-related rape reported are disproportionate compared to the number that occur.

Rape drugs are alive and well in Calgary. The Calgary Regional Health Authority Family Planning Clinics have seen at least 12 suspected cases since December 1997.

"I know of one incidence where a male student has strong concerns that he may have been a victim of Rohypnol or a date rape drug," said Fritz when asked if he knew of any reported cases on the university campus.

There is difficulty confirming drug-related rape cases because the drug is quickly eliminated from the body system and incidents are reported well after the window for testing time.

If a person thinks that s/he has been a drugged victim of sexual assault, it is extremely important to report it to the police and then go to the hospital to have medical evidence collected. Counseling services are often available through hospitals, clinics and rape crisis centres.

Some numbers to call if you know or suspect that you have been a victim of sexual assault include the Calgary Police Service at 266-1234, the Sexual Harassment Advisor here on campus at 220-4086, the Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse at 237-5888 (a 24-hr crisis line), and Campus Security at 220-5333.

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