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Drug-facilitated sexual assault (DFSA) is when a victim is subjected to sexual acts while incapacitated or unconscious, and is unable to resist or provide consent due to the effects of drugs or alcohol. It is a horrible and serious crime.

Twenty-five percent of reported sexual assaults involve the use of drugs or alcohol to facilitate sexual assault. To complicate matters, the residual effects of the drugs or alcohol used may affect the victim’s memory; thus, leaving them confused or worried that they won’t be believed. They may feel that they “asked for it” because of the way they dressed or the amount of alcohol/drugs they consumed.

The fact is, NO ONE ASKS TO BE SEXUALLY ASSAULTED!

Sexual assault in any form is about power, control and fear. It is not about desirability, sexiness, passion or intimacy. Sexual violence, from sexual touching to rape, is a crime. It harms women’s lives and can leave them emotionally scarred for years.

How often does drug-facilitated sexual assault happen?

DFSA happens much more than we may think. Studies suggest that between 21-25% of all sexual assaults may involve the victim being drugged. Another study in Ontario found that 66% of victims consumed alcohol prior to the assault.

Here are some other important facts:

1) Women, ages 15-24 are more at risk of being assaulted and that young men are most likely to commit the sexual assault;
2) 15-25% of college aged students will experience some form of sexual violence throughout their academic career;
3) Students often experiment with alcohol/drugs at parties or other social events;
4) Over half of postsecondary sexual assaults involve drugs or alcohol;
5) It is common for students to engage in “acceptable” levels of binge drinking; and,
6) Most sexual assaults occur between people who know each other, are dating, friends, and acquaintances and are hanging out at parties or other university/college events.

Why is drug-facilitated sexual assault so prevalent on campus?

For many, partying, drinking and university/college go hand in hand. In 2004, the Canadian Campus Survey found that 77% of undergraduate students had consumed alcohol within the past month and 86% in the past year. Almost one third of those students described having “heavy-frequent drinking” habits. Forty-four percent of students reported feeling guilty, having memory loss, becoming injured or experiencing some other form of harmful consequence or concern of their drinking. Notwithstanding, binge drinking continues to be socially encouraged by peers and social media.

Unfortunately, it also appears to be socially acceptable to get women drunk because it may make them “easier”. This attitude is reinforced by a society where sexually violent material is readily available, and the sexualization of young women is part of the cultural and societal norm. These reinforce a culture of guilt and responsibility upon the victim, as opposed to placing the fault on the perpetrator. This in turn, keeps our rates for reporting to the police extremely low and therefore, the true rates of sexual assault are likely not representative due to the lack of reporting.

Some people also suggest that women who have made a decision they later regret, are falsely accusing their partners of sexual assault. While this may happen, it a rarity. Full stop. False accusations happen LESS for sexual violence than all other reported offences (~2-3%).

Understanding consent can protect both parties. It may also help us challenge those very well established rape myths that serve to blame the victim and exonerate the perpetrator.

Consent

  • Consent is given when individuals are capable of making informed decisions and have clearly and freely demonstrated that they want to engage in sexual activity.
  • Consent can be withdrawn at any time by either party.
  • Consent is NOT given when individuals are sleeping, passed out, incoherent, staggering, resisting, not aware of their environment, or are unable to verbalize their consent due to intoxication.
  • Consent is NOT given when individuals have explicitly said or implied “no”, “not tonight”, “stop”, “later”, are silent, crying, or fighting back.
  • Consent is NOT given when an individual uses pressure threats or intimidation.
  • Consent cannot be given when a person persuades another to engage in sexual activity by abusing their position of authority, trust or power.
  • Consent cannot be given by children (under the age of 16), unless the person is within 2 years of age and is not in a position of authority, trust or power.
  • Consent is ALWAYS required. Without consent, sexual activity becomes sexual assault.

The Drugs

Alcohol
Alcohol is the # 1 drug used in drug-facilitated sexual assault. It is not only legal, but readily available in and around most college and university campuses. It can sometimes be used to deliberately impair a victim’s judgement and ability to provide consent. Victims may also have their drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) spiked with stronger substances that will leave them incapacitated.

Rohypnol®
Fortunately, in Canada, the use of Rohypnol®(commonly known as “roofies”) is relatively rare. It is odourless and tasteless, and the effects leave the victim feeling extremely drunk for up to 8 hours. Mixed with alcohol, it can lead to death. Symptoms may involve: exhaustion, nausea and memory loss.

Marijuana
Cannabis (Hash, Hash Oil, Marijuana) is the second most common drug found in victims of drug-facilitated sexual assault.

Ketamine (also called “K” or “Special K”)
This anaesthetic (used for animals) is extremely powerful and can leave a victim powerless, numb, and/or unconscious. Victims describe having lost their sense of time, being in a trance, having hallucinations, and “out of body” experiences.

GHB (also called “Liquid X” or “G”)
GHB looks like water, is colourless and has a “soapy” taste. It is extremely dangerous in that it can cause seizures, unconsciousness and death. Overdoses are common. The effects of GHB are similar to alcohol and can cause memory loss or a blurring of memory.

Myths about DFSA

Myth:
Most drug-facilitated sexual assaults are committed by strangers.

Fact:
Unfortunately, like all sexual assaults, most are committed by people known to the victim (around 75%). In many cases, the victim considers the person a friend, a boyfriend or an acquaintance. In some situations, the person is a spouse or family member.

Myth:
Rohypnol is the most commonly used “date-rape” drug.

Fact:
Alcohol is #1 drug found in victims who have experience drug-facilitated sexual assault.

Myth:
Women of all ages are at risk for sexual assault

Fact:
Young women between the ages of 15 and 24 years old are 4 times more likely to experience sexual assault.