Under the influence

Photo illustration by Charlotte Cudd
The use of date rape drugs is growing around the country. “It’s no longer the era where we can just go out and party,” said Valerie DeVille, sexual assault program coordinator for the Betty Griffin House. DeVille said she has seen an increase in the number of victims who say drugs were used to facilitate their rape.

Date rape drugs and how to know when they are being used on you

By Brittany Hackett | bhackett@flagler.edu

Rohypnol, GHB and Ketamine, more commonly know as “date rape” drugs, have been urban legends in the past. Little pills that can cause huge consequences, often spoken of but almost never seen. Until now.

The use of date rape drugs is on the rise in St. Johns County, according to Valerie DeVille, the sexual assault program coordinator for the Betty Griffin House, and those who use them are smarter than ever.

Flagler College’s Student Services Office even sent out a mass e-mail to students last month warning of use of date rape drugs in the area and the need to be more vigilant when going out.

“It’s no longer the era where we can just go out and party and imagine everyone is just like us out there, just out to have a good time,” DeVille said. “There are some predators out there and they have committed this crime. These are people who have done it time and time again and they’re good at it.”

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) Web site, every two and a half minutes someone is sexually assaulted in America. Eighty percent of the victims are under the age of 30. Drug facilitated rape, or “date rape,” is the most common form of rape, according to the Web site.

RAINN defines drug-facilitated rape “when drugs or alcohol are used to compromise an individual’s ability to consent to sexual activity. In addition, drugs and alcohol are often used in order to minimize the resistance and memory of the victim of a sexual assault.”

Seventy-eight percent of reported rapes were classified as drug facilitated, with one in four girls expected to fall victim to rape or attempted rape before they reach 25, and three out of five rapes occurring before a woman reaches age 18, according to the RAINN Web site.

So what are the drugs used, and how do you know when you are under their influence?

Rohypnol, commonly known as “ruffies,” is illegal in the United States, but is smuggled into the country. It looks like an aspirin tablet and dissolves quickly in liquids, taking full effect on the body within 30 minutes.

Rohypnol causes memory impairment, drowsiness, dizziness or nausea. On its own, rohypnol’s effects last only two to eight hours, but when added with alcohol those effects can last up to 24 hours.

Gamma Hydroxy Butyrate (GHB) is odorless, colorless, can come in both a liquid and a powder and is also illegal in the United States. GHB is often made in home labs, so it is difficult to know how potent the dosage is.

According to RAINN, GHB causes “intense drowsiness, verbal incoherence,” and unconsciousness. The drug takes about 15 minutes to work its way into the body and the effects will last about three to four hours.

Ketamine Hydrochloride, or “special K,” is an anesthetic used by veterinarians and, like GHB, comes in pill, powder, or liquid form.

The drug is especially potent when mixed with alcohol and gives the user a feeling of being detached from his or her body. Hallucinations, dizziness, and respiratory problems are also side effects of the drug. The effects are almost immediate and last up to 12 hours.

DeVille said the effects of these drugs vary from person to person and the most common effects she has seen have ranged from people being violently ill, exhaustion and a feeling of extreme intoxication, “to the point that it doesn’t coincide with the amount of alcohol they’ve drank.”

There is no way to tell if these drugs have been slipped into a drink, according to DeVille. “The best way of all for anyone to be certain about their drink is just to never let their drink out of sight, and never allow someone to go get their drink and give it to them.”

DeVille runs the Betty Griffin House’s Rape Crisis Unit at Flagler Hospital, which provides private medical assistance for rape victims. The unit is separate from the emergency room and has a staff of nurses who are specially trained as sexual assault examiners.

“A lot of time we have people come to the rape unit who do not know what’s really happened to them,” DeVille said. “They are beginning to sense that they’ve been raped.”

The drugs move quickly through the body, often leaving the system within 12 to 24 hours, making it difficult to gather the evidence to prove a drug-facilitated rape if the victim waits to be examined and get a test to check for the drugs.

“It’s very important that if someone believes that’s what’s happened to them that they get in and get the exam quickly so that we can catch it if we can,” DeVille said. “If that drug is found in their system, it can corroborate a victim’s story that they were raped because there is really no other purpose for that.”

DeVille said she encourages anyone who thinks they may have been sexually assaulted to come to the unit to be tested, even if they are unsure if they want to go forward with a prosecution.

She said the testing is important because the drugs used are “leaving their system every minute they wait.” The unit will hold all of the evidence collected until the victim makes a decision.

“Potential rapists and rapists are getting good information, unfortunately, on the Internet about these drugs and how to use them and it’s spreading from word of mouth also,” DeVille said. “People need to get as good of information as the rapists are getting.”

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