A Useful Side-Effect of Misplaced Fear

A study in the British Journal of Criminology makes the point that drink-spiking date-raping is basically an urban legend:

Abstract. There is a stark contrast between heightened perceptions of risk associated with drug-facilitated sexual assault (DFSA) and a lack of evidence that this is a widespread threat. Through surveys and interviews with university students in the United Kingdom and United States, we explore knowledge and beliefs about drink-spiking and the linked threat of sexual assault. University students in both locations are not only widely sensitized to the issue, but substantial segments claim first- or second-hand experience of particular incidents. We explore students’ understanding of the DFSA threat in relationship to their attitudes concerning alcohol, binge-drinking, and responsibility for personal safety. We suggest that the drink-spiking narrative has a functional appeal in relation to the contemporary experience of young women’s public drinking.

In an article on the study in The Telegraph, the authors said:

Among young people, drink spiking stories have attractive features that could “help explain” their disproportionate loss of control after drinking alcohol, the study found.

Dr Burgess said: “Our findings suggest guarding against drink spiking has also become a way for women to negotiate how to watch out for each other in an environment where they might well lose control from alcohol consumption.”


“As Dr Burgess observes, it is not scientific evidence which keeps the drug rape myth alive but the fact that it serves so many useful functions.”

Basically, the hypothesis is that perpetuating the fear of drug-rape allows parents and friends to warn young women off excessive drinking without criticizing their personal choices. The fake bogeyman lets people avoid talking about the real issues.

Posted on November 17, 2009 at 5:58 AM65 Comments


Andrew Dennis November 17, 2009 6:50 AM

Like telling your kids there’s a bogeyman in the cupboard where you keep the cleaning chemicals. By the time they’re old enough to understand there’s no bogeyman, they’re old enough you can trust them not to drink the bleach.

clvrmnky November 17, 2009 6:54 AM

Wait. You /don’t/ drink the bleach?

Suddenly, a whole bunch of things has been brought into focus. I guess our 4th kid has a better chance of survival now.

Ricardo November 17, 2009 7:07 AM

My boyfriend was assaulted after a date rape drug when he left his drink alone to go to the toilet, it really is a serious issue. We didn’t report it because he was too embarrassed, but the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. Bars cover it up, police are often unwilling to investigate.

N November 17, 2009 7:25 AM

Fortunately I am a teetotaler. Never been to any bar in my life. I don’t even drink any carbonated stuff (Coca-Cola, Pepsi, etc.) at all. I don’t even do drugs. Or smoke. So I guess I’m safe… whew!

BF Skinner November 17, 2009 7:30 AM

I think it was Ann Landers said the same thing about the urban legend of the man with the hook for a hand killing couples on lovers lane. It kept her from parking with boys.

I find @Ricardo’s point valid in that most crime is under-reported. But the behavior change reported here is that of women. Assumed to the be the majority population at risk. Men are self-presumed to be able to take care of themselves. Perhaps an attitude that should be modified.

Me? I learned not to take unattended drinks from Caddyshack.

Harry November 17, 2009 8:07 AM

@N: the drink being spiked doesn’t have to be alcoholic. Any open container is a risk. To the extent that there is a risk, of course.

I bet it would make proving a drug easier, though, since being drunk wouldn’t be available as an alternate explanation.

@Melinda: I agree. Check out Men Can Stop Rape for one effort along these lines.

Duff November 17, 2009 8:56 AM

Interesting, but I don’t buy it.

Rape is a notoriously underreported crime, and I think that drugged women with hazy or missing memories are even less likely to report a rape, or get turned away by the police when they do.

The people running the study would poo-poo this as anecdotal, but I’ve witnessed this happening. When I was in college, I went to happy hour with a group of friends. About 45 minutes, a girl in our group became disoriented and highly intoxicated — she was drugged. I was with her in classes before going out, so she wasn’t drinking earlier or taking drugs.

In the general population, this is a boogeyman. For college students and 20-somethings that frequent crowded, loud bars/clubs, or vacation in “Spring Break” destinations with small groups of friends, this is a real risk.

Alex November 17, 2009 9:03 AM

I took a look at the PDF of the actual article, and it makes little mention of actual statistics about confirmed incidents of druggings. It mentions in passing that there are few confirmed cases, but spends most of its time discussing how that changes people’s behavior.

I’d be interested to see a review of any date-rape cases that are out there instead.

NotSoAnon November 17, 2009 9:06 AM


The only way your tale can have any value, is if you watched her like a hawk throughout the day, going to the bathroom with her staring at her etc. and we can then conclude that you drugged her.

If you didn’t pay that close attention to her, it is more likely that she just excused herself, snug off to the restroom to snort a feminine amount of meth.

Vincent November 17, 2009 9:13 AM

This isn’t quite what I’d call “useful” as much as I’d call it “functional for some people”.

My advice to men would be to avoid women in bars altogether.

Clive Robinson November 17, 2009 9:26 AM

Date rape does exist although it’s level is difficult to judge.

A recent report from southern Africa indicates that sufficient men belive they are entitled to sex if a girl is in a bar and either talks to them or accepts a drink. And that this attitude is sufficiently prevalent that the police take little or no action.

You then have the likes of those with significant incomes such as music and sports stars (and others) (UK Premiship football has just had a player jailed), have a belife that they are “entitled” and girls around them “are all up for it”.

These attitudes are also found in “gang culture” and to a certain extent in finance (share traders in banks etc). And in WASP nations we have such expressions such as “arm charm”, “trophy wife” and WAG, all of which have conotations that imply women are doing it for the money/lifestyle. Then there are a number of “groupies” and “kiss and tell” girls.

As a cultural problem it is going to be extreamly difficult to resolve.

And it is not helped by a “booz -n- fags” or “ladette” culture, where under the influence of various drugs (some legal some not) taken for enjoyment, inhibitions and common sense go out of the window.

As has been aluded to some women do get themselves into situations that they would not have done so if they had not been “under the influance”. Does it realy matter if the drugs concerned are legal or not?

Secondly there is the question of how a substance was consumed. Let us be honest most of us at some point in our lives have got into a state where we cannot remember how many drinks we have had let alone if we left them unattended or not. Ask yourself the question “have you ever been accuised of drinking somebody else drink, or sipped from a drink and thought this is not mine”

To say “somebody must have spiked my drink” is a conveniant excuse for some and a very unfortunate reality for others.

Unfortunatly without unbiased evidence it is extreamly difficult for people to make a rational decision when they hear such a claim.

To report on what is effectivly “anecdotal” reports is at the best of times difficult.

We do know that some preditory people do resort to using substances to render other people unable to resist them. Cases brought to court are low and fraught with problems.

So it is not surprising that the real figures may be under reported, just as likwise the anecdotal reports are likley to be higher.

However whatever the reality of the numbers it is at the end of the day a cultural issue, that has happened in one form or another for many many years.

Calum November 17, 2009 9:35 AM

Mmm. There is truth on both sides here. The supposed risk of drink spiking is a convenient and socially acceptable proxy for various behaviours. On the other hand, as a not particularly hedonistic student, I know of a number of unreported cases. I’d accept that some of these were probably over-indulgence or post-facto regrets, but of the cases I know about some I cannot explained in those terms.

One particular problem with spiking is that the victim wakes up disoriented, confused, and it is generally 24 hours or more before they realise what may have happened to them – by which time they have washed, changed their clothes, eliminated any evidence, and badly damaged the chances of an investigation gaining any traction.

Lastly, those who spike drinks are not stupid, and tend to target carefully. In the chaotic late night environment of a student club, it is pretty easy to pull off, even with friends around.

RH November 17, 2009 10:10 AM

It is funny how many problems can be pushed on the drinking age. I know its not the topic, but I know I’d be a lot more comfortable knowing any daughter I have in the future can legally start drinking when she’s still under the wing rather than starting after college life has tainted her views.

I know parents can choose to selectively enforce the rules, but its not quite the same.

Bryan November 17, 2009 10:17 AM

@rl: “Also the drinking laws are puritan (21, for heavens sake, in Germany this is 16, or 14 if in company of the parents.) and the young people are unaware of their reaction to alcohol in the university time.”

So they get raped as inexperienced drinkers at 16 instead of 21? I don’t see what difference the age makes other than being on dialysis 5 years sooner.

Jason November 17, 2009 10:27 AM

I don’t understand what spiking drinks has to do with the college binge drinking culture.

In one case, a predator stalks a likely target and intentionally adds something to a beverage to reduce someone’s inhibitions and consciousness level.

In another, a predator stalks a likely target and urges that person to keep drinking until they get so drunk they’ll sleep with him (or her).

One is just creepy but the other is illegal.

Dan November 17, 2009 10:49 AM

@Jason both of those examples are illegal. A person cannot consent to sex if they are intoxicated, therefore in both cases it is rape.

I also think that there is a legitimate threat of drink spiking. I personally know people who made GHB in their dorm rooms.

The study is still important though. A threat exists which allows people to ward of other threats in a socially acceptable manner.

Can you think of other examples where this is good? I can think of plenty where it is bad 🙂

Vincent November 17, 2009 11:26 AM

There still seems to be a bunch of controversy about rape here, and I can’t help but think that people are still missing the point that the overstated likelihood of the substitution of one substance that lowers inhibitions and impairs one’s ability to make good judgments, with another substance that lowers inhibitions and impairs one’s ability to make good judgments, is at issue.

That, and that I’m not interested in buying the sorts of women who hang out in bars looking for free drinks a drink anyway. Maybe this is all just an argument for drinking in better places with high cover charges, rather than places where people get so sloppy that nobody would be able to tell if they’d done it to themselves.

kangaroo November 17, 2009 11:40 AM

Hmm, I’m not sure there’s any way to get good statistics on this — to actually ascertain how “bogeymanish” this is.

How often is this going to be reported? If true, how often does the drink spiking actually lead to a rape, and how often is that rape ambiguous?

I do know a woman who was apparently spiked — ended up in the emergency room. But since GHB is quickly eliminated and active at low doses, it was difficult (or expensive) to be absolutely sure that was the case — they had to go by symptoms. Of course, it was never reported to the police since no rape occurred (it was anonymous, and her friends took her home). The emergency room staff didn’t seem to act as if this was a rare event in their experience.

Some threats appear to be bogeymen simply because they are difficult to capture statistically. I’d be a bit more skeptical about the literature here.

BF Skinner November 17, 2009 11:45 AM

Funny sort of drug is drink (alone). The one thing you need while using it, judgement, is the first thing the drug attacks.

I’m thinking that the researchers haven’t made thier case. They dont seem to have controlled for the generalized threat women face for assault. I think that that in itself may cause the herding behaviors that we witness in women. It’s a standard adaptation we see for prey species isn’t it?

Other factors noted above enviornment, age and culture need careful study.

And I’d cut the police some slack (not alot.) In the US it’s only in the last 30 years or so that rape is even considered a crime of violence and not the victim asking for it. Such attitudes remain though. My criminology professor was my county Distrit Attorney. She made the claim that 70% of all rape claims in the county were bogus.

But consider the policing job (S.A. and Celeb mindsets aside). You have a witness/victim to a crime who tells you she/he were drinking in a bar and were so incapacitated by drink, or a by a drug that they couldn’t exercise defense, judgement or clearly recall the events.

This is not a case that a prosecutor would take to court without a lot of corroboration. The victim would be a poor witness on the stand. So there they are standing in the emergency room or precinct being told there’s nothing that can be done for them.

anonymouse November 17, 2009 11:59 AM

Anybody who actually waits until they are 21 to drink in the USA is either a Puritan themselves, has parent(s) in AA, or is a complete loser. Fake IDs, older brothers & sisters, friends, fraternity & sorority parties, high school keggers, etc. etc. ad nauseam (literally), all allow for many if not most kids to sample alcohol long before the legal age. Many parents also either turn a blind eye, or actively encourage the experimentation from 14-16 or so on, for similar stated or unstated reasons as the putative European paradigm. I do think the legal drinking and driving ages should be reversed BTW.

jc November 17, 2009 12:12 PM

it happened to me. luckily it didn’t work as well as they expected it to. (it may have been valium?) but it’s certainly not a myth. but in my case the drink was altered behind the bar.
don’t get drinks with the bartender’s boss.
use the buddy system.
make sure your buddies can actually look out for you, and vice versa.
all good things to get across to young women. i know i have to my sisters. i will say it’s a good motivator.

Petréa Mitchell November 17, 2009 12:20 PM

Hi, anonymouse, I’m your hypothetical loser. (Ironically, when I finally did get around to trying alcohol, it turned out to taste hideous to me, so I went right back to not drinking. Which is, incidentally, a lot more common in the US than most people think.)

Back on topic, a useful term for what some of you are talking about is “nursery goblin”. This is a catch-all term for mythical creatures which serve the purpose of scaring kids away from doing things they shouldn’t do anyway. (E.g., the monster that lurks in deep water waiting to drown unwary swimmers, the evil spirit which looks like a friendly stranger but really just wants to lure you away and eat you, etc.)

Vincent November 17, 2009 12:26 PM

Yes, but this is not an article about rape, it’s an article about misunderstanding threats and behaving in a slightly more responsible manner for the wrong reason.

Which is great if we’re going to assume that most people are going to act like idiots whatever you do and leave it at that.

Which we are.

Duff November 17, 2009 12:31 PM


One of the many problems surrounding these issues is that many cops feel exactly the same way. After a rape, women are mentally and often physically traumatized and facing the judgement of a cop who may or may not be assuming that she was drinking too much.

Vincent November 17, 2009 12:36 PM

Why shouldn’t a woman who was drinking too much be judged for drinking too much? It’s stupid, irresponsible behavior, and it makes it difficult to establish what actually happened if a crime actually does occur.

Duff November 17, 2009 12:46 PM


You’re essentially saying that since it’s possible to drown in the bathtub, it’s ok for me to grab you by the neck and force you under the water.

You also paint the issue with the typical broad brush that makes a rape unique among violent felonies. The girl sitting at the bar is asking for it when the mysterious stranger slips something into a drink, etc. How about the woman out with someone whom she thinks is a friend? Or the girlfriend who is disturbed after taking an Ambien?

All security-related things are a matter of risk management. Although it is unlikely that we’re going to get into a car accident at any given time, we wear seatbelts. My house is unlikely to burn down, but I carry insurance.

Nobody, including the authors of the study, offer any real data to back the assertion that drug-facilitated sexual assault isn’t a problem, and data does exist to assert that rape is under-reported, date-rape is even more so, and the hazy memories of a DFSA discourage police from accepting or acting on complaints. Based on those facts, I say that declaring DFSA a “bogeyman” is irresponsible.

Vincent November 17, 2009 1:10 PM

Suppose I were to say that I’ve personally been assaulted, and that the assault happened midday in the home of an acquaintance, who gave me a non-alcoholic beverage? With the fact that you’re addressing someone who has been the victim of DFSA in mind, maybe you can set aside your biases.

Now, on the contrary, I’m treating violent rape as absolutely no different than any other violent felony, and and coercive rape as no different than any other coerced felony, and a law enforcement professional is going to be just as incredulous to anyone who reports a crime while stinking drunk and full of rage.

If it can’t be demonstrated to have happened, it isn’t punishable by law. I don’t care if your feelings are hurt by that reality.

Andrew November 17, 2009 1:51 PM

I recommend the excellent discussion at snopes.com of the definition of an urban legend. http://www.snopes.com/info/ul-def.asp

I think an authoritative conclusion in the admitted absence of evidence is neither proof nor newsworthy. There certainly is not enough data to generalize “across the water” to the United States.

The use of drugs to facilitate sexual assault is a proven fact, as is the regrettable fact that evidence is rarely collected and is highly perishable as it metabolizes.

In the 21st century, keeping journal results behind a paywall is out of keeping with the scientific ideals of falsifiability and replicability. This is one of the reasons I left academia in disgust. Another is seeking junk science like this published as authoritative.

The problem is data collection, which is well known to criminologists. With homicide we have a physical stinking dead body to point to, but with drug-assisted date rape we have three under-reporting artifacts: failure of the victim to recognize, reluctance to report and/or for police to take a report, difficulty of evidence collection.

The accepted scientific method of collecting such data is self-report victimization surveys such as the National Crime Victimization Survey (http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/cvict.htm). Unfortunately, neither voluntary drug use nor ‘spiking’ is a question asked of victims by this survey.

In 2006 this study reports 260,000 sexual assaults in the United States (as recognized by victims) for which fewer than 60,000 sought medical care. Date rape drugs will not be detected without medical care.

Leaping to the conclusion that date rape drugs are an urban legend when 1) they exist, 2) many documented cases exist, and 3) formidable barriers to scientific data collection exist is the height of scientific irresponsibility.

Petréa Mitchell November 17, 2009 2:16 PM

“…and a law enforcement professional is going to be just as incredulous to anyone who reports a crime while stinking drunk and full of rage.”

A law enforcement professional should be prepared to do exactly the same thing they do any other time someone reports a crime: exercise due diligence by taking a statement and trying to preserve any physical evidence that may exist.

I’d be willing to bet that the majority of crime victims, whatever the crime, do not walk into the police station to report it in a perfectly calm and rational state of mind.

Scott Lewis November 17, 2009 2:18 PM

@ Melinda –

Why teach people not to rape “instead”? Perhaps some don’t listen, therefore “instead” is a bad choice.

That’s a weird sentiment on this web site. Why teach security? Let’s just teach hackers not to hack.

paul November 17, 2009 2:28 PM

“Basically, the hypothesis is that perpetuating the fear of drug-rape allows parents and friends to warn young women off excessive drinking without criticizing their personal choices. The fake bogeyman lets people avoid talking about the real issues.”

What are the “real” issues? Obviously longterm heavy binge drinking is a bad idea in lots of ways, but (as others have pointed out) experimenting with a perfectly legal drug seems mostly to be a problem insofar as a lot of men seem to be willing to commit rape when the experimenter is a woman. It seems that the “real issues” of the danger women put themselves in by letting their guard down and getting intoxicated are being used as a cover for the real real issue of a culture that normalizes rape.

Vincent November 17, 2009 2:51 PM

They are not your personal police force. They need evidence that you are not a lunatic, because trust me, they spend most of their time dealing with lunatics.

Petréa Mitchell November 17, 2009 3:00 PM

“They need evidence that you are not a lunatic, because trust me, they spend most of their time dealing with lunatics.”

Police still have to document their encounters with lunatics.

Petréa Mitchell November 17, 2009 3:00 PM

No, I put that wrong. Police still have to document encounters with people they suspect might be lunatics.

George November 17, 2009 4:08 PM

Earlier this week I read a brief report about a promising new drug that purportedly increases a woman’s libido. That opens up an entirely new scenario for drink-spiking. Instead of knocking out the victim and raping her, you slip her a drug that makes her consent to sex. Much harder to prosecute.

Avi Norowitz November 17, 2009 6:19 PM

It is not clear that this misplaced fear is positive. On the contrary, it may suggest to some women that they can remain safe long as they can protect their alcoholic drinks. But the real risk are the alcoholic drinks themselves, which can cause the disinhibition, vulnerability, and blackouts that cause what the victims interpret to be date rape.

Clive Robinson November 17, 2009 7:07 PM

@ George,

“Earlier this week I read a brief report about a promising new drug that purportedly increases a woman’s libido.”

The story is about an anti-depresant that failed to work.

However towards the end of the trial a number of women reported the effect and suposadly some refused to return unused tablets.

This makes it similar to the dreaded blue “V i a g r a” which was a drug intended for entirely different reasons.

With regards your point,

“That opens up an entirely new scenario for drink-spiking. Instead of knocking out the victim and raping her, you slip her a drug that makes her consent to sex.”

I think you have the wrong end of the stick as it where. The fact that the drug improves their libido does not make them uncontrolably sexualy aroused (the same applies to “V i a g r a” and men, in that the drug does not make you aroused your brain does that).

A number of investigations have shown that women respond physicaly to images as men do. The difference is they do not respond mentaly in the same way.

That is there is an extra inhibitor, trials on rats have shown that this “inhibitor” is lowered by the active ingrediant in a common illegal plant that people either smoke or make cakes / choclates with.

I’ve been told that using quite low levels of three illegal but fairly easily available recreational drugs will have the effect you are looking for.

Ctrl-Alt-Del November 17, 2009 8:08 PM

This discussion has focused on drugging and is an interesting example of “don’t believe everything you read on the internet”.

The “Telegraph” article cited by Bruce contains the following statement:

“Earlier this year, Australian researchers found that nont one of 97 young men and women admitted to hospital over 19 months to two Perth hospital claiming to have had their drinks spiked, had in fact been drugged. ”

This quote is accurate as far as it goes, but is quite misleading. Here is the actual finding:

“Doctors at Perth’s Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital reported in a study of 97 patients there was only four definite cases of drink spiking with the other 93 patients mistaking their drunkenness for drink spiking. Of the four patients who had their drinks spiked, none involved sedatives, alcohol was the drug used.”

Source: http://www.theage.com.au/national/tougher-drinkspike-laws-on-way-20081008-4wfp.html

More detail: http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=105×4043902


Basically, the only identified victims weren’t drugged, they were simply exposed to more alcohol than they had any reason to expect. Their symptoms were indistinguishable from the symptoms of people who’d had too much to drink, because they really were people who’d had too much to drink (albeit not by their choice).

Further readings reveals that despite the headline, in some cases drugs were detected – amphetamines and cannabis. The amphetamines are interesting but I leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out how to slip grass into someone’s drink unawares.

The evidence is therefore that as few as 4% of “Drink spiking” claims are real. That’s a “false positive” rate of 96%. Anyone care to venture a risk/cost assessment on that?

Vicki November 17, 2009 8:24 PM

Ctrl-alt-del: As an exercise, I will point out that within the last couple of days, I saw a newspaper story about someone being arrested for possession of a large quantity of “liquid marijuana,” which was explained as an alcohol extraction of THC from the cannabis leaves.

Depending on what else was in the drink, and whether the person drinking it was familiar with the taste of liquid marijuana (never having tasted such a THC extract myself, I have no opinion on its distinctiveness), it seems plausible that someone could consume a drink containing liquefied THC and not realize it was there.

HJohn November 18, 2009 10:06 AM

I agree that Melinda’s comments are puzzling. I’m pretty sure everyone who commits rape knows it is wrong, they just don’t care.

Just because it is wrong to hack doesn’t mean I don’t have a firewall. I’m sure hackers would get a laugh at a warning banner that says “please don’t hack me, it is wrong.”

Someone shouldn’t rape, but that doesn’t mean it is wise to put oneself in an excessively risky position to be the victim.

Those are two issues. One is making it illegal to rape or hack, the other is defending oneself from those who do it anyway.

The wonders of modern education.

Petréa Mitchell November 18, 2009 11:33 AM

“I’m pretty sure everyone who commits rape knows it is wrong, they just don’t care.”

Unfortunately, no. It’s common in date-rape cases for the victimizing party to claim their actions were acceptable, sometimes even in the presence of clear and unambiguous statements to the contrary from the victim.

If this seems unbelievable to you, then congratulations, you’re an enlightened person. But Melinda is talking about counteracting a mindset that exists.

“Someone shouldn’t rape, but that doesn’t mean it is wise to put oneself in an excessively risky position to be the victim.”

I know you don’t mean it this way, but you’re getting perilously close to “He/she was asking for it.”

Just to clear things up, what do you consider “an excessively risky position”:

  • Drinking or leaving a drink unattended on a first date?
  • Drinking or leaving a drink unattended on any date?
  • Drinking etc. with people in a social, non-date situation?
  • Drinking etc. with close friends in a public place?
  • Or in private?
  • Being in the same room as alcohol?

HJohn November 18, 2009 12:01 PM

@Petréa Mitchell at November 18, 2009 11:33 AM

I think you misunderstood my post. Maybe I didn’t communicate it well.

You are correct that it is common in date rape cases for the perpetrator to claim their actions were acceptable. Excuse making is common in all crimes, and it isn’t a justification. In response to your “no” paragraph, the excuses don’t mean the perpetrator didn’t know it was wrong, it means they know it is wrong they are just trying to justify their actions. Few people make excuses unless they do something they know is wrong.

If it sounded like I was getting “perilously close” to “He/she was asking for it,” that absolutely was not the intent. No one asks for it. Whatever she is doing, however drunk she is, wherever she does it, there is no excuse for rape. There absolutely isn’t an excuse, and never will be.

Saying one should be careful not to put themselves in situations is not the same as saying they are asking for it if something bad happens. I do not believe for a second the victim is to blame.

I don’t take rape or date rape lightly. I have a sister that was raped, and I have two daughters who I will always worry about.

Excessively risky position is subjective. I don’t think anything on your list qualifies. A lot of those things are just normal in having a good time. Leaving a bar with a dubious stranger is probably not a good idea. This is how my sister was raped.

I’m a 6′, 200 lb pound man. There are some neighorhoods or bars I wouldn’t visit late at night by myself. Not that it would make it my fault if someone mugged or harmed me, it would just put me at an increased risk of harm. So this don’t just apply to women taking risks.

You’ll never hear me say “she asked for it” when someone is the victim of a horrible crime. Never. But my daughters will be cautioned about risks of certain situations.

Petréa Mitchell November 18, 2009 12:11 PM

Okay, glad to hear it. But there really, really are people who believe that if someone (male or female) goes out on a date with them, or even accepts a drink from them, then they have entered into an implied social contract to provide sex. Really.

When Melinda talks about “teaching men not to rape”, she’s talking about speaking up when we hear opinions like this expressed. I think the only problem with her statement is that we should speak up when women express them, too.

HJohn November 18, 2009 12:22 PM

@Petrea: “When Melinda talks about “teaching men not to rape”, she’s talking about speaking up when we hear opinions like this expressed. I think the only problem with her statement is that we should speak up when women express them, too.”

I think part of the problem with this though is that anyone evil enough to commit rape probably won’t be swayed by statements against it. So it isn’t really a matter of teaching them, it is a matter of not giving them too many opportunities and punishing the hell out of them when they do it. Unfortunately, those are our options.

I am certainly not comparing theft to rape, but it illustrates what I mean by the crime and victimhood. It is against the law to steal my porche, and everyone knows that. The fact that I left it parked with the doors unlocked and the keys in it are not excuse. Anyone who gets in and drives off knows better…and saying “but he left the keys in it, he wanted me to take it” is just an excuse that no one buys it. But, and this is the key point, there are bad people out there that don’t care that it is against the law to steal the porche. Given the opportunity, they will steal it. They are completely and utterly responsible for the theft. However, most people would agree that leaving it unlocked with the keys in it was not a wise move on my part. That does not mean I wanted it stolen, but I put myself in a situation to be at an increased risk for it to be stolen. Doesn’t make me at fault either, but the fact remains that if I locked the door and took the keys I may not have been the victim.

Basically, I wasn’t talking about a victim accepting blame, I was talking about not accepting too much risk.


Petréa Mitchell November 18, 2009 2:34 PM

Again, I applaud that you understand the victim isn’t responsible for the crime. However.

Everyone grasps that it’s wrong to have sex with someone against their will. But many date rapes arise from a situation where there is a belief of implied consent. There’s room to educate people that accepting a drink or a date is never, ever the same as a clear, unambiguous “Yes.”

A better theft analogy is finding a copyrighted music file online in a place it was clearly not officially approved to be and downloading it. Many people who agree with the statement “Stealing is wrong” will say this is okay, for a variety of cultural, political, or philosophical reasons– it’s not stealing because they plan to pay for the album if and when it becomes available to them legally; it’s okay because no one’s losing any money because they couldn’t have paid for it anyway; it’s okay if it’s from a big media company because they’re helping fight The Man; stealing only applies to physical objects; etc.

HJohn November 18, 2009 2:54 PM

I like your copyright analogy. Since the owner doesn’t not really lose a physical object, one could rationalize that it is not stealing (since the victim still has their music). Likewise, unless one says “no” (largely becaue they are near unconscious), a person could rationalize that “we were just having fun, no harm done, the didn’t lose anything.”

Drunkenness as excuse on both sides can keep good people arguing for days. (For example, people are considered culpable when they decide to drive drunk, but not when they engage in sex drunk…not to argue right or wrong, legal or illegal, but an example of areas where good people can disagree.)

Interesting implications on security too. Ill-informed and/or impaired psychology of security is tough.

Skorj November 18, 2009 3:11 PM

It doesn’t help the discussion that many want to define “rape” as “she changed her mind the next morning”. So when someone says “tach boys not to rape”, it could mean “there’s no excuse to use physical force (including spiking a drink in that) to get sex”, which is quite reasonable, and most people know anyway, and “there’s no excuse if she decides later she didn’t like to”, avoiding which would require quite a bit of training indeed.

Andrew November 18, 2009 3:19 PM

Everyone grasps that it’s wrong to have sex with someone against their will

In criminology this type of crime is referred to as ‘mala in se’ or “evil in itself.” The recent public gang-rape in Richmond, CA is but one illustration of the fact that some people do not agree that a person’s consent is relevant, or believe that consent consists of a failure to sufficiently object.

Just to clear things up, what do you consider “an excessively risky position”:

Imbibing a mind-altering substance has its risks in any situation. These risks can be reduced but not eliminated by due diligence. Speaking strictly with respect to opportunity, drinking alcohol in a private or quasi-private place when alone with potential offender(s) who have also been drinking, seems imprudent at best.

One of the best protections if one chooses to drink in public is to go in a group. This is just as true for soldiers in a strange city as it is for college students out for an evening of pub-crawling.

Geoffrey Hing November 19, 2009 3:24 PM

This is quasi anecdotal as well, but the professionals I talked to while volunteering with a rape crisis center claimed that their research shows that a) date rape drugs quickly leave the system of the people who consume them (which is why they are used to aid assault in the first place) and b) the drugs are often synthesized from a variety of chemicals (think less stolen medication and more meth lab) which suggests that the experiences of people given date rape drugs will vary dramatically.

Furthermore, it isn’t clear whether the study takes into account people who came to the hospital who didn’t think they were drugged, but ended up being drugged, and obviously, those who did not go to the hospital at all. As other commentors have mentioned, rape is incredibly under-reported.

The original analysis of:

“Basically, the hypothesis is that perpetuating the fear of drug-rape allows parents and friends to warn young women off excessive drinking without criticizing their personal choices. The fake bogeyman lets people avoid talking about the real issues.”

is correct, unfortunately, though I’m not sure it is correct as the author originally intended it. Centering the discussion on date rape drugs and alcohol consumption focuses the discourse on what the survivor could have done to avoid being assaulted rather than on the choices of the perpetrator to rape someone (and the cultural forces that might compel such choices) and what might be done to stop people from perpetrating rape. At best, this discourse isn’t very helpful towards the safety of women or accountability for perpetrators. At worst, it’s just victim blaming.

HJohn November 19, 2009 3:45 PM

@Geoffrey:”rather than on the choices of the perpetrator to rape someone (and the cultural forces that might compel such choices) and what might be done to stop people from perpetrating rape. ”

If you know how to stop someone from perpetuating it by teaching them or anything else, by all means do so. But the fact remains some people are just evil. Cautioning people on reducing the risk they will be victimized is not the same as blaming the victim.

I wish no one would ever choose to steal my car too, but I still lock my doors. Failing to lock my doors doesn’t make it my fault, but that doesn’t make it wise either.

I don’t think you’ll find one syllable on this page blaming the victim. And cautioning one about risks is not the same as blaming.

Alan Bostick November 28, 2009 11:48 PM

Whether or not drug-assisted date rape happens, people are known to attempt it, and be convicted for attempting it. Here’s the case that came to my mind on reading this post: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/03/20/MNG0UOOA1I1.DTL Joseph Szlamnick pleaded guilty to narcotics charges in order to avoid being tried for spiking his date’s beer with Xanax, the attempt foiled by a waitress and the bartender in a San Francisco bar in 2005.

Nshr December 15, 2009 3:16 AM

“but substantial segments claim first- or second-hand experience of particular incidents. ”

Typical arrogant academic attitude. Their pinhole view of reality say X, masses of anecdotal evidence says Y, therefore the great unwashed masses must be making up folk tales in order to interpret their world with their simple little minds.

In fact, I’ll go with the masses on this one, it seems that there are enough personal accounts of this, it’s plausible that it would happen and also that it would be massively under reported and prosecuted. I doubt it will get any better either as the pornography generation makes their way through life.

Mborsteen December 15, 2009 4:12 AM

“A person cannot consent to sex if they are intoxicated, therefore in both cases it is rape.”

Really, so two drunk (“intoxicated”) college students who decide to have sex are both raping each other? A husband and wife who decide to ‘get waited and f***’ are both criminals? Sure, in an ideal world where someone who is clearly too drunk to consent is taken advantage of you have a case but where both parties are drunk I’m not so sure, and how many drinks is “intoxicated?” Clearly (I would hope) one drink is not but for an alcoholic 6 drinks might not be and I doubt anybody is doing sobriety tests after they have had a few themselves.

Brad December 15, 2009 12:16 PM

While I am sure that this has happened to someone, somewhere, consider this:

I am a bartender in a college town. As such, I hear and see a lot of things, and get to know all kinds of people. While I don’t buy such things myself, I know who to call to buy marijuana, cocaine, heroin, LSD, Ecstasy, morphine, opium, Vicodin, forged government documents, stolen goods, illegal firearms, you name it. Yet I have no idea where to get a “roofie”, have never seen one, and don’t know anyone who actually has. I once asked an acquaintance, a dealer in all manner of illegal drugs, if he had ever seen a “roofie” or knew where to obtain one; he hadn’t and he didn’t. On the other side of the equation, I asked a police officer if to his knowledge anyone had ever been arrested for possession of a “roofie,” and the answer was that he had no personal knowledge of this at all. So, drug dealers don’t sell “roofies” and no dumbass weekend warrior has ever been busted with one, even fortuitously during, say, a DWI arrest, yet they are a major problem? There is neither supply nor demand for such a substance.

But even if the mythical “roofie” were readily available, think about it: simply dumping a substance into someone’s drink isn’t going to necessarily lead this person to leave with the perpetrator and end up having sex. They’re more likely to end up throwing up all over themselves (hardly a turn-on) and being taken home by friends or poured into a cab by bar staff.

I know one person who claims to have been “roofied” on her birthday, though she wasn’t raped. But I was there, sober, and watched her drink shot after shot of jagermeister and multiple mixed drinks in “celebration” of her birthday. She was sick all the next day because she had poisoned herself, not because anyone else had.

Rape drugs = urban legend.

Mike V December 15, 2009 3:08 PM

I expected as much. Kind of like razor blades in apples at Halloween. I blame the entertainment media even more than the news media. These things become fodder for fiction so often that people take their veracity as a given. Just ask around how many people “believe” the urban legend of snuff films. Complete myth and yet I would venture based on talking to people I know that a majority of people believe they exist. All because the entertainment media has used the myth as basis for untold amount of films and televisions programs.

What P.T. Barnum said.

Chris December 19, 2009 3:42 AM

I think the point made by Ctrl-Alt-Delete was not really absorbed, and I personally believe it to be a very interesting point.

I read it that there is a drug that lowers inhibitions, is undetectable, is cheap, readily available and has all the properties of an effective date rape drug. It’s alchohol. Drink spiking is statistically real but it’s not happening with “roofies” – people are being given doubles and triples unawares.

Eric Hamell April 10, 2010 12:25 AM

With respect to the question of whether purported spiking victims are being tested soon enough, the study by Greene, Shiew, Streete, Mustchin, Hugget, Earl, and Dargan reported, “Mean time from alleged exposure to biological sampling was 5.9 h (range 1-12 h),” yet “unexplained sedative drug exposure was detected in only 2 (3%) participants.” Results of several other studies have been similar.

There are three reasons such distorted perceptions are harmful: 1) they cause people to focus their attention on things that don’t pose the greatest risk, rather than on those that do; 2) they can cause emotional distress arising from a false belief that one has been deceived and violated; and 3) they can result in people’s being falsely accused.

kimberly September 29, 2010 6:04 AM

My husband and I rarely go out. For New Years december 08 we was visiting his family. His mother watched our kids and we went out with his little sister and her boyfriend. He was getting his and my drinks every littlebit. I didn’t get drunk just slightly buzzed and he wieghs 250 so he’s not a light drinker. But he had several side effects from having been drugged. He first had the gastro problems then just disappeared for almost an hour. When we found him he was introducing himself to everyone in the bar. Sweating something terrible, punching a brick wall and couldn’t feel a thing, we left after he had to stand out in 20 degree weather with no coat. I believe it was the bartender because he was really tipping her good after a few drinks. And our drinks never were alone.

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