Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assault

In cases of drug-facilitated sexual assault, survivors often blame themselves. Remember—you are not to blame. You are the only one allowed to make choices for your body. Using drugs or alcohol is never an excuse for assault and does not mean that it was your fault.

What is drug-facilitated sexual assault?

Drug-facilitated sexual assault occurs when alcohol or drugs are used to compromise an individual's ability to consent to sexual activity. These substances make it easier for a perpetrator to commit sexual assault because they lower inhibitions, reduce a person’s ability to resist, and can prevent them from remembering details of the assault. Drugs and alcohol can cause diminished capacity, a legal term that varies in definition from state to state.

You may have heard the term “date rape drugs” to refer to substances that perpetrators use to commit sexual assault, such as “roofies.” Alcohol is the most common substance used to perpetrate drug-facilitated sexual assault. Drug-facilitated sexual assault can happen to anyone, by anyone, whether the perpetrator is an intimate partner, stranger, or someone you’ve known for a while.

“I’ve been told my entire life that it was impossible for this kind of thing to happen to me,” said Johnathon, a survivor of drug-facilitated sexual assault and RAINN Speakers Bureau member. “When I was raped I was 6’4” and 220 lbs. I truly believed that I could go anywhere I wanted and no one would bother me.”

How it happens

There are two main ways that drug-facilitated sexual assault occurs: 1) when the perpetrator takes advantage of a someone’s voluntary use of drugs or alcohol and, 2) when the perpetrator intentionally forces a victim to consume drugs or alcohol with or without their knowledge.

The type of drug-facilitated sexual assault you might think about first is the kind in which a perpetrator slips a drug into someone’s drink. Though many survivors have experienced this, for many young people, especially on college campuses, drug-facilitated sexual assault can take a variety of forms.

Drug-facilitated sexaul assault can look like:

  • Coercing or pressuring someone beyond their comfort zone to ingest more drugs or alcohol or different substances than they are comfortable with.
  • Ignoring or refusing to help someone who says they’ve had too much to drink or is having a negative drug experience and needs help.
  • Initiating sexual contact with someone because they are intoxicated, and less likely to resist.
  • Refusing to tell someone what is in their drink or the type of dosage of drug they are ingesting.

A perpetrator may intentionally drug someone, resulting in a situation in which it is easier to manipulate the circumstances and commit an assault. Perpetrators use a variety of substances to incapacitate a victim.

Commonly used substances:

  • Alcohol is the most commonly used substance in drug-facilitated sexual assault.
  • Prescription drugs like sleep aids, anxiety medication, muscle relaxers, and tranquilizers may also be used by perpetrators.
  • Street drugs, like GHB, rohypnol (“roofies”), ecstasy, and ketamine can be added to drinks without changing the color, flavor, or odor of the beverage.

It is not your fault

Many survivors have strong feelings of self-blame after drug-facilitated sexual assault. They may feel that their choice to drink or to use drugs put them in a dangerous situation that led to the assault. It’s important to remember that if a sexual assault occurs under these circumstances, it is still not your fault. When you choose to use drugs or alcohol, you are not choosing to be sexually assaulted. The blame for this crime falls ONLY on the perpetrator.

How will I know if I’ve been drugged?

Depending on the substance, the initial effects of a drug can either go unnoticed or become apparent very quickly. Being familiar with the warning signs can help alert you to the possibility of drugs in your system. If you notice any of the following warning signs in yourself or someone you know, reach out to someone you trust immediately. If you notice these symptoms in another person, you can take steps to keep that person safe.

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Feeling drunk when you have consumed little to no alcohol
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Nausea
  • Sudden body temperature change that could be signaled by sweating or chattering teeth
  • Sudden increase in dizziness, disorientation, or blurred vision
  • Waking up with no memory, or missing large portions of memories

Preserving Evidence

If you suspect you were drugged, you can take steps to preserve the evidence for an investigation. Many of these drugs leave the body quickly, within 12 to 72 hours. If you can’t get to a hospital immediately, save your urine in a clean, sealable container as soon as possible, and place it in the refrigerator or freezer. Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) to find a hospital or medical center that can provide you with a sexual assault forensic exam and test your blood and urine for substances.

To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.

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