A person can use drugs to alter someone’s self-defense capability or decision-making in order to perpetrate a sexual assault. Knowing the most common date rape drugs and their side effects can help prevent or stop sexual violence.
At least 1 in 6 American women and 1 in 33 men are survivors of completed or attempted sexual assault during their lifetime. On college campuses alone, 21% of people who identify as transgender, genderqueer, and nonconforming (TGQN) have experienced sexual assault.
Research also shows that about 11 million women are survivors of rape while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. There is no conclusive data on the purposeful use of drugs for sexual assault on survivors of any sex, but law enforcement is reporting that the number is rising.
Researchers suggest that the perpetrator is often someone the survivor knows. Recognizing when an individual has been drugged and is at risk of harm can help prevent or stop a sexual assault.
Drugs can make sexual assault easier
- making a person more compliant and less able to say no
- weakening someone so they are unable to resist or fight back
- making an individual fully or partially unconscious
- weakening a person’s inhibitions so they consent to sexual activity they may otherwise decline
While some drugs are more known for use during a sexual assault, any substance that changes a person’s state of mind, including some prescription drugs, street drugs, such as heroin, and popular drugs, such as cannabis, can have uses for this purpose.
Below are the most common substances individuals use to facilitate a sexual assault:
Alcohol is the most popular and most readily available drug. According to one study, nearly 31% of drug-facilitated sexual assault cases involved alcohol. On college campuses, a common setting for sexual assault, alcohol-related incidents are especially common.
Alcohol lowers a person’s inhibitions, making them less aware of their surroundings. Additionally, people readily consume the substance. It can also spur aggressive behavior by those willing to commit sexual violence, increasing their willingness to harm others.
Benzodiazepines are a class of anti-anxiety drugs that can also cause people to feel sleepy. Individuals can use several of these drugs, including Xanax (alprazolam) and Klonopin (clonazepam), to incapacitate someone for the purpose of sexual assault.
One of the most common and well-known benzodiazepine drugs individuals use in this way is Rohypnol (flunitrazepam). Rohypnol causes a person to feel very relaxed, weakens their muscles, and may cause loss of muscle control. Some people may also lose consciousness or feel dizzy and confused.
After Rohypnol wears off, some individuals do not remember what happened. Rohypnol comes in pill form, but a perpetrator can dissolve it in liquid, such as an alcoholic drink.
Ketamine is an anesthetic that acts quickly to cause feelings of relaxation. People may lose consciousness or become confused and compliant. They might not remember what happened while under the influence of the drug.
Ketamine acts almost immediately, so a person may not have time to realize that someone has drugged them.
At high doses, the drug
Ketamine is a white powder that may change the taste of someone’s drink. Consequently, perpetrators sometimes use it in strong-tasting alcoholic beverages that may disguise the drug’s presence.
Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB)
GHB is a drug form of a neurotransmitter that naturally occurs in the body. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that help nerves send and receive signals.
GHB slows activity in the central nervous system, making users feel groggy, sleepy, and potentially confused.
At low doses, GHB can cause nausea and vomiting. Higher doses can cause loss of consciousness, seizures, difficulty seeing, and the inability to recall what happened when a person is drugged.
It is easy to overdose on GHB. People will commonly manufacture it in home “labs.” Consequently, a person may become extremely sick after being drugged with GHB, and it can be fatal.
GHB is a colorless, odorless liquid, so individuals may not realize that someone has drugged them.
Other date rape drugs
Someone can use any drug that changes a person’s consciousness to facilitate sexual assault.
In some cases, the individual might even ingest the drug willingly. A person who uses heroin, for example, may be so incapacitated that they do not realize a perpetrator is attempting to sexually assault them.
Often, the perpetrator will dissolve a drug in the person’s drink. If someone experiences the following signs, they may have been drugged and are in danger. If an individual sees someone else experience any of these symptoms, they should interfere or call for help immediately.
Some signs to watch for
- feeling or acting drunk despite a person not having drunk any alcohol
- feeling confused or disoriented
- losing consciousness
- not remembering how someone got somewhere
- being unable to remember anything after drinking
- waking up feeling confused, hungover, or unable to recall the night before
- experiencing genital or urinary pain and difficulty remembering what happened
- discovering torn clothes
Date rape drug or severe intoxication?
It can be hard to distinguish the effects of a drug from those of alcohol, particularly after consuming large quantities of liquor.
People who are accustomed to the effects of alcohol should consider how they typically feel after drinking or when intoxicated. An unexplained change in a person’s reactions to alcohol could involve another drug.
Someone who feels significantly more intoxicated than usual should consider the possibility that an individual has drugged them.
The only way to know for sure is to seek medical testing.
It is possible to lose consciousness quickly, so a person should not waste time trying to find the perpetrator or researching whether their symptoms match those of any drug.
Instead, they should immediately tell a trusted friend they suspect someone may have drugged them. They or a friend should call for emergency help by dialing 911, then get themselves to a safe place.
They may want to ask a friend for a ride home or go to a public location and tell someone about the drugging.
Next, they should seek emergency medical care. Drugs that people use for sexual assault usually leave the body
A person who wakes up to signs that someone may have drugged them must also seek emergency medical care. A hospital can use a rape kit to test for signs of sexual assault. If the police catch a perpetrator, they can use this kit to prove their guilt.
To preserve evidence, a person should avoid showering or bathing until after the exam is complete.
Someone who thinks they may have experienced sexual assault may want to consider contacting their local sexual assault crisis center. The center could send a support advocate to the hospital or offer phone counseling. To find a crisis center, click here.
Many drugs are hard to identify, as they are often colorless, odorless, and tasteless.
However, Rohypnol will turn liquid blue in a light-colored drink, making it easier to recognize if someone has tampered with a beverage. Some other types of drugs might also taste slightly bitter or salty.
Some simple strategies that can help protect against being drugged
- not drinking anything that tastes or smells strange
- not drinking large quantities of alcohol around strangers
- adopting the buddy system — always go out with a friend and look out for one another.
- never leaving a drink unattended
- never accepting a drink from a stranger or acquaintance
- pouring your own drink where possible
- never leaving with anyone after drinking
Sexual assault is never the survivor’s fault, yet many people feel guilty or ashamed. That guilt can prevent them from seeking medical care or reaching out for support to help them recover. Those who commit sexual assault are the only people responsible.
By acting quickly when a person thinks they might have been drugged or sexually assaulted, they can protect themselves, help catch the perpetrator, and potentially mitigate the dangerous effects of any drugs.
Here are some common questions about drugs that people commonly use in sexual assault.
What is the number one date rape drug?
Alcohol is one of the most common and most widely available drugs. However, an individual can use any drug that alters a person’s state of mind as a date rape drug.
What is the date rape tablet called?
Rohypnol is a common type of sexual assault drug that usually comes in tablet form. Individuals can also snort it or crush and dissolve it in liquids.
How do I know I experienced a date rape?
Some possible signs of drug-related sexual assault
- unexplained bruises
- having no memory for a certain time
- waking up without any clothes
- waking up with clothing that is torn, stained, or put on wrong
If a person believes they may have experienced drug-related sexual assault, it is important to seek immediate medical attention.
Additional resources are available through the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. This is a nonprofit organization that provides free, confidential support for sexual assault survivors through the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline.