Home Drug Enforcement Rohypnol: A Prescription for Date Rape

Rohypnol: A Prescription for Date Rape

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* Editor’s Note: This article is part of In Public Safety’s series recognizing Sexual Assault Awareness month.*

By Dr. Allan Conkey, professor of Criminal Justice at American Military University

The drug Rohypnol has never been legal in the United States, but it is marketed and used in many countries including Mexico. In the early 90s, this powerful drug found its way across the U.S. border, and since that time its popularity has soared based on its low cost and almost immediate effects (Gahlinger, 2004).

Upon ingestion, Rohypnol produces an intoxicated state and near-immediate amnesia that can last for more than 12 hours. These side effects have made it the drug of choice for some sexual predators who, despite efforts by lawmakers and law enforcement, continue to illegally use Rohypnol to carry out date rape with little fear of getting caught.

History of Sexual Assault Cases
Thankfully, according to recent numbers by the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), there has been a reduction in the number of sexual assaults in the last 24 years. Yet, even with this reduction, the NCVS estimates there are still almost 300,000 victims of sexual assault every year. This alarming statistic means that a citizen is sexually assaulted every 107 seconds.

[Related article: Interview Strategies for Sexual Assault and Rape Investigations]

The Pervasiveness of Date Rape
Among those assaults, roughly half will be defined as date rape or acquaintance rape. Those most likely to be date rape victims are between the ages of 16 and 19 years old, followed closely by those between the ages of 20 and 24, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice.

Many social scientists believe that date rape is more common than other forms of rape, yet many victims fail to report it for reasons ranging from embarrassment to being confused as to whether or not they had even been raped (which can often be an indicator that Rohypnol was used).

Even if date rape is reported, it can be extremely hard to prove. It is often a highly complicated issue because it is carried out as a private affair between two people. How does the legal system decide who is telling the truth? Such a question is tough enough in rape involving a stranger, but even more difficult in a date rape situation when there is little or no physical wounds and the victim freely associated with the offender.

[Related article: One Assault, Two Crime Scenes: The Challenge of Handling Sexual Assault Cases]

Why Rohypnol is the Date Rape Drug
Date Rape Drug_SAAMKnown by most users and dealers as Rohypnol, the drug’s street names include roofies, rope, and the forget-me-pill. Rohypnol is also commonly referred to as a club drug. Its popularity over the past 25 years has soared at an alarming rate and it accounts for nearly 40 percent of the drugs being brought across the Mexican border.

Even though it is only two milligrams in size, Rohypnol is an extremely powerful depressant, “possessing more intoxicating power than a six-pack of beer” (McCormick & Thorpe, 1995, p. 88). Similarly, in comparison to Mexican Valium, it is 10 times stronger and has several unique side effects (McCormick & Thorpe, 1995).

Nearly Undetectable
It is attractive to illegal users and sexual offenders because it is not detectable on most drug urinalysis tests. Even the few marketable tests that can detect it can only do so if the test is conducted within the first 60 to 72 hours after the drug is ingested. This short time frame, coupled with the fact that it causes delirium and amnesia, means that by the time a date rape victim realizes what has happened, tests are likely ineffective.

Small Pills That Quickly Dissolve
Rohypnol is very small, dissolves within seconds, and has no smell or taste. This means that unknowing victims are all but oblivious to what is happening. Rohypnol relaxes muscles, lowers inhibitions, and ultimately causes a drugged state, which prevents a date rape victim from being able to fight off an attacker.

Near-Immediate Amnesia
Arguably the biggest attraction of Rohypnol is its ability to cause a total amnesia-like effect; the victim often cannot remember anything after 20 to 30 minutes of being drugged. These effects can last between 8 to 12 hours and even longer if taken with alcohol, which unfortunately is often the case.

Defending Against Date Rape
Unfortunately, Rohypnol has and will likely continue to play a part in date rape. However, there are a number of behaviors and choices that can protect an individual from becoming a victim. The bottom line is that a sexual predator has to somehow get the drug into the victim.

Richard Schwartz (2000), Kathiann Kowalski (2003), and Felicia Romeo (2004) have collectively pointed out several individual and group practices and/or behaviors that can prevent date rape. Their specific recommendations are as follows:

  1. Hold onto your drink and, if you put it down, discard it.
  2. If it taste, looks, or smells funny do not drink it.
  3. If you wake the next day and do not remember what happened call 911 and or a rape crisis center so a test can be conducted before possible drugs are out of your system.
  4. Go out with a female friend and stay together.
  5. If you suspect your friend has been drugged, do not leave him or her alone or let someone talk you into letting him or her sleep it off.
  6. Never drink from a party punch bowl. If you do, let your date drink from it first.
  7. Purchase bottled drinks, instead of open glass ones, as it is harder for a predator to insert a Rohypnol tablet.
  8. Do not share drinks with anyone.
  9. Be careful in accepting drinks from strangers.
  10. If having a drink from a tap, watch the bartender as it is poured.

No matter what laws are passed or what steps law enforcement takes to prevent such crimes, there will be sexual predators who target innocent victims. Subsequently, the best defense against date rape arguably lies with individuals. To defend yourself, have a plan when going out, stay with friends, remain vigilant, and adjust your actions so you can minimize the chances that you will be a victim of date rape.

Allan Conkey headshot_newAbout the Author: Dr. Allan Conkey is a retired officer and a decorated veteran of both the first and second Gulf Wars. His career opportunities have included being a criminal investigator, confinement officer, senior U.S. customs officer in Japan, and exchange officer with the Japanese National Police Forensics Laboratory in Northern Japan. As Commander of the Air Force’s Elite Guard, for two years he commanded plain-clothed security details in support of dozens of world leaders and heads of state to include President Bush and Afghanistan President Hamid Kharzai. He is a three time Military Chief of Police and member of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. In all, Dr. Conkey has over 25 years of active service in the law enforcement and security realm. Today, a published author and faculty member for American Public University System, Dr. Conkey teaches within the Criminal Justice Department, and holds the academic rank of Full Professor.  

References

Carlson, M., Ajemian, R. (1991). Should this woman be named? Time, 137(17), 28-29.

Gahlinger, P. M. (2004). Club drugs: MDMA, Gamma-Hydoxybutrate (GBH), Rohypnol, and Ketamine. American Family Physician, 69(11), 2619-2627.

Kowalski, K. M. (2003). Are the hidden drugs in your drink? Current Health, 30(1), 19-21.

Romeo, F. (2004). Acquaintance rape on college and university campuses. College Student Journal, 38(1), 61-64.

Schwartz, R. H. (2000). Drug-Facilitated sexual assault. Southern Medical Journal, 93, 588-561.

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