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GHB and Women: We Have Some Things to Tell You

By Vancouver Rape Relief Collective
October 2002

We started meeting because men attacked two of us and we separately called Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter. After discussing the details of the attacks on us and the details of GHB use in our lives and communities to our rape crisis workers, it became clear that we had to do something. We gathered up our friends and met on the agenda of teaching Rape Relief what we know, to get support for ourselves about the attacks the women in our lives and we experienced, and to plan to do something about it.

We are a group of women in our 20’s, all of us employed, and all of us have used GHB recreationally. We all have experienced male violence at some point in our lives, and we can all point to a particular assault by a man or men, on ourselves or several women close to us, when we were either taking GHB willingly, or had been given it when we didn’t know. These facts are what drives our decision to write about our experiences, to warn other women, create a way for women in Vancouver to discuss this with each other and prevent further attacks on other girls and women.

What do we know about GHB?

From talking to each other, we found out that most of what we new anecdotally about GHB has factual basis. We did an internet search and also gathered other materials about GHB to confirm this.

  • GHB (Gamma-hydroxybutyrate), naturally occurs in the human body as an amino acid. It is a central nervous system depressant, and can relax and sedate the body. Body builders often use it in their training, for weight loss and muscle building. The manufactured drug is now a standard drug in most party and dance scenes in North America, used for the euphoric state it produces.
  • GHB can be produced in clear liquid, white powder, tablet, and capsule forms. GHB can be colorless, odorless and tastes salty. Food color is often added so that people don’t confuse GHB with water.
  • Slang or Street Names: Grievous Bodily Harm, G, Liquid Ecstasy.
  • GHB is considered a Schedule 3 drug under the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
  • Negative side-effects that occur especially when GHB is ingested with alcohol and signs that an overdose may have been taken are: dose-dependent drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, amnesia, visual hallucinations, loss of consciousness, loss of reflexes, reduced blood pressure, decreased heart rate, hypnotic effects resembling petit- mal epilepsy, convulsions, severe respiratory depression, coma and death. Overdose requires emergency room care.
  • If taken on it’s own, in small doses, GHB leaves little hang over. But you will often not remember details and you will have a different version of your behaviour then other people will tell you happened.
  • The slang for the symptoms of an overdose is “G-holing.”
  • GHB is often manufactured in homes with recipes and ingredients found and purchased on the Internet. Ingredients in GHB, gamma-butyrolactone (GBL) and 1,4-butanediol, can also be converted by the body into GHB. These ingredients are found in dietary supplements, available in health food stores and gyms, and are used to induce sleep, build muscles, and enhance sexual performance.
  • GHB is cleared from the body relatively quickly, so it is sometimes difficult to detect in drug screens taken at the hospital emergency room and other treatment facilities. Some studies indicate it is metabolized with in 4 hours of ingestion, others say up to 12 or 16.

And here are some more things to consider:

  • Men hand out GHB to women at parties and clubs.
  • There are bartenders in some clubs in Vancouver who take money from men to dose women’s drinks with GHB.
  • We have been warned by men friends about guys who hang out with girls and women who do “G” hoping they will be able to take advantage of the women later.
  • There is a party scene separate from the usual dance and rave scene with people who party and use GHB all the time. The women in these circles are often called “g-whores,” both because of their excessive use of the drug and because of how much sex they seem to be willingly having with men. There is no equivalent slang for the men behaving the same way; nor is there any intervention in situations where it is clear that if the woman was sober she would not consent to the sexual acts she is supposedly consenting to.
  • The ambulance attendants think that the aftermath of a dosing of GHB is not worth the cost a trip to the hospital for an “expensive drug screen”
  • 911 will refer women to poison control instead of the police when we call suspecting someone has given us GHB. The police will not investigate the above situation without the forensic drug screen
  • The Vancouver Police Department sexual offences squad and major crimes units do not share information about potential drugging. They cannot tell us which clubs women are getting drugged in because they are not keeping track of the reports. (see new info, Vancouver Sun clippings, July 2003)
  • Between us we could name at least 10 sexual assaults or druggings on other women and we have all intervened to prevent others from happening.

So what’s a woman to do?

Women are going to go out and party. Some of us are going to use GHB willingly. But what we came to understand by telling each other about GHB is that too often the circumstances are quickly out of our control, even when we are with friends. As with other situations where men are more likely to rape and sexually assault us because we are vulnerable, there are a lot of do’s and don’ts directed at women, supposedly so we can protect ourselves and prevent rape. As women who have actively intervened to protect the women and girls around us, we gotta say that whether a woman has taken GHB on her own or it was slipped in her drink, once she has ingested that GHB, she has no control over what is going to happen.

That is why we think there has to be a concerted effort to tell men to stop taking advantage, and to encourage men and women who know about the violence against women that is going on to intervene. We can tell women not to mix their GHB and their cocktails all we want. But ultimately, it is men who must decide not to drug us, and not to rape us once we can’t do anything about it. Women need straight up information about GHB and other drugs, so we can make informed choices about what we put in our bodies. A lot of women will think twice about taking GHB once they have all the details.

Listen up, guys!

We’re not gonna take it! So pay attention! And besides, you’ll have way better sex with a conscious woman. By now, most men will have heard about “no means no.” Most guys agree and back off. But for this small group of women to have experienced the assaults as we have, and know about as many attacks as we do, there are still way too many men who aren’t listening.

So here’s the deal, one more time:

  • When a woman says no, or appears reluctant or starts crying or is passed out in bed or cannot speak, this would generally mean she does not want to have sex. With you, or anybody for that matter. The appropriate thing to do would be to back off, leave the room, cover her with a blanket and tell one of her friends she’s passed out, say you’re sorry and go for a walk. If you do anything that is even close to continuing to have sex, and actually do have sex with her in these situations, you are sexually assaulting her and you are committing a crime under at least two sections of the criminal code.
  • When a woman is out for a night on the town, she has a right to make her own decisions about what she puts in her body. This means if she takes GHB, she does not want to be plied with drinks, because she could end up with serious harm to her body, even end up having seizures, in a coma or dying. If she is drinking it is not at all cool for men to go putting any drug in her drink. In either case, you are putting her at a serious risk of harm to her body, and you are committing a criminal code offence called “administering a noxious substance.” If she dies, you are looking at a homicide charge. All the hype about GHB is that it is a fun night out. Getting a woman so sick she needs to be hospitalized, having sex with her when she can’t tell you what she really wants, and committing criminal offences are not exactly a good time. For the woman especially but also for the man.
  • If you want to have sex, good sex that means something and is somewhat exciting for both people, plan for a clean and sober date. It’s that simple. It’s her right. And your responsibility.

So now you know (again.)

What we are going do about it:

This group of women is going to intervene, and keep on intervening. We will help women in the clubs. We will let the club owners know that we hold them responsible for what happens in their places of business. We will not put up with this kind of violence against women. We have already filed complaints with Ecomm (911), the BC Ambulance Service and the Vancouver Police Department over the handling of a drugging of a woman. We will keep referring women who suspect men have drugged them to Vancouver Rape Relief, both for support and for advocacy.

We know that GHB is not the only drug that men use to rape women with, but we want to highlight GHB right now because so many women are at risk. Rapist men are taking advantage of our recreational use of this drug and it’s relatively abundant availability to attack us. Most of us have stopped using GHB now, as we can see how these men have undermined us and we are determined to not let this happen to ourselves again.

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