Women Cautioned About Rape Drug

But focus should be on men, activist says

by Heather Scoffield, Globe and Mail, March 12, 2001

A significant seizure of a date-rape drag in the Ottawa area this weekend should not prompt panic among women in bars, says a rape-crisis activist who has been studying date-rape drugs for the past three years. 

Police based in Gatineau, Que., arrested eight people - including a 16-year-old girl -- after a raid Friday. They seized marijuana, ecstasy, and at least 35 four-millilitre vials of a date-rape drug called GHB - gamma-hydroxybutyrate, said Sergeant Eric Sabourin. 

The seizure led Gatineau police to tell women in the Ottawa area to be especially careful at bars. They warned that the use of the drug will likely increase because it is cheap and readily available.

But GHB and another date-rape drug called Rohypnol are no more dangerous to women's safety than other drugs that men use in combination with alcohol to rape women, said Tamara Gorin, a project worker with the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres.

"What we have found is that In the majority of rapes occurring where drugs have been used, Rohypnol and GHB are minuscule in comparison," she said yesterday. GHB is dangerous, she said. A man could easily slip the odourless, tasteless, clear liquid into a woman's drink, causing her to lose consciousness within about 15 minutes. But the street drug is more commonly used to mediate the effects of withdrawal between highs from cocaine or heroin, Ms. Gorin said.

As for Rohypnol, Ms. Gorin said the manufacturer of the prescription drug has changed its formula so that it does not dissolve completely and is blue - making it easier to detect in drinks.

The more common drugs used in rape cases are regular but powerful prescription drugs such as sleeping pills, Ms. Gorin said.

"We've been arguing to the police, and trying to get out to the public, that the use of drugs to facilitate rape is not new. . A number of drugs are used in combination with alcohol to incapacitate women and make it easier for men to succeed in raping them," Ms. Gorin said from Vancouver. "We try to ask that the focus not be specifically on GHB and Rohypnol, but that the focus go on to all kinds of medication, and all kinds of drugs being used to facilitate rape."

It's irresponsible for police to respond to a seizure of GHB by telling women to be more careful in bars, she said. "It's a little bit insulting to women. We from a very young age have learned how to protect ourselves.  What we want is the focus to be on men's behaviour, not women's behaviour."

But police across Canada expect the GHB problem to grow quickly. "Police expect that demand for this substance will increase considerably in the near future," said a report last year by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.