EMCDDA Home
  • EN
Search

Drugnet Europe News from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction — April–June 2007

Monitoring drug-facilitated sexual assault

Over the past 10 years, there has been a rise in the number of reports of drugs and alcohol being used to immobilise victims for the purpose of sexual assault. Population surveys carried out in six EU countries suggest that up to 20 % of women experience some form of sexual assault in their adult lifetime (1).

pensive woman

A lack of appropriate monitoring systems means that the full scale of drug-facilitated sexual assault (DFSA) remains unknown. In a study marking International Women’s Day (8 March), the EMCDDA named better monitoring of the phenomenon as an 'essential first step in addressing the problem'.

Alcohol still the main hazard

According to the study, media reports of 'date rape' and 'drink spiking' have paid disproportionate attention to scenarios in which GHB (see p. 1) and the benzodiazepine Rohypnol® have been used covertly to incapacitate potential victims. However, it states that alcohol is the central nervous system depressant most commonly associated with sexual opportunism and assault in Europe, followed by a range of prescription drugs, including benzodiazepines.

Forensic studies show that only a very small proportion of reported sexual assaults involve the covert use of GHB, often referred to as the ‘date rape’ drug. However, the narrow time window of detection for GHB (6–8 hours in blood; 10–18 hours in urine) means that forensic analysis and monitoring are impossible unless the alleged assault is reported, and samples collected and processed in a timely way.

Amidst public health concerns about the burgeoning binge-drinking culture in Europe, policy-makers across the EU are developing strategies to reduce hazardous alcohol use by both sexes in recreational settings where sexual assaults are most likely to take place.

Signs of change

Public attitude surveys show that stereotyping and victim blaming around sexual assault remain prevalent and entrenched. But according to the paper, there are 'important signs of change', with recent responses to DFSA challenging 'stereotypical attitudes to this type of crime'. These include a broader definition in the UK, which shifts blame away from the victim, and a recommendation from the Council of Europe to raise awareness on 'date-rape drugs' across Europe and to provide appropriate assistance to victims of sexual assault linked to such drugs.

The paper concludes that a raft of new measures is needed to reduce the incidence of DFSA and to impact on conviction rates. These include: a revision of sexual assault legislation; better methods of forensic analysis; improved training for criminal justice and hospital emergency staff; and pressure on pharmaceutical firms to alter products used in such assaults.

(1) 'Sexual assaults facilitated by drugs or alcohol' (EMCDDA, 2008), EMCDDA Technical data sheet. . Feature article at: http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/?nnodeID=410


Drugnet Europe is the EMCDDA's newsletter launched in September 1996. The newsletter provides regular and succint information on the Centre's projects and activities to a broad readership.

Page last updated: Wednesday, 30 April 2008