We were all out celebrating and I must have had close to a dozen. I remember chatting with this woman and there was this guy hanging around, but I didn’t put two and two together. They bought me a couple of drinks because I was out of cash by then, then it all goes weird. I have no memory until I’m in this motel room, my clothes are off and they’re both there touching me. I didn’t know whether it was just the drink or something else. I know it was not what I was looking for.
Sexual assault can happen to any man, however big or strong he is, old or young; no matter how able he is to defend himself or trained he is in fighting; no matter whether he identifies as straight, gay, bi or fluid sexuality. Since the late 1990s there have been increasing numbers of people reporting that they have been drugged and then sexually assaulted. Many have no clear memory of the period when they were assaulted. Below is some information regarding drug facilitated sexual assault, some common responses and the options available to you.
Sexual assault, drink and drugs
Rape or sexual assault is any form of intercourse or sexualised touching that occurs without full and free consent:
- A drug-facilitated sexual assault occurs when someone intentionally uses a drug or alcohol, to increase your vulnerability to sexual assault. The drug/alcohol is used as a means to ensure that you are unable to stop the assault or to give consent.
- An additional crime of administering a drug to a person without their knowledge or consent has also been committed.
- Even if the person has intentionally consumed the drug/alcohol but is too intoxicated to give consent, it is still sexual assault.
Who does this happen to?
There is nothing that makes a particular person an obvious target of alcohol or drug induced sexual assault, even though many of those targeted are young people, including backpackers and travellers. Both women and men have been targeted. Most have been drinking alcohol prior to the assault though other drinks and food have also been spiked. Unfortunately this crime is not rare.
What drugs are used?
Information from Australia and overseas, points to various drugs being used in sexual assaults.
In our community, alcohol is the most commonly used drug. It is frequently used in drink spiking and sexual assault. Encouraging someone to drink more or increasing the alcohol content of their drinks without them knowing are both ways in which alcohol has been used as a means to enable in a sexual assault.
Other drugs which have been reported include:
- Sleeping tablets and drugs prescribed to control anxiety
- Hallucinogens such as ecstasy
- Gammahydroxybutyrate, (also called GHB or GBH)
- Opiates such as heroin
Often people are given a combination or “cocktail” of alcohol with one of these drugs.
I was at a party and remember drinks being offered around and someone had some E. I felt quite up and happy. Next thing I remember is I’m in a room with these naked guys and I’m in pain. I was really fuzzy, but got myself out of there. The following day I felt like I had a massive hangover. I have always practised safe sex and have no clear idea what went on or whether they used a condom or what.
What are the effects of the drugs?
The effect of a drug/alcohol on a person can differ depending on a number of factors including the size of the person, the amount or combination of the drug/alcohol used, their previous exposure to a drug, and whether they are taking any other drugs (including medication). When a person has been drugged without knowing they can appear quite vague or as if they were drunk. The drugs can interfere with their decision-making, and they can behave “out of character” agreeing to do things that they would normally avoid or consider unsafe. For example they may leave a bar with someone they don’t know or engage in unsafe sexual behaviour with a perfect stranger, even though they would not typically behave like this. They are then likely to be embarrassed and confused and say things like; “That was not like me, I am not that sort of person.”
- Some of the drugs used will mean that the person has a “patchy” memory of what actually happened. They may be quite clear that someone has had sex with them but be unsure of the details.
- Someone who has been given one of the hallucinogens, such as LSD or ecstasy may appear confused, scared and not know what is going on. This is more likely if the person has had no previous experience with the drug.
- Depending on the drug, the effects may last for hours or days. Some will result in hangover-like feelings. Apart from being sexually assaulted, many people are also robbed while they are in this vulnerable state.
- It is extremely dangerous to give someone a drug without their knowledge. You do not know if they have health problems, are on medication, or have consumed other drugs.
- If a sufficiently large dose of a drug has been used or is combined with a moderate amount of alcohol, the person can become unconsciousness or seriously ill. There have even been instances where a person has been drugged at a venue, wandered away on their own and another person has found them and sexually assaulted them.
- A person who has been drugged without their knowledge is also a danger to themselves and others, especially if they drive.
What can I do if I think I have been drugged and then sexually assaulted?
The first thing to do if you feel that you have been drugged and sexually assaulted is to get yourself to a safe place, preferably with safe people. Remember that you may still be under the effect of the drug for some time after the assault so don’t drive, operate machinery or do anything that could put you or anyone else in danger. Your physical health and wellbeing are your first priority. If you have any injuries go to your local doctor or the nearest emergency department.
Ask for help
If you know or think you have been drugged and assaulted, you do not have to cope with this on your own. Even if you have no clear memory of the event, you can still talk to a trained counsellor about what happened and the way it is affecting you. You do not have to report the assault to Police to be able to access support. (See: Where can I get help?)
It is a good idea for anyone who has been sexually assaulted to get a check up for sexually transmitted infections and to practice safe sex until they get the “all clear”. Discuss this with your local doctor or a sexual health clinic. A counsellor can assist by referring you to your local sexual health service.
It is typical to experience physical and emotional reactions to a traumatic event such as sexual assault; however they can be quite scary for many people. These reactions can include:
- sleep disturbance
- thinking a lot about the assault
- feeling confused, shocked or frightened
- flashbacks (feeling like it is happening again)
- anger and depression
- changes in appetite
- headaches or feeling sick
- feeling dirty
- difficulties around intimacy, trust or sexuality
Common difficulties for men
For men, the idea that a man should be able to handle himself and should be able to manage his drink can make the experience even more confusing and difficult to handle. It is not uncommon for a man to start blaming himself or to become worried that people will criticise him or won’t believe him if he tells them what happened. The belief that a man should always be in control of himself makes not having a clear memory of what occurred even more difficult to deal with. In addition the use of drink or drugs to facilitate the assault does not erase the question of sexuality that men who have experienced sexual abuse often have to deal with. If he was sexually assaulted by a man then there are the questions regarding whether he is ‘gay’ and if he is sexually assaulted by a woman then the idea is that he should have enjoyed it or feel lucky.
These concerns and difficulties may pass with time; however if these common responses are not lessening then it is advisable to seek help.
Can I take police action?
Sexual assault is a serious criminal offence. So is giving someone alcohol/drugs without their knowledge.
If you decide to go ahead and make a statement to the police it is possible that they will lay charges against the person who drugged and sexually assaulted you. However it may be hard for the police to investigate crimes if you are unsure what happened or who the person was that assaulted you. This can be frustrating and often upsetting. The police can offer advice about this and even if no charges are laid, making a report to them can help you feel better and could assist them in future investigations of similar assaults. Remember that in these matters, police will not proceed with investigations or laying charges without your consent.
The forensic medical examination
If you contact the police they may suggest that you have a forensic medical examination. This is not a test to see if you have been raped but rather a medical examination aimed at gathering evidence for use in a possible court case. You can ask police to take you there or you can refer yourself by going to the nearest Emergency Department. During this examination the doctor looks for evidence of an assault, including injuries such as bruising and collects body fluids that could identify the person who assaulted you.
The doctor can also take a sample of your urine and blood to screen it for drugs. This can sometimes (but not always) confirm that a drug was used. If a drug does not show up this does not prove that you were not drugged or that an offence was not committed against you. The small amounts of drug can often be very hard to detect or it may have left your body already. For this reason it is advisable to have the forensic examination as soon as possible after you have been assaulted.
However, you need to be aware that any drug you have taken recently, including illegal drugs can also show up. If you have used other drugs, remember that this information is then in the hands of the Police and could also be used later in court in an attempt to discredit you as a witness. Discuss this with the sexual assault counsellor at the hospital. You can of course have the forensic examination without a drug screen.
Remember it is your choice to have a forensic examination as well as to provide a urine or blood sample for drug screening.
Important self care
Aspects of self care that can help you manage.
Don’t blame yourself
Many people who have been drugged and sexually assaulted feel that somehow they were responsible for the assault. They look for reasons to blame themselves saying things like; “It was my fault because I accepted the drink” or “I must have looked like an easy target” or even “I can’t believe that I was so stupid”. The reality is that some people who will use drugs in order to sexually assault you are skilled at appearing friendly and non-threatening. They know how to make people feel safe and not see that they are in any danger. People can also blame themselves for not behaving in the way they usually do. Don’t forget that while you are under the influence of a drug you are “not yourself” and your behaviour is affected.
Don’t fill in the memory gaps
Because of the effects of the drug/alcohol you may never remember much about the assault. It is perfectly natural for you to want to remember what happened but try to avoid filling in the gaps by imagining the worst things that might have happened. Filling in the gaps can significantly add to your stress and even create additional trauma for you.
Some points to remember:
- Safety First. Try to make sure that you are safe, especially from the person who has assaulted you.
- Take care of your physical health and wellbeing.
- Aim to get back your feeling of control over your own life.
- Remember that there are common reactions to trauma and that you will move on.
- Be aware that using alcohol/drugs in the future, especially soon after the assault, could remind you of what happened.
- If part or all of the memory of the event is missing, accept that you may never recover that memory.
- Talk about what happened with people you trust and who will respect your privacy. Remember that they will probably be angry and upset for you so you will need to tell them what kind of support you want/need.
- DON’T let family/friends blame you for what happened, and DON’T let them push you into any action that is not your choice.
Some points to remember when using alcohol or drugs include:
- Be aware that you are more vulnerable to being tricked or forced into having sex with someone.
- You can help keep yourself and your friends keep safe by not overdoing it and by staying in a group. Look after yourself and look after your friends.
- Being drunk is not an excuse or a legal defence for sexually assaulting someone. The charges are the same and so are the penalties!
In Queensland, all victims of a crime, including sexual assault, can apply for Victim’s Compensation, even when an assailant has not been identified. However, to be eligible for Victim’s Compensation you do need to report the offence to the Police and assist them with their investigation.
An application for Victim’s Compensation is an entirely separate legal process from any criminal proceedings to do with the assault.
Acknowledgement: Created with reference to Queensland Health and New South Wales Health information sheets on Drink, Drugs and Recent Sexual Assault.