A dangerous mix: drinking, sex and college students
February 25, 2010
A majority of sexual assaults involving college students also involve drugs or alcohol. Advocates say this is one reason the prevalence rate of assaults continues to be high, and also partly why so few are ever successfully prosecuted. By Carol Smith InvestigateWest Sex and drinking are a dangerous mix on university campuses. A majority of sexual assaults involving college students also involve drugs or alcohol. Advocates say this is one reason the prevalence rate of assaults continues to be high, and also partly why so few are ever successfully prosecuted. While alcohol is the number one date rape drug on campus, advocates who help assault victims say students also need to worry about other drugs, including “Rohypnol” or GHB, a banned supplement. A 2006 study funded by the National Institute of Justice found that of the estimated 100,000 sexual assaults reported in the United States each year, about 62 percent were “drug-facilitated” and 5 percent of victims were given date-rape drugs. The study was conducted by University of Illinois researchers in Chicago, and involved sexual assault victims who had come in for rape kit evidence collection in Texas, California, Minnesota and Washington. Researchers analyzed hair and urine samples for 45 drugs. The subjects in the study were all ages, not just college students. But it shows how common drug-facilitated attacks are, something that is true on campuses as well, said Trinka Poratta, a former cop with the Los Angeles Police Department, who now consults with police departments and educational institutions about the issues of drugs and sexual assaults. In fact, she said there are about 40 drugs commonly associated with campus sexual assaults. They include benzodiazepines, such as Valium and Ativan, as well as party drugs, including Ecstasy, and pain medications, such as Vicodin. All of them can significantly impair a person’s ability to consent, especially when used, or given, in conjunction with alcohol. Anything that is synergistic with alcohol can lead to a drug-facilitated assault, said Dr. Naomi Sugar, director of the Harborview Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress. “Even antihistamines.” GHB, however, is probably the most notorious. It’s a clear, odorless liquid that can be hidden in an eye drop or nasal spray bottle, then surreptitiously dropped in someone’s drink. It starts to work within five to 15 minutes, said Poratta. Its effects vary, but in combination with alcohol, it can cause amnesia. “It can be a complete loss, or bits and pieces,” she said. GHB is also a sexual stimulant, so perpetrators will often later say that the woman accusing them of assault is the one who initiated the sexual encounter. Later, the woman may not be able to piece together what happened to her in time to get herself tested. Whether a woman initiated sexual contact, or got drunk willingly, is beside the point, said Poratta. Once a woman is impaired, she is legally incapable of consent, and someone who has sex with her can be charged with rape. “I tell guys, you may get away with it a few times, but if you don’t get away with it, you are a sexual predator for life,” said Poratta. “And that is a heavy jacket to wear.” The study authors called for increased toxicology screening of rape victims, something Poratta has also lobbied for. Urine and blood are not routinely collected or screened as part of rape kits in many jurisdictions, making it difficult to later present evidence of drugging in court. “We see a lot of cases where the patient doesn’t have a complete memory, or sometimes any memory,” Sugar said. The clinic collects urine with the patient’s permission, but she said it’s unlikely any GHB would be detectable after about six hours. “Unfortunately, if it’s an episode of complete amnesia, they’re confused, maybe they talk with friends. They sometimes don’t get to the hospital for 36 to 48 hours,” she said. GHB leaves the blood in four hours, said Poratta. “Every minute you wait, you’re ticking away evidence.” Some advocates encourage women who fear they may have been drugged to produce their own urine samples, even before they have decided whether to pursue a claim, just in case. Young men can also protect themselves from charges of drug-facilitated sexual assault, said Poratta. “It’s really simple. Have sex sober.” InvestigateWest is a non-profit investigative news organization covering the environment, health and social justice. Find out more at www.invw.org.
Public Health | April 2014
We update our 2013 series on Washington’s estimated fish consumption rate with news of a private meeting where Gov. Jay Inslee and his advisers wrestled with how much to protect business versus consumers when it comes to water pollution in the fish we eat.
Consumer Safety | April 2014
Manufacturers put a warning sticker on every ATV sold: The vehicles aren't meant for roads. But a push to allow just that is rolling out across the country. Washington and three other states passed new laws in 2013, among 22 states to allow or expand ATV access to roads since 2004.
Wealth & Poverty | December 2013
It's the unexpected catch in catch-share programs: A federal program that was supposed to help preserve and enhance the fishing economy in Kake, Alaska, has instead helped cause a severe decline. Meanwhile, 50 miles southeast, the town of Petersburg is booming.
The third part in our trilogy of fish stories examines the consequences catch-share policy where it was born, even as the model has been established in 14 other U.S. fisheries, encompassing dozens of species ranging from New England scallops to Pacific sole.
Foster Care | November 2013
State law now allows more kids to stay in foster care for an extra three years — until age 21. But many either refuse the help, or fail to qualify for it.
An investigation by KUOW in collaboration with InvestigateWest looks at why this transition to adulthood is trickier than expected – for foster kids, and for the state.
Public Health | September 2013
Of the roughly 50,000 kids who will attend Seattle schools this fall, nearly 2,000 will hit the books in classrooms within 500 feet of Interstate 5, InvestigateWest has found. This despite a body of evidence dating back decades that highway air pollution can cause lifelong respiratory problems and asthma attacks and boost school absenteeism.
From Seattle to Spokane, what can be done to make sure schools are healthy places for kids?
Photo: John Marshall JHS, 1963. SPSA 108-97.
Public Health | July 2013
Memory loss is one of the symptoms of dementia. So is wandering. Over the last five years, at least 10 people in Washington state have died after wandering away from where they live. It’s a problem that communities will have to confront as the population ages. But not all police departments are prepared for these kinds of incidents.
Wealth & Poverty | June 2013
Six nonprofit groups arose on the Bering Sea shore, and they have invested mightily in ships, real estate and processing plants. Over two decades, the groups amassed a combined net worth of $785 million," write Lee van der Voo and The New York Times' Kirk Johnson.
But the results on the ground, in rural community and economic development, have been deeply uneven, and nonexistent for many people who still gaze out to the blinking lights of the factory ships and wonder what happened. Photo Credit: Jim Wilson/The New York Times