News
3 min

New test for date-rape drug

Drugged sexual assault rate high among gays

Do you think you’ve been drugged and then sexually assaulted? A new study being run in Ottawa will likely be able to answer that question.

The rate of drug-related sexual assault is very high among gay men, according to Elyse Sevigny, sexual assault nurse examiner at the Ottawa Hospital’s sexual assault and partner assault care program.

“Late spring, long weekends and summer in general is when drug-related sexual assaults are the highest,” she says.

But today’s tests can’t always give a clear answer when someone is suspicious about what happened to them.

“We don’t know exactly what happens to people because they black out. At this point, we can’t tell people whether they were drugged or raped.”

Some date-rape drugs have a very short half-life of six to eight hours, she explains, and tests have to be done within that time. As well, “most toxicology tests come back negative because our hospital lab is not specific enough to detect such small quantities of the drug.”

The diagnostic labs in Ottawa are also unable to detect the drug suspected of being most commonly used for sexual assault – Gamma Hydroxy Butyrate (GHB).

But this study is about to change all that. Sevigny says it will enable people who believe they were drugged and assaulted to have their body and urine samples tested at a forensic lab. This will provide them with more detailed and specific results that will detect the type of drug that was in their system and whether male DNA was present.

Sevigny says this study was proposed for three reasons. First, to be able to tell clients whether they have been sexually assaulted and drugged. Second, to collect data on these cases. And third, to put pressure on the government for more funding for service and treatment.

Jeremy Dias, a 21-year-old University Of Ottawa student who was drugged at the Centretown Pub in April, 2004, thinks conducting this kind of study is very important.

“Drug-related sexual assault is one of the most complex crimes in our society, especially because it’s so underground and so many people get away with it. It’s important to get that info out to people. The [queer] community often feels distant from sexual assault and drugging because of all the other issues we deal with such as gay-bashing and HIV. We generally associate drug-related sexual assault as a hetero issue when it’s definitely a big problem in the queer community as well.”

Dias says he was very lucky he wasn’t assaulted the night he was drugged. Dias says he had a few beers at the bar, two bought for him by others. He says he remembers his friends leaving the bar, and his hopping on his rollerblades to go back to residence. He claims to have felt woozy, so he decided to get tested.

At the hospital, Jeremy was told he’d have a room right away. Then he sat down to wait, had a few blackouts and woke up seven hours later. At that point, he was told he’d have a room in a few minutes, but he figured the drugs had already left his system by then, so he decided to go home instead. He says one of the nurses apologized for the delay and told him that from what the staff had observed they were 100 percent positive he was drugged.

Sevigny says cases like Dias’ are all too familiar. “We don’t get a lot of men coming in, but I know it’s happening. Most of them don’t come in because they feel ashamed or they think they’re responsible or they feel dirty. They also don’t come in because they don’t know who drugged them and they think nothing can be done about it. People don’t believe in the system, so they don’t come.

“On average, just from my personal observations, there are approximately 150 cases a year. Maybe half go to the police, from that number only a handful are investigated, and only a small number of that are actually prosecuted. I want to call this the perfect crime because no one ever gets caught and no one ever serves a sentence.”

Sevigny says this study will last for one year. It has already been launched in six other centres in Ontario – Hamilton, Renfrew, Toronto, Windsor, Kenora and Scarborough. Sevigny says they are still waiting for final approval from the Ottawa Hospital ethics department, but are hoping to start by this fall.

Repeated calls to the Ottawa police were not returned prior to press.