Home > Drug-facilitated sexual assault: an Irish perspective.

Connolly, Johnny (2014) Drug-facilitated sexual assault: an Irish perspective. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 51, Autumn 2014, p. 18.

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A recent journal article provides an Irish perspective on drug-facilitated sexual assault (DFSA).1 It discusses the various ways in which DFSA is defined, the limitations associated with establishing its prevalence in Irish society, the various substances that have been found to be associated with it in other jurisdictions, and the complex evidential issues that can arise in trying to establish its basis in law.

Rape that is facilitated by alcohol, drugs or other intoxicants has often been confused with so-called ‘date rape’. However, as the authors explain, date rape is just one specific form of DFSA ‘where the victim is on a date with the perpetrator’ and drugs with specific biological effects are used to ‘facilitate sexual assault’ (p. 189). In this context, rape is generally defined in legislation as ‘unlawful sexual intercourse or certain sexual activity perpetrated on an individual where consent is not present, or where consent is not valid due to a lack of capacity of that individual to consent…due to intoxication’.

DFSA is summarised by the authors as ‘sexual assault that is facilitated by alcohol, drugs or other intoxicating agents where consent cannot be obtained due to lack of capacity of the victim’ (p. 190). With regard to the prevalence of DFSA in Ireland the authors highlight the general under-reporting of rape and sexual assault to the Garda Síochána. In particular, they note a report of the Rape Crisis Centre (RCC) to the effect that less than one in five of victims of rape reported the offence to the gardaí. Furthermore, from an analysis of 10,155 phone calls to the RCC in 2007, 2.3% related to drug rape. This figure, according to the authors, is misleading and relates to a confusion between date rape, drug rape and DFSA. The most common substance involved in DFSA is alcohol, and this is not included in figures presented for ‘drug rape’. In Ireland, according to the study, ‘alcohol is involved in about half of all adult sexual assaults’ (p.191). Consequently, the offence of DFSA is ‘hugely underestimated’ in Ireland. From a brief analysis of UK case law regarding consent in rape cases where the complainant/victim is self-intoxicated with alcohol, the courts generally hold that ‘drunken consent is still considered consent’ (p. 192).

One of the major challenges in legally establishing DFSA, however, is the failure to test for the presence of specific substances in victims. In particular, samples need to be taken from victims in a timely manner, while the drugs or alcohol are still detectable. This, according to the authors, is ‘especially relevant with drugs such as GHB and ethanol, which clear rapidly from the body’. The study includes a table showing the length of time different drugs generally associated with DFSA remain detectable in urine samples, and this can vary from 7-12 hours in the case of alcohol to 30 days for long-acting benzodiazepines.

The authors conclude their analysis by highlighting the under-reporting of crimes of sexual violence in Ireland. DFSA is, they suggest, an issue that cuts across various disciplines including forensic science, medicine and law. Further education of frontline service providers, facilitating a greater awareness of the legal and forensics’ issues involved, might, the authors suggest, be a positive step towards addressing the general under-reporting of offences in this area.

1 McBrierty D, Wilkinson A et al. (2013) A review of drug-facilitated sexual assault evidence: an Irish perspective. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine 20(4): 189–197.

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