MORE SEXUAL ASSAULTS ARE CAUSED BY TOO MUCH ALCOHOL THAN BY 'DATE RAPE' DRUGS
Alcohol is being blamed as the cause of three out of every four alleged "date rapes" or sexual assaults.
The controversial findings of a detailed study into drink-spiking cast doubt over the theory that drugs such as Rohypnol and GHB are a major factor in sex attacks on women.
The research has concluded that the majority of victims had drunk alcohol voluntarily, and just under half had chosen to take drugs themselves before the assault took place.
Drink-spiking is a growing concern for many women in Britain, but no national figures exist to give a clear picture of whether drugs such as Rohypnol and GHB are a common feature in sexual assaults. More than 754,000 women in the UK over the age of 16 are estimated to have been the victims of rape, but there have been only 15 successful prosecutions for drug-assisted sexual assault in the past five years.
However, the University of Surrey research, based on police evidence, says that alcohol is the drug of choice for rapists, with sexual assault more likely to be the result of attackers taking advantage of victims who have been drinking.
Miranda Horvath, who helped to carry out the research, said the aim of the study was to improve crime prevention. "The drug of choice does seem to be alcohol and there is a strong link to binge drinking," she said.
The study identifies two distinct types of abuser: the "predator" who administers the drug, and the "marauder" who takes advantage of a person who is already drunk.
Sexual assault referral centres increasingly report that alcohol is a significant factor in rape cases. Dr Cath White from the St Mary's Centre in Manchester, which works with victims of alleged rape or sexual assault, has analysed evidence from 270 rape cases. Her results show that the number of victims who had been drinking alcohol when they were attacked has more than doubled in the past 10 years.
"There will be some drug-assisted rape, but the main issue is alcohol,"
said Dr White, clinical director of the sexual assault referral centre.
"It's a big factor and is increasing all the time. It is not just more people drinking, it is the quantity. If a person is very drunk they cannot consent - it is rape. There are those who will pick on people when they are vulnerable."
The new findings are based on an examination of all 33 rapes and sex attacks recorded by Surrey police between April 2002 and October 2004.
These all allegedly involved assailants spiking victims' drinks with drugs or plying them with alcohol. Nearly half of the victims were in their 30s.
Seven police forces, including the Metropolitan and Derbyshire, are carrying out a six-month pilot study to evaluate how widespread drug rape is. Backed by the Association of Chief Police Officers, the results, expected later this year, will be based on analysis of hundreds of blood and urine samples taken from every victim who comes forward to report a drug rape.
Acting Detective Inspector Julie Sproson, from Derbyshire police, said chief constables were anxious to get an accurate picture of the extent of drug rape in Britain.
"We are trying to educate the public, not put the frighteners on them," she said.
"If we find something like Night Nurse in their system then we need to find out if they took it themselves or it was given to them."
'Some Of The Girls In Here Wouldn't Need Their Drink Spiking - They're Plastered'
By Katy Guest
At 11 o'clock on Friday evening, the streets of Derby are a perfect sample for any Derbyshire police officers wanting to study the effects of intoxication on women.
Girls in strappy sandals are dashing between the clubs and bars of Sadlergate. Others are dribbling in from the direction of the bus station, some still sucking the last life out of bottles of Bacardi Breezer before tumbling into a warm pub. A group of 18-year-olds in cowboy hats pours into a wine bar on Irongate and tries to remember a round: three Malibu and coke, four Archers and lemonade and a white wine for the girl whose birthday they are celebrating.
It is not their first drink of the evening, but these girls are not going to be caught by sharks tonight. They know friends who have had their drinks spiked and they will all look out for each other.
"I've heard about this kind of thing from magazines and my mum," says Nichaela. "My mum bought me one of those tests that shows if your drink has been spiked with drugs, but I've heard they don't work. You've just got to keep your drink in your hand at all times and be aware of anyone around you. My friend got spiked and was in the toilet, being sick and shaking.
She was lucky that she had her mates with her. We're the kind of group that looks after each other."
In the pub next door, Liz, 30, is waiting for her boyfriend. "It's annoying," she says. "If I'm on my own I'll take my pint to the loo with me so I know nobody's touched it. To be honest, some of the girls in here wouldn't need their drinks spiking to be vulnerable. They're plastered.
You'd hope your friends would notice if you were leaving a pub with a stranger. I'm more worried about unlicensed minicab drivers."
At the back of the pub, a group of women in their 20s know the dangers.
They are careful, but they still believe they have been caught out. "We think we had our drinks spiked once," one adds. "We always drink wine but this time we were paralytic. The people who didn't drink from that bottle were fine. But we couldn't prove anything. What would be the point of telling the police?"
But her friend, Sarah Jane, believes it's not drugs women should be worried about. "I think someone's more likely to ply you with drink," she says. "If someone were to buy me a vodka, lime and soda, I wouldn't have a clue if it was a double. They'd be making you get absolutely bladdered, then they could do all sorts."
All but one of these women admit to a drunken encounter that they regret.
Still, they don't always remember to watch their drinks. "I'm too trusting," says Sarah Jane. Instead, they trust that there is strength in numbers. "We wouldn't be in a pub on our own," they say, "and we wouldn't let a friend do anything stupid." Says Clare: "My mum always tells me if a man offers to buy me a drink I should say, 'Thank you, I'll just take the money.'"