Women's Health Matters

Text Size
Jump to body content

Get the facts about drug-facilitated sexual assault

May 17, 2012

By Micaella DiFelice

People generally associate drug-facilitated rape with being “roofied,” which is the “date rape” drug known as Rohypnol.  Yet research has consistently shown that the drug most commonly associated with sexual assault cases is alcohol.

For sexual assault prevention month, Women’s Health Matters spoke to Dr. Janice Du Mont, a scientist at Women’s College Research Institute about drug-facilitated sexual assault.

“Drug-facilitated sexual assault is any sexual activity occurring where there is no consent or invalid consent to sexual contact due to the effects of alcohol or drugs,” says Dr. Du Mont.

“The drugs and alcohol may be slipped by someone into a person’s drink, for example, or may be consumed knowingly.” 

Recent studies of sexual assault have shown that 50 per cent of cases were linked to the consumption of alcohol. “In approximately half of all reported rapes, victim/survivors have consumed alcohol prior to being assaulted,” says Dr. Du Mont.

Sexual aggressors have been found to use alcohol and drugs in several ways to manipulate their victims into a state of unconsciousness or disinhibition. The effects of alcohol can alter a victim’s state of mind as well as their control of the situation. Dr. Du Mont identifies several scenarios of drug-facilitated rape.

Examples of possible drug-facilitated sexual assault scenarios include:

  • the intentional spiking of a drink with a drug
  • plying someone with large quantities of alcohol
  • the consumption of large amounts of alcohol or unintentionally mixing alcohol with over-the-counter and prescription drugs

Even frequently used over-the-counter drugs can be a factor in drug-facilitated rape. Dr. Du Mont advises that “women need to be aware that alcohol can interact with common over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs and contribute to their risk of incapacitation, disinhibition and sexual assault.”  

Though alcohol remains the most commonly used drug to facilitate any type of sexual assault, women everywhere have always associated “roofies” with sexual assault and drugs. Dr. Du Mont notes that there exists a large information gap surrounding the issue due to lack of education. Even the information that women are receiving may be misleading, particularly in the area of drug-facilitated sexual assault.

“In our drug-facilitated sexual assault study, which looked at intentional drugging, we had no cases in which Rohypnol was found to have facilitated sexual assault,” says Dr. Du Mont, referring to the 2010 study published in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine. She adds that these results are consistent with earlier research from the United Kingdom and the United States.

Dr. Du Mont notes that there are other commonly used drugs found to be associated with sexual assault in addition to alcohol, such as:

  • marijuana
  • cocaine
  • anti-anxiety medications
  • pain medications

Women should remain aware of their surroundings, especially in establishments where alcohol is served. There are several high-risk locations that influence a woman’s chance of being drugged as well as sexually assaulted. 

“Based on our research and earlier studies, the most common location prior to being drugged and sexually assaulted is a pub or club,” says Dr. Du Mont. “Women would be prudent to watch their drinks and to use a buddy system when out partying.”

It should not be the sole responsibility of the woman to prevent the case of a drug-facilitated sexual assault. Dr. Du Mont also remarks that it isn’t simply the woman’s behaviour that should be changed; it is the public’s perception of sexual assault that should essentially be modified.

 “Sexual assault is a societal issue,” says Dr. Du Mont. “There needs to be a renewed and strengthened commitment at that level to prevent sexual violence.” 

An improved understanding of sexual assault and violence against women begins with today’s youth. Every school system must educate young boys and girls about respect and non-abusive relationships in order for society to have a stance against the issue. Dr. Du Mont recognizes what needs to be done in order to ensure that the public is not only aware, but also prepared to take action.

 “We believe that education and public awareness campaigns regarding the effects of alcohol, especially combined with drugs, are needed to help combat the problem of drug-facilitated sexual assault,” says Dr. Du Mont.  “Alcohol and drugs make people vulnerable and sexual predators seek out vulnerable people to assault.  People also need to be aware of this and know that it is okay to step into a situation or otherwise get help when they are not sure if someone is safe.  We are currently working on materials for this purpose.” 


If a person believes they have been drugged and sexually assaulted, they should go to their closest Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Centre (SA/DVTC) or emergency department.  There are 35 hospital-based SA/DVTCs in Ontario and the locations are listed on their website www.sadvtreatmentcentres.net  

 In Toronto, the centre located at Women’s College Hospital is staffed 24 hours a day by specially trained nurses who provide health and forensic care. It is important that the person does not shower, bath, or drink prior to being examined. If possible, the first urine sample should be brought to the hospital for testing for the presence of drugs and/or alcohol.


Jump to top page
  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital