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Date rape, also referred to as acquaintance rape, happens more often than sexual assaults committed by strangers. Yet, date rape is often unreported because the victim knows their attacker and doesn’t want to cause problems within their relationship or social circle.  But regardless as to whether a rape has been committed by a stranger or someone you know, it’s a crime. It’s important to learn how to keep yourself safe. 

How is date rape defined?

Date rape is sex that is forced on you by someone you know such as a new partner, colleague, friend or social acquaintance. It can happen anywhere at any time; your home, or someone else’s, a club or bar, or even at a party with people in the next room who remain oblivious to what’s happening. Sadly, some people believe that if someone who has experienced date rape was under the influence at the time, it is their fault. Nothing could be further from the truth – no one, whether inebriated or not – deserves to be assaulted. The important thing to remember is that if you’ve resisted verbally or physically, if you’ve said no, or if you’ve been unable to say no due to the effects of drugs or alcohol, its rape.

How does drink spiking make people more vulnerable to date rape?

Spiking occurs when someone puts date rape drugs into someone’s drink without their knowledge. And because most date rape drugs don’t have a colour, smell or taste (although Ketamine may taste salty) they can easily be added to drinks without the victim’s knowledge. If you’re unaware that your drink has been spiked it will be more difficult for you to remain in control and resist an assault. The most common date rape drugs are:

  • Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and Gamma-butyrolactone (GBL)
  • Tranquilisers such as Valium, Rohypnol and Ketamine.

Some date rape drugs can start to take effect within 15 minutes of being administered. If you haven’t knowingly taken drugs or if you feel like you’ve had more alcohol to drink than you actually have and you notice any of the following symptoms, you should take immediate action if possible. For example, if you’re in a pub or club, you’re at a party, or there are other people around, ask someone to stay with you until medical help arrives.

Symptoms include:

  • Drowsiness or light-headedness
  • Confusion or feeling very disorientated
  • Difficulty speaking or slurring your words
  • A loss of balance or finding it hard to move
  • A problem remembering conversations you’ve just had
  • A loss of body sensation (such as feeling like you’re floating above your body)
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.

The effects of most date rape drugs last between three and 12 hours depending on how much has been given to you. You may also still feel some of the symptoms of a date rape drug after a night’s sleep, such as confusion, amnesia or nausea.

How can I avoid being the victim of a spiked drink?

  • Whether you’re at a pub, a party or someone else’s house, always open your own drinks and keep them with you at all times (even when you go to the ladies’ room).
  • Never accept a drink from someone you don’t know very well – even if they look trustworthy.
  • Never share drinks with other people – you may find that you and the person you’re sharing with have been targeted together.
  • Trust your instincts; if you feel uncomfortable with a person for whatever reason find the friends you’ve come with and leave immediately.
  • Remember that alcohol isn’t the only thing that can be spiked. Recreational drugs such as cannabis can be combined with substances that may make you ill and feel out of control.
  • Stay away from recreational drugs which will leave you disoriented and less aware of what people around you are doing

Date rape myths

Learning how to protect yourself from date rape partly relies on understanding some of the myths that surround this crime.

MYTH: Date rape only happens when you’re dating the perpetrator

The fact that the term ‘acquaintance rape’ is used interchangeably with the term ‘date rape’ highlights the fact that it’s not simply those people we’re involved with romantically but friends, colleagues and people we’re acquainted with socially can also pose a threat. Of course, it’s important to remember that date rape is a relatively rare occurrence and not everyone we come into contact with poses a threat. But when we understand that date rape can happen to anyone at anytime, we’re much better placed to keep ourselves safe.

MYTH: Date rape isn’t as harmful as rape committed by a stranger

Rape of any kind has long-lasting effects and date rape is no exception. When we trust partners, friends, colleagues or acquaintances to behave acceptably we experience a devastating breach of trust when they cause us harm. People who have experienced any kind of rape and who don’t seek help can suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety or panic attacks, depression, social phobias or substance abuse. If you, or someone you know, has been affected by date rape, it’s vital to seek help – don’t suffer in silence. For emotional and practical support, speak with a trained and qualified retailTRUST advisor. Every call is totally confidential.

MYTH: Date rape can only happen if your drink has been spiked with drugs

Date rape can happen at anytime regardless of whether alcohol or drugs are involved. Date rape occurs more frequently when either the perpetrator or the victim is under the influence but it can happen to anyone.

MYTH: If I know the rapist, or have been sexually involved with them in the past, there’s no point in telling the police because they won’t believe me

Police throughout the UK take reports of sexual violence very seriously and this includes date rape. Just because you know the perpetrator, or you’ve had sex with them in the past doesn’t mean that you’re at fault – no one ever asks to be raped. It’s a personal choice as to whether or not someone decides to report a date rape, but rest assured the police will believe you in every instance. You might want to contact your local Rape and Sexual Assault Service which will offer you free, confidential advice about how to report the crime.

MYTH: Date rape is a result of sexual attraction

Rape of any kind is always about the perpetrator’s need to have power or control over someone else. Rape isn’t about physical attraction or sexual gratification. It’s a crime and date rape is no different than any other kind of assault.

What can I do if I’m in danger?

If you’re in danger, feeling that things are becoming out of your control, or you’re feeling unwell and suspect that you’re the victim of a spiked drink, remember these important steps:

  • Get away as quickly as you can – find the people you’re with who can take you to a safe place and call 999.
  • If you’re on your own, call 999 immediately.
  • If you don’t have access to your phone and you’re at a pub, bar or restaurant, tell staff to call the police or an ambulance for you immediately; they are obligated to help you. Don’t take no for an answer.
  • It’s important that you receive immediate medical attention – whether or not you’ve been administered drugs without your knowledge. 999 will send the police to you who may in turn summon an ambulance for you if it’s needed. You’ll usually be taken to A&E and you may receive treatment for any injuries, emergency contraception, and other health concerns.
  • The doctor may also perform a ‘rape kit’, also known as a ‘sexual assault kit’ to assist investigation by the police.

Other tips for keeping yourself safe

  • Always make sure that you know the name and location of where you are. If you need help from the police, or need to call a taxi knowing exactly where you are will help them to find you quickly.
  • When going on a date with someone you don’t know well, tell a friend or family member where you’ll be and what time you’ll be home. Always meet them in a public place. If you’ve met the person online, ensure that someone knows how to find their online profile too.
  • Make sure that you either have your mobile phone with you at all times or you’re carrying change if you need to make a call.
  • Keep some emergency cash on you in case you find yourself in a vulnerable position and need to take a taxi home.
  • If you don’t want to avoid alcohol completely when socialising, stick to a one or two drink limit over the course of the event. Date rape happens most often when alcohol or drugs are involved and staying in control is a really sensible way to remain vigilant and lessen the risk.
  • Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable with a person for any reason leave immediately.
  • Stay close to your friends when you’re at a party, bar, pub or club and never leave a friend to make their own way home. If you’ve gone out together, ensure you leave together.