Young women in Northern Ireland are leaving themselves vulnerable to rape or serious sexual assault because of their binge drinking, according to research carried out by staff and students within the Forensic and Legal Medicine team at the University of Ulster.
Dr Janet Hall undertook a Masters research project with supervisors Dr Tara Moore and Professor Edward Goodall on drug facilitated sexual assault within Northern Ireland. They examined toxicology results compiled from victims of alleged sexual assaults over a six year period from 1999 to 2005. The findings demonstrated that the average alcohol levels at the time of the alleged assaults were almost THREE TIMES the drink/driving limit.
The research undermines claims that the use of ‘date-rape’ drugs or ‘spiking’ of drinks is the major factor involved. The study failed to find any trace of specific date rape drugs such as GHB, Rohypnol or ketamine, although it did caution that delays in reporting alleged assaults or in taking samples could mean that such drugs could no longer be detected.
The study found that the number of cases where toxicology samples were taken rose from 30 in 1999 to 51 in 2005 and the percentage of samples which contained alcohol, drugs or both increased from 66% to 78% over the same period.
The number of cases where high or very high levels of alcohol were found in the alleged victims increased over the same period. Although the involvement of drugs, other than alcohol, in the samples doubled in the six year period, their contribution to the assaults remain unclear. Many of the drugs detected were either prescription drugs or recreational drugs. Some drugs which could have been used to spike drinks were detected, but they also may have been simply prescribed for use by the alleged victim.
Dr Janet Hall, who examined the Forensic Science Northern Ireland toxicology database, said: "This research confirms the findings of other studies in the UK, US and Australia – that alcohol is a major contributor to vulnerability to sexual assault in social situations and acquaintance rape."
Dr Hall added "Given the very high levels of alcohol consumption by some alleged victims, the findings also raise the question of what constitutes valid consent to sexual activity. The capacity to give informed consent at these levels of alcohol consumption is very questionable."
Dr Moore said "Further study is now required to give a more accurate picture of the involvement of alcohol and drugs in cases of alleged sexual assault."
This research once again has highlighted the need for a clear message to be given to all regarding the importance of responsible drinking.
Avoidance of mixing different alcoholic drinks in one sitting and avoidance of mixing alcohol with other substances such as prescription medications or recreational drugs, will help reduce the vulnerability, in social settings, to sexual assault or even rape, the authors say.