Tuesday 19 June 2018

Alcohol 'still most usual date rape drug'

Majority attending sex assault unit have no physical injury

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Stock picture
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

Alcohol "continues to be the greatest, most prevalent date rape drug", according to the Medical Director of the national network of Sexual Assault Treatment Units (SATU).

Dr Maeve Eogan said that although it does not make you culpable, it is important to make both men and women aware that alcohol makes you more vulnerable to all kinds of assault, including sexual assault.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, she said: "If alcohol makes you more vulnerable, does that make you more culpable? The answer to that is absolutely not," but she said staff at the unit are not "naive" about its "downsides".

"We do a lot of education here in the SATU, our nurses go to secondary schools to carry out work around consent and I also go to the universities to give lectures and we would always say - and this is a public health message - that obviously there are downsides to significant alcohol intake."

She explained: "Being vulnerable does not make you culpable, without being glib about it - the only cause of rape is rapists - but it would be wrong of us to say that alcohol is never identified in the patients coming into the sexual assault treatment unit. We are not unique in that.

"Other studies nationally and internationally highlight [the fact] that alcohol is very frequently a factor in victims of sexual crime - and also perpetrators - and it is very likely because alcohol can impair your decision-making, that's why it is a factor. And we are not naive to that. But nor is it either helpful, or appropriate, to be in any way pejorative to somebody who comes to us at a time of crisis."

Dr Eogan, who has worked at the SATU for almost 10 years, is keen to stress that it is both a crime to spike another person's drink with alcohol and also to be "reckless" when someone is legally too drunk to consent.

But she said alcohol can still be tied in with a message about safety. On the advice she would give her own children, she said: "As a mom of two children who are still, thankfully, too small to drink alcohol, I certainly will be supporting them with that message to limit their alcohol intake in order to keep themselves as safe as possible. It is not just to keep yourself safe from sexual crime but it's also to keep yourself safe from lots of other things."

On average about 50pc of people who attend [the unit] will have taken alcohol. In previous years, that figure ranged from between 60pc and 70pc.

Dr Eogan explains: "What we generally see is that patients who have a lack of memory in relation to what happened are more likely to have ingested a significant amount of alcohol. And that would not just be in our figures but also in other studies done nationally and internationally. It is likely that alcohol continues to be the greatest date rape drug rather than rohypnol or other substances."

Around 300 women and 30 men attend the SATU at the Rotunda hospital every year - the youngest aged 12, the oldest in their 70s and 80s.

Working on the front line, she says: "No two patients will [show] their emotions in the same way."

She describes how some "will be very organised and pragmatic", while others "will be absolutely and very obviously devastated", adding: "The important thing is that we have time to go at the person's pace."

Dr Eogan says it is also important for people to realise that the majority of patients who attend sexual assault treatment units will not actually have a physical injury.

She explains: "A lot of it is emotional force. And while there may be physical force, the body is designed to have sexual intercourse so consequently there may not be a physical finding because the body may respond and adapt to vaginal penetration, even though it may be unwanted."

The unit offers psychological support to patients and also provides the option of holding any DNA evidence taken during a forensic examination on its premises for up to a year, should the patient want to press ahead with a Garda investigation at a later date.

On the advice she would give people, she says: "I think a very good maxim is to look after yourself - and look after each other - because if we are all only looking after ourselves we only have one person looking after us. Whereas [in the other scenario], you have a whole network of people keeping you safe."

Sunday Independent

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