Monday 10 December 2018

Comment: The onus should not be on women to find ways to avoid rape

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Sinead Moriarty

Sinead Moriarty

A new, easy-to-use drug test that allows women to check if their drinks have been spiked has been released.

Last year, the number of rapes reported in Ireland increased by more than 28pc, with almost two a day.

According to figures from the Rape Crisis Centre, 80pc of rape cases occur when women have taken an alcoholic drink.

It’s all too easy to spike someone’s drink.

We all get distracted when we’re in a bar or nightclub.

Some people think that drink spiking is exaggerated. When I was 19 I had my drink spiked at a party by a guy I’d never met before. Luckily my boyfriend was there and was able to take me home. If he hadn’t been ... who knows what would have happened.

So, the news that an easy to use, daterape drug test is now available seems like a positive step. Undercover Colors, a fouryear-old tech startup based in North Carolina in the US, has invented a coin-size test that you can carry on a key fob or slip onto the back of your phone.

This small medallion can screen a drop of liquid in as little as 30 seconds. Using only one or two drops of liquid, it can detect Xanax, Valium and the infamous date rape drug Rohypnol.

“We’re responding to the real challenges of today by empowering people with information while pushing for a future where these types of crimes don’t happen,” said Barbara Cook, chief executive of the firm.

According to the company, Undercover Colors’ tests are discreet, quick, effective, and work in over 100 liquids – including both non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages.

Drink spiking has been linked to many incidents of date rape, but the problem is that by the time a blood or urine sample has been taken, the drug is often no longer able to be detected.

“No test is perfect and the problem with many of these drugs is that they don’t often last long in the system,” says Noeline Blackwell, chief executive of the Rape Crisis Centre. “I’d like to see some really sophisticated forensic tests being rolled out to prove that drinks are being spiked.”

The most common drugs used in drink spiking are depressants, which work by slowing down your nervous system and dulling your responses and instincts. They usually begin to take effect within five minutes of being taken. The effects can last for up to seven hours, but can cause unconsciousness and in extreme cases coma or even death.

Unfortunately, however, the number one date rape drug in Ireland will not be detected by this new test. Alcohol is, in fact, the top date rape drug here.

This type of drink spiking takes the form of giving a person double or triple shots when they think they are only drinking a single. Ms Blackwell is keen to emphasise spiking drinks is completely unacceptable, criminal and has to be called out. “People should call others out if they witness it happening.

It’s a shocking betrayal of trust. Spiking someone’s drink, whatever form it takes, is poisoning them,” she says. So how can women avoid the pitfalls of having their drink spiked in the first place?

Keep your drink in your hand and keep an eye on your friends’ drinks if they go to the toilet or go off to chat or dance.

Bring your drink everywhere with you – yes that does include the bathroom. No matter how desperate you are, or broke, don’t accept a drink from a stranger and never drink leftover drinks.

“If you have, for some reason, left your drink unattended, dump it,” says Ms Blackwell. “Don’t take any risks.” Ideally, drink from bottles, they’re a lot harder to spike than glasses. If you are on a date with someone you don’t know, make sure you go to the bar with them so you can monitor the amount of shots going into your drink.

As clever a test as the UndercoverColors one is, the onus should not be on women to have to test their drinks to keep from being raped. We need to focus on stopping rape, not just finding ways to avoid it.

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