Meet Claire. Claire was at a house-party when she started feeling woozy. She stumbled into the garden, where she vomited blood and had to be rushed to hospital. She had been drugged.

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Meet Thandi. Thandi went to a braai, had a few drinks, passed out and went home the next morning feeling fine, but not remembering much. Then her friends showed her a video of the previous night: three men were raping her as she slept. They had drugged her.

Meet Claire. Claire was at a house-party when she started feeling woozy. She stumbled into the garden, where she vomited blood and had to be rushed to hospital. She had been drugged.

Meet Chris. Chris’s girlfriend spiked his drink with a mixture of rohypnol and Viagra. She and her friends proceeded to rape him. He reported it to the police the next morning. A charge of sexual assault was laid.

Meet Hannah. Hannah went to the Square one night, intent on getting plastered. She woke up naked the next morning in a flat she didn’t recognise, next to a man she didn’t know. She couldn’t remember much from the night before. She panicked, and reported it as a date rape. But her blood tests showed she had no drugs in her system. No charges were pressed.

It’s a Friday night. You’ve just had the longest week of your life: you wrote four tests and your boyfriend broke up with you and your parents still don’t understand you and you fought with your best friend and you really need to party. You head for the Square. It’s going to be a good night. You’re going to get crazy drunk …

The next morning you wake up disoriented, hungover, regretting those last three tequila shots. Something isn’t right. This isn’t your room and you don’t recognise any of these people and who is this guy sleeping next to you and why are you both naked and why can’t you remember anything?

“It’s a very big crisis,” says Dr Madeleine Nolte, the Head of Student Support, when Perdeby interviewed her about the date rape phenomenon seemingly prevalent on campuses around South Africa. “In the last 20 years there has been a significant rise in the amount of cases I’ve seen,” adds her colleague, Dr Tim Laurens, a toxicologist at UP, who runs a forensic toxicology lab where students can have themselves tested if they fear they have ingested a date rape drug. Nolte and Laurens work closely together in date rape cases, along with campus security and the police.

The most commonly used date rape drugs are Rohypnol (roofies), a prescription drug and GHB, which Laurens notes can be easily manufactured at home. However, the most common date rape drug remains alcohol. In both a UK study and Australian study done on patients that were admitted to hospital claiming to have been drugged, more that 75% of patients were, like Hannah, simply drunk. Both studies note that alcohol remains a popular date rape drug because victims ingest it willingly.

Laurens agrees that the South African situation is the same. “In 80% of cases, this is what happens¸” he explains. He blames a binge-drinking student culture. He tells Perdeby that date rape drugs and binge drinking both suppress memory. The implication of this is that a person can be conscious, can be compliant, but incapable of remembering an event. Rapists, Laurens notes, can use this to their advantage when they drug someone who has also already had too much to drink, will not be able to feel the effects of the drugs and therefore be vulnerable. This amnesia is also what makes cases like this so hard to prosecute.

Nolte and Laurens, however, don’t downplay the critical rise in the number of cases where a date rape drug was, in fact, used. They urge students to report any incidents of date rape to police (campus security is willing to assist students to go to the police and report crimes like this), or contact student support immediately. The important thing is to get your blood tested, which the UP forensic toxicology lab will do for free (get tested within 5 days after the rape), because this is the most important evidence in cases of date rape. After this, student support offers a wide variety of counselling and trauma services. Nolte stresses that students have access to free, high quality care. Nolte tell Perdeby about cases where students suppressed events like this for years and finally balk under the pressure: their emotional and academic well-being crumbles. “Get help immediately,” she says.

There are various basic precautions students can take: do not accept any drinks from strangers. If someone wants to buy you a drink, go to the bar with them. Always make sure that you can see exactly what the bartender is putting in your drink. Usually, if someone has added something to your drink, there should be a slight change in colour or a saltier taste (GHB especially has a very salty flavour). If you start feeling unnaturally lightheaded – drunker than you should be feeling, in other words – or feeling sick without explanation, find your friends. Fast. Rohypnol is now also modified to fizz when it is added to a drink in an attempt to alert the victim that their drink has been spiked. But Laurens cites Rohypnol generics as just as effective as the real deal, without the built in alarm system.

Meet Sarah. Sarah was in out when she starting feeling woozy and nauseous. She has only has one drink. She dumped her drink, found her friends and called security. She identified the man that had bought her drink. He was arrested after the police found him in possession of roofies. Sarah slept soundly that night.

If you are in trouble these are the numbers to call:

012 420 2333 (office hours)

012 420 2310 (after hours).

Photo: Marius Veldhuyzen van Zaten

[Ed’s note: all the incidents described above are based on news reports and case studies of real events. Names have been changed.]

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