Sunday, 14 August 2016

New forensic medicine findings from VIFM on drug facilitated sexual assaults

Laura Anderson is a PhD candidate with the Department of Forensic Medicine (DOFM). She’s based at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) and works as a clinical neuropsychologist and regularly sees forensic patients in her line of work. 

Most recently she investigated the prevalence of drug-facilitated sexual assault (DFSA) around the world and found that self-administered alcohol and substance use represents a greater risk for DFSA than covert ‘drink spiking’.

DFSA is a term used to describe incidents of sexual assault in which the victim, as a result of consuming drugs or alcohol, was incapacitated and/or unable to provide consent to participate in a sexual act.

Despite the public perception and media representations that covert ‘drink spiking’ is the primary risk factor for DFSA, Laura’s research findings reveal that alcohol is far and above the most commonly detected substance in victims of drug-facilitated sexual assault, and the commonly perceived “date-rape drugs” such as rohypnol were only very rarely detected.

“All studies from around the world follow a similar trend in that the circumstances of a suspected drug-facilitated sexual assault typically include alcohol consumption and sometimes use of other recreational drugs as well. In most instances the victim’s report that they consumed these substances themselves, which is supported by toxicology findings that rarely detect any unexpected ‘date-rape’ substances,” said Laura.

These findings suggest that most instances of drug-facilitated sexual assault are 'opportunistic’ in nature rather than premeditated drink spiking attacks.

“What this research highlights is that while we need to improve community safety we also need to change some of the current perceptions regarding drink spiking and focus on educating the wider community about the genuine risks around DFSA in terms of recreational drug and alcohol use,” said Laura.

Laura also intends to conduct further research investigating other contextual factors of DFSA, such as the location and relationship between victim and offender, in order to develop a further understanding of what factors might increase a victim’s vulnerability to DFSA in the hopes that this evidence can contribute to wider community education and prevention programs.

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