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Spiked- Men and Women

Women who venture into clubs and bars know by now never to leave their drink unattended, to keep an eye on it even when it is sitting within reach.
Allowing a stranger to buy you a drink is no longer a flirty possibility and now it seems even friends are not always the safe haven many women - and men - might think.
When most people think of drink-spiking they imagine a stranger in a bar slipping stupefying drugs into the beverage of an unsuspecting woman.
However, it is more often carried out by someone who knows the victim. About two-thirds of drink-spiking is done by friends, or acquaintances such as a neighbour or fellow student.
Occasionally, men also are made victims of dodgy drinks.
And drink-spiking is not always done with drugs such as Rohypnol or the animal anaesthetic Ketamine. It also can happen with sneaky doses of alcohol poured into any beverage, even coffee.
Sexual assault counsellors said news of women drugged in pubs and drug-spiked cigarettes grabbed people's attention, but there was a potential - and too often ignored - danger closer to home.
"What's happened is that people have got the impression that drink-spiking, is a secret tablet in a bar by a stranger and, in fact, no, that's not the case," says Vanessa Swan, director of Yarrow Place Rape and Sexual Assault Service. "A major substance used in drinkspiking is alcohol, not a tablet - someone plying someone with drink and then raping them, and that's most likely to occur in a home or private location."
What is often not reported is that men also are victims of drink-spiking, in as many as one in every five cases. They wake to find they have been victims of sexual assault, robbery or, often, a bad joke.
Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault co- ordinator Dr Melanie Heenan says many men would not even realise they were at risk.
"Because this issue has been pitched as a form of stranger rape... the community perception is that all drink-spiking is about sexual assault," she says.
"It is much more likely to be a woman who is drink-spiked but there are a range of crimes that occur. It is not about strangers, it is probably someone in your range of acquaintances, in your social network or at the same party, even for men, and even for robbery or theft."
Men's Information and Support Centre executive director Greg Moore says he knows of men who have been doped in the name of a practical joke.
Researchers have found drinks may be spiked as a prank, slipping a drug or extra shot of alcohol into a drink to see how a person will act or how long it takes them to pass out.
It may come as a shock for someone who gives a friend a double shot rather than a single or gives a teetotaller a vodka- laced drink to be told this is potentially dangerous, even criminal, behaviour. The victim, however, is vulnerable to assault or a possible car accident.
"Our society tends to look at women as victims and men as perpetrators ... but it happens to both of us," Mr Moore says. Commentators are critical of tne limited public awareness campaigns, which have focused on women in bars. Groups such as the YWCA are calling for more to be done to target men and women as both potential victims and perpetrators.
"The 'watch your drinks' campaigns have not been found to be very effective and they put all the guilt and responsibility on to the potential victims: 'You didn't watch your drink close enough'," Ms Swan says.
"We should be putting the responsibility on perpetrators, saying this is not acceptable."
AN Australian Institute of Criminology report last year estimated 3000 to 4000 incidents of drink-spiking happened in the first six months of 2003, The AIC's National Project on Drink-Spiking also found the majority of cases were never reported to police.
Of those incidents reported, one-third involved sexual assault. In half of those cases the drinks were laced at licensed venues and the rest of the time in places such as the victim's or perpetrator's home or at university campuses.
Robbery was a motive in another 5 per cent of cases, and abduction and assault also figured in a few cases.
However, more than half did not involve any "additional victimisation". Either nothing else happened (random or "prank spiking"), or the victim did not remember what had happened.
Drink-tampering is a difficult issue for police and, while other states are moving on the issue, drink-spiking is not actually a crime in South Australia.
At the moment, police can only act on the associated crimes: sexual assault, theft, assault, supplying a prohibited substance, and so on- Penalties range from two years' jail for administering a prohibited substance to life for the two- pronged charge of administering a stupefying substance with intent to commit a crime.
Usually, victims suspect they have been drugged because they experience unusual symptoms including memory loss, nausea, dizziness, vomiting and unconsciousness.
Police say they cannot quantify how many drink-spiking offences occur in SA every year. Most complaints have no crime associated with them. often because the victim cannot remember enough of what happened for police to act.
There is also the embarrassment factor. People who may have had their drink spiked and wallet stolen may be too ashamed to voice their suspicions to police. However. police want to be told - even if there is no chance of prosecuting the crime - so officers are at least aware of whether any serial offenders are striking.
The advice from police to anyone who suspects their drink has been spiked is to:
TELL friends, who should not leave you alone.
SEEK medical help. Request a toxicology test.
REPORT it to police, no matter how flimsy your recollection.

The advice goes for men too, who may get complacent about their own potential risk.

Adelaide Advertiser (10-3-2005)
Maria Moscaritolo


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