Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assault on Campus: Challenges and Interventions. (Innovative Practice)

By Hensley, Laura G. | Journal of College Counseling, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assault on Campus: Challenges and Interventions. (Innovative Practice)


Hensley, Laura G., Journal of College Counseling


The use of gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) to facilitate sexual assault is increasing on campuses nationwide. This article provides college counselors with an overview of the use of GHB in campus sexual assault, outlines suggestions for crisis intervention, and discusses the challenges of counseling survivors of drug-facilitated sexual assault.

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The use of drugs to facilitate sexual assault is increasing on college campuses nationwide (Dyer, 2000). Commonly referred to as the date-rape drug, gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) is a drug of particular concern to college counselors because of its low cost, accessibility, and ease of use in sexual assault (Sanguinetti, Angelo, & Frank, 1997). Because counselors are uniquely suited to assist students in the aftermath of campus crises such as sexual assault (Frazier, Valtinson, & Candell, 1994), the purpose of this article is to provide college counselors with an overview of GHB use in rape, highlight suggestions for crisis intervention, and discuss challenges related to counseling survivors of drug-facilitated sexual assault. Although both men and women may be victims of rape, women are disproportionately affected by this crime (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998). College women, in particular, are at high risk for sexual assault (Dunn, Vail-Smith, & Knight, 1999; Fisher, Cullen, & Turner, 2000; Foubert, 2000). For the purposes of this article, therefore, I focus primarily on women's experiences in drug-facilitated sexual assault.

Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assault

GHB, a central nervous system depressant, is a colorless, odorless liquid with a slightly salty taste that may be easily masked when it is dissolved in any type of beverage. Intoxication requires as little as 1 teaspoon of the liquid, and potential perpetrators find it relatively easy to pour small amounts of GHB into a victim's drink without her knowledge. The drug acts quickly (10-15 minutes), causes a victim's muscles to relax, and produces lasting, anterograde amnesia--the victim has no memory of the events that occurred during the period after the ingestion of GHB (Schwartz, Milteer, & LeBeau, 2000). When a woman is administered GHB without her knowledge, she will become rapidly intoxicated and fall unconscious, thus defenseless against a rapist. Within 5 hours of ingestion, most individuals spontaneously recover from a GHB-induced coma (Chin, Sporer, Cullison, Dyer, & Wu, 1998). At this time, victims may realize they have been raped but have no memory of the perpetrator or any details of the event.

The negative effects of sexual assault on a woman's functioning are significant, regardless of her relationship to the perpetrator (Cowan, 2000) or her level of intoxication and memory impairment at the time of the event (Schwartz & Leggett, 1999). The majority of victims of any type of sexual assault experience symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the immediate aftermath (Meadows & Foa, 1998). Common symptoms include reexperiencing the event through flashbacks or nightmares; avoidance of activities, feelings, or thoughts related to the rape; hyperarousal (e.g., irritability, difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response); and emotional numbing (Foa, Davidson, & Frances, 1999). Research supports the effectiveness of early intervention in preventing exacerbation of these symptoms and subsequent development of chronic PTSD (Foa, Hearst-Ikeda, & Perry, 1995; Rauch, Hembree, & Foa, 2001; Resnick, Acierno, Holmes, Kilpatrick, & Jager, 1999; Rose & Bisson, 1998). In the follo wing section, I present general guidelines for crisis intervention and suggestions for tailoring these strategies to assist survivors of drug-facilitated sexual assault.

Crisis Intervention

On-call counselors may be asked to assist in a crisis involving GHB-facilitated rape, including support in obtaining immediate medical attention and in following any established institutional protocol for response to sexual assault. …

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