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The Age
By Andra Jackson, Jane Rocca, July 1 2002

Sex assault agency sounds alarm on 'spiking'

An alarming increase in claims of sexual assault linked to drink spiking has been reported in Victoria.
The Centre Against Sexual Assault says it received 82 reports alleging that spiked drinks were used to facilitate sexual assault in the four months to May this year.

Last year, the same number of reports were made to the centre and its crisis line over a six-month period.

Most victims were aged 16 to 35, with the youngest aged 15, the centre said. Places where drink spiking most commonly occurred were licensed premises, particularly in the city, and private parties.

"It is not uncommon for the victims to wake up half naked on the footpath or in a hotel room," the centre's counsellor, Jenna Tuke, said.The centre and police would not reveal what drugs were being used, saying they feared precipitating more assaults. The centre's manager, Marg Darcy, said of those victims of violent sexual assualt about half appeared to have been spiked with alcohol alone.

But according to Ms Darcy, it is often difficult to verify drink spiking because it takes time for victims to piece together what has happened to them before they report the attack. This delay makes the drug screening unreliable, she said.

David Wells, an associate professor at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, which conducts the tests, said high levels of some drugs could be cleared quite rapidly from a person's system.

But evidence of drugs could often stay up to 48 hours and be established by a urine test.

The sexual crimes squad's Detective Senior Sergeant Chris O'Connor said that just because medical results don't prove toxicity doesn't mean a drug wasn't used, and allegations of drink spiking remain "relatively constant".

Sergeant Steve Jones, of the police's Drugs and Alcohol Policy Unit, said reports to the sexual assault centre prompted the State Government's Keep An Eye Out campaign, being run in Melbourne and Bendigo, to make people aware of the crime.

The Victorian Law Enforcement Drug Fund is financing the placement of posters in public areas warning of spiked drinks.

Sergeant Jones said drugs could also be slipped into non-alcoholic drinks such as water or hot chocolate. The so-called hot chocolate rapist, who was never caught, is believed to have assaulted more than 20 women. He offered lifts to women leaving nightclubs and bars early in the morning, then stopped at a store for hot drinks, which he laced with a sedative.

Overseas research suggests the best preventive action is "if you have a drink, don't place it down in a place that is not secure", Sergeant Jones said.



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