Coasters to prevent Date RapeFrom the front page of the San Jose Mercury News. For more information,
contact the YWCA of Santa Clara Valley (408) 295-4011.
Posted on Sat, Sep. 14, 2002
Women get tool to fight `date rape drug' use
COASTER TESTS DRINKS FOR ADDED SUBSTANCES
By Michelle Guido
In an effort to prevent date rape, the YWCA of Santa Clara Valley is
planning to distribute coasters that women can use to detect whether a
so-called date rape drug has been slipped into a drink.
The coasters raise some questions: What about false positive tests? Do the
coasters provide women with an unreasonable sense of security? Are there
bars that would distribute them without fear of turning off customers? And
what about women using common sense about whom they drink with?
But the coasters, YWCA officials say, could help prevent a crime that is
difficult to prove afterward, because the most common date rape drugs --
Rohypnol, GHB and Ketamine -- can dissipate in about six hours and be
undetectable in tests. The drugs can render a woman unconscious and
vulnerable to sexual assault.
On Thursday, the Alameda County District Attorney's office dropped felony
rape charges and other sex offenses against Oakland Raiders defensive
lineman Darrell Russell and two of his friends. The office said it was too
difficult to prove a Sunnyvale woman's accusation that they had drugged her
and forced her to have sex with them, because urine tests showed no
evidence of GHB in her system.
The coasters raise legitimate questions, said Sandy Davis, the YWCA's
director of rape crisis. But she said they can help raise awareness about
the dangers of drinking and date rape -- especially among young women, who
are the most likely victims of this kind of sexual assault.
``We know it's not the end-all prevention strategy,'' Davis said. ``And we
don't want women to have a false sense of security, but we're looking at
this as a potentially strong deterrent.''
Davis said 5,000 coasters will be distributed to students at San Jose State
University -- particularly those in sororities. And she hopes some downtown
bars frequented by college-age drinkers will offer to serve them up as
well. The YWCA is the first agency in California to distribute the coasters.
Lisa Marie Carlson, who was having drinks with friends at the Flying Pig
Pub in San Jose one night this week, said she would not rely on the
``If strangers are buying you drinks and you're skeptical, you've already
opened the door to the possibility that something might happen,'' said
Carlson, 25, an assistant researcher at Stanford University. ``But I agree
that it could be a deterrent for guys.''
Her friend Matt Stone thought the coasters were a good idea -- even though
he would feel a little slighted if a date pulled one out of her purse to
check a drink he bought for her.
``The bottom line is, what could it hurt?'' said Stone, 27. ``I firmly
believe that women need to be safe. This is just indicative of the problems
we have -- and those problems demand that we have these protections.''
The coasters, created by Florida-based Drink Safe Technology, measure 4
inches by 4 inches and include test areas in two corners. A drop of a drink
should be placed on both test spots in one corner. If either spot changes
color, a possible date rape drug has been detected. Each coaster can be
used to test two drinks. The company also makes more discreet test strips,
which can be slipped into drinks. The tests are not foolproof; false
positives are possible.
Law enforcement officials and rape awareness groups believe the practice of
covertly placing drugs in the drinks of women to knock them out and then
have sex with them is a growing threat nationally -- especially on college
Lt. James Aguirre, head of San Jose Police Department's sexual assault
unit, said because the drugs dissipate so quickly, it is often difficult to
charge people with drug-induced rape.
``We still prosecute those cases as sexual assaults,'' he said. ``But they
don't get identified as date rape drug cases.''
According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, a branch of the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services, use of date rape drugs has
skyrocketed since the early 1990s. Emergency rooms in 21 of the nation's
largest cities -- including San Francisco -- report that mentions of MDMA,
GHB, Ketamine and Rohypnol increased from 337 in 1994 to more than 6,700 in
1999. That means one or more of those drugs was believed to have been the
reason a person was taken to the emergency room.
In most cases, this is how it happens: Illicit drugs are unobtrusively
slipped into the drinks of unsuspecting victims at dance parties, bars or
nightclubs. The drugs -- which are colorless, tasteless and odorless -- can
render someone unconscious and vulnerable to sexual assault. Victims are
often left with little more than fleeting memories of the incident and
little to no proof they had been drugged.
Carly Jimenez felt angry and helpless when a good friend confided that she
had been sexually assaulted after a virtual stranger slipped a date rape
drug into her drink at a party.
Jimenez, a public relations and Japanese major at San Jose State University
and a member of Lambda Sigma Gamma sorority, is exactly the kind of young
woman targeted in the YWCA's coaster campaign.
``I would have no problem using one, whether it's in front of someone or
not,'' Jimenez said. ``My safety comes first.''