Tighten ‘Opportunistic’ Rape Laws Urged

Ministers must examine whether the law can be strengthened against rapists who use alcohol and drugs for sex, Government advisers have said. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) said sexual assault using booze or spiked drinks was a “significant problem”.

Current laws on rape fail to give protection against rapists who strike against victims who have become unconscious – or nearly unconscious – through their own actions, such as drinking too much, it said.

The official committee called for rape laws – updated just four years ago – to be strengthened to combat “opportunistic” rapists who prey on drunken women. The 2003 Sexual Offences Act made it an offence to administer any drug with the intent to commit a sexual offence.

But today’s report said: “Although this provision covers proactive drug-facilitated sexual assault it fails to provide protection against opportunistic drug-facilitated sexual assault. The council is uncertain as to whether the law could be strengthened in this respect, but recommends that the Home Secretary seeks advice from the Government’s law officers.”

The ACMD also revealed that it is preparing detailed reports on two chemicals legally available as cleaning fluids and industrial solvents which can be used as “date rape” drugs. Gamma butyrolactone and 1,4-butanediol are similar to a third drug, GHB, which has been implicated in sexual assault in Britain and the US.

The committee will submit a report to the Home Secretary by the end of the year on whether the two substances should be added to the list of controlled drugs. The experts called on the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) to boost evidence-gathering so the Forensic Science Service can test for date rape drugs.

Drug-facilitated sexual assault should also be part of the British Crime Survey and be recorded by police, they added. ACMD chairman Professor Sir Michael Rawlins said: “Drug-facilitated sexual assault is a particularly disgusting offence that wrecks people’s lives.

“It is a significant but under-reported problem. We need more information to help tackle drug-facilitated sexual assault and find out the true extent of the problem. That is why drug-facilitated sexual assault should be part of the British Crime Survey and police recorded crime statistics.”

The ACMD advised people to avoid drug rape by not going to a club, pub or party alone, not accepting drinks from strangers and not leaving drinks unattended, even when going to the toilet.

A Home Office spokesman said: “It is important to stress that sexual assault is wholly the fault of the perpetrator, and never the responsibility of the victim, irrespective of how much he or she has had to drink. It is, however, important that potential victims are aware of the risks.

“We have therefore included a headline message about the use of alcohol as a tool in sexual assault in the Government information campaign Know Your Limits.” He added: “The law already requires that in order to consent to sex, a person must have the capacity to consent.

“If someone is so intoxicated that they are nearly unconscious, as stated in the report’s definition of opportunistic drug-facilitated sexual assault, it is unlikely that they would have such a capacity. We published a consultation paper last year which asked whether there is a need to define capacity in law. The results of the consultation will be published shortly.”

He went on: “The Government is determined to do all it can to prevent and protect people from sexual assault. That’s why today we have launched our cross-Government action plan to embed and further our work in this important area.”

The report said advice on avoiding becoming a victim of drug or alcohol rape should be targeted at secondary school pupils. The Home Office spokesman said guidance on drug education was issued to all schools in 2004, covering issues such as spiked drinks. And last year, a key stage 3 resource pack for schools included a section on date rape drugs such as Rohypnol, he added.

Fewer than 6% of reported rapes lead to a conviction, despite a long-running Government campaign to boost success rates. If estimates from an official report in 2001 are correct, there could be 25,000 rapes committed in England and Wales each year, far higher than the 14,500 reported to police annually. This would mean the true conviction rate could be as low as 3% of all rapes which take place.

A report by Acpo last year found the victim had been drinking alcohol in 119 of 120 of sample cases initially suspected to be drug-assisted sexual assault.