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Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault

Understanding Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault

One in five victims reporting sexual assault have experienced Drug Assisted Sexual Assault (DFSA).1

A Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault (DFSA) occurs when alcohol or other drugs are used to intentionally sedate or incapacitate a person in order to commit a non-consensual sexual assault. These substances make it easier for a perpetrator to commit sexual assault because they inhibit a person’s ability to resist and can prevent them from remembering the assault. 2

Commonly Used Substances

Alcohol is the most commonly used substance in these crimes.

Other drugs frequently used by perpetrators include Rohypnol, GHB (Gamma Hydroxybutyric Acid), ( link to one pager) GBL (Gamma-Butyrolactone), and ketamine. These drugs’ effects can include weakness, dizziness, unconsciousness, and without the ability to speak or call for help, leaving them vulnerable and helpless.

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However, not everyone is affected the same way. The effects of these drugs can vary based on the type and amount ingested, whether they are mixed with alcohol or other drugs, and individual factors such as weight, gender, and metabolism.

There are two main types of Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault: 3

Proactive DFSA: The perpetrator puts a drug into a victim’s drink or gives the victim alcohol until they become inebriated and incapacitated.

Opportunistic DFSA: The perpetrator targets an already intoxicated or incapacitated victim. Police most often encounter the ‘opportunistic’ type of DFSA.

Who is most vulnerable to DFSA?

Almost all victims of DFSA are women, with the majority being between the ages of 16 and 24. Many victims are employed, and about one-third are students. In half of reported DFSA cases, the victim was assaulted by a friend or acquaintance, often after socializing at a club, bar, lounge, restaurant, party, or other social event.4

Drug-facilitated sexual assault can happen to anyone, regardless of whether the perpetrator is a date, a stranger, an acquaintance, or someone well-known to the victim.

Although the term “date rape” is often used, that expression is misleading because the circumstances in which these drugs are used often do NOT involve a dating situation.

It’s crucial to emphasize that it is NOT the victim’s fault; the attacker is the one who took advantage of the victim’s diminished capacity. 5

Recognizing the Symptoms of DFSA

Symptoms of drugging can resemble those of excessive drinking or purposefully mixing substances, leading to confusion about the cause.

Signs to watch for include: 6

  • Sudden onset of feeling drunk after having consumed very little or no alcohol
  • Sudden difficulty breathing
  • Sudden dizziness, disorientation, or blurred vision
  • Sudden nausea
  • Sudden changes in body temperature, such as sweating or teeth chattering
  • Waking up with no memory or missing large portions of memory

What to do if someone has been drugged?

If you notice any of the symptoms listed above in yourself or someone else, find a trusted person and get help immediately. Friends and bystanders are particularly important in situations when someone is vulnerable due to their level of intoxication, or if a person has been intentionally incapacitated by drugs in an attempt to facilitate sexual assault or other crimes. Impaired and incapacitated people are unable to advocate for and protect themselves. 7

Education is the key to protection

It’s important to educate young people about the risks and signs of DFSA. Conversations about awareness and safety should be ongoing, especially regarding situations where they are out with friends or at parties.

Encourage your kids to:

Keep an eye out for uncomfortable situations that might indicate someone is trying to facilitate sexual assault using alcohol or other drugs.

Be wary of anyone pressuring them or others to consume more alcohol or drugs than they are comfortable with.

Look out for friends and step in if someone appears to be isolating an individual who is intoxicated.

Other things to remind teens and young adults:

  • Do not take drinks from people you do not know.
  • Drink from tamper-proof bottles and cans. Do not drink beverages that you did not open yourself.
  • Do not share or exchange drinks with anyone.
  • Do not take a drink from a punch bowl or a container that is being passed around.
  • Insist on pouring or watching while any drink is mixed or prepared.
  • Do not leave your drink unattended while talking, dancing, using the restroom, or making a phone call.
  • Do not drink anything that has an unusual taste or appearance (e.g., salty taste, excessive foam, unexplained residue, odd colour or texture).
  • Always leave a party or bar together with friends

Make sure they know to get help immediately if:

  • If a friend seems to have had more alcohol than actually consumed or is acting out of character, get him/her to a safe place immediately.
  • If you think you or a friend has been drugged, call 911 and get help immediately.
  • Be specific with doctors so they’ll give the right tests as soon as possible, as many of these drugs leave the body quickly (typically within 12 to 72 hours).

Understanding and talking about consent

By having open, honest conversations with the young people in our lives about consent and respecting the boundaries of others, we can work towards reducing the incidence of sexual violence. 

Educating our kids about sexual consent is crucial because while 96% of Canadians believe that sexual activity must be consensual, only one in 3 actually know what that means. Consent is permission for something to happen or an agreement to do something. For consent to occur, the people involved must be able to talk about what they want with respect for themselves and the other(s).8

Consent is freely given. Agreeing to do something is consent only if the person wants it.

  • If a person feels forced, or there’s something to lose by saying ‘no’, it’s not consent.
  • If a partner pressures, pesters, or guilt trips someone into having sex, they don’t have consent.
  • If a person fears for their safety or fears the loss of a relationship if they disagree, it isn’t consent.
  • ‘No’ always means ‘no’ whether given verbally or non-verbally. A lack of a positive, freely given ‘yes’ is also a ‘no’.
  • Silence, not answering, or not resisting physically is not consent.
  • For consent to happen, a person must have the chance to communicate ‘no’.
  • People who are drunk, high, sleeping or unconscious can’t consent in the legal or practical sense. To clearly talk about consent, both people need to be sober and alert.

As a society, we often put the onus of safety on the victim, but the prevention of drug facilitated sexual assault (and all forms of sexual assault ) is a societal responsibility. The public needs to be educated on sexual assault and how to take action to help people at risk and prevent sexual violence in general.

Understanding and addressing drug facilitated sexual assault is essential for creating safer environments for everyone. Let’s keep the conversation going and support each other in building a more aware and respectful society.


1. Du Mont, J., Macdonald S., Rotbard, N., Bainbridge, D., Asllani, E., Smith, N. & Cohen, M.M. (2010).  Drug-facilitated sexual assault in Ontario, Canada: Toxicological and DNA findings.  Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine,17(6), 333-8.


3. Campbell, M. (May 2014).  Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault.  Learning Network Brief (20).  London, Ontario: Learning Network, Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children.

4. Campbell, M. (May 2014).  Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault.  Learning Network Brief (20).  London, Ontario: Learning Network, Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children.





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