Report: Date Rape Drug Testing Often Fails Victims

This Feb. 8, 2017, photo, sexual assault evidence collection kit are shown during committee meeting at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City.
This Feb. 8, 2017, photo, sexual assault evidence collection kit are shown during committee meeting at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City.
Image: AP

An investigation by Buzzfeed News has found that date rape drug testing is notoriously unreliable and inconclusive, yet continue to be presented in courtrooms and by investigators as evidence. The end result, former prosecutors say, is that rapists are walking away free.

Buzzfeed reports on the broken, notoriously flawed system in place for the forensic toxicology of date rape drugs:

America’s system for date rape drug testing is riddled with flaws, according to a review of thousands of pages of lab manuals from every state across the country, as well as dozens of interviews with nurse examiners, toxicologists, law enforcement officials, advocates and lawyers. The testing equipment in some labs isn’t sensitive enough to detect substances at low concentrations, despite the fact that drugs break down quickly in the body, and it may be hours or even days before the victim has recovered sufficiently to report an assault. Other labs test only blood, even though evidence of drugs last much longer in urine, or don’t have the resources to test sexual assault cases at all.

And some labs rely entirely on a type of drug screen so notoriously fallible that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime recommends that it never be used in drug-facilitated sexual assault cases — noting that “false negative results” caused by its “insufficiently sensitive methods” risk bringing investigations to a premature end.

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Furthermore, because there are no national standards for what range of drugs labs should test for, or what constitutes a positive result, “the outcomes wildly unreliable and hard to interpret.” Prosecutors who worked on sex crimes in more than six states said they “rarely had positive results to support their cases.”

But because the results are regarded as scientific, conclusive evidence, the results can impede the victim’s ability to seek justice. In some cases, investigators won’t even take on a case without a positive result. “The investigators want to sit back and wait for the toxicology results to come in before they truly start their investigation, and you have to try to reverse that,” Marc LeBeau, who runs the FBI’s toxicology lab, told Buzzfeed.

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Defense attorneys can also use drug test results to “shatter victims’ credibility, allowing defense attorneys to cast doubt on everything they say, and even leading prosecutors to abandon cases altogether,” Buzzfeed reports. Former prosecutor Jane Manning concluded that because of unreliable drug rape tests, “rapists are getting away with rape in cases where they could be arrested and convicted.”

The findings expose yet another way in which America’s criminal justice system fails victims of sexual assault. Read the full report at Buzzfeed News.

Prachi Gupta is a senior reporter at Jezebel.

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DISCUSSION

I had my drink spiked twice - once I reacted very strongly too it, and friends rushed me to emergency, where they pumped my stomach. They never asked me if I wanted/needed a test to see what I’d been given, and they treated me like I’d just drunk too much. The other time, friends noticed I was acting differently and took me home - some guy we’d never met before kept offering to help, which made my friends suspicious. I slept it off, and felt like I’d been run over the next morning - but I’m lucky I have great, attentive friends.

No one I know who has had their drink spiked has been offered a test or had any interest from law enforcement - a few have had their stomachs pumped, most have just spent a horrible night and painful next day counting their blessings that they weren’t hurt. A couple were raped - all were told the next day (or a few days later) there was no point doing any tests, it was too late (with an implication this was their fault for ‘waiting’ too long to report). Law enforcement put little effort into assisting, often just passing them on to a victim support officer, and the bars where the spiking occurred largely shrugged their shoulders and said people should look after their drinks better.