Sheena Gnos
The Navigator

GHB is running amok in downtown Nanaimo. Since October 2013, five young women have reported symptoms in line with the “date rape” drug gamma hydroxybutyrate, or GHB. While most of the women were drugged in bars around Nanaimo, at least one was affected during a campus party at Vancouver Island University.

The fact that no sexual crimes have been committed should not lessen our concern, considering that five women have reported being drugged. But it’s the lack of awareness among young women that is alarming. There is a frightening lack of knowledge about these “date rape” drugs among high school students. How can young women protect themselves against a threat they aren’t even aware of?

I posed a similar question to Courtenay Fairhurst, an Australian international student currently attending VIU. She says “we were always reminded at school to be careful when we went out drinking,” adding that she “has a feeling Australian kids are more educated about that sort of thing because of our large drinking culture and because the majority of kids start drinking around age 13.”

However, she also states that “during the international student orientation, they had police come in and talk about the dangers of GHB, and to always keep an eye on your drink and not to accept any from strangers.”

While this is reassuring, as a student at VIU, my experience has been different. Not once have I been educated about any potential dangers on or off campus, and I have seen no public notices in my class buildings concerning these latest incidents. It begs the question, why are some areas of campus neglecting the responsibility?

GHB, a central nervous system depressant, can be taken orally and sold as a white powder or in capsules. Most often it is sold as a clear, colourless liquid which is both odourless and tasteless, except for a slight salty after-taste. For that reason, it is often added to fruity beverages.

GHB acts like a sedative, taking effect within 10 to 20 minutes, and lasting up to five hours. Symptoms include:

  • Relaxation
  • Euphoria
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness

Unfortunately, excessive drinking causes this as well, making GHB difficult to diagnose. It is easy to overdose on GHB, and dangerous to take with alcohol or other drugs. Any short term use can result in a loss of coordination, consciousness, and even memory loss. So by the time a victim realizes she may have been drugged, the evidence could already be gone.

Police often advise women to:

  • Avoid risky situations
  • Know your friends and don’t go out alone or with strangers
  • Do not accept drinks from strangers or unusual drinks
  • Guard your drinks zealously
  • Throw away any unattended drinks.

But no one can be vigilant at all times, and society still judges women for getting themselves into these situations, as though going out with friends and having a few drinks is license to be drugged and raped. This is a problem that needs to be addressed by both men and women.

Meghan Gardiner’s play, DISSOLVE, recently performed at the Malaspina Theatre, tackles this issue. It is a one-woman, 14 character play presented by Shameless Hussy, that deals with the topics of drink-spiking and drug-facilitated sexual assault. Gardiner’s vision “is not only to educate audiences on the drugs themselves, but also to force society to recognize that this is an ongoing problem that desperately needs to be acknowledged.”

Yet, so long as our language and culture supports the sexual subjugation and objectification of women, there will be men who think they have the right to take advantage. The 2010 Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre statistics prove that a shocking 21 per cent of reported sexual assaults involve date rape drugs, and the victims are primarily women, aged 20 to 24 (26 per cent) and 16 to 19 (23 per cent). 25 per cent of all female post-secondary students had been physically and/or sexually assaulted by a male date or boyfriend. And perhaps most disturbing of all is that one in five male students surveyed said that forced intercourse was alright “if he spends money on her”, “if he is stoned or drunk”, or “if they had been dating for a long time.”

In a recent interview, Theresa Gerritsen, a Haven Society group facilitator and counsellor, has said that “we could probably work for another hundred years on finding ways to keep women safer, but if we don’t have that conversation with men, and the community at large… then we haven’t had the full conversation.”

If current events in Nanaimo have taught us anything, it’s that the conversation needs to happen now.