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A “New” Problem Appears in the 1990s: The Birth of the Contemporary Date Rape Drugs Scare


This chapter considers the emergence of the construct “date rape drug” in the 1990s and explains why it is a dubious one. The role of coerced drug use in propping up the by-then flagging War on Drugs is considered, as is the first round of campus activism regarding rape, which focused upon alcohol and offenders known to the victim, typically peers. The typification of the Hillory Farias and the Samantha Reid cases as the “named legislation” inspiration for the Date Rape Drugs Act is held up to scrutiny. Continued avoidance of the reality that the “big three” drugs in date rape drugs rhetoric—flunitrazepam, GHB, and ketamine—are typically taken voluntarily continued to be promulgated by legislators and the media.


  • Date rape drug
  • Antidrug
  • War on Drugs
  • Hoffman-LaRoche
  • Rohypnol
  • Flunitrazepam
  • Anterograde amnesia
  • Insomnia
  • Benzodiazepine
  • Blackout
  • GHB
  • Ketamine
  • Hillory Farias
  • Samantha Reid
  • Date Rape Drug Act
  • Controlled Substances Act
  • Chloral hydrate
  • Noctec
  • Brock Adams
  • GBL
  • Synthetic panics
  • AquaDots
  • Party drugs
  • Club drugs
  • Date rape
  • Second-wave feminism
  • Victim disqualification
  • Victim blame
  • Binge drinking
  • Acquaintance rape
  • Stranger rape
  • Serial rape
  • Mark Perez
  • The Hangover
  • Ecstacy
  • MDMA
  • Molly
  • Xyrem
  • Melanie Sindone
  • Drug detector
  • K
  • k-hole
  • Richard Esposito
  • ElSohly and Salamone
  • Proposition 47
  • Marijuana
  • Criminal law
  • Criminal code

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    In the wake of successful overturning of marital exemptions for rape, a countervailing expansion of unprotected victims to include cohabitants and even “voluntary social companions” emerged in some states. Effectively, such laws sought to limit criminal liability from any assailant who could reasonably claim to have been such a social companion, encompassing what criminologists knew was a significant portion of cases. These eventually receded.

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    Bowler quoted in Weikel, 1996. The bill, which sought to make surreptitious drugging an aggravating circumstance which would trigger the “one-strike” felony mandatory penalty scheme in effect at the time, failed based on its various redundancies of existing law.

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    Hallucinations: the drug may cause genuine misperception of people, places, and circumstances, as opposed to the pseudo-hallucinations often associated with LSD, psilocybin, or MDMA, where users experience illusions or visions but are often aware, at least at moderate doses, that they are illusions or imaginative impressions facilitated by drugs.

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    See, for instance, California Penal Code Section 261–269. In 1986, the US Congress amended its Federal criminal code on rape: November 14, 1986 [H.R. 4745] Sexual Abuse Act of 1986. 18 USC 2241, Public Law 99–654, 99th Congress. Among other changes, barely discussed in the hearings, was addition of “aggravated rape” where stupefying substances are administered by the assailant. Aggravation is accompanied by enhanced penalty to the underlying felony. The influence of this Code on day-to-day rape prosecution is limited in that Federal prosecutions are unlikely; State criminal codes prevail except under extraordinary circumstances. Nonetheless, the Federal Code sometimes serves as one of the model penal codes for states.

  89. 89.

    Owing to the constitutional limits on the legislature’s ability to modify a bill passed by referendum in California, like the laws that came from Proposition 47, the state legislature created this new crime instead—an action that is squarely within its powers as a legislative body.

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    California Senate Committee for Public Safety (2015), SB 333 History and Bill Analysis, April 28. Retrieved September 6, 2015. Of course, this is redundant in a number of ways described above, but earlier postpassage versions of this bill, SB333/AB46, just wanted to restore more draconian penalties for possessing the Big Three based on their core identity as date rape drugs, or at least reassign them to “wobbler status”—legislative lingo for giving district attorneys the power to charge as a felony or misdemeanor.

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Donovan, P. (2016). A “New” Problem Appears in the 1990s: The Birth of the Contemporary Date Rape Drugs Scare. In: Drink Spiking and Predatory Drugging. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

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