More attackers using 'date rape' drugs

UP TO four suspected serial sex attackers are being investigated for using "date-rape" drugs to intoxicate their victims before assaulting them.

The number of reports of sex assaults committed under the influence of drugs such as Rohypnol and "GBH" has risen rapidly in the past couple of years. The police and Home Office are to carry out a 12-month national study to investigate the extent of the problem. The Scotland Yard detectives heading the inquiry have obtained information about "three or four" men accused of drugging women and raping and sexually assaulting them. A police spokeswoman would not give details except to say they were throughout Britain.

In London the number of alleged sex crimes in which men have been suspected of using drugs to disarm victims has risen from 18 in 1997 to 49 in the first nine months of last year.

"Date-rape" drugs, particularly Rohypnol, have caused growing concern since sex offenders in the US started using them. There are about 1,000 known cases in the US, involving assaults on women, men and children. The drugs are usually placed in a victim's drink in tablet or liquid form. With Rohypnol, a woman would become semi-conscious for about 10 to 12 hours.

Once the effects have worn off the victim may have blackouts and flashbacks for several hours or days before they can remember what happened. The drug stays in the bloodstream no more than 48 hours and in the urine for 72, making it hard to detect unless tests are done shortly after the assault.

Rohypnol was made a class-C drug last year and is legally available only on prescription, although it can be bought on the black market.

The anaesthetic drug GHB - nicknamed GBH (grievous bodily harm) - which has also been used in rapes, stays in the body for eight hours. Benzodiazepines - minor tranquillisers - such as Temazepam have also been used in "date rapes" in the United States.

Detective Superintendent Chris Brightmore, one of the two officers involved in the research, said they would be questioning sex offenders, including paedophiles, in prisons to discover if the drugs were used. He would also like rape victims who believe they were drugged to contact the team.

Inspector Peter Sturman added: "Over the last two years there has been growing public concern about the possible use of drugs in order to commit rape and other sexual offences.

"We share these concerns and this new study aims to establish more fully the nature and scale of any drug misuse of this kind."

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