Police, VSB partner to teach students about drug-facilitated sexual assaults

Victims of sexual assault often carry emotional scars for a lifetime and their peace of mind and sense of security can be eroded for many years.  The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) is deeply committed to preventing these crimes that violate victims, and our communities, on so many levels.

Vancouver police and the Vancouver School Board (VSB) are partnering on an important program aimed at preventing sexual assaults, and in particular, drug facilitated sexual assaults.

"The Vancouver Police Department receives an average of 450 sexual assaults reports annually, but tragically, we know there are many more traumatized victims out there because sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes," said Detective Const. Denise Foster of the VPD's sex crimes unit.

"When someone has been drinking or taking drugs - with or without their knowledge - they are even more reluctant to report a sexual assault to police. This is not just the case in Canada - it happens all over the world."

Statistically, young women between 15 and 24 years old are at greatest risk for drug-facilitated sexual assault. This is not to say it is the only segment of the population at risk, only that the risk is highest for them. The evening may start innocently enough at a party, bar or nightclub, but the attack will most likely happen in a home, hotel or car. The victim who is assaulted will probably know their assailant; sexual assaults by strangers are less common.

The VPD, in collaboration with the VSB, has developed a prevention program called "What's Consent Got To Do With It?" This program will provide young people with the awareness, knowledge and skills to hopefully prevent them from experiencing or committing a drug-facilitated assault.

"This three-lesson program is all about prevention," said Jan Sippel, VSB's abuse prevention manager. "It has been developed for our Grade 10 students to provide them with information about the risks of drug-facilitated sexual assaults."

Through this program, students will be provided some strategies for protecting themselves and their friends from experiencing or participating in a drug-facilitated sexual assault. A key part of this is helping students understand what it means to give consent, get consent and deny consent.

While much of the focus is on prevention, it's also important for students to learn what to do and where to get help if they or a friend are sexually assaulted or are involved in a drug-facilitated sexual assault.

"The program has been designed to prepare students to participate in the drug-facilitated sexual assault presentation delivered by the VPD's school liaison police officers," Sippel said. "This is not just about students sitting and listening, we want students to be able to discuss the topic respectfully and non-judgmentally in a classroom setting so they can explore issues of consent and boundaries in healthy and unhealthy relationships."

The VSB and VPD, with the support of Family Services of Greater Vancouver's Respect Safety and Violence Prevention Program, started developing this program in Fall 2009.

Last spring, Planning 10 teachers, Grade 10 counsellors and the SLOs at three secondary schools - Tupper, John Oliver and Gladstone - piloted the program in 11 classrooms. Taking the feedback and lessons learned in the classrooms, our staff and district partners in this initiative, reviewed and refined the program we are unveiling today.

"We are extremely fortunate to have a great relationship with our city's police force," said Patti Bacchus, Vancouver Board of Education chairperson. "The VPD's contribution to our schools goes beyond having police officers in each of our 18 secondary schools - police are an important education partner providing expert opinion in many areas, including matters involving personal safety.

"A prevention program on drug-facilitated sexual assault for Planning 10 students would not be possible without the support of police officers who are subject matter experts in this area. Their contribution to this program cannot be overstated."


What is a drug facilitated sex assault?

The administration of any drug in order to incapacitate a victim to the point where they are no longer able to give or withhold consent in regards to any sexual activity. A sex assault is any intercourse, fondling, kissing or oral sex that one person does not agree to.

Drug facilitated sex assaults are not common. There were approximately 273 sex assaults reported to Vancouver police from January to August of 2010. Of those sex assaults, 57 per cent were reported to have taken place on a date.  Only 1 to 4 per cent reported a drug facilitated sexual assault.

Signs and Symptoms

  • sudden light headedness
  • feeling paralyzed or powerless
  • waking up confused
  • severe headaches, vomiting
  • scattered or no memory
  • intoxication with minimal alcohol
  • acting out uncontrollably
  • heightened sex drive
  • hallucinations, loss of consciousness

Types of Drugs

  • Rohypnol
  • GHB (Gamma hydroxy-butyrate)
  • Ketamine
  • MDMA (Ecstasy)
  • Foxy Methoxy
  • amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepanes
  • opiates
  • cold or heart medication
  • ALCOHOL - 50% of young adults report being sexually assaulted while under the influence of alcohol

What do you do if you think you may have been sexually assaulted?

You may feel reluctant to report your sex assault because you may have been drinking or taking drugs and you feel guilty or partly to blame. You might not remember enough details to positively identify a suspect or even say with certainty that you were sexually assaulted. Perhaps there has been a time delay.

However, if you report what has happened to you, you will get the medical help you need.  As well, police can potentially arrest the suspect and prevent it from happening to someone else.

Witnesses or your friends may be able to help investigators fill in the blanks as to what happened. They might be able to determine what you were drinking and/or consuming, who you were hanging around with or anyone who may have been paying you a lot of attention.

You are never to blame for being sexually assaulted.

Investigators will collect evidence from a variety of sources, including security videotapes, and forensic examination of clothing, condoms and any bodily fluids may also be conducted. 

Sexual Assault Indicators

  • soreness of the anal or genital area
  • marks or bruises on the skin
  • a discharge
  • waking up in different or unknown surroundings
  • clothes off, missing or rearranged

If you think you've been sexually assaulted:

  1. Talk to an adult you trust.
  2. Go to the hospital as soon as possible.
  3. Ask for blood and urine samples to be taken.
  4. Don't shower.
  5. Call the police as soon as possible.
  6. Keep the clothes you were wearing.


Past history shows that suspects in drug facilitated sex assaults are often "knight-in-shining-armour" types, who act like heroes and tend to be very articulate. If this person is not known to you or your friend, don't leave with them.

Since most of these drugs are in liquids, get your own drinks and open the bottle yourself. Don't accept drinks from people you don't know and never take drinks from open bottles or punch bowls. Never leave a drink unattended and IF IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT.

  • go out with friends and stay together
  • don't leave with a stranger, especially if you feel intoxicated or unwell
  • if you meet someone new, arrange to have coffee the next day, rather than leave with them

Advice for friends:

  • have a plan to stay together before you go
  • always go to parties and clubs as a pair or in groups
  • stay together, watch each other and your drinks
  • don't let a friend out of eye shot with a new guy
  • leave if you or your friend feels ill or drunk for no reason
  • leave with your friend if their behaviour becomes unusual or they appear intoxicated
  • go to your local hospital if you feel ill
  • some drugs make a person become passive and it may look like your friend is leaving voluntarily with someone they just met - leaving with a person is not an agreement to have intercourse
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