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Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assault
According to A National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations, toxicology samples should be collected, with informed consent, as soon as possible after suspected drug-facilitated cases are identified, even if victims are undecided about reporting to law enforcement.
To provide informed consent, victims should understand13
- The types of drugs that will be detected by tests.
- Factors that make drug detection difficult.
- Possible consequences of negative results (including an understanding that negative test results do not mean that drugs were not used to facilitate sexual assault).
- That results will be available to defense attorneys and may become public knowledge if the sexual assault is reported (this may lead to release of other private information otherwise protected by rape shield laws, such as medical or mental health conditions).
- How they will be notified about the test results.
The length of time that drugs remain in urine or blood depends on a number of variables:14
- The type and amount of drug ingested.
- The patient's body size and rate of metabolism.
- Whether the patient has a full stomach.
- Whether the patient urinated before the screening.
Urine samples allow for a longer detection time than blood samples. The sooner a urine specimen is obtained after the assault, the greater the chances of detecting drugs that are quickly eliminated from the body. If victims can't wait to urinate until they arrive at the exam facility, ask them to provide a sample and bring it to the facility, documenting the chain of custody.
The context of the assault and the time after the assault needs to be considered before toxicology screening. For example, before analyzing victims' blood or urine, the Toxicology Unit at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation assesses15
A National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations: Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assault Reviews responses to drug-facilitated sexual assault including training, development of policies, response to voluntary use of drugs and alcohol, testing procedures, sample collection, toxicology labs, and preserving evidence and chain of custody.
Toxicological Investigations of Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assaults Addresses common problems encountered by toxicologists in cases of drug-facilitated sexual assault and provides suggestions for overcoming some of these obstacles.
- Victims' symptoms.
- How long victims were unconscious.
- The amount of time between the alleged drugging and the collection of specimens.
- How much alcohol victims consumed.
- Whether victims took any recreational, prescription, or over-the-counter drugs.
- The approximate number of times that victims urinated prior to the collection of the urine specimen.
- The kinds of drugs that suspects had available to use.
According to A National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations16
It is important to document patient voluntary use of drugs and alcohol between the time of the assault and the exam. Some victims may self-medicate to cope with post assault trauma and require immediate medical treatment. In addition, ingestion of drugs and/or alcohol during this period may affect the quality of evidence and impede patients' ability to make informed decisions about treatment and evidence collection.