The conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute posted a video on Monday telling women they should stop worrying so much about date-rape drugs.
Caroline Kitchens, a researcher at AEI, explains in the think tank's "Factual Feminist" video blog that "our fear of being drugged and sexually assaulted by a predatory stranger in a bar is not grounded in reality."
"Panic and questionable allegations about the date-rape drug are rampant," she says. "Everything from lip gloss to nail polish to coasters has been invented to protect women from rapists armed with roofies. But the evidence doesn't match the hype."
Kitchens acknowledges that date-rape drugs exist, but she says women are overestimating the threat because it's "more convenient" to guard against than the threat of simply getting too drunk.
"Most commonly, victims of drug-facilitated sexual assault are severely intoxicated, often from their own volition," Kitchens says. "Paranoia over the date-rape drug causes us to misplace our anxieties, and feminists should be concerned that women are modifying their behavior on their girls nights' out in order to protect themselves from some vague, improbable threat. So why are we all so scared of roofies?"
The video is part of a larger campaign by Kitchens and AEI to push back against the growing national movement to combat sexual assault, particularly on college campuses. Eighty-five colleges are currently under federal investigation for mishandling sexual assault on their campuses, and there has been a slew of bipartisan efforts to address campus rape.
Since the Obama Administration made an unprecedented push against campus sexual assault earlier this year, Kitchens and other conservative pundits have been leading the backlash. In an article for Time, Kitchens argued that "twenty-first century America does not have a rape culture," and that arguments to the contrary only "poison the minds of young women and lead to hostile environments for innocent males."
AEI's new video appears to be an offshoot of that argument. Kitchens points to the case of a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee fraternity that was suspended in September after three women and one man woke up in the hospital after having passed out at the fraternity house. The women all had a red "X" on their hands, and the man said he'd taken a drink from one of the women's drinks. Other students at the party had a black "X" on their hands, thus raising suspicions of a "color-coded and premeditated plan to target certain individuals for possible date rape." The women said their drinks appeared "cloudy" and were poured under the bar.
Kitchens uses the case as an example of accusations that lack evidence.
"At least one woman marked with a red 'X' ... had multiple drinks that evening and she didn't end up hospitalized," she says. "As for the drugs, police did find marijuana and Adderall when they searched the fraternity house, but no evidence of date-rape drugs ever turned up. Now this story isn't unique -- panic and questionable allegations about the date-rape drug are rampant."
While alcohol is much more commonly present during sexual assaults than are so-called "roofies," like Rohypnol and GHB, many date-rape drugs can be very difficult to detect because they leave the system after a few hours. Colby Bruno, a senior legal counsel at the Victim Rights Law Center who has advocated for hundreds of sexual assault victims, says no one should fully let their guard down about date rape drugs as long as they are accessible.
"Because these drugs are engineered specifically to be out of a person’s system within a matter of hours after ingestion, we don’t really know how prevalent they are," she said. "Some victims report experiencing a black out like they have never experienced before, but by the time they regain consciousness and go to the hospital, there is no trace of the drug in their system."
Bruno said in her legal experience, alcohol is the most dangerous and frequently used date-rape drug. But, she added, "Saying that the threat of date-rape drugs is overblown because women don't want to take responsibility for having gotten too drunk is utterly preposterous."
Tracey Vitchers, a spokesperson for Students Active for Ending Rape, said AEI's video amounts to victim-blaming.
"The 'Factual Feminist' video is yet another example of pervasive victim-blaming that serves to shift the responsibility for preventing sexual assault away from perpetrators and onto those who are sexually assaulted -- in this case, young women who dare to participate in their college's social scene," she said. "The video downplays the role of assailants at the expense of survivors by implying that if only young women would learn to not drink alcohol, that somehow the problem of college sexual assault would go away. However, young women drinking alcohol at college parties are not the problem -- perpetrators of campus rape and sexual assault are."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that three women University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee fraternity party had reported having passed out and having been raped at the party. In fact, the three women, in addition to one man, woke up in the hospital after having passed out at the fraternity house.