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"Date-Rape Drug" is a Misleading Term

Letters to the Editors

By Ellenor J. Honig

To the editors:

I am writing regarding the Oct. 28 article, “Students Treated in Date Rape Drugging.”

Rohypnol use to assist in sexual assault situations is undoubtedly serious and appalling. However, calling Rohypnol the “date-rape drug” is a misnomer. Rohypnol is a street drug, and is a drug of choice for many people. Although its use is perhaps not as widespread as Ecstasy, Rohypnol can (and should) be considered a recreational drug like Ecstasy or cocaine Rohypnol is used as a depressant, often to combat a high from an upper such as Ecstasy, cocaine, or speed. Additionally, of course, Rohypnol has been used in scores of date-rape incidents, and it is because of these uses that Rohypnol has been inaccurately labeled the “date-rape drug.”

I am not arguing that some of the Harvard students recently treated medically were in fact given Rohypnol without their knowledge, nor am I arguing that the very use of Rohypnol on campus might occur in order to facilitate sexual assaults. These facts alone are sufficiently frightening and serious to warrant greater attention called to the matter, and we should applaud the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response and the Sexual Assault Sexual Harassment (SASH) tutors for quickly disseminating the information about these recent events to our community. As students, we must all pay greater attention to our surroundings and know that Rohypnol is not a far-away substance; it is on our campus. I am very pleased to see a concentrated effort put towards informing the community of its use and presence.

However, we also must not forget to call a spade a spade. The existence of Rohypnol on campus does not necessarily indicate that Rohypnol is being used by one person against another to induce unconsciousness, and, more importantly, a person in possession of Rohypnol is not necessarily intending to use the drug on another person before an assault. Watch the six o’clock news on any given day, and you might hear of a man pulled over on a highway and found with Rohypnol. Inevitably, the mention of Rohypnol is followed by the utterance, “the date-rape drug.” Was the man going to use Rohypnol to facilitate a sexual assault, as implied by the inclusion of the phrase, “date-rape drug?” Maybe.

But we can’t jump to that conclusion so easily. At Harvard, we must continue to take every instance of Rohypnol poisoning seriously, with a slight exception—it does not definitively point to an intended sexual assault.

Ellenor J. Honig ’04

Oct. 28, 2003

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