Talking And Test Strips Only One Piece Of Campus Sexual Assault Prevention

Sep 9, 2016

As college students head back to school, they can be at increased risk for sexual assault, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.
Credit Laura Bittner / Flickr

As returning college students go to parties in new places, often with friends they’ve only recently met, they can be at higher risk for sexual assault, said Kristen Houser, chief public affairs officer for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.

More than half of college sexual assaults occur between August and November, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or RAINN.

“Sometimes you have upperclassmen taking advantage of incoming students who are looking for a way to belong,” Houser said. “There are a lot of different things that people take advantage of.”

According to RAINN, 11 percent of all college students experience rape or sexual assault during their time on campus. For college women aged 18 to 24, they are three times more likely to experience sexual violence.

“The most commonly used substance to facilitate sexual assault on campuses is plain old alcohol,” Houser said.

Not only does drinking impair decision making, but it also increases the chances that students could innocently ingest drugs used to aid sexual assault, according to WomensHealth.gov.

Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, or GHB, ketamine and Rohypnol can be sold as odorless, tasteless, colorless substances which may cause disorientation, speech and balance impairment and excessive sedation in some users.

Florida-based Drink Safe Technologies sells test strips and coasters that alert users to the presence of ketamine or GHB. When the test strip is exposed to liquid, it turns blue if drugs are detected.

Drink Safe owner Lance Norris said the issue of drugging won’t disappear, but the use of protective tools will likely increase.

“I don’t know of anything that can eliminate it,” he said. “I didn’t create the problem; I’m just giving someone a solution.”

Many college campuses have formed individual strategies to help eliminate alcohol-facilitated assaults, such as changes to fraternity rules at the University of Virginia or Stanford University’s liquor ban alcohol beginning this fall.

Norris said several Florida schools have started distributing Drink Safe products to students. And that's great, she said, but encouraging students to be more wary might be more effective long-term.

"Many people, when they're out and about, aren't thinking 'I should put my finger or run this test strip through my beverage,'” she said, “because they think they're with people who are just like them who aren't going to hurt them.”

She said students need to learn to look out for each other and reinforce responsibility among themselves – keeping an eye for potentially threatening behavior.

A part of that change in culture could be changes in dialogue, including an MTV-partnered video called, "If Frats Were Feminist," which proposes an alternative attitude.