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Date rape: 'You can't be too careful'

April 20, 2009 17:13 IST
Back in 2003, we were horrified when a young girl in Goa was drugged and gang-raped by her friends after she smoked a 'cigarette' they offered her.

In 2007, headlines carried the tragic tale of a British tourist who was drugged and sexually assaulted by a friend in her hotel room in Delhi.

And last week, we recoiled in horror when the media carried a story of how a 23-year-old American girl, a student at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, TISS, in Trombay, was drugged and raped by six male friends.

The common factor in all three stories? The shocking fact that all the above victims were betrayed and violated by those they knew and trusted -- their friends.

Much as we may like to believe that date rape is a curse of the Western world, we have to open our eyes to the fact that the crime is much closer to home than we realise. Instances of date rape are steadily rising in India -- so much so that most of us know someone who has got into a pickle with people she knew and trusted.

The free availability of sedatives and party drugs over the counter have led to an enormous amount of misuse and numerous girls wake up the morning after with no recollection of how they spent the night.

These drugs are colourless, odourless and tasteless, so spiking someone's drink with them is extremely easy. They are available at pharmacies even without a doctor's prescription. The victim of a date rape drug might experience disorientation, memory loss and time-space confusion, which makes it very easy to rape her.

Says 30-year-old Delhiite Shaurya Roy, "I remember this one instance a few years ago, at a party I attended. It was at a farmhouse and I noticed that one of the bedrooms in the house was locked. I thought there might be a couple inside, so I left. However, later I was told that a friend of mine was drunk and had been taken in there by a guy she barely knew. We rushed inside and found her sprawled on the bed, naked. After kicking the guy out, we dressed her and took her to the doctor, where she regained consciousness. She chose not to report the incident or press charges."

Such shocking events are not as isolated as we may be tempted to believe. Simar Suri, a 24-year-old law graduate who lives in Mumbai, has the following tale to tell: "When I was in law school, a friend of mine went out drinking with her buddies. Though she didn't have too many drinks, she says she got really drunk and blacked out. She doesn't remember anything that happened after that. The next morning she found herself in her bed, undressed. We don't know what was in her drink, but she slept for two whole days after that."

Explains Simar, "Whenever I go out drinking, I make sure I get my own drinks, and that bottles of beer are opened at the table itself. I also keep my guard up with boys I don't know too well -- if they seem pushy, warning bells start sounding in my head. I also limit myself to one drink when out with people I've met recently. And no matter who I'm going with, I make sure a friend or family member knows where I am. After all, it can happen to anyone, anytime. As women, we have to be on our guard, because it just takes one slip-up to ruin your life."

Shaurya agrees. "It's a very sorry thing that we're seeing these days. If it were left to me, all perpetrators of this crime would find themselves either behind bars, or serving time in a mental asylum. It's sick! Women need to take care of themselves -- to watch how much they are drinking, make sure they are in an environment where they can call for help if required and not leave their drinks or food unattended."

Being drugged is not the only thing you need to be careful of. Date rape can take place even when you're completely in your senses, in broad daylight.

If you don't know them very well, beware of men who suggest taking you home when nobody is around, dates in isolated places, long drives alone etc.

Visiting an isolated place, where no help is readily available puts you in a vunerable position that a potentail rapist could take advantage of.

Unfortunately, the rising occurrence of date rapes has its backlash on a woman's liberty itself. She can't let her guard down, even when hanging out with friends, feels the need to protect herself at all times and might curb her own freedom in the interest of her safety. Hostels are tightening security and making more strict their guidelines for students, parents are regulating their daughters' whereabouts more vigilantly, and women themselves are frightened enough to be wary at all times, even when surrounded by friends.

Asks 25-year-old Mumbaiite Sharayna Desouza, "Who can we trust? These incidents have us looking at everyone with suspicion. It's not fair that we have to constantly feel threatened. You can't be too careful -- I've started taking precautions to protect myself. For instance, I try to go out in a group as much as possible, always finish my drink before going to the loo, never go drinking on a first date, and try not to attract unnecessary attention. In this situation, the only person who can protect yourself is you."

To help prevent yourself from becoming a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of someone you know, here's a checklist of dos and don'ts to adher to the next time you're out to have a good time with friends:

DoS:
  • Meet male friends you don't know very well in public places, where help is readily available.
  • Make sure your friends and family know where you're going and with whom.
  • Keep your guard up, especially with people you don't know too well.
  • Try to have a trusted friend go out with you.
  • Make sure you know how you're getting home.
  • Go out in a group as much as possible -- there's safety in numbers.
  • Watch your drink at all times when you go partying.
  • Have the waiter open bottles of alcohol at the table.
  • Control how much you drink.
  • Stick to one drink if you're with people you don't know very well.
  • Drink lots of water and eat while you drink to make sure you don't get drunk.
    • Don'tS:
    • Go on dates to isolated places, long drives or put yourself in situations that make you vulnerable, where getting help would be difficult.
    • Ignore warning signs, like men who don't take no for an answer, or men who seem eager to get you drunk.
    • Go alone to house parties.
    • Attract unnecessary attention.
    • Let someone you don't know very well drive you home.
    • Ask someone else to get you a drink.
    • Leave your drink unattended.
    • Drink too much, or use substances that could intoxicate you.
    • Think it can't happen to you!
    • Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

      Insiyah Vahanvaty