x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Cautionary tale of careless girls, and men with evil intent

When illegal activities have the potential to harm a large number of people in society, action must be taken swiftly. The 'date rape' drug crisis is one such cause for collective alarm.

In any society, there are subcultures that are unknown to the public at large, and often little known to the authorities, where all kinds of illegal activities take place. In most cases these subcultures are restricted to a limited section of the community and have little effect upon others. But others are more far-reaching. The UAE is no exception.

I remember, years ago, commissioning a reporter to delve into the underworld of the lower echelons of one expatriate community of which he was a member. All sorts of remarkable stories emerged, including, memorably, the fact that illegal cockfights were a popular pastime among labourers, with quite large sums being wagered on the outcome. I have no idea whether they still take place out on remote farms during Eids, but the newspaper story that resulted surprised most of its readers.

Illegal as they may be here (though not necessarily in the country of origin for most of those enjoying them) such activities cause little harm, except to the pockets of those losing wagers and, of course, to the birds themselves.

There are, however, other illegal practices that effect many different communities, among the young of all nationalities, which can have a much more damaging effect.

On a couple of occasions in recent months, I have been advised of the effect of one such practice of which both the young, and their parents, should be fully aware. That is the use of illegal, and highly-dangerous, "date rape drugs", like Rohypnol.

It's simple to use and, so I'm told, quite popular among young men with evil intentions. Slip it into someone's drink - alcoholic or non-alcoholic - at a party and the person affected is left completely unaware. To quote from an internet description of Rohypnol, "the drug has no taste or odour, so those given it don't realise what is happening. About 10 minutes after ingesting the drug, a woman may feel dizzy and disoriented, simultaneously too hot and too cold, and or nauseated. She may experience difficulty speaking and moving, and then pass out. Effects peak within two hours, and can persist for up to eight hours. Such victims have no memories of what happened while under the drug's influence."

In the first case of which I'm aware, the young lady concerned was fortunate to be in the company of some good friends. Recognising that she wasn't feeling well, they quickly escorted her home. She woke up with a headache, but nothing more.

The second young lady wasn't so lucky. She attended a party, didn't leave until it was too late and woke up the next morning on a sofa, with her memory blank and a few rather shamefaced "friends" nearby. The young man who had earlier, unsuccessfully, been trying to engage her in conversation was gone.

A few weeks later she is now trying to deal with the fact that she's pregnant, having been sexually assaulted while unconscious. The young man has run away from the country, suggestive of a feeling of guilt, in my view, or, at least, of a fear of retribution. Unless his family can persuade him to return and marry her, at least until after the child is born, she will have to return home, to avoid the legal complications that arise here from illegitimate births, inevitably facing other problems there.

There's little evidence, it would seem, that would stand up in a court of law, and I'm far from convinced that the authorities here would view her case with the sympathy it would appear to deserve, were it to be drawn formally to their attention.

I wish her well. And I hope that other young women, of whatever nationality, will heed her story. There are some nasty practices, and some nasty people, that all would do well to avoid.


Peter Hellyer is social affairs commentator who specialises in UAE culture and heritage