S A N J O S E, Calif., Oct. 6, 2002 -- There's a new weapon against date rape that women can place right under their drink.
It's a chemically treated coaster that purportedly detects the presence of drugs in a drink that's been tainted.
Rohypnol, GHB and ketamine have no taste or odor and have been used to knock out women so they're vulnerable to sexual assault — with no memory of it later.
"They know something happened," Shannon Fletcher of the YWCA of Santa Clara Valley, Calif., told ABCNEWS station KGO-TV of San Francisco. "But they're not aware of everything that happened, so that's a scary experience, knowing that you're missing this period of your life. And you don't know what happened during that time."
Fletcher's unit of the YWCA is giving hundreds of coasters to college students in its area. Coasters also can be ordered for 40 cents apiece in quantities of 125 or more from the manufacturer, Drink Safe Technology of Plantation, Fla.
Distributed to Students, Bars
Students at San Jose State University are among the first in California getting a look at the coasters, which contain test spots designed to chemically react and change color when someone uses a finger or a swizzle stick to put a drug-tainted drink sample on them. If the drugs are not detected, the test spots' appearance should not change, though sometimes false positives occur.
"You can carry this in your purse, take your drink to the bathroom with you, test it out, and if it comes out positive, you know something's wrong with that guy you were talking to," said Janita Patrick, a San Jose State University student. "Keep walking and get away."
Bars around campus also are being asked to make the coasters available to customers. As of last week, only the Brittania Arms had agreed.
"Somebody says, 'Hey I think someone drugged my drink; I could take the drink and do this and we're going to find out,'" said Michael North, owner of the Brittania Arms. "We have a tool, right there on the spot."
However, the coasters aren't foolproof. Besides sometimes giving false positive results, there are concerns that using them might give a false sense of security.
But with so few tools against date rape, Fletcher believes the coasters are more likely to help than hurt.
"If we get these out there, maybe that person will be less likely to put a drug in your drink when they see the coaster sitting right there, and know that you can test for it," Fletcher said.
Still, experts say, caution is the best prevention: Don't take drinks from strangers; don't leave your drink unattended and use the buddy system to keep an eye on friends.
Debora Villalon is a reporter for the ABCNEWS station KGO-TV in San Francisco.