SAMANTHA* was in group therapy listening to victims recount their ordeals when the memories of the attack suddenly flooded back. The men pinning her limp body to the bed, the drug-addled stupor which prevented her from fighting back, the smell in the dank room where she was held captive and repeatedly raped for 48 hours.

After two decades spent chasing a feeling something sinister had happened all these years ago, she was caught off guard, utterly overwhelmed by the vivid flashbacks of the assault.

“I was in quite a state but I knew it was real,” she confides, her body tensing up at the recollection. I knew something had happened but before that my memory just wouldn’t recall.

“It took me straight back to the flat, I could remember the smells, the room, the people, what they were wearing, the colour of curtains, the bed linen. It was hard.”

Sadly, hers is by no means an isolated case. A vast number of victims of drug-assisted rape do not have any recollection of the abuse and those who eventually experience flashbacks years later and piece together the elusive snatches of the attack have very little hope of bringing the perpetrators to justice.

“A lot of women don’t report it because their memories have been wiped by the drugs and they’re in two minds about whether it happened or not,” agrees Ally Spalding, founder of Swindon charity Breaking Free, which supports adult survivors of sexual abuse. “They question themselves for years or they just don’t know it’s happened until they get flashbacks.”

Drug rape is a type of assault that occurs when tranquilisers or drugs such as Rohypnol are used to inhibit a person’s ability to consent to sexual activity. A common example is someone’s drink being spiked in a bar or nightclub but, this only scratches the surface of the widespread crime, Ally said.

According to Wiltshire Police’s figures, drug rapes make up a very small portion of all sexual assaults in the region.

Rapes of women over 16 accounted for 345 of all sex offences in 2014 and 447 in 2015. Of those just four were reported as drug rapes in 2014 and two the following year. Because so few victims come forward, getting a national picture of the extent of the crime is virtually impossible. It is important to point out that both men and women are targets – and perpetrators.

But the statistics, Ally insists, don’t reflect the alarming reality of the situation. Breaking Free estimates that in 2014 alone, out of every 100 rape victims, or survivors, seeking support from the charity, 30 were tricked and made to consume drugs without their knowledge.

“I don’t believe the statistics for one minute,” she says firmly. “It’s happening all the time. We know it is.”

Blame and guilt as well as memory loss are major stumbling blocks to bringing criminals to justice.

“They have an idea that something may have happened but they may have been drinking alcohol at the time and blame the alcohol,” said Ally, who launched Breaking Free, in Victoria Road, nearly 10 years ago and has provided counselling to thousands of female victims of abuse since.

“Then they wake up in someone’s bed the next day and blame themselves.

They escape but they’re still unsure. They feel ashamed they’ve had a one-night stand, that’s what they think it was. They brush it off. They don’t see themselves as victims.”

This is what happened to Samantha and her school friend at the age of 14 when they travelled to London from Swindon for a day out. When they realised, to their utter panic, they had run out of money and could not afford the tube fare to get to the coach station, a seemingly altruistic taxi driver offered to take them.

Soon though he made a detour via a council estate and suggested the shaken girls have a warm cup of tea before heading home. They accepted.

Samantha woke up two days later, her mind a complete blank, with men standing over her slapping her face to bring her round. She would not remember a single detail about her ordeal until well into her thirties.

“We were very naive and didn’t think anything of it when he told us to come up to the flat. I was distressed and I thought he was helping me,” she trails off.

“There were a couple of guys in there. That’s when I got uncomfortable. I wanted to go but they forced this cup of tea on me. It tasted funny. I said I wanted to go and when I got up I felt dizzy. I collapsed and they took me to the bedroom. I know this now,” she said.

“But until 20 years later, I didn’t even remember going in the flat. I was kept in the room, raped continuously for two days. My friend was in the next bed, face down. I couldn’t move my body. Sometimes I would be on my stomach. I drifted in and out of consciousness. I could see men going in and out of the bedroom, cleaning themselves after. I had no feeling in my body. I only had my eyes, what I could see.”

Finally the men let them go.

“There were slapping my face to bring me to, and shaking my shoulders,” she continues.

“They said, ‘You have to go.’ I remember getting myself dressed slowly, feeling really numb. They said we’d go to the pub and then they’d take us to the coach station. I felt something was wrong but I was just glad to be out of the flat. There are big blocks out of it that I can’t remember, even now.

“We got to this pub and I remember sitting there staring at each one of them and thinking something had happened but my mind was blank. “ She rang her dad and he agreed to pick them up. Over the years she developed an inexplicable, and unjustified, fear or so she thought at the time, of taxis, and certain groups of men; she now realises because of their physical resemblance to her attackers.

When she started remembering, she became determined to trace the predators who took advantage of her and secure a conviction with the help of the friend who was abused alongside her. But she was reluctant to dredge up the past and support Samantha in her quest for justice.

Helpless, Samantha turned to alcohol to numb her senses and blunt her uncontrollable rage.

“I felt I had been failed by the system, I was vulnerable, I could have died,” Samantha lowers her voice.

Soon, though, she realised her self-destructive behaviour would only give those who preyed on her even more power. She rebuilt her broken self as best she could.

But try as she might the deep-rooted trauma she suffered at their hands has left her with crippling anxiety and to this day she cannot get into a taxi alone.

“I was so angry, it felt like being re-abused, I was powerless, again. But I couldn’t allow myself to fester in anger and let them win. It just destroys you and I had to heal,” she said.

While there is little victims can do to counteract the effect of the drugs, there are preventative steps they can take to protect themselves, such as knowing their alcohol limit when out clubbing, making sure they are surrounded by a close and reliable group of friends and watching their drink at all times.

Learning to recognise the signs they or a friend may be under the influence of rohypnol or other date rape drugs like ketamine, temazepam and valium – not simply alcohol – is also vital.

Depending on the drug, the effects can range from drowsiness and disorientation to hallucinations, numbness, paralysis and long-term memory loss. Some people may collapse within minutes of the drug entering their system.

Christmas is a particularly dangerous time for drug rape, as more people flood to clubs and bars. To ensure people stay safe, Breaking Free is to launch a luminous card with emergency service numbers and a list of the signs someone may have been drugged.

“When you can’t remember what happened, or you just collapse out of the blue, you should have alarm bells ringing,” said Ally.

“People need to be aware of how serious drug rape is and make sure they’re safe.

“But the important thing to remember is that people who are drug raped have nothing to be ashamed of, they are victims. They need to be treated like it.”

Breaking Free will be collecting funds at a DJ event, Touch of Class Affair, raising awareness of sexual abuse at Lava Lounge, in Fleet Street, on Friday, December 16. The event will also raise money for the NSPCC. Doors open at 9.30pm.

To get in touch with Breaking Free or make a donation go to

*Samantha’s real name has been changed to protect her identity.