Stacey Forrester was a 17-year-old high school student living on Vancouver Island when she first heard about the "date rape drug." 

The subject came up during the only sexual education class she was taught in school. 

"I grew up, around the time I was able to go to bars, being taught never, ever take drinks from strangers, never leave your drink alone and dump your drink if you do," Forrester said.

That was 20 years ago, when CBC News first began reporting on the dangers of Rohypnol, a relatively new drug at the time that was being used to severely incapacitate women and then sexually assault them.

Date rape drug first detected in B.C., 19972:24

Two decades later, experts say date rape drugs like Rohypnol and GHB are still a factor in many sexual assault cases — although they point out that alcohol is a far more common culprit.

Those experts also say the only way to change the risk of drug-facilitated sexual assault is to address the root of the issue: a lack of discussion about what healthy sexual intimacy looks like.

Training venues and bars

Forrester now volunteers with Good Night Out, an organization that works with festivals, bars and venue owners to tackle sexual harassment and assault. 

She says that, of the 15 to 20 Facebook messages her organization gets each month, one or two are usually from women who suspect someone slipped a drug into their drink. 

"It's definitely on our radar. A big part of our workshops is just outlining to bar staff or venue staff what their role is," Forrester said. 

Stacey and Ashtyn

Stacey Forrester (left) and Ashtyn Bevan are co-organizers of Good Night Out. (Elaine Chau)

Parts of that role, Forrester says, includes clearing open drinks and watching patrons for signs of rapid intoxication. 

Forrester says one difference between 20 years ago and now is that drugs like Rohypnol and GHB were once only described as date rape drugs, but are now also acknowledged as illicit party drugs used for personal pleasure.

Although date rape drugs have received much attention in the past 20 years, Forrester and other experts say a legal substance is behind most drug-facilitated sexual assaults: alcohol. 

Accessible and legal

David Lisak, a clinical psychologist who works as a consultant with law enforcement agencies and universities, says booze is a factor in at least 50 per cent of sexual assault cases. 

"There's no question that the use of alcohol as a date rape drug just dwarfs the use of any other substances simply because it is so accessible and it's legal," Lisak said. 

"With alcohol, you can do it right in front of everybody. You buy somebody a drink. You buy them another drink. Who's counting?"

Granville Entertainment District

A young woman talks on a phone outside a Granville Street bar in Vancouver's Entertainment District. (David Horemans/CBC)

Lisak says the risk with putting too much focus on more exotic substances like Rohypnol is that it could detract from a more pervasive problem — particularly in regards to binge drinking.  

"When we have research that identifies risk factors, I think we have an ethical obligation to make that information available to everybody," he said.

"But what we have to also very much keep in mind is that, really, the only way to prevent the use of these kinds of substances in sexual assaults is to change the larger culture."

Sex assault in pop culture

Lisak points to popular TV shows and films to show how ubiquitous drug-induced sexual assault is in contemporary culture. 

Take this scene from the well-known '80s film Sixteen Candles, for example.

Towards the end of the clip, Jake describes how he has a woman in the bedroom, "passed out cold."

"I could violate her 10 different ways if I wanted to," Jake says to Ted, calmly. 

Lisak says he's glad to see more discussion about sexual assault prompted by recent accusations against Harvey Weinstein and dozens of other men. 

But to change the conversation about sexual assault and help prevent it, Lisak wants more discussion about what healthy sexuality looks like in the first place. 

"I don't know how we got here, but it seems to me that we have a lot to talk about what intimacy between two people really means and what healthy intimacy might be," he said.

"The spate of revelations over the last several weeks are just further indication that this is a behaviour and it comes out of a culture that clearly fosters this behaviour."