Hair DNA Test to Confirm Date Rape Drug Use

For first time in Israel, Police send hair of victim to Italian lab, hoping to confirm use of drug by man suspected of multiple rapes.

Date rape drug ceased by police in Canada, 2013.
David Bloom / QMI Agency

Law enforcement officials are hoping that laboratory testing will confirm the use of a date rape drug in a criminal case, the first time such testing has been used in a rape case in Israel.

The advanced DNA test, which will be done by a lab in Italy, relies on DNA extracted from hair. The Health Ministry sent the sample to the lab a few days ago and expects to receive results within 10 days.

If the result is positive, as law enforcement officials expect, based on other evidence, the DNA evidence will be used in the rape case against Shmuel Ben Abu, 56, of Moshav Even Menachem, who was indicted in the Nazareth District Court last month.

“The great difficulty in proving use of the rape drug stems from the fact that the substance disappears from the body within eight to 10 hours,” explained Dr. Roni Berkowitz, head of the Health Ministry’s division of enforcement and inspection. “Therefore, tests based on bodily fluids – blood or urine – can’t prove use of this substance. By the time the victimized woman, who is still half in a daze, understands what happened, files a complaint and does the test, the window of opportunity for locating the drug has closed.”

But it turns out that traces of the drug can still be detected for up to six months by testing DNA extracted from the victim’s hair.

“So far, there are very few laboratories worldwide – inter alia, in France, Italy and the United States – that do such tests,” Berkowitz said. “These are labs that specialize in identifying disorienting substances, of which the rape drug is just one.”

Police and prosecutors asked the ministry to look into getting the test done in the case of only one of Ben Abu’s alleged victims, though he is suspected of putting the drug into the drinks of several women. He would then sexually assault them, the indictment says, and sometimes he would also photograph his victims naked, using the pictures to extort hundreds of thousands of shekels from them. He is charged with various offenses, including sexual assault, extortion and aggravated fraud.

The ministry contacted the Italian lab and asked whether the case was in fact suitable for the test, Berkowitz said. The lab confirmed that it was, and now the ministry is awaiting what it hopes will be a positive result.

“In general, hair grows at a rate of a centimeter per month, so if the case happened two months ago, they can test two centimeters of hair,” Berkowitz explained.

Given the multiplicity of suspected date rape drug cases in Israel, the ministry is also looking into the possibility of starting to do this test in Israel.