Reality of date rape in the islands

Law enforcement and victim support groups are aware of a series of alleged date rapes in the San Juans. While the cases are currently at a stand still because of victims’ reluctance to testify, the need to educate the public has become apparent.

“As an agency, prevention is a big piece of what we do,” said Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Services of the San Juans Director Kim Bryan. “We are active with prevention programs in the schools. And we’re realizing there is a whole population we need to educate: adults. A lot of women don’t know the safe party rules.”

Undersheriff Bruce Distler says the victims on Orcas and Lopez possibly had drugs slipped into their drinks prior to the sexual assault. Nationally, 55 percent of date rape cases for women and 75 percent for men involve alcohol or drugs.

The most commonly used “date rape drugs” are Rohypnol (known as a roofie) and GHB, which are central nervous system depressants and are seven to 10 times more potent than Valium. Ketamine, used as a large animal anesthetic, is also easy to slip into beverages.

“All of these come in powder or liquid form and can be laced in just about anything – and the drugs are entirely clear,” Distler said. “They all have the same general action: it takes away your ability to remember and makes you drunk.”

Predators groom their victims to create a sense of trust and use drugs that completely incapacitate them. Men and women who have been given these drugs say they felt paralyzed and had blurred vision and memory loss. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, approximately two-thirds of rapes were committed to someone known to the victim and one of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape.

“Date rapes are happening with people that these women know,” Bryan said. “They are excited about going out on a date or know the man through an acquaintance. Women often don’t report the rape because they feel it is their fault for drinking. If you cannot give consent, it is rape. That is the state law. We need to blame the assailant not the victim.”

Bryan says that when predators continually get away with assaults, it emboldens them to continue finding victims.

“What is blowing me away is that as this is being talked about more in the community, long-time islanders are saying: ‘Oh yeah, that’s been going on around here for years,’” she said. “One assailant on Orcas has three known victims but the incidents are not being reported. I want people to take this seriously – it’s happening here. We need to watch out for each other. If your friend seems drunk, step in and take her home.”

Keep yourself safe

The number one rule: don’t leave your drink unattended whether you are in a bar or at a party. If someone offers to buy you a drink, watch the bartender make it.

“Don’t accept a drink from anyone except a trusted friend or the bartender whom you’ve watched make the drink,” Distler said. “If you are at a party or a bar, don’t put your drink down and leave it alone.”

Bryan says it’s important to note that the number one date rape drug is alcohol. Anything that puts your judgment in a compromised position means you can’t give consent.

“If a guy keeps giving you drinks and giving you drinks – that is how most of the date rapes happen,” she said.

If you’re assaulted

If you are the victim of a sexual assault, call law enforcement or one of the DVSAS 24-hour hotlines: Orcas, 376-1234; San Juan, 378-2345; and Lopez, 468-4567.

DVSAS can help victims undergo a rape examination. The results are not reported to law enforcement, but it’s helpful to have in case charges are filed. It is best to collect evidence within 72 hours and victims are asked to not shower beforehand. The service is free of charge and 100 percent confidential.

“We are community-based which means that we don’t share any information with law enforcement without the victim’s permission,” Bryan said. “If someone wants to move ahead with charges, we will be by your side the entire time.”

For more information about DVSAS, visit www.dvsassanjuans.org.

Looking ahead

Bryan and Distler are adamant that the community needs to increase its awareness.

“If something in the back of your head doesn’t seem right, listen to it,” Distler said. “Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. Here in the islands, we basically know everyone and we don’t have a problem leaving a drink on the table. If you see someone messing with a drink, tell the bartender. The community has to be involved with policing. We can’t do it without help.”

DVSAS is hoping to put posters in the bathroom stalls of restaurants and bars on all three islands. Bryan also encourages men to help with the cause. Visit www.mencanstoprape.org for more information.

“We would love to get some men to come forward and say, ‘No, this is crazy,’” she said. “Why don’t the good guys stand up and say enough is enough?”