Thursday, April 15, 2004
Last year, ten women phoned the Women’s Crisis Center in Salinas and shared a similar story. The women—mostly teens and a few in their early twenties—said they had been at a party or a bar and after drinking only a couple of drinks or water they found themselves unconscious or incapacitated. When they woke up, they had a sense that something was wrong, but couldn’t remember what had happened. Later, they realized that they had been raped.
Sonia Arreguin, sexual assault program director for the center, says it is likely that a date rape drug—like GHB or Rohypernol (“Roofie”)—was put in these women’s drinks.
“The drug can be put in something as small as a Visine bottle,” Arreguin says. “It can just take one or two drops in a drink [to take effect], and it’s colorless and odorless, so you wouldn’t know.”
Kelly Fraasch, education director at the Monterey Rape Crisis Center, says counselors at her center get about three or four calls a month reporting the same confusing scenario.
“Maybe they’ve had just a couple of drinks but they are literally falling all over the place,” she says. “They can’t stand on their feet or they are blacking out. Sometimes they don’t even realize that they have been sexually assaulted, then weeks or months later they start having flashbacks and start putting it together.”
It is known that three out of four rapes or sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, according to statistics from the US Department of Justice (DOJ). But getting a picture of how many perpetrators are using drugs to sedate their victims is difficult. A 2000 DOJ report, Drug Facilitated Rape, found that it “could draw no conclusions beyond a clear recognition that the incidence of this offense is extraordinarily difficult to measure.”
Terry Spitz, Monterey County’s chief assistant district attorney, says sexual assaults in general are seriously underreported, and specifics—such as how many involve date-rape drugs—are difficult to know. He says date-rape drug cases rarely reach the courts.
“We see very few of those cases,” he says. “There might be one or two a year, and they almost always go nowhere. The drug typically dissipates very quickly in the bloodstream, and usually it is long gone, so there’s nothing that can be tested. Any delay in reporting, and the evidence is naturally destroyed.”
Only 11 sex crimes against adults were prosecuted in the county last year, and only four resulted in convictions. None of them involved date-rape drugs.
Spitz, who used to sit on the board of the Women’s Crisis Center, points out that rape crisis centers see many more victims than law enforcement does.
“I used to be at board meetings, and the center would say, ‘We had 15 reports of sexual assaults this month,’ and we’d go, ‘Huh, we [in the DA’s office] had no reports.’ I was struck by the fact that there was such a gap; it’s because the victims don’t want to report.
“We are stuck with a situation where the police can’t do anything because they are never informed. The Crisis Center feels that they have to keep confidentiality even though they are urging women to report.”
The date-rape drug issue is further complicated by the fact that many of the women who are dosed appear to be minors who had been partying, and are worried about getting in trouble if they come forward.
Fred Hardee, chief of the CSU Monterey Bay police department and a member of the Monterey County sexual assault response team, SART, says most sexual assaults on campus involve victims who had been drinking.
“The majority of sexual assaults on campus have been an acquaintance type of assault, not a predator random attack,” Hardee says. “Usually it’s the combination of an acquaintance and alcohol and drugs, primarily marijuana.”
Hardee doesn’t believe that date-rape drugs like GHB are widely used, but says that “excessive partying” puts victims in danger.
“The key is really knowing who you are going to be partying with,” he says. “See what their intentions are and be mindful of that.”
Fraasch points out that partying in groups of friends is safer, advises against accepting drinks from strangers or leaving a drink unattended, and says that friends should be educated that if someone they are with starts acting disproportionately intoxicated, they should be taken to a hospital immediately.
Rape educators also point out that men need to understand that having sex with an intoxicated woman cannot be considered consensual.
Under Penal Code 261, consent cannot be given if a person is unconscious, asleep, or “prevented from resisting by any intoxicating or anesthetic substance.”
“I think people are vaguely aware of the topic of consent,” Spitz says. “But if you get down to the legal niceties of what it means in the law, they are probably unaware. If she is so drunk, then our position is going to be that she was incapable of giving consent, and he committed an offense. A rape is a mandatory state prison offense.”
But those who work with victims realize that only a very small percentage of sexual assaults get reported, and an even smaller percentage get prosecuted. One element involved in encouraging reporting is to allow victims to feel like they won’t be blamed by the justice system.
Fraasch works with local police departments to train officers how to be sensitive to a rape victim; she says in the past, “The police department and the rape crisis center were almost fighting on a regular basis.
“Every myth the police department had that men couldn’t be sexually abused or assaulted, or about [not taking seriously] date rape or spousal rape, we trained them on,” she says.
Now the county’s sexual assault response team meets victims at the hospital after an assault. SART is composed of a specialized nurse, a police officer, and a rape crisis counselor. Still, Fraasch points out, it is up to the victim to decide if they simply want medical treatment, or if they are willing to endure the three hours of specimen collection it takes to file an official report with the police.
“Not a lot press charges,” she says. “20 to 30 percent at the most. There are so many fears out there—most assaults happen with someone the victim knows.”
Spitz agrees that it is a difficult choice for a victim to prosecute.
“I’m sure a lot of these women realize unfortunately the court system is an adversarial system, and they will be cross-examined, and their credibility will be questioned at every turn,” Spitz says. “If they made any mistakes, like they were drinking, or trusting someone, it will be used by the defense to try to convince the jury that the woman is not trustworthy. It takes a certain amount of courage and gumption to say, ‘No, that was wrong, and he needs to be held accountable.’”
APRIL IS SEXUAL ASSAULT AWARENESS MONTH. EVENTS INCLUDE AN EXHIBIT AT CSUMB ON APRIL 15 FROM 10AM-2PM; AT MPC ON APRIL 16 FROM 9AM-1PM; AND IN FRONT OF COLTON HALL ON APRIL 18, FROM 6-8PM. ON APRIL 21, “DENIM DAY” ENCOURAGES PEOPLE TO WEAR DENIM IN SUPPORT OF RAPE VICTIMS; AND ON APRIL 30, PEOPLE ARE ASKED TO LIGHT A CANDLE IN THEIR WINDOW TO PROTEST SEXUAL VIOLENCE. CALL KELLY AT 373-3955 FOR DETAILS.