The Problem with Date Rape Drugs on College Campuses
Erin Myers said she was excited about going to her second college party to celebrate her 18th birthday with Kayla Johnson, her best friend. At the time, Myers was a junior at Brownsville Area High School so going to a college house seemed daunting, yet also fun and new.
Upon arriving at the party, Myers was nervous about drinking. However, she befriended a girl who offered her a glass of wine. Myers accepted as she felt that another girl would be trustworthy. Eventually, Myers began to feel the effects of something that was more than just alcohol.
“I was sloshed to the point where I was just all over the place,” Myers said. “At that point in my life, I was a pretty heavy drinker, I had a pretty good tolerance. So, the fact that I had a couple sips of wine and was not able to do anything, I knew something was very wrong.”
Myers was taken upstairs by the man who hosted the party. She remembers being somewhat aware of what was going on yet not having control over her body.
“I remember, at that point, laying down on the bed and being like ‘oh, I really can’t move’ and him taking my clothes off of me,” Myers said.
The man proceeded to sexually assault Myers.
Assaults like this one aren’t rare occurrences at parties. According to the 2015 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, approximately 1 in 5 (21.3 percent or an estimated 25.5 million) women in the U.S. reported completed or attempted rape at some point in their lifetime. More specifically, around 13.18 million women experienced completed alcohol/drug-facilitated penetration at some point in their lifetime.
College-age women are the most prone to sexual assault, stalking, and dating violence than any other group of people. According to the textbook “Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions” by Janet Lee and Susan Shaw, about 70 to 80 percent of campus rapes generally involve alcohol or other drugs.
Before things escalated even more between the perpetrator and Myers, Johnson barged in and removed Myers from the bedroom. She had to drag Myers outside because Myers was unable to walk. Johnson then put her in a car with two men and girl who they attended the party with, telling them to take care of Myers as she was “really f****d up.”
Myers believed that Johnson knew the people in the car, yet all three were strangers to her. Despite her pleas, the strangers would not call Myers’s mother or take her home. Instead, they drove to an unfamiliar house. Myers had difficulty speaking and walking, but she still remembered being terrified at her inability to communicate.
Once inside the house, the strangers put Myers on the couch before the girl and one of the men went into a separate bedroom leaving her alone with the other man she did not know. Myers remembers how at that point she was going in and out of consciousness.
“I remember him pulling my pants down and me just kind of mumbling like ‘no.’ Trying to verbalize ‘no’ but I couldn’t move, I was just mumbling ‘no,’” Myers said.
She felt him begin to rape her and she began to cry. That’s all she remembers before passing out and waking up the next morning disheveled. She called Johnson, the same girl who put her safety in the hands of strangers, to pick her up.
Now the only remnants from that night are a video of the assault taken by the man who hosted the college party. Today, Myers is a 21-year-old junior in college at Cal U and has only told a couple of people about her assaults as she felt shame and somehow responsible for what happened.
“I think if I would have had support it would have been different but I didn’t. I was also scared the guy would [blackmail] me if I tried to do anything about it,” Myers said.
Recently, date rape drugs have been brought to the forefront of the news due to comedian and actor Bill Cosby. Based on incidents in January 2004, Cosby was found guilty in April of 2018 of three counts of aggravated indecent assault and sentenced to three to ten years in state prison. In his testimony, Cosby admitted to casual sex, involving the recreational use of the sedative methaqualone (Quaaludes) on multiple young women. He also acknowledged that his dispensing of the drug was illegal.
Traditionally, “date rape” or predatory drugs are perceived as just pills. The most common drugs include Rohypnol (“roofies”), ketamine (“special k”), and GBH (gamma hydroxybutyrate). These drugs are odorless when dissolved and can’t be detected when put in a drink. They also metabolize quickly and make a person incapable of resisting sexual advances.
However, health science professor Tami Sealy indicates how date rape drugs could be anything from giving the victim more alcohol or slipping them something that negatively affects the person. In fact, alcohol, specifically beer, is the most prevalent form of intoxicated rape.
“You think it’s regular punch and they’ve added alcohol to it which then impacts your central nervous system, makes you drowsy, loosens your inhibitions, so then you’re more likely to be in compromising positions,” Sealy said.
The majority of sexual assaults Nancy Skobel, director of Cal U’s End Violence Center, said she sees involve alcohol in some way. Skobel said she considers the term "date rape" as somewhat misleading and inaccurate in most cases.
“I don’t like to use the term date rape because define ‘date,’” Skobel said. “Most often it’s an acquaintance that they already know. I would use acquaintance rape instead of date rape.”
Some Cal U students say there is a double standard for girls at parties. For example, some of the students mentioned that girls are looked at poorly when they get drunk at a party as opposed to a guy. Also, at parties, it is not uncommon for guys to be charged, unlike girls who get in and drink for free. Women are treated differently within the party culture than men are.
“I think women face more scrutiny for going out than men do, whether it’s for how they dress or for how much they drink. It’s kind of weird how there’s “frat parties” but not really sorority ones. It’s like it’s something guys are supposed to do but something that somehow lessens a girl’s value or worth,” Myers said.
This double standard between men and women can be seen through sexual assault as well. The ideology can be traced back to society’s views on women compared to men. Director of Women’s Studies Marta McClintock-Comeaux explains how historically when a woman is raped by a man, the woman is often blamed as if she had done something to bring that on.
“I think that attitude still kind of persists. When there’s a sexual assault that occurs the focus often goes to the victim of ‘what was she doing that led him on,’” she said.
McClintock-Comeaux teaches the students in her Intro to Women’s Studies course how women are often cautioned to watch their drink, not wear revealing clothing, and stay in groups when going out opposed to men who are not warned of anything.
Society is quick to blame the victim, typically a woman, as they have done for centuries, according to McClintock-Comeaux. However, rape is the only violent crime in which the victim is not de facto perceived as innocent. Men are often the perpetrator when assaulting both men and women. Though rape can happen to all races, genders, and ages, it is often perceived as a women’s issue especially when women are usually overwhelming the victim of sexual assault and rape.
At universities, the numbers show the ratio of perpetrators to victims is uneven. Perpetrators are often repeating offenders of sexual assault.
“Statistically, on a college campus, 5 percent of the population is committing the crimes. Twenty to 25 percent are being victimized. So, we know that perpetrators continue to perpetrate,” Skobel said.
Three rapes were reported to Cal U in 2017, according to the 2018 Annual Crime Statistics Security Report, commonly referred to as the Clery report. This is a decrease from the seven rapes that were reported in 2016. However, this data does not specify which, if any, rapes were influenced by drugs or alcohol. Yet, according to campus police chief Edward McSheffery, they have tried but have not proven any rape cases to be related to date rape drugs.
The Clery report is published every year by the campus police with crimes committed and reported, rape included. Within this, rapes that involve drugs or alcohol are not specified. The Clery Act requires universities to keep and disclose information about crime on and near their respective campuses. The law is named after Jeanne Clery, a 19-year-old Lehigh University student who was raped and murdered in her residence hall in 1986. Her murder triggered a backlash against unreported crime on campuses across the country.
The numbers that appear in Cal U’s Clery report numbers do not reflect the assaults that happen off campus nor do they represent victims who have kept silent. This is true for both victims influenced by drugs or alcohol and those not influenced. Skobel states that the numbers that appear in the Clery report are not accurate to reality.
“Statistically, we know by research that there are many more victims than what comes through our doors,” Skobel said.
“Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions” reports that among college women less than five percent of completed or attempted rapes are reported to law enforcement officials and one-third of victims do not tell anybody. After Myer’s assault, she didn’t seek justice through the judicial system.
“I didn’t seek help from law enforcement because I was scared and ashamed and I didn’t have anyone tell me what happened to me wasn’t okay or wasn’t my fault,” Myers said.
Resources such as Cal U’s Women’s Center and End-Violence Center are in place to help victims who are feeling similar emotions. They also help provide services to students who have been assaulted or fear being assaulted. The End-Violence Center assists students with academic accommodations, medical accompaniment, legal accompaniment, and counseling.
Amanda King, 21, is one of the students the End-Violence Center is helping as she is currently waiting for her rape case to go on trial.
This past summer, on the night they broke up, King’s ex-boyfriend broke into her house. He demanded sex from her claiming that she owed him.
“I told him no, he wasn’t welcome, get out,” King said. “Then he put me in a headlock until I was passed out. Then I woke up and he was raping me.”
Immediately after, King told her parents, called the local police to report the assault, and went to the hospital to get a rape kit done. Nearly 10 months later, she is still going through the court process. Because enough evidence was found to go to trial, she is currently waiting for June, July, and August when the trial can take place.
“I believe I was given a second chance to make awareness of this, to share my story, to make sure he doesn’t keep getting away with it,” King said.
King’s case does not involve date rape drugs or alcohol in any way, yet it still occurred exemplifying how rape can happen in any capacity. No matter the circumstances, sexual assault or rape can happen to a person.
What sets drugged date rape apart from non-drugged date rape is the intention behind the act. As stated by McClintock-Comeaux, it is easy for people to question if the sexually assaulted victim was clear in meaning no. If someone is using a drug, it is very clear what their intentions are. It is a criminal act. With alcohol, it is a legal way to find a way to commit a crime.
Memory impairment is also typically associated with drugs. A survivor may not be aware of such an attack until eight to 12 hours after it has occurred. Additionally, it may be hard to prove a drug-facilitated rape due to how fast a predatory drug metabolizes.
McSheffery often goes into First Year Seminar classes at Cal U to educate students on how to prevent sexual violence from occurring and how to stay safe at parties. He recommends not leaving friends behind.
“If you see your friend is too intoxicated to make a good, sound decision, then don’t leave them by themselves,” McSheffery said. “Make sure they get back to their room. Don’t leave them with some stranger they just met. Take care of one another.”
Concerning beverages at parties, McSheffery highlights the importance of not setting down one’s drink. This is when somebody can put a date rape drug or alcohol in it. A partygoer should also never drink a beverage that someone handed to them unless it was freshly opened.
“Those are just the two major things you can do,” McSheffery said. “Don’t ever leave your drink unattended and don’t take a drink from somebody that’s like a mixed drink or something that’s already been opened up.”
Although a young college student can do all these things in attempts to stay safe, it still may not guarantee their safety from assault.
Today, Myers is heavily involved on campus with women’s issues and mental health support. She is also a CA as she wants to be able to help others with anything college may present them. And even though she has experienced problems being intimate with partners and trusting men, Myers said her assaults prompted her to surround herself with better friends. Despite all of this, Myers sometimes things back to the week of her 18th birthday.
“I am not 100 percent sure that the girl slipped me something. Someone else could have easily dropped something in my drink when I wasn’t looking, I honestly don’t know,” Myers said. “It’s something I’ve played over in my head a million times and I would like to think at the end of the day, another girl isn’t capable of doing something like that.”
*Erin Myer’s name and Kayla Johnson’s name have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.