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Date Rape Drugs: getting back up from the bathroom floor | The Triangle

Date Rape Drugs: getting back up from the bathroom floor

Mia Peters: The Triangle
Mia Peters: The Triangle

I remember waking up with sweat on my forehead and the strange comfort of my cheek pressed against the cool tile of the bathroom floor. “What is your name? Where are you? What year is it?” A strange woman’s voice pierced through the air. I’m not the first or the last person to be drugged by an anonymous monster while out with friends. I’m not the first or the last person to wake up with no recollection of what happened, but surrounded by angels who found me before someone else did. I am one of the many, but not the first nor will be last. I am someone with a story, one that all too often goes unheard.

Perhaps it is not defined as an epidemic in this country, but rape has been forcefully embedded in our culture and festers like a disease, spreading to any and all categories of persons. Many victims stand and voice their oppression; some perpetrators are found guilty. Yet, too many are never convicted as rapists. Too many rapists do not know they are rapists. Too many victims are not sure if they are victims. So, when a tree falls in a forest and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a noise?

When I gained consciousness in the hospital, confusion flooded my brain. I was out at a show with a group of my closest friends at a local club and music venue. I arrived around 10 p.m. and drank three beers over the course of three hours. Sometime later, I was found on the bathroom floor. If you are not an experienced drinker, like myself, three beers in three hours does not add up to passing out in the bathroom at a club. I remember seeing a dear friend, Teddy, and joining him at the bar for my third beer. We talked for a while about music, friends and our shared sense of dry humor. Then, I left to join my group of friends back in the crowd. That’s when things got very blurry; in fact, I don’t know what I did or what happened after weaving through sweaty strangers.

Like I said, I am not the first or the last. Once I decided to open my mouth and address the reality of that night, too many peers had a story they could voice too. Each of these women happened to be some of the most tough, well-spoken and beautiful women in my life. The kind of women you notice, those that make you notice them, and aren’t afraid to be heard. Still, these women each had stories similar to mine. An article published in USA Today only affirmed my fears, noting that, “a study for the National Institute of Justice found that only 16 percent of all rapes were reported to law enforcement. Notably, victims of drug-facilitated or incapacitated rape were somewhat less likely to report to the authorities than victims of forcible rape.”

Avery was out with her roommate at Tavern on Broad when it happened to her. She found herself in conversation with a group of three men along with their female friends. After making meaningless small talk, one man roared to the crowd, “Who wants a shot?” It’s an announcement every college student has heard in a bar, or naively called out like the inevitable fate of their bank account. “Do you want one?” he asked Avery. She agreed and he hovered around the six or seven shots of tequila, picking up a few at a time, and passing them around. Shortly after, Avery recalled her body feeling strange and her mind feeling fuzzy. This was not her normal reaction to a shot of tequila with only one beer in her system.

She knew she needed to leave, and her roommate was nowhere to be found. Stumbling out of the bar, she got to the Broad Street Line, the same line she took everyday to work and the same subway system she took her whole life growing up in Philadelphia. That night, she missed her stop home. She got off, got back on, and somehow ended up back wandering along the sidewalk somewhere on Broad Street, followed by a man on a bike. Thankfully, she had contacted her boyfriend at the time and he took her home. She woke up after 14 hours of sleep, something she never did, and tried to piece things together.

This was her first run in with a date rape drug. It became clear; the man at the bar hovered over those shots and offered her a specific one. The way she felt that night was something she had never felt before. But what can even be done from there?

I asked Avery, “Looking back, do you wish you had done something about what happened?”

She shrugged, “I guess I should have, but it’s easier to just dismiss it and move on.” She explained how she was afraid nothing would come of it, and it would be challenged because she was drinking, and how she was lucky nothing worse happened. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada confirms “about 25 percent of women report that drugs were a factor in a rape,” but this number is presumably much higher because “most of these crimes go unrecognized, unreported, unresolved or unproven.” Avery made the choice, like many others, to keep this experience to herself due to fear, denial or lack of support from our society.

Women are often targeted when they are out drinking with friends and not thinking about the possible dangers at hand. Some men adopt a more inconspicuous appearance, seemingly looking to just flirt, grab a phone number, or bring someone home. How is one supposed to know when a man is violent and dangerous? While out with friends, no one wants to think of the terrifying possibility of becoming one of those victims we see on the news.

Some women have made the brave choice to speak up about being raped, and their stories have been plastered across our TV screens. While it is good that our justice system is addressing those cases, it establishes another type of fear in having a voice. As Shanthi Blanchard wrote in an article for Mic.com, When we live in a rape culture that punishes survivors who come forward with allegations of sexual assault by making an example of them through social, legal and media driven platforms, we are creating an adversarial climate for future survivors to bring forth their claims and undergo a just and due process by law. We are perpetuating a social censorship that demoralizes women’s experiences as petty complaints, emotive behavior and something that should just be swifted away.” Instead of fear of denial, this system creates a fear of bringing your story to light for everyone to see, ruining some relationships, and changing people’s perspective of you forever. These stories thus remain as damaged pieces that friends share with tears and empathy.

I can’t help but think of the idea of trust. I trust my body. I knew my body was reacting to something foreign. But I ask you, reader, to continue to read if you trust my word, that I was drugged on Nov. 5. I cannot prove anything to you, and anyone could question my honesty. But my question to any listener of these stories is,  would they feel any doubt or hesitation if a person denounced that they had been raped? Rape is a tangible and horrific manifestation of society’s objectification of women.

“She was asking for it;” “She was drunk;” “Look at what she was wearing;” “She wanted it” and “No means yes” are just a few of the statements made too often by an ignorant population blinded to the reality of rape. While rape is not exclusive to sex, gender, or any type of person, this blame and shame is the kind of oppression that keeps people silenced. Many of these victims, female or male, make the second mistake of choosing to not speak above the infamy of distrust. This allows rapists to walk freely unaware that they are rapists and allow other potential victims to be unaware of the possible stranger who buys them a shot and asks their name over the rumble of the crowd.

I was not raped that night; I was lucky. But although I was not victim to the worst violation a person can be forced to live with, it does not mean my story must remain my own. William Lorman, Vice President for Clinical Services of the Livengrin Foundation for Addiction Recovery, said, “This kind of thing happens more often than we think. Most people do not go to the emergency room, they just sleep it off.” They wake up and wonder what happened on that strange night, and some end up coming to Lorman with a “free floating anxiety.” While these drugs put people in “an amnesic state, in which there is no cognitive memory,” it is still a traumatic experience that leaves not necessarily physical scars but emotional ones that can last indefinitely. While staring up into the drop ceiling of the emergency unit of Hahnemann University Hospital, a nurse came over to me with packets about alcohol abuse and drunk driving. I remember a wave of rage flooding through my body that jerked me awake. I was diagnosed with syncope induced by alcohol consumption, which is a fancy way of saying I was drunk and dizzy and had passed out. This is the type of denial and demoralization that dissuades women from speaking up. The experience of being told by an authority that my reality was in fact a fallacy was painful, but enraged me to write my own conclusion.

Lorman’s work enlightened me about one of the more common drugs used for date rape—GHB, or gamma-hydroxybutyric acid. I looked back on my paperwork from the hospital and found that they did not test for this. “Historically, GHB was prescribed to people who struggled to get to sleep at night. However, that usage largely stopped in 1990, when the Federal Drug Association in the United States outlawed the drug. Since then, GHB has been used to treat cataplexy—a rare form of narcolepsy in which strong emotion or laughter causes a person to suffer sudden physical collapse. The medical community has also flirted with the prescription of GHB as an anesthetic during childbirth, and as a treatment for alcoholism. However, neither have proven popular—often due to the dangerous side-effects of overuse.”

Nevertheless, GHB is still in use, albeit with more sinister intentions. A shipment of the drug was seized just last year on Oct. 9 in Jacksonville, Florida by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers. The three-pound package of liquid gamma-butyrolactone (which converts into GHB upon ingestion) was potent enough to potentially affect 1,000 victims, according to the officials. “We find a lot of this stuff is going to be distributed in and around college areas, and so we feel this might have been—we aren’t sure but—destined for the Florida State campus,” Jacksonville Port Director Douglas Straatsma told the local news station, News4Jax.

A conversation has begun about drug use in the millennial generation. There are more drugs in the market than ever before, and they are becoming easier to get a hold of. While there are many willing to engage in recreational drug use who benefit from shift, there are others who seek to use the drugs for malicious reasons. It is also important to understand the connection because date rape drugs are not limited to GHB. It can be a cocktail of any recreational drugs. In a culture of drug use, we are opening the door to drugs being put in the wrong person’s hands. Not speaking up denies the ability to differentiate who is choosing drugs for themselves and who is unknowingly consuming them. I want to begin a conversation beyond the drugs kids these days are doing.

I wrote this article to urge others with a story similar to mine to speak up. Your voice needs to be heard for a change to ignite. Rape is perhaps the most horrifying exploitation of a human being, and many of them occur because of druggings. To truly get to the root of this problem, date rape drugs need to be a part of the conversation. The worst outcome does not need to happen for your story to be valid. You do not need to be the picture of tragedy for your trauma to be legitimate. You do not need to be bruised to be hurt.

So here’s the real question: when a drugged girl passes out on the bathroom floor and no one is around to see her fall, will her voice ever be heard?