Public Health New Mexico
3:32 pm
Tue July 1, 2014

Tips for Avoiding Date Rape Drugs

Credit Dusty J via Compfight cc

Reports of drug-facilitated sexual assaults are on the rise in Albuquerque. People who work with victims aren’t sure whether that’s because date rape drugs are being used more often or people are more aware of them.

Gail Starr is the clinical coordinator for SANE, a collaborative of medical professionals that helps victims of sexual assault. She said a variety of substances—including designer drugs—are being used these days. “There are so many drugs that we as nurses, we’re not focused on exactly what drug. The law enforcement can worry about that,” she said.

Instead, nurses are focused on the symptoms. “If there’s a loss of memory or a loss of consciousness, that’s pretty much the hallmark for a drug-facilitated sexual assault,” she said.

SANE, which stands for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, offers exams, evidence collection and medication to rape victims to prevent pregnancy or infections. These services are available 24 hours a day free of charge. People who reach out to SANE are not required to interact with law enforcement or to press charges.

  

Starr pointed out that people experience a lot of shame after a night of drinking that ends in sexual assault, because they may feel partially at fault. But she emphasized that it doesn’t matter whether a person was out partying, even if they are underage. “We’ve heard people say, ‘Oh, well she shouldn’t have been at a bar. What was she expecting?’ No one ever expects a sexual assault. No one,” she said. “It’s the rapist’s fault. It’s not your fault for going out and having some fun with your friends.”

Teresa D’Anza, executive director for SANE, said drugs used in sexual assaults also affect memory, and that often makes a victim seem confused when they come forward. “Some memories may come back at different times. So maybe a day later, maybe a week later, they’ll start to remember other things.”

It’s important to remember that the blame is solely on the predator, she added. “This is a person who is very methodical. They identify vulnerable individuals. They watch them."

Though some folks may feel safe at restaurants or bars, that doesn’t guarantee that something won’t end up in your drink. Starr said it’s difficult to watch your beverage. “It’s actually very easy to put something in somebody’s drink without them being aware,” she said. “The advice that we give is to have a wingman. It’s easier to watch your friends than it is to watch your drink. “

SANE has heard that bartenders and staff are keeping a close eye on patron’s beverages, which is great news, Starr said.

Wingmen (or women) should keep an eye out for friends suddenly acting sleepy and collapsing. But, Starr adds, sometimes the drugs cause extreme, excitable behavior. Some of the drugs cause extreme nausea, too.

Starr said people should not let friends go home with someone they don’t know or are not comfortable with. “You want people to be clear, to be able to look you in the eye and communicate clearly before you watch your friend go get escorted out by anybody else.”

UNM is building a sexual assault response team and the university is working to change the culture on campus about this issue, D’Anza said. The goal is to make sure people know it’s safe to report, that there will be a way to separate students from their offenders, as well as services for victims.  “Expect to see and hear a lot more about the response to sexual assault on UNM’s campus,” D'Anza said.