Date rape drugs hit home

University District

Whale the Gael party lands student in emergency room

Attempts to revive Alexandra after she collapsed from what doctors suspect was a “date rape drug” in her drink left bruises on her arms.
Attempts to revive Alexandra after she collapsed from what doctors suspect was a “date rape drug” in her drink left bruises on her arms.

Through the darkness, the only thing Alexandra recalls is someone shouting.

“I almost remember myself in the unconscious state, and people shaking me and calling out my name. I wasn’t sure if that was something I had dreamt while unconscious. I can almost remember my friend screaming my name—it was a kind of faint nightmare that I remembered when I woke up the next morning.”

When Alexandra opened her eyes around 9 a.m., she felt dizzy and disoriented. Her vision was blurred, but her eyes eventually adjusted.

Six thin, silver needles protruded from the tops of her hands and the soft flesh of her wrists and inner arms. Small tubes, connected to the needles, ran up and away into plastic, fluid-filled sacks. Then Alexandra realized she wasn’t wearing her own clothes.

“All I remember is waking up the next morning in a hospital bed, and seeing my parents there, and being attached to different machines,” Alexandra told the Journal. “The reason they called my parents was because the doctors said I was in critical condition … The doctors did say there was a considerable amount of alcohol in me, but they were also suspicious whether I had been slipped a drug.”

Two weeks ago, emergency room doctors told Alexandra, 19, she likely ended up in the intensive care unit because an amaretto and Coke she was drinking at a party the night before was spiked with what is often called a “date rape drug.”

The second-year drama and health studies student, who asked that only her middle name be used, came to the Journal with her story. She said she wants to warn students the drug may be in the Queen’s community. She also wanted to talk about prevention. One initiative—a Toronto club owner’s recent efforts to lobby the provincial government to change the Liquor License Act—caught her attention. The law change would mean club-goers would no longer have to leave their drinks unattended when going to the toilet or stepping out for a smoke.

Partying gone wrong

The evening of Friday, Nov. 18, was a cold night, but not too cold and Alexandra was feeling a little nervous.

Decked in a favourite outfit, with her camera in her pocket, Alexandra made her way to a house party on Division Street. It was the third party she and her friends headed to that night, but it was well before midnight.

“[At the houses] we would take shots [of alcohol] as a group, and we would dance and stuff, so it was fun,” Alexandra said. “And it was snowing, so when we would walk to the different parties we would almost skate, because it was slippery.”

The night is a tradition, Alexandra said.

Called “Whale the Gael,” it’s a planned night of partying where groups of Arts and Science frosh and their Orientation Week leaders rekindle friendships. The main goal of the night, though, is for frosh to get their Gael leaders drunk, she said.

“I had heard about other students going to the hospital from the Whale the Gael—I think it was from overdrinking—and I was even a bit scared going into it,” Alexandra said, her voice trembling. “So it’s kind of weird, it was almost like I had a vibe that I knew something bad was going to happen.”

Alexandra estimated there were 60 people at the party, but she only knew about 12 of them. At least four different frosh groups had been making rounds between the parties, she said.

“[We] were offered drinks by the frosh,” Alexandra said. “I hadn’t drunk that much and we were all drinking the same amount and we all know our limits. Most of the people we received drinks from, I didn’t know these frosh, so at the last party I got a mixed drink from somebody, but I don’t think the rest of the other Gaels I was with got this mixed drink.” The drink was in a red plastic cup, she said.

“Me and my friends, we all took pictures, then after that … another Gael had gotten really drunk, so we were helping her upstairs and putting her to bed,” she said. “The last thing I remember was going upstairs.”

Friends later told Alexandra she left the party with them, not wearing a coat. Somewhere along the way, she lost her camera. Between 11:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. on Division Street, between Johnson and Brock streets, she fell unconscious on the sidewalk.

“I was hardly breathing, so that’s when my friends called the ambulance,” she said. “They said they’d seen people passed out before, but they’d never seen someone so limp and almost dead, lifeless, as me.”

Alexandra’s friends told her the paramedics who arrived assumed she had been slipped a drug.

“They started asking them [my friends], ‘Did she drink a lot?’ And they were all, like, ‘No, she had the same amount as us and we didn’t have that much,’ ” she said. “I mean, everyone was tipsy, but not to the point of where it was an overload. So they were shocked when it happened. They were like, ‘What? She was perfectly fine and all of a sudden she was on the ground.’ ”

Alexandra’s parents were notified by Kingston General Hospital that she was in critical condition. They immediately rushed to her bedside from Toronto, where they live.

“They were very concerned about me, they took care of me the next day. They weren’t mad or anything, they were very supportive of me and they were helping me to be strong,” she recalled, tears filling her eyes. “It’s very hard to think that I almost died, and especially [from] an event that is supposed to be a safe and fun thing.”

The paramedics had to cut off Alexandra’s clothes to check her body for signs of assault, and also to help clear her airway, she said.

While she was unconscious at the hospital, doctors put her on a ventilator for three hours, she said. She had tubes running from her mouth down into her lungs, and more tubes running out of her nose to remove liquid. Simultaneously, they fed her sugars, water and medicine intravenously. Alexandra rolled up her sleeves to show a Journal reporter splotchy purple bruises, just starting to fade, that she thinks were caused by revival attempts.

She said that when she passed out, she displayed many symptoms known to be caused by drugs used to facilitate sexual assault. These included shallow breathing, rapid heart beat, loss of consciousness and no memory recall.

“[The doctors] weren’t really too specific, even with my parents, but even my parents were more inclined to believe that I was drugged as well, because they know it’s not like me to drink past my limits,” she said. “I haven’t gone back to confirm whether they had done drug testing on me, but … they [said] the drug leaves your system really quickly, and if you’ve been drinking it’s harder to detect, so they really couldn’t tell.”

Alexandra said it’s scary not knowing exactly what happened.

“I don’t even know the very truth of the night,” she said. “I’ve talked to many people, but you get such different stories, so you’ll never know. It’s a big blur.”

Alexandra said that since the incident, she has been slowly recovering. It’s hard having people ask her questions, she said, and would rather not have to explain.

“I’m still very touchy about the subject. I remember after the first few days, I didn’t feel like talking to anyone,” she said. “I remember even if someone asked, ‘How are you?’ I would cry. I was really shocked and scared about what could have happened. My body is still very weak.”

She said she doesn’t know if she was targeted.

“Sometimes I have thoughts I might have been, because there were different groups, and you know how you can get an odd feeling from people? But, then again, I don’t know why they would have chosen me out of the other people,” she said. “Especially if they didn’t know me, they wouldn’t know I’m usually a responsible person.”

Alexandra said she was especially thankful for her friends, who got immediate help.

“I am thankful for the fact that nothing did happen to me, and that I am safe,” she said.

Drugging incidents under-reported,

educators say

Since March 1999, six reports have been made to Campus Security regarding people who were believed to have ingested substances that could be used to facilitate sexual assault. Of those reports, two took place on campus. The last report was made in November 2003.

David Patterson, director of Campus Security, said that while they don’t use the term “date rape drug,” cases are always the same.

“[It’s a case] of suspicious nature—the person consumed only one or two drinks and then they were transported to the hospital,” he said.

In general, compiling statistics on people who have ingested a date rape drug is extremely difficult, said Diane Nolting, health educator at Health, Counselling and Disability Services.

“The problem is people may or may not recognize what’s happened to them,” she said. “If they do realize something is wrong, it may be very difficult to figure out because a lot of the stuff passes through your system very quickly. Even if you were to go to the hospital or come see the doctor, by the time they test for it, it may be too late to detect.”

Nolting said KGH women’s clinic staff members have told her they know date rape drugs are in the Kingston community.

“They say more and more women are telling them they got pregnant and they have no idea how it’s happened,” she said.

Cases like Alexandra’s have happened at Queen’s before, Nolting added.

“I was completely fine, then all of a sudden it just hit me,” Alexandra said. “I’m pretty sure the drug is very strong, and even a few sips from one mixed drink might do you in.”

Hagar Prah, a counsellor at Sexual Assault Centre Kingston, said her organization also sees cases where people have been victimized.

“It’s difficult to get a true sense of how many, just because we know, statistically, that less than 10 per cent of cases are reported to police,” she said.

Prah added many people doubt themselves about whether they were drugged.

“They can’t recall it, but they don’t know why they got so wasted on one drink,” she said.

According to a 2004 report published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, incidents of date rape drugging have increased dramatically in the past decade. The research states that more than one in four hospital-reported sexual assaults happen after the victim has been drugged by his or her attacker.

“While alcohol is still the most common ‘drug’ implicated in sexual assault, there are increasing reports of assailants using a range of prescription and non-prescription drugs,” the study says.

The study also says that Rohypnol and GHB are the most relatively well know date rape drugs, but attackers also used lorazepam, clonazepam, zopicione and chloral hydrate. However, the study notes that its results can’t be generalized to all sexual assaults because fewer than 10 per cent of victims report to the hospital.

Changing the law, changing lives

For about a year and a half, Nick Di Dinato, president of Toronto’s Liberty Entertainment, has been working to change a “very old” law he believes hinders club-goers’ safety, especially when it comes to drink drugging.

According to the Ontario Liquor License Act, areas such as washrooms, hallways and stairways aren’t licensed. In such areas, patrons can’t be in possession of open alcohol.

As the owner of establishments such as the Phoenix Concert Theatre and the Liberty Grand, Di Dinato has been lobbying the provincial government through a committee of the Ontario Hotel and Restaurant Association on the issue.

“We’re required, as club and restaurant owners, to stop people from bringing their drinks into washrooms,” he said. “We can ask people to either not go into the washroom and finish drinks [first], or to leave their drinks on the table unattended or with friends—many people choose to do so,” he said. “I see that happening regularly and I don’t think it’s a wise thing for us to do.

“It’s the potential for somebody doing something to that drink, and when you come out you’re going to be drinking something very different than what you started with.”

No cases of drink drugging have come up at a Liberty venue, he said, but the company is being proactive.

“You don’t have to wait for something to happen to … implement measures which will prevent them,” he said.

Alexandra said she thinks the proposal is a good one.

“You should never put your drink down and not have your eye on it,” she said. “You turn your head for one second and you can be slipped a drug.”

Ross Grieve, owner of Ale House, Stages and other downtown Kingston establishments, said he would be in favour of such a change. He said his establishments have signs posted prohibiting people from bringing drinks into licensed areas.

“In all fairness, when push comes to shove, if [women] want to take their drinks into the washroom because they’re by themselves, or whatever, then we let them do it only for safety reasons,” Grieve said. “I think it’s a province thing. I don’t think its law, I’m sure that it’s not—it’s just something that’s tolerated by the [Ontario Alcohol and Gaming Commission], only because it’s common sense.”

At AMS-run bars Alfie’s and the QP, student constables ensure patrons don’t bring drinks into the washroom. While no washroom is directly connected to the QP, at Alfie’s there is a ledge watched by StuCons where patrons can leave their drinks.

“Specifically at our campus bars, we’ve got a situation set up where [drink drugging is] not really a concern for us,” said Julie Hirst, AMS food and entertainment director. “Because there’s StuCons monitoring all the drinks, it is unlikely that anything would ever get slipped into someone’s drink.”

The AMS makes it a top priority for StuCons to monitor patrons’ drinking, she said.

“We likely would avoid that situation [of allowing drinks in washrooms] as best we could. Just because the way it stands right now … the current situation isn’t unsafe for us,” she said.

She acknowledged that not all patrons may leave drinks with StuCons, but rather on a table or with friends.

“I suppose that’s for sure a concern, but for us, we would rather not have the drinks in the bathroom as much as possible—we would rather see people drinking out in the open where there is monitoring,” she said.

Bruce Griffiths, director of residence and hospitality services, which oversees the campus’ liquor licence, said he’s had discussions with the Ontario Alcohol and Gaming Commission, who have expressed concern about not allowing liquor in washrooms but “can’t tell us this is OK to do.”

He said he’d be supportive of a change in the law.

“There is the issue of broken glass and stuff, but that can happen on the dance floor [too],” he said.

Although a law change could pose potential difficulties in enforcing the AMS All Ages Access program, he said the University’s priority is student safety.

“We would have to look at what’s the most important thing here,” he said. “If [a law change] makes students safer, that’s the most important thing.”

Alexandra agreed.

“I don’t know if even leaving the drinks with a bouncer is good enough, because sometimes they have to watch over so many drinks and so many people, so how are they to be certain nobody’s walking by and putting something in quickly?” she said.

Di Dinato suggested to make a change work, bars could change the role of security currently outside of a washroom to inside attendants.

“There’s always a danger, but at the end of the day, we look at what is a bigger risk,” he said. “There may be a danger of somebody bringing a drink into the washroom [but] what are they going to do differently in the washroom that they’re not going to do in the club?” Prah said the Sexual Assault Centre Kingston would be in support of the proposed change.

“Anything that helps people feel in control or empowered to move about freely with a drink, anything that might be seen as safer, it’s important,” she said.

Ciaran Ganley, spokesperson for the minister of government services’ office, told the Journal the provincial government will soon announce that they will formally consult with members of the industry and public about the Liquor License Act. Examining ways to improve public safety is on the agenda, he said.

“I think it’s fair to say that one of the potential reforms being looked at is expanding the licensed areas of licensed establishments, such as washrooms, lobbies and hallways,” he said, although he declined to speculate on whether the act will actually be changed.

—With files from ctv.ca

Safe partying tips

Prevention:
• Know your body’s limits
• Don’t leave your drink unattended
• Don’t accept drinks from strangers, always watch your drink being poured and avoid punch bowls
• Designate a good friend as a sober drink monitor
• Be alert to how your friends are behaving when drinking, or if something seems unusual
• Share information about date rape drugs with friends, and make it a discussion before you go out to party

Response:
• If you or a friend feel dizzy, confused or have other unexplained symptoms, get to a safe place immediately.
• Call a friend, family member, the police, Queen’s Security (on campus) or 911.
• If you think you have been drugged, go directly to a hospital emergency room. Most sedating drugs are eliminated by the body within 24 hours.
• If you think you have been drugged and sexually assaulted, go directly to a hospital emergency room or phone the Sexual Assault Crisis Centre Kingston at 544-6424.
• You can also call the Queen’s Human Rights Office at 533-6886, Campus Security at
533-6111, Student Counseling and Health Services at 533-2893 or the Kingston Police via 911 or 549-2111 for assistance and support.

Further information: clubdrugs.org, camh.net and health.org

Sources: Sexual Assault Centre Kingston, Campus Security and Health, Counselling and
Disability Services

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