Anecdotal stories of date rape drugs being slipped into bar-goers drinks have been circulating around Juneau.
Local law enforcement and an advocacy agency haven’t flagged a clear trend yet. But it only takes a second for a sexual predator to turn your night – and your world – upside down.
One advocate likens date rapists to predators stalking prey in the wild: they try to pick out the youngest, the weakest, the loners.
But the truth is anyone can be a target of sexual assault. It happened to Mary Spain.
“Something like that has never happened before to me,” Spain said. “I don’t normally go out to places to bars and things like that, we just happened to go out and grab a cocktail.”
Spain, 31, lives in Gustavus, but occasionally visits Juneau. She went out downtown with a friend one weekend in November. She bought one drink, her first of the night.
“After I’d drank that drink I ended up becoming very sick,” Spain said. “I remember in the bathroom, kind of throwing up. There was a man in there helping, I guess?”
Spain couldn’t control what was going on. She said at about midnight someone led her outside. The next thing Spain remembers is walking into her friend’s downtown apartment – six and a half hours later.
“I was still kind of out of it. When I went to take a shower I could tell that … I was extremely sore everywhere,” Spain recalled. “But extremely cleaned up. It’s weird. It’s almost as if I was cleaned up afterward, very roughly, inside and out.”
Spain said she checked her pants and personal items for evidence of what happened. But there was nothing. She went to the hospital and tested positive for the date rape drug Rohypnol, or roofies.
“I also tested positive for chlamydia, which I know I did not have before, because I’ve had a steady partner,” Spain said. “So they put me on antibiotics, however I did not report it. I did not report it to the authorities. I did not report it to the bar. I was very minimal in details in what I told the hospital, too. And I don’t know why that is. And here I am talking to you now.”
The Juneau Police Department estimates they’ve received about 28 reports of sexual assault this year. The count varies a lot from year to year. They’re likely under-reported because it’s so personal.
“I was afraid the police were going to be involved because the test they already had to do on me were very intrusive and that was a lot to have to deal with after the whole situation. I should have told them,” Spain said, her voice trailing off to an almost-whisper. “I should have reported it. But I didn’t.”
For people afraid to go to the police or the hospital, the domestic violence shelter AWARE offers similar services, counseling and guidance.
“My hope is that regardless of what the issue is or where your head’s at in terms of what’s happened to you, you can give a call and we can help talk through what might be a good process that’s unique to you that may not apply to anyone else in your life,” AWARE’s deputy director Mandy Cole said.
AWARE also provides medical response and rape kits. The organization works with law enforcement, prosecutors and business owners in town to come up with solutions to stop or mitigate sexual assault and violence.
Swarupa Toth of AWARE is part of an interagency sexual assault response team. It’s about five people with expertise in survivor advocacy, law enforcement, prosecution and medical care.
“Our commitment is to make a victim-survivor focused group of people so that we come together at one time and allow that person to work with us as a trained team,” Toth said. “So it’ll be as easy as possible — it’s not easy — as less traumatizing as possible, because telling your experience right after you’ve had the experience is worse than a nightmare.”
The team responds 24/7, ideally within 20 to 40 minutes of someone showing up at the hospital.
“We’ll help that person go through the steps that they need to setup a case to be able to prosecute, as well as to take care of the medical situation at the time,” Toth said. “There may be injuries, there may be STIs, there may be pregnancy, there may be things like that to look at. And the advocate is there to help be sort of the thread through the future, no matter what the decision in terms of prosecution or not prosecution.”
Another option is to submit a rape kit anonymously, for statistical purposes.
When you’re out, Juneau police, AWARE and other groups offered these tips:
- Take your drinks with you or make sure someone is watching your table,
- don’t accept drinks from someone you don’t know or isn’t a server, and
- travel in groups.
“I like pack mentality. I say travel in a pack,” Toth said. “You’re safe. If you’re looking toward … you’re looking to a group and you’re looking to see if people are safe or you notice something and you’re wondering is that something … you can keep in mind that if a person is being predacious or they’re preying on a group, they’re looking for someone who’s vulnerable just like hunting.”
And develop an exit plan for the end of the night. Knowing someone’s intentions can help you notice whether a friend is more intoxicated than normal. Cole said that’s a red flag.
“You’re going to have to trust what you know of that person, you’re going to have to look out for anyone who might be up in your friend’s business more than feels normal, especially if it’s someone you don’t know so well,” Cole said.
This advice is for potential victims. But Cole notes victims aren’t to blame; it’s the predators and a culture that tolerates these assaults.
Mary Spain wants others to learn from her story.
“I just want anyone to know that if they are in that situation to please not close up, please don’t close up and blame yourself,” Spain said. “It might feel like you’ve been completely violated and nothing in the world matters anymore, but I promise it’ll get better. I promise that you just need to let it out. Don’t blame yourself. You will. You will, but don’t continue that blame.”
Spain said she’s been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and has been in counseling since her experience.
You can call AWARE’s 24-hour crisis line at 907-586-1090 or toll free at 1-800-478-1090.