By Brittany Wong - huffpost.com - March 17, 2023, 5:45am
Four years ago, Taylor Hansen decided to go out with some work friends to a bar in town. She’d just moved to Austin, Texas, so she figured it was a good chance to acquaint herself with the city and get to know her co-workers better.
Hansen and her colleagues would each nurse a few drinks over the course of the evening. It was around an hour after the second drink that she and one of her friends went up to the bar to get their third.
“While my friend and I were waiting for our drinks to be made, a few men started talking to us and asking us strange questions, which in hindsight I believe was to distract us from what they were planning on doing,” Hansen, now 25, told HuffPost.
The pair of friends went back to their table, where Hansen texted her boyfriend and told him she was headed home soon. But within 20 or 30 minutes of ingesting her drink, she was fully unconscious.
Suspecting she’d been roofied ― or that something else was seriously wrong with their new co-worker ― Hansen’s group acted fast, calling an ambulance to pick her up.
“Based on what I learned in the [emergency room] ... I believe I was drugged with GHB — or ‘liquid ecstasy,’ as it’s also known,” Hansen said. “One of my work friends texted our group chat the next morning to check on us, and that’s when I learned that my friend that went up to get her third drink with me that night was also drugged.”
Unfortunately, the bar had no cameras near the drink station, so there was no way to identify whoever had drugged them.
“I later looked at some photos and videos from that night that we had all taken, and in one of the photos, you can see the men that had spoken to my friend and I up at the bar, but their backs were to the camera,” Hansen said. “The bar has since been shut down.”
The date-rape drug you’ve likely heard about most is Rohypnol, which the ’90s slang “roofie” is a remnant of. But these days, GHB and ketamine are more commonly used in drug-facilitated sexual assault cases, according to Maria Michonski, a statewide training specialist at the Sexual Assault Center service provider in Nashville, Tennessee.
“Those two are used frequently because they ... result in incapacitation in the extreme, are easy to drop into a drink subtly, and will leave the bloodstream and body systems in a number of hours, making testing for them after an assault incredibly difficult to impossible,” Michonski told HuffPost.
But any drug that makes someone loopy, groggy or otherwise incapacitated can be used to roofie someone, said Dr. Kate Rowland, an associate professor in the department of family and preventive medicine at Illinois’ Rush University.
“It’s also worth noting that sometimes people can be drugged by drugs they take intentionally,” she said. “Perpetrators may offer a victim a pill claiming it’s a small dose of one drug, when in reality it’s a big dose of another drug.”
Many experts say it’s alcohol that’s the most common date-rape drug.
“At least 50% of sexual assaults involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator and/or victim,” Michonski said.
“We think of date-rape drugs as any substance that alters the coherence and physical/mental ability of a person and removes their capacity to consent to sexual interaction or contact, and/or that is used by a perpetrator as a vehicle or tool to enact sexual violence,” she said.
Thirteen percent of all college students experience rape or sexual assault through “physical force, violence, or incapacitation,” according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or RAINN.
As a story from Media Matters researcher Kat Abughazaleh suggests, spiking drinks isn’t an uncommon occurrence outside of college campuses, either. In a Twitter thread last year, Abughazaleh, who lives in the Washington area, detailed how she came to realize something had been put in her drink one night. Abughazaleh said that the next morning, she had “horrible brain fog,” “difficulty articulating ... [her] thoughts” and a “massive headache.”
“I just want people (especially women) to know that date rape drugs are not some rarity that only come out at frat parties,” she wrote in the thread, which went viral on the platform.
Unfortunately, because date-rape drugs aren’t always easy to detect ― they blend in too well with drinks ― many victims don’t realize they’ve been drugged or assaulted until hours later.
With that in mind, HuffPost asked experts like Michonski to describe some of the most common signs that someone has been nonconsensually drugged.
You feel fatigued, disoriented or dizzy.
Although it depends on the substance, common symptoms of being drugged include fatigue, dizziness, nausea, feeling drunk or intoxicated, disorientation and just not feeling well, according to Rowland.
“In general, people who have been drugged with a roofie are having a good time and feeling fine until the drug hits their system,” she said. “They then often feel very unwell, falling down or staggering ‘drunk’ once the drug kicks in.”
That’s the point when the perpetrator will likely try to “assist [the victim] out” or “help them,” Rowland said.
You experience unconsciousness or a blackout.
Frequently, these drugs can result in someone completely losing consciousness or quickly getting to a “blackout state,” Michonski said.
“Someone may appear conscious ― they’re awake and moving, even speaking ― but are so intoxicated by the substance they are not cognitively able to remember what is happening and are not functioning from a reliable mental space to make decisions or give consent,” she said.
Your vision or hearing is off.
You might experience blurred sight, or some form of tunnel vision or double vision, Michonski said.
“These drugs can also dull your sense of hearing, making it more difficult to know what is happening around you or what is being said to you,” she explained.
You’re vomiting or otherwise feeling badly hungover.
People often report waking up and feeling thirsty or extremely hungover, or even vomiting, said Dr. Ralph Riviello, a professor who chairs the emergency medicine department at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
“Oftentimes this is perceived as worse than usual after drinking,” he said. “If the person had not consumed alcohol, it’s confusing and not expected.”
You have gaps in your memory.
Sometimes the only sign you’ve been drugged is waking up and having no recollection of how the night went down. You might feel like you mysteriously lost a chunk of time or only remember what happened up until a certain point.
“Someone who’s been drugged may have gaps in their memory but still have the sense that something is wrong,” Rowland said. “Their body may be sore, or they may feel that they have had intercourse that they don’t remember.”
There are signs of possible sexual assault.
Indications that you’ve been drugged and sexually assaulted include painful urination, genital pain, and possible genital bruising or tenderness, Riviello said.
“You may notice fluid ― lubricant and/or semen ― around or coming from your vagina or anus,” he said. “There may be torn clothes. If the assailant re-dressed them after the assault, clothes, especially underwear, may be incompletely put back on or backward.”
Here’s what to do if you suspect you’ve been roofied.
If you think you’ve been drugged, there are things you can do during and after the incident to take care of yourself, mentally and physically.
In the moment, attempt to identify a safe bystander who can help you.
As soon as possible, tell someone you trust or a bystander that you think you’ve been drugged, so that you can make a record of whatever you remember and get medical care, Michonski said.
“Share with them as much as you can: who you think did it, how you think you were drugged, how you are feeling, what an emergency contact number is for you,” she said.
Also, try to save the beverage you were drinking; it could potentially be tested to see what you were drugged with.
Stick with your group and don’t go anywhere alone with someone you don’t know. Definitely don’t attempt to “ride it out” without medical assistance, and don’t keep information to yourself, Michonski said.
“You can make all other decisions about reporting, pursuing an investigation later once you are medically safe and back to complete coherence,” Michonski added.
Get medical help as soon as you can.
Since many date-rape drugs leave the body quickly — within 12 to 72 hours — it’s important to act fast. Seek care in the emergency room, preferably one that has sexual assault nurse examiners to conduct a medical forensic examination, Riviello said.
“During that exam, potential forensic evidence will be collected, packaged and transferred to the crime lab,” he said. “Even if you do not press charges, it is worthwhile to have the exam and collect evidence to preserve it in case you change your mind.”
They can also perform drug and alcohol testing using blood or urine specimens.
If you can’t get to a hospital immediately, RAINN recommends saving your urine in a clean, sealable container as soon as possible, and placing it in the refrigerator or freezer.
For help locating a hospital or medical center that provides exams and testing, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673).
After seeking help, make an effort to take care of yourself and your mental health.
If you’re feeling distressed in the days, weeks, months or even years after being drugged, reach out for help. If you don’t know who to go to, or how you’ll afford therapy, call your local rape crisis center. Almost all have a hotline and advocates who can give you advice on what to do and where to go, as well as provide emotional support, Riviello said.
Most of all, don’t underestimate the stress and trauma of your experience. Remind yourself that this all too commonly happens ― to women and men, and to people of all ages, not just college students ― and that you’re not alone or to blame for the violence done to you.
Hansen, the woman drugged at an Austin bar, said she’s still speaking with a therapist to work through her trauma.
“It’s scary how fast you can be drugged unknowingly, even when you think you’re being alert and aware of your surroundings,” she said.
“Get help if you need it,” she added. “It is so violating and scary, and it can be really hard to process the stress of an event like this alone.”
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.