Woman recounts date-rape horror story

Published on October 18, 2008
Slipping drugs into drinks to facilitate sexual assault is becoming so common that it is affecting teenagers, university students, mothers, and women in their 50s. Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

St. John's - Women say the use of so-called date rape drugs is becoming rampant in Newfoundland, yet the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary says the crime is so difficult to prove, it's rare to convict someone of it.
Even women you'd wouldn't expect to hear from have horror stories.
Jennifer - who asked that her real name not be used - is a single woman in her mid-thirties with a young son. She is trained as a licensed practical nurse, works at Eastern Health and has a blue-stripe belt in taekwondo.
She was invited to a house party by someone she hadn't seen since high school, and didn't expect someone to slip something into her glass of white wine.
"I've never had a hangover - I don't know what it's like. For me to blackout like that, it's not me. I remember waking up 6:30 in the morning with a bad headache and thirsty, and I don't remember when I got naked. There was bruises all across my chest," she says.
"I remember odds and ends, it's like jagged edges. You're trying to put together the jigsaw puzzle but there's so many pieces missing. And certain images are the ones that keep coming back."
It happened on a mid-August evening this summer, but even as she speaks, she remembers more of what happened for the first time.
Jennifer says everyone else had left the party when she started feeling strange.
"I remember I was getting drowsy, and I laid down on his couch downstairs, and he brought me down a blanket, and shortly after that, that's when it started."
"I remember saying 'No,' I remember saying 'Stop,' I remember saying, 'That hurts!' I believe it was his hands groping me," she says.
The flashes from the camera he used to take pictures of her naked stand out clearly in her memory, she says.
"And then I just remember, you know how you're walking upstairs, and how you're kind of crawl-walking on your hands and knees, I remember I was doing that and I know he was behind me taking pictures," she says.
"Then there was, when you're lying across the bed, and you know when your head is half-off, half-on (the bed), and I can't get this image out of my head for the life of me, but I'm sure he was taking pictures of me down there," she says.
Confused and disoriented, Jennifer says she wasn't thinking clearly after the incident, and did not go to the doctor and the police until several days later.
"I still feel like an idiot and embarrassed. I've never been in that situation," she says.
Because of the delay, Jennifer says she has basically had to give up on any hope of pressing charges against the man.
Denise Hayes, volunteer spokeswoman at the Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre, said the first thing they tell women to do if they think they have been a victim of drugging and sexual assault is go to the sexual assault nurse examiner clinic at the St. Clare's Hospital.
Most of the drugs commonly associated with date rape - GHB, Rohyponol and Ketamine - can only be detected in a person's body for a matter of hours afterwards, so it's important to be tested quickly.
Const. Shawn O'Reilly of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary says a case of drugging and sexual assault would likely result in a general charge of assault.
But he added it's uncommon to lay charges in such a case.
"Investigators in our sexual assault unit say it's not widely reported, but it's talked about a fair bit. What they're finding is when the reports come in, it's too late to gather any evidence of the drug that would still be in the person's system."
But Hayes says even if someone goes straight to the doctor's office, they may not be able to prove what happened.
"What we find happening is some of the drugs that are used are just everyday drugs. Some offenders are just raiding their grandmother's medicine chest, taking Valium or sleeping pills or whatever they can get on a Friday night, because this is so rampant - it's a huge issue. Often times, these are drugs that don't show up (in tests)," she says.
"It's very opportunistic, it's a very insidious thing to do, because it does render someone incapable of fighting back. The deeper danger is of drug interaction, and people with conditions," she says.
"It's only a matter of time until someone becomes very ill or, even as a result, dies."
Hayes says the use of date rape drugs has become common in St. John's over the past seven years, and although they don't keep formal records at the crisis centre, they get a few calls of suspected drugging and date rape a month.
In 2006, roughly 75 per cent of cases seen by the sexual assault nurse examiner clinic in St. John's were proven or suspected to be drug-facilitated sexual assault, according to the crisis centre.
"Most of us tend to think of downtown George Street when we think of date-rape drugs and assault, but we get incidents from women in their 40s and 50s that go to house parties, campers in parks during parties in the summer, university residents. It can happen anywhere, anytime where refreshments are being served," Hayes says.
"Of course, the majority is happening to young people, but it's not exclusively happening to them.
"If I was going downtown, yes, you'd know to cover your drink," Jennifer says, "but when you're invited to someone's house, you're not expecting anything like that, unless you've been through it, especially here in Newfoundland. I really did not realize it was rampant.
"I don't want to name names or lash out at anybody, but I'm making sure that women and men here know that these drugs exist," she says.

nbell@thetelegram.com