A new twist on reporting suspected "date rape" druggings

Reports of alleged local druggings that surfaced on Twitter recently have raised complex questions, and the answers are still coming in.

Xpress reader Kimberly Miller first alerted us that two women had recently used the social-networking tool to spread the word that they'd been surreptitiously drugged while drinking at two different local bars. Miller, however, cautioned that the reports were unconfirmed, and both of the women in question say they weren't raped or otherwise abused, just drugged.

Spreading the word: A flyer distributed by Our VOICE, a local nonprofit that supports victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, as part of its campaign to raise awareness about so-called date-rape drugs. Courtesy Our VOICE

Xpress published a brief online report Jan. 24, noting the information that Miller had passed on — and emphasizing that no one was suggesting that the bars' staff had played any role in the alleged druggings. In the aftermath of our report, more allegations and rumors of similar crimes appeared in Twitter messages online.

Some readers (and some Xpress staffers) debated the propriety of Twitter-reported drugging allegations, with questions including: Is it wise to repeat unconfirmed reports of such crimes? Is it fair to name the bar where the alleged crime occurred, due to the potential risk to the establishment's reputation? Do the recent Twitter messages concerning alleged druggings indicate a spike in the local use of so-called "date-rape drugs"? And is such self-reported crime information even useful, since it's unconfirmed?

During the discussion, some answers have emerged. Asheville Police Department spokesperson Melissa Williams wrote in an e-mail that "We haven't had a 'trend'" of reported date-rape druggings. In fact, said Williams, "It may be at least a year (or more) since any such crime was alleged or reported" to the department. She advised anyone, male or female, who thinks they were drugged without their awareness to call the police.

Our VOICE, an Asheville-based group working to prevent sexual abuse, has been tracking reports of drug-facilitated assaults since last February. During that time, the organization has received an average of about one such report per month, according to Anna Sharratt, Our VOICE's prevention, education and outreach coordinator.

But Sharratt doesn't put much stock in those numbers. "Most victims of sexual violence — drug-facilitated or otherwise — do not report the crime to rape crisis centers or law enforcement," she said. "Estimates say that only 20 to 40 percent of victims of sexual assault ever report the crime to the police. We may assume that for every report we receive, there are several other victims who chose not to report." Furthermore, she noted, date-rape drugs (often referred to as "roofies") "diminish a victim's ability to recall memories of the events that ensued after ingesting the drug." As a result, "Many people may not report because they are unsure of their own recollections."

Sharratt urges anyone who suspects they've been drugged to report it in one or more ways. The options include: 1) Filing a report with the police or Sheriff's Office, which might lead to a criminal case. 2) Filing a "blind report" through Our VOICE by calling 255-7576. "You may provide as much or little information about the incident as you wish, but you need not supply your name," she explains. Our VOICE, in turn, will pass that information on to local law enforcement. 3) Fully report the incident to Our VOICE, which will keep the report confidential if requested, and which offers victims counseling, case management and other support. (The group also offers free training to local bars that want to discourage such attacks.)

As to the wisdom of using social-media tools to spread the word about alleged druggings, Sharratt had this to say: "This week's flurry about date-rape-drug incidents at local bars on Twitter has introduced a form of citizen reporting. While this method may prove useful, Our VOICE strongly recommends a formal report to Our VOICE and/or law-enforcement entities."

Miller, who originally alerted Xpress to the drugging reports, added this message in the ongoing Twitter discussion: "Hoping my [Mountain Xpress] tip re: roofies isn't causing a witch hunt or unnecessary panic but raising awareness."

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About Jon Elliston
An Asheville-based mountain journalist: Former Mountain Xpress managing editor. Investigations and open government editor at Carolina Public Press. Senior contributing editor at WNC magazine.

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