A report of two women who suspect they were the victims of drug-facilitated sexual assaults behind a downtown restaurant have renewed community concerns about date-rape drugs.
Advocates Against Battering and Abuse Director Diane Moore thinks a date-rape drug was used in the alleged assaults.
The reported incident allegedly occurred July 30 behind a restaurant on Lincoln Avenue. The Steamboat Springs Police Department is investigating the incident, Capt. Joel Rae said. No one has been charged.
Each year, Advocates receives about a half-dozen reports from women who suspect drugs were slipped into their drinks. Those numbers probably mean 10 times that number of druggings actually are happening in the community but go unreported, Moore said.
So-called date-rape drugs, such as Rohypnol (commonly called "roofies"), gamma hydroxybutyric acid (better known as GHB, "Liquid X" or "Liquid ecstasy") and ketamine (called "Special K" or "Vitamin K"), can cause people to act more intoxicated than they should be for the amount of alcohol consumed. Equally important, the drugs can cause lapses in memory.
"A lot of times we get a call that someone has been at a party drinking. Not only later did they realize they lost some consciousness or span of time, they have friends report their behavior was different," Moore said.
In 2003, 30 sexual assaults were reported in Steamboat, and 22 have been reported this year. Of sexual assaults reported each year, a small percentage involved date-rape drugs.
In many cases involving date-rape drugs, the women did not know well the person who assaulted them. The victims have ranged from teenagers to women in their 50s, according to police reports. Each reported case involved the drug being put in an alcoholic drink, and most happened at bars or parties.
The July 30 incident is the first reported case this year in which a drug is suspected to have been used in a sexual assault, Moore said. Since then, Advocates has not received any more reports of similar incidents.
The police department has received just two reports of suspected drug-facilitated rapes in the past year, Rae said. Steamboat police have not arrested anyone for possession or use of common date-rape drugs, Rae said.
The drugs are hard to detect and easy for culprits to use, he said.
Because traces of the drug can leave the system within 12 hours, it is hard to detect in blood and urine tests not conducted immediately after the suspected drugging, Rae said. And the intent of the drug is to cause memory loss, leaving the victim questioning what happened and unsure about the events that occurred.
"They have a hard time remembering what happened. When they come out, they still usually have a very hard time remembering and sleep for hours at a time," Rae said.
GHB, ketamine and Rohypnol all have been used in Steamboat, Moore said.
"My advice to women and girls is to be much more thoughtful and careful. We're still a safe community in terms of the city, but we're not the Steamboat Springs we knew 20 years ago. Things occasionally do happen," she said.
GHB is a clear liquid that is odorless, slightly thicker than water and has a salty taste. It can leave the victim feeling dizzy, sweaty and agitated and cause extreme drowsiness, confusion and stupor. Someone drugged with GHB can appear extremely intoxicated; the drug also can induce unusually aggressive sexual behavior.
Ketamine, known as Special K, K or Vitamin K, can be a clear liquid, slightly thicker than water, or a fine, white powder. The drug can cause a loss of willful movement, immobility, impulsive behavior, dissociation, out-of-body experiences and memory loss.
Rohypnol is a white pill that dissolves in carbonated beverages. The drug causes disorientation, drowsiness, confusion, loss of consciousness, inability to communicate and significant memory impairment.
The drugs can take effect 10 to 20 minutes after being consumed and some can last as long as eight to 10 hours.
Rae advises people not to accept drinks from people they don't know and not to leave drinks unattended.
At a crowded bar, it might not be difficult for someone to slip a drug into someone's drink, Moore said.
"It is 11:30, everyone here has been drinking for a while, having fun. They are not going to be as diligent or observant," she said.
Because of the he said-she said nature of the incidents, sexual assault cases can be difficult to prosecute. Those involving date-rape drugs can be even harder, Moore said, because of the victims' lapses in memory.
Moore and Rae stressed the importance of seeking help and contacting police and Advocates as soon as someone suspects they were the victim of a drug-facilitated sexual assault.
Moore said victims don't always report the incident right away, if at all, because of the time it takes to process the incident and the pain it causes.
"I know how horrific it is and how much denial can be there," she said, but she urged victims to call Advocates. "We can help you sort of assess and get you to law enforcement if you choose to report it. Come to us at least for information and support."
If someone thinks they want to report a sexual assault, she said they should not take a shower or wash their clothes afterward so evidence can be collected.
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