Druggings in the dark

Proliferation of date-rape drugs hard to gauge, prosecute

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Amy is a petite woman with stunning blue eyes. She usually wears her blond hair in a ponytail. She is married and the mother of two small children.

And she thinks she was the target of a date-rape drugging. Luck, she believes, prevented her from being assaulted.

What: Sexual Assault in our Community, a community forum hosted by the Steamboat Springs Police Department and Advocates Against Battering and Abuse. The forum will address sexual predators, date-rape drugs and victim resources.

When: 5:30 p.m. May 15

Where: Centennial Hall, 124 10th St.

Nearly five months after the experience, Amy is frustrated that no one has been charged in her case and that it's unlikely that anyone will ever be charged.

Unfortunately, police and prosecutors said, Amy's story is all too familiar. Police have never confirmed a date-rape drugging in Routt County, said Det. Dave Kleiber, the lead investigator on Amy's case.

He said police simply have never have found enough evidence to support such claims.

"We don't have any proof at all that Rohypnol, GHB (Gamma Hydro Xybutyrate) or Special K (Ketamine) has ever been used in this community," he said. "But I am not naÃive enough to think they don't exist here."

What is happening in Steamboat isn't uncommon, he said.

"Across the state, sex assault cases specific to date-rape drugs is uncommon because they are so hard to prove," he said.

Telling her story

Amy, whose last name is being withheld because she fears retribution from the person she alleges targeted her, insists people should know what happened to her, what she thinks is happening in our community and what she wants to do about it.

In December, she and a friend went to a new Steamboat Springs restaurant. Amy kept a close eye on her watch -- she had to be home at a pre-arranged time to pay the babysitter.

Amy and her friend sat at the bar, had a few glasses of wine, and decided they should leave.

It was 7:30 p.m.

Amy said that as she was getting into the cab, the bartender encouraged her and her friend to stay for one more drink.

"This guy came running down the stairs. ... he was really friendly and had an apron on. He kept saying, 'Just stay for one more drink. Stay for one more,'" Amy said.

They accepted his offer.

Amy thought it was suspicious that two drinks were already sitting on the bar top when they returned. She accidentally hit the drink, spilling it on her pants. The bartender was quick with another.

"I felt like the whole thing was so pre-meditated," she said.

Amy said she doesn't remember much after that final drink, but she thinks her babysitter saved her from being sexually assaulted. "I remember I looked at my phone and saw the babysitter had called. Personally, I think that saved us," she said.

Amy and her friend left the bar, got into a cab and went home.

The next morning, Amy felt awful.

"It was like I was riding a roller coaster. I woke up in my bed; there was a huge red spot on my pillow. I had a raging headache. There was vomit everywhere. I just sat there and bawled. I had no idea," she said.

It was then that Amy began to suspect that she had been drugged.

Calling for help

Amy called the Steamboat Springs Police Department to report what she thought happened to her. Officers began investigating the case.

In the meantime, Amy went to another Steamboat bar with a different friend to see the band Liquid Soul. Amy remembers being leery about going back to a bar, but she was excited to see the band and catch up with a friend.

While there, Amy said she saw a man she recognized from the restaurant the night she thinks she was drugged. She asked him whether he remembered her.

"Yeah, I remember you. You're lucky you got home that night," Amy said the man told her.

It gave her the chills.

Amy said she questioned the man. She said he brazenly showed her how people drop date-rape drugs into a drink -- like magic, he said.

"While he was telling me how it went down, he actually did it. He actually did it right in front of me," she said.

Amy said the bartender thought the man was kidding, and the bartender drank the supposedly drugged drink. Amy said the bartender called her the next morning to say that he had fallen ill and that he thought the drink had been drugged.

Amy reported the incident to police. She was sure she had enough evidence for police to make an arrest. "The cops talked to this guy," Amy said. "He told them he was just joking. But all of our stories matched, what more do you need?

"People are drugging drinks in this town and raping women. It's an issue. It's a problem. It's happening. We need to stop this."

The facts

In 2005, Advocates Against Battering and Abuse received 14 reports from women and men who suspected they had been drugged with Rohypnol ("Roofies") or other date-rape drugs.

The police department re----ceived fewer reports; not all women and men who report an incident with Advocates report it to police. On average, the police department receives 12 to 15 sex assault reports a year, one-third of which are prosecuted, Kleiber said.

Law enforcement officials struggle with obtaining evidence from a drugging victim because of the nature of date-rape drugs, Kleiber said. All date-rape drugs fall under a broader category of drugs called benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are drugs that, when used in abundance, cause the victim to feel out of control, black out, vomit and lose his or her memory.

Three common date-rape drugs:

Rohypnol -- also known as Roofies, circles, Forget Me drugs, La Rocha, Lunch Money drug, Mexican valium, pingus, R-2, Reynolds, rib, robutal and roapies.

GHB -- also known as cherry meth, GA Home Boy, Great Hormones at Bedtime, bodily harm, Liquid E, Sleep 500, salty water and scoop.

Ketamine -- also known as jet, super acid, Special K, Green, K, K head, and Cat Valium.

Hard to test

Ketamine is a liquid drug used by veterinarians. Rohypnol is illegal in the U.S., and GHB was used as a performance-enhancing drug but was banned by the Federal Drug Administration in 1990.

Each works quickly. None stays in the body long, Kleiber said.

For that reason, police have a hard time getting blood and urine samples from alleged victims because by the time someone begins to realize he or she may have been drugged, the drugs already are out of the system or are undetectable.

No proof, no prosecution

Kleiber said the suspect in Amy's case has been an "individual of interest" in other cases. But Kleiber said last week that the District Attorney's Office has decided there is not enough evidence to pursue a case against the man.

Amy was disappointed with the decision.

"I am so livid. I feel really let down," she said Thursday. "I did nothing wrong except have dinner and a few drinks with a friend."

Prosecutor Kerry St. James said the DA's Office has an ethical obligation to file charges against an individual based on fact or some kind of evidence that a crime was committed. That evidence does not exist in Amy's case or any other, he said.

"I don't know that this is a 'Roofie' case," he said. "To my recollection, I have never filed charges against anyone in a 'Roofie' case. In my tenure, I have never seen any lab reports that have come back with any proof of a 'Roofie.'"

St. James said he can't file charges against someone "based on rumor."

"It's just not why I do this job. If we had the facts, we would file them. When we don't have the facts, we don't file them. We really need to be sure," he said.

Being educated

Diane Moore, executive director of Advocates Against Battering and Abuse, said she doesn't think Steamboat is suffering a date-rape drug epidemic. But her office has seen an increase in the number of calls related to possible druggings and sexual assaults.

Moore, like Kleiber, said her organization usually learns about a sexual assault or a possible date rape too long after the incident to gather any information. Moore encourages people to get tested immediately if they suspect something suspicious.

"If we're going to continue figuring out what's going on in our community and how to fix it, it is important for that individual to consider getting tested," she said.

Moore said most women who report being drugged or sexually assaulted say the incidents occurred in a Steamboat bar or restaurant or at a house party. Most women report being given a drink by someone else.

Moore advises women to never attend parties or bars alone and to never accept a drink from a stranger or an acquaintance.

The alcohol factor

Beyond Rohypnol, GHB and Ketamine, Moore said most people aren't aware that the No. 1 date rape drug is alcohol.

"Our community doesn't know that alcohol is the common drug most used in sex assaults. People have a tendency to forget that," she said.

Kleiber agreed.

"The greatest date-rape drug we deal with is alcohol," he said.

As for Amy, she plans to continue pushing for charges in her case. She said, "I can't let it go."

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