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MAHONING VALLEY Date rape drugs endanger women



Published: Mon, April 1, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Crisis care workers believe at least 14 Valley women were victims of date rape drugs in 2001.

By JoANNE VIVIANO

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- An 18-year-old Youngstown State University student awoke one February morning to find herself naked in a home she did not recognize.

Police said she had been at a party the night before, leaving with a friend before she felt drunk. They went to a house party where she drank again, suddenly felt dizzy and needed to lie down.

She remembers nothing else until she awoke with marks on her neck. She does not know what happened during those lost hours, but city police have categorized it as a possible rape.

Local crisis care workers believe the teen may have been the victim of a date rape drug. The odorless, colorless, tasteless drugs can be slipped into drinks and render their consumers lethargic and unconscious -- and perfect victims for rapists. Most who have taken the drugs lose memory for hours of time.

Although date rape drug use became well known in Southern states years ago, it has been seen in the Mahoning Valley only in the last year, said Ellen Taylor, program director of the Family Service Agency Rape Information and Counseling Crisis Service in Youngstown.

What drugs do: A common drug used is gamma-hydroxybutyrate, GHB, commonly known as "Liquid Ecstasy," "Easy Lay," "Bedtime Scoop" and "Grievous Bodily Harm," said Barb Cornell, coordinator of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program at St. Elizabeth Health Center.

GHB acts as a depressant on the central nervous system and its effects can be felt within 15 minutes of ingestion. A second common date rape drug is Rohypnol, or "Roofies," a potent, fast-acting sedative.

Taylor believes that at least 14 women treated at Youngstown-area hospitals in 2001 were victims of a date rape drug. Another six never went to hospitals. And 10 to 15 more called the crisis center looking for information on the effect of the drugs.

She bases the numbers on what the women have told her and hospital workers like Cornell: They had one or two drinks, became so drunk they couldn't stand up and lost six to eight hours of time; they awoke with their clothes removed or were in a place they didn't recognize; they felt bruised as if they had had sex.

The experience is traumatizing for victims, Taylor and Cornell said. Women don't remember by whom, or how many times, they may have been raped.

"If you don't know whether or not you had sex with somebody and you don't know who that is ... it almost makes it a stranger rape," Cornell said. "Because women don't know, 'Who did that to me?' "

More serious: They also don't know if a condom was used or if they were exposed to STDs. Women often feel a sense of betrayal because they were most often with friends or acquaintances before the assault occurred. They feel as though they were with someone they trusted and that trust was violated.

David Allen, commander of the Mahoning Valley Law Enforcement Task Force, said he has seen more reports of date rape drug use as awareness is raised about the problem. He said the task force has seen a couple cases of GHB locally and word of mouth shows it is becoming popular. He has not seen Rohypnol in this area.

"It [GHB] is probably being used a lot more than we're probably aware of because people aren't reporting it," Allen said. He said women are kept from reporting by embarrassment or a feeling that they were at fault.

He said the drugs are sometimes stored in eyedropper or nasal spray bottles so it can be easily dropped into a drink. And one drop is all it takes, Allen said.

Detective Sgt. Delphine Baldwin Casey of the Youngstown Police Department, who heads the department's crisis intervention unit, said she has seen use of the drug since the start of 2000. Last year, she investigated about five cases in which she suspects date rape drugs were used.

"I believe there's more out there than the ones reporting it," Casey said. "Women feel ashamed because they don't know what happened. ... They are now starting to come out and talk about it."

Time matters: A problem with documenting and prosecuting such cases is that the drugs move through the body quickly, Cornell said. Often, by the time a woman awakes and decides to go to a hospital, it's too late to find the drug.

Within eight to 16 hours, there's no trace. And, if investigators are going to find the drug, it would be in the woman's first urine following her awakening.

While college-aged women may be at highest risk of being victimized with the drug, it is not used exclusively on college campuses.

Victims have ranged from girls age 14 to women in their 40s, Taylor said. And, the drug is slipped anywhere drinking is going on -- at bars, house parties and other social places.

"Young [college-age] people are at risk because they're looking for social engagement. They're in places where liquor is used, drugs are flowing. It increases the chances that something could be slipped to you," she said. "But it also happens to younger people and older people who aren't in an environment like that."

How rapist thinks: Cornell said a typical date rape drug user seems friendly, but he has scouted out a room and picked out a victim as soon as he enters a social event.

"It's a well thought out, well-planned thing," Cornell said. "... Somebody wants for you to be in that state because somebody wants to do something to you, and they will. ... Friends don't stop it. It happens way too frequently, especially with high school kids."

Taylor said the drug is often used as a "male-bonding thing" by men who buy into pressures that say they "have to score."

"I believe sometimes guys think this is a joke," she said, "that nobody is going to be hurt by this." But, besides leading to rape, the drugs can cause serious health problems, including death.

Women must keep an eye on their drinks and never accept a drink from a stranger, someone you don't know well or someone you've just met, even if he was introduced to you by a friend, Taylor said. Victimizers can be someone you know.

"It might be a really nice guy and young people are out looking for social relationships," Taylor said. "We think of the rapist as that crazed stranger. We don't think of the clean-cut college kid who lives down the street from you. ... We just need to not be so accepting of people."




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