This article was first published in the December print issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.
It’s been nearly eight years since I had my drink spiked while out for a night of fun in Revelstoke. Sometimes I still try to dig around inside my mind looking for memories that refuse to appear.
Maybe you’ve heard me tell the story about the time I decided to go out with my then long-time roommates, ended up trying to steal everyone’s purses, attempted to fight the bouncer and took off on my own little adventure for an hour or two. At least that’s what I’m told I did from the pieces I’ve put together from people who saw me that night. (All of which, I might add, are very out of character for me.) When I came to I was sitting on the kitchen counter using the landline in a failed attempt to cancel the cellphone I’d managed to lose earlier that night. My roommates, who had been trying to find me, were relieved to find me safe at home.
I tell the story this way because using a bit of humour deflects the raw emotions I still have about that night. Plus, it’s easier than the judgment that often comes when I tell people I got drugged at a pub here in Revelstoke. It also avoids the inevitable questions: Why didn’t I go to the police? Why didn’t I go to the hospital? Wasn’t I watching my drink? Maybe I just drank too much? And then there’s the question I hate most of all. The one that comes up when I’m digging around in my own mind: was I assaulted? I never went to the hospital, which means to this day I have no idea.
The idea that drink spiking happens in Revelstoke may be shocking, but it’s the truth. Based on unverified reports, it happens on an almost daily basis during the winter months. While it’s most likely to happen to women like me, there are also cases of men having their drinks spiked. Not all cases of drink spiking result in sexual assault, but many do.
“Winter is the busier season for socializing. More people are partying every evening. We’re seeing more intoxicated people in the winter. We put more people in cells in winter because they are intoxicated and it’s cold outside. We don’t get any more reports [of drink spiking] but there is a real belief based on the number of rumours. We know it’s happening. We want to support people,” said Revelstoke RCMP staff sergeant Kurt Grabinsky.
According to a 2014 fact sheet published by the Women Against Violence Against Women Rape Crisis Centre in Vancouver, alcohol is still the Number One substance used to facilitate sexual assault. There are also a number of other drugs used to spike drinks including ketamine, tranquilizers (including Rohypnol, more commonly known as “roofies”), GBL (gamma-butyrolactone), and GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate).
Local RCMP aren’t aware of the specific types of drugs being used to facilitate drink spiking due to a lack of reporting. Despite this, they are aware drugs commonly used to spike drinks are making their way through, and into, Revelstoke. Grabinsky said three years ago police seized a mobile drug lab containing meth and GHB passing through on the Trans-Canada Highway.
“We know [the drugs] are here,” said Grabinsky.
It’s clear Grabinsky wants Revelstoke RCMP to do more to stop drink spiking from occurring in the community. The problem is that, like me, most victims choose not to report to the police. Since there is no legal requirement to report cases of drink spiking or sexual assault, police have little information that would help them conduct an investigation and work with establishments where the incidents are taking place. Grabinsky said police are hearing multiple third-party reports about drink spiking, but need people to feel comfortable reporting directly to the RCMP. It’s also the reason police are unable to provide accurate statistics about drink spiking and sexual assault in Revelstoke.
“We want people to trust us. When people report to the police it gives us the ability to do an investigation,” said Grabinksy. “It happens far more frequently than people are willing to admit. We want to work with the public.”
The lack of reporting may be frustrating for RCMP, but Grabinsky said at the end of the day police want people who think they have experienced being drugged to at least be connected with health supports.
There are plans to unveil a multi-agency sexual assault protocol this winter. Revelstoke has a Victim Services program that is able to offer supports not only to victims of drink spiking, but also to friends or acquaintances who may think someone they know has been drugged. While it’s a police-based program, anyone uncomfortable with going to the RCMP detachment can call Victim Services to have a support worker come to them. Victim Services can provide information on what someone can expect when reporting to police, or even going to the hospital to seek medical attention.
Queen Victoria Hospital has a team of nurses trained in sexual assault who are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Julie Lowes, acute health services manager, said the emphasis is on providing non-judgmental services. Those who choose to go to the hospital receive information about treatment options and care, and are able to have a friend, family, or support worker present.
“Even if someone isn’t sure if their drink was drugged or not, we still encourage people who think this may have happened to come up to the hospital. We want everyone to seek medical attention and to make sure they’re getting the support they need,” said Lowes.
In my case, I did consider going to the hospital the next day but felt it was worthless. Some drugs used to spike drinks have a very short life cycle, meaning that even if I had gone to the hospital the next day it may have been unlikely any signs of whatever drug was used to spike my drink were still in my system. Nursing coordinator Donna Crane said this is a common feeling people have, but emphasized the focus the sexual assault team has on providing non-judgmental care.
“People can come at any time. If you were drinking on the weekend and don’t remember come in. We want to make sure people are medically OK, bodily and with their psyche,” said Crane.
Years later, I wish I would have known about these supports. Maybe I wouldn’t spend nights awake digging around for memories I’ll never be able to find.
Tips for a safe night out
1. Go out with a group of people you know and plan to stay with them. If a friend disappears talk to staff at the pub or bar you’re with. If you’re really concerned call 911 and have police look for your friend.
2. When in doubt dump it out. “Although it may cost more money, you should dump your drink if you’ve left it unattended for any length of time,” said Grabinsky. Don’t be shocked if you’ve been on the dance floor and come back to find your $12 vodka double has disappeared. B.C.’s servers and bartenders are required to take Serving It Right Training and will remove any unattended drinks.
3. Don’t go home with people you just met. We’ve all been here. You’re single and ready to mingle, out at the bar and the dreamy dude who’s been buying you shots all night wants to take you back to his place. The problem? “Drunk people can’t give consent,” said Grabinsky. “If a friend has been drinking and tells you they want to go home with someone, that’s probably not the time.”
4. If someone offers to buy you a drink there are a few options for staying safe: 1. Say no. It’s their problem if they get upset. If something feels off about their intentions, trust your instincts. 2. Say yes, but tell them you’ll come to the bar with them, order the drink, and they can pay.
5. Keep this list of phone numbers handy. If you or someone you are out with experiences drink spiking, or may have had their drink spiked you can call for more information:
Revelstoke Victim Services: 250-837-9260
What can they do? Provide information to victims of drink spiking/sexual assault including: what reporting to RCMP looks like. What accessing medical support at the hospital looks like. Providing in person supports to those who seek medical care or choose to file a report.
Queen Victoria Hospital: 250-837-2131
What can they do? Queen Victoria Hospital has a team of nurses trained in helping those who have, or may have experienced drink spiking and/or sexual assault.
Revelstoke RCMP: 911 (24/7) or 250-837-5255 (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.–4 p.m.). Even if you choose not to report an incident of being drugged, Revelstoke RCMP are able to connect you with Victim Services and other supports.