Southern Oregon University Director of Campus Public Safety and Parking Fred Creek warned students last week through social media and a mass email that the school has “received several reports of drink-spiking at some of the local establishments” in Ashland.
“Stay vigilant, stay safe, Raider Fam!” warned the 265-word Facebook post attributed to Creek.
Creek declined to say exactly how many reports of drink-spiking — the act of adding drugs or alcohol to somebody’s drink without their permission — he’s fielded or at which “establishments” it’s taken place, but said it’s a big enough problem to justify the campus-wide warning.
“Even if it’s just one, it’s (enough),” he said. “This is a good time of year for us to give out these kinds of reminders to people to take caution when they’re going out in public.”
Creek issued the post Oct. 25. In it, he advised anybody who suspects they’ve been victimized to call 911 or campus public safety at 541-552-6911. Effects of drink-spiking differ based on many factors — age, size and drug used among them — but common reactions include unconsciousness, decreased inhibitions, paralysis and memory loss.
Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara said no reports of drink-spiking have come in to APD in recent weeks, but said the public’s heightened awareness on the subject can only help.
“It’s something that people, especially young people, young women, have to be aware of,” O’Meara said. “It does happen and it does happen in Ashland.
“You should not leave your drink unattended or drink it if it’s been out of your sight, or take a drink from somebody you don’t know. … All of these things can help increase your safety and minimize the chances of you being victimized. Because the only possible reason somebody would (spike your drink) is to follow that up with a sexual assault.”
“This is just as important as having a designated driver,” he said.
Susan Moen, executive director of the Jackson County Sexual Assault Response Team, noted that drinking a tainted beverage is not the only way somebody may be victimized at a bar.
Moen, the co-founder of SART and a former advocate with the L.A. Commission on Assaults Against Women, leads local training seminars which teach bartenders how to spot potential sexual predators and use “interruption techniques” to derail assaults before they occur.
A letter SART sends out informing bars about the free training lists some dire facts: one in four women assaulted in Oregon, including 90 percent of adult women, do not report the assault; more than 70 percent of the perpetrators are acquaintances of the victim; and false allegations are rare.
The list of restaurants and bars which have signed up for SART training includes O'Ryan's Irish Pub, Louie’s, The Black Sheep Pub & Restaurant, RedZone Sports Bar & Grill and Omar’s Fresh Seafood & Steaks.
What does Moen teach, exactly? Everything from what to look for to what to do about it.
“What we know is most sexual assaults are premeditated,” she said. “Perpetrators intentionally create vulnerability or take advantage of vulnerability. And so in this realm some of the things that we teach bartenders to spot is somebody who is intentionally trying to get someone else to drink more than they intend.”
What does that look like? Moen offered a common scenario as an example. A man in a bar approaches a woman sitting by herself and opens up a conversation. He comes across as extremely friendly but talks fast, so fast that the potential victim, while straining to keep up with the conversation, misses the red flags.
A role-playing exercise Moen employs during her seminars illustrates this strategy’s effectiveness.
“That person is less likely to go, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t know this person, why are they being so friendly, how do I get out of this situation?'" she said. "It’s the perpetrator who is intentionally doing certain things that make them seem like just this nice, friendly person.”
Another warning sign is when somebody buys drinks for the person they’re with, using social conditioning to mask their intentions.
“It’s really hard to say 'no,' right?” Moen said. “So the chances that she’s maybe going to drink a drink that she did not plan on having are pretty high because of that social pressure.”
Moen said SART teaches bartenders not to refill a drink unless the person attached to it specifically requests it. When a bartender declines to refill a drink and cites the bar’s policy, Moen explains, that's called an interruption.
Moen said she tells bartenders that they don’t need to be sure a customer has nefarious intentions in order to interrupt a potential situation. After all, a bartender who trusts their instincts, whether they realize it or not, may be preventing a sexual assault.
“So what we’re teaching them is to spot behavior that could be something,” she said, “and then use non-confrontational ways of interrupting that behavior. And that might just be checking in or paying a little bit of extra attention to a dynamic that’s going on. Because if the perpetrator thinks that somebody is paying attention, they’re probably going to move on.”
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.