There’s no subtle way to delve into this topic, so I’ll state it bluntly: I was drugged and raped ten days ago.
I haven’t wanted to talk about it. And I still don’t. I’m fine. I really am. I’m not seeking pity, sympathy, or attention, nor am I trawling for comments, and frankly if anyone asks a question, I probably won’t answer. I want to make it absolutely clear: I’m really not interested in talking about it, period.
However, yesterday I went looking for books about rape in Barnes and Noble and was disappointed to find only two. One, the venerated and much celebrated “classic source” that is now unfortunately as old and dated as I am, and the other focused only on “acquaintance rape”. Neither was particularly informative nor useful to my case. So, the inner feminist decided that there is potentially more value in me telling other people what happened to me than the embarrassment I would feel by letting the secret out. I’ve learned some very important things, and I’m still learning them. I should share, if only to potentially help someone else.
I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do so far: went to the E.R.; took every pill, potion, and inoculation offered, was prescribed a HIV drug for a month prophylactically; filed a police report (granted- I didn’t, but the nurses did on my behalf), and though I feel fine mentally, I’ve got eight free individual sexual assault victim counseling sessions to be scheduled as soon as a counselor’s schedule opens up. I have to go back and get two more Hep-B shots and an HIV test in six months. I have been extremely pragmatic in my approach to dealing with this, but I get choked up when I even think of telling anyone I know that this happened to me. In fact, that is the only thing that I feel even vaguely emotional about in all of this. I’ve had to recount what happened to a receptionist, six nurses, two doctors, and a triage counselor so far. I can talk about it in a detached way as in, “These are the facts, as far as I know them,” but it scares me to think that someone who knows me “in real life” will forever more identify me as this one incident rather than who I am. Maybe that’s an over-dramatization that I’ve been using in order to justify not telling “friends” about this, and really just a mechanism to allow me to further marginalize what happened to me. I could play pop psychology all day long, but something tells me that that would not be helpful. I really can’t go there right now.
So far I have been dealing with it very well, so well that some people have even described me recently as happy and cheerful. (Wait, that doesn’t sound like me at all, does it? What the…? Huh?) I’ve been carrying on with my day to day life with little interference despite near-constant reflection. I can feel proud of myself that I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do, that I’ve done what I can to take care of myself after the fact.
But, there are so many coincidences, and when they pile up, I pause. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. (I got raped in Sexual Assault Awareness Month for crying out loud! Maybe “they” should work on better flyer distribution?) One week exactly after it happened to me, Denim Day was observed. Denim Day is a day of activism that was coined after an Italian judge deemed that the rapist of an 18 year old girl was not guilty because she was wearing tight jeans (which he ruled would have required “assistance” to remove). I bought my first and only pair of skinny jeans that day. The only time I’ve worn them was that night. When I found them still cuffed at the bottom, crumpled on the floor of a camper, I joined the ranks of women who could testify that yes, even “tight jeans” can be removed by another person. When I was at the E.R. and recounting to the doctor things he could and couldn’t do, the police could and couldn’t do, because I couldn’t describe my rapist, and because I had already showered, ect., he stopped and asked, “Where do you work?” When I went to answer he stopped me and said, “What I mean is, how do you know so much about this?” I thought post-rape procedure was common knowledge, but I guess not. Maybe there was an article or two in Seventeen or Cosmo that I read twenty years ago, I don’t know. As far as knowing about rape drugs, I Googled that before I went into the E.R. Besides, hasn’t everyone seen at least one or two episodes of CSI or Law & Order? To put the frosting on the cake, my oldest friend is a board member of CALCASA (the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault). I’m so not in the demographic to get raped. Teenagers, followed by college students- those are the people statistically most likely to get raped. At my “advanced age” of 36, I’m in the 1-2% range. As a bonus, up to 92% of rape cases are by someone you know*- I didn’t know the person or people who did this to me, yet another anomalous statistic. In so many ways, this was unlikely to happen to me. Yet…it happened. It all happened anyway.
The thing is, I can’t say exactly what happened. There is a nine hour hole where my memory is supposed to be, and I can only imagine, but never know, what occurred. I could spin myself crazy trying to think of every scenario and possibility, but I don’t believe that would be helpful if I am to maintain any semblance of emotional and mental stability. These are the facts as I can recall:
1. I was in a bar, drinking only my third (and intended to be last) beer of the evening. I planned to get something to eat right after. A girl waved me over to get me away from a guy that she said had been hitting on every woman that came into the bar that night. I don’t even know if I finished that third beer. I don’t know who dosed me. It could have been anyone because frankly I was careless: I turned my back on my drink so many times. I had no friends with me, so no one there had any vested interest in making sure nothing happened to me or my drink. Still, this isn’t to say that any of this is my fault. The fault lies solely with the person or people who illegally spiked my drink. They took any and all choices away from me. It didn’t even dawn on me that the girl could have been involved until the counselor at WEAVE (my local community nonprofit that offers various modes of support for this and related issues) suggested that was a possibility. Though- that’s the whole “spin yourself crazy inventing scenarios that may or may not have happened” ball of wax. It really could have been anyone in that bar, and I’ll never know who or why me. I will never even know if the same person who drugged me is the same person who would later have intercourse with me while I was incapacitated. I’ll never know if there was one person or multiple people involved. There are so many unknown variables.
2. I woke up in a camper/RV-sort of vehicle a block from the bar. It was morning. I was wearing only my socks. The too few details I have at all are flashes, some too ugly, and I don’t want to recount them here. I was so spacey. Nothing made sense and after drifting in and out of consciousness a few times, it finally kicked in: THIS IS MORNING. I WAS JUST AT THE BAR. THIS ISN’T RIGHT. When I jumped to my feet, looked down, and saw only my socks, I knew something was wrong but my brain still wasn’t processing. I remember blurting out, “I’m naked and on a bus?” The guy laughed and told me to lay back down. The camper had a kitchen area so I kept asking for water. He had none. Still, I kept asking for water, and when he relented and went to go get water, I gathered all my things (miraculously almost everything was there), dressed quickly, bailed, and quickly “floated” back to my hotel. I have no idea how I knew where I was, but somehow I knew how to get back to my hotel. I don’t even remember walking back. The “floaty” feeling lasted all day and made me really exhausted- super exhausted, ultra exhausted. I was still under the influence of something and not in my right mind. Because of that fact, I have no memory of the person, I could not describe him, I couldn’t describe the camper, I didn’t get the license plate of the camper, no- nothing useful. For some reason I think he had a gravelly voice and maybe sandy hair, but I don’t know why I think that because I don’t have any real memory of him despite knowing that a) I talked to him and b) he had sex with me. I smelled different, and I knew it was “his” smell on me, but how do you describe a person’s smell? I had nothing “useable” or “actionable”. I was in a deep fog and could not process anything, especially what happened. The entire world felt fuzzy, if that makes any sense at all. It was as though my brain had succumbed to complete torpor.
I have to emphasize- I was not feeling hungover. I simply had not drunk enough to even be drunk in the first place. I don’t even know if I finished that third beer. If I did, it would have been my third beer in about ninety minutes. That feeling of utter poisoning- nausea, a pounding head, every light too bright, every sound too loud- I didn’t have that. I was under the influence of something completely different that made me thoroughly discombobulated.
3. All I wanted to do was come home, shower, and sleep. Yes, you’re not supposed to shower after rape or change your clothes. (They tell you if you must change your clothes, to put each item into a separate paper bag. I actually got out of my clothes as soon as I got back to the hotel.) I’ll refer back to the “I was still under the influence of something and not in my right mind” piece of the narrative. Despite one of my first flashes back into consciousness was being fucked from behind, as absurd as it seems, I didn’t know what was I supposed to make of it. I wasn’t sure if it was real because the memory was so dreamlike. It seemed unpleasant, so I didn’t want to think about it, particularly since thinking felt so laborious anyway. All I wanted to do was come home. Once home, I showered, and I still had the smell of someone else on my hands even after washing my hair. I kept washing my hands. I had a Lady MacBeth moment because for several hand washes, the smell wouldn’t abate. I tried to sleep but despite my lethargy, my eyes wouldn’t stay shut. The same few flashes kept coming back but as nothing added up, I told myself they were uncomfortable and just to ignore them. I was in denial that I was under the influence of something and it didn’t become apparent to me until the next day when I was still inexorably exhausted. Perhaps I was just far enough out of the fog by then to finally Google “effects of Rohypnol”.
I refined the search. “Symptoms of Rohypnol in rape”: blackout of 8-10 hours despite not being drunk, feeling that someone had sex with you, waking up in unfamiliar surroundings, extreme exhaustion.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
Time to call Kaiser. I was bruised on both arms and hips. There was a bruise at the top of my inner left thigh near the crease of my crotch. There was a bump on my head just behind the hairline. While on the phone, I looked down and noticed that the bruises on my right forearm were perfect finger indentations. Someone had grabbed me by the arm hard. It was like it really took me over 24 hours to wake up and now that I had, it was all coming together into one big slice of Swiss cheese. The advice nurse filed a police report with the S.F.P.D. on my behalf and told me to get to the E.R. as soon as possible.
4. The triage nurse was a bitch whose face contorted when I told her that I drove home, while we now know (in retrospect) that I was still under the influence of something. I told her point blank that there would be no criminal case pursued as I could not act as my own witness (that’s just reality- a very paltry percentage of drug rape criminals are ever convicted, if they ever go to trial at all, and being unable to identify my rapist pretty much meant nothing was to happen in my case), and besides, I’ve already showered and changed my clothes. I just wanted a drug test and whatever prophylactic measures generally occur post-sexual assault, hold the judgment and derision. Maybe she was of an older generation where victim blaming is still in vogue, but that’s immaterial. Mercifully, she was only a part of my care for a few minutes. The E.R. doctor and nurse, in stark comparison, were awesome, and genuinely decent people. I felt supported but thankfully no one even approached being “too supportive”. (E.g. no one offered me the whole sympathetic hand on my shoulder, soft voice “Are you okay? Waa waa.” thing. Thank goodness.) Over the four hours I was in the E.R., the nurse and I started cracking jokes and tried to be as irreverent as possible. I mean, what else can you do when you’re walking around carrying your own urine in a cup, people are extracting vials of blood from your arm, and people just out of view on the other side of the curtain are whispering about your case? The fact was, though I had to be logical through the interview, examination, and all the drugs and needles, I was still finding certain things to be funny, if even in a dark humor kind of way. I stopped and wondered: “Do I want to laugh and smile right now? Aren’t I supposed to be morose and tragic?” In a roundabout way, what I’m saying- it really wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t scary. Though, I do have to admit I did get out of the pelvic examination. As there would be no criminal case pursued, and aside from a bruise near my crotch, I had no injuries that I could feel “down there”, thus there was no point, particularly since Kaiser does not collect DNA even if I wanted them to. I expressed that to the nurse, who agreed with me, and she communicated that to the doctor. I got to keep my clothes on throughout my physical exam. However, this brings me to the first of a few points that caused me to write this in the first place.
HOSPITALS DO NOT DO RAPE KITS. Well, very, very few of them do this. Even the local university research hospital in my area (UCDMC) that has always done them has stopped doing them recently. Still- go to the E.R. Get medical attention as soon as possible. You can always ask the E.R. nurse to call a rape crisis center and ask for an advocate on your behalf, or to call the police if you cannot call yourself. The police will have to arrange for possible evidence collection because hospitals simply don’t.
(Edit: most areas have only ONE designated hospital that will do the correct evidence collection. Call the local rape crisis center for information as to where to go or search online for the hospital in your area that does this. Doing this may help your police case later if you decide to file a report. The designated hospital for evidence collection will also most likely see you free of charge. Don’t listen to your insurance company like I did – they will not give you accurate advice about what you need to do in this situation. I am now regretful that I called Kaiser Permanente first and followed their instructions as having done so hurt my case in the long run. It is easier to have your records transferred to your health insurance carrier after the fact than to not have this important evidence collected in the first place. Also, I was told by the SFPD Sexual Assault Unit that had I gone to a proper evidence collection equipped E.R. that they still would have searched for DNA even after a day had passed and I had already showered. The inspector said they still retrieve DNA even after a couple of days sometimes.)
NOR DO THEY TEST FOR “RAPE DRUGS”. I thought half of the point of me going to the E.R. within the supposed 48 hours that Rohypnol was detectable was to get a definitive answer that I was drugged and the identification of what exactly I was drugged with. Hospitals do a “generic” drug screen of commonly abused and illegal drugs. Only after my urine was run through a drug screen, did the E.R. doc tell me that they do not screen for so-called “date rape drugs” like Rohypnol, GHB, or ketamine. I asked what the value was of doing the drug screen at all, and he said that it would have picked up some benzos like Valium or Xanax, but- Rohypnol does not show up on a normal benzodiazepine screen. The doctor said that I could opt to have a sample of my blood sent out for screening but I would have to pay out of pocket and it would take four weeks to get the results back. (I’ve since found out that there are urine strip tests you can order online. Maybe some rape crisis centers keep these available, but that probably varies.) As I was at Kaiser, and already paying through the nose, I did not opt for an expensive test I couldn’t afford as I couldn’t even afford this E.R. visit.** Besides, the doc said something immediately after explaining the benzo screen, “…but I believe this really did happen to you, given the symptoms you have described.” The guy has an M.D., and that’s his opinion? That’s good enough as a definitive confirmation to me. We still don’t know for sure if I was given Rohypnol, but as the effects of GHB last only three-four hours, and I was blacked out for around nine, it would indicate the former or at least something very similar.
(Edit: the “one” evidence collection hospital in your area should be able to test for “rape drugs” and do so free of charge. See above.)
HEALTH PROFESSIONALS IN CALIFORNIA ARE MANDATED BY LAW TO REPORT SEXUAL ASSAULT TO THE POLICE. I already alluded to this, but they will do this on your behalf if you do not want to report it yourself. In my case, the Kaiser advice nurse filed my report over the phone and gave me my case number so that I could provide it at the E.R. When the E.R. nurse asked if it had been reported, I just gave her my case number. This may have been the beginning of our short term psuedo-bonding experience because she took it from me and said, “Thanks. This makes my job a lot easier.” She still had to call and confirm it though, and as it wasn’t in the system yet, I still had to go back over the details I already told the other nurse when she reported to the police. No, I can’t describe the guy; no, I didn’t get the license plate number; yes, I was blacked out for approximately nine hours, yes, soreness, bruises, blah blah blah.
(Edit: the report that healthcare providers provide on your behalf is little more than an incident report. It is not the same as a bona fide police report and will not result in a criminal investigation. If you want a record of your assault on file for the good of the community, or to pursue criminal charges against the perpetrators of your assault, you will still need to go to the police station and give a formal report and interview. You can do this at anytime, though sooner is better than later. If you are too emotionally traumatized to do this immediately, it is understandable to take some time first. The police will still be there when you are ready and able to give your full report. You may also want to contact a rape crisis center to have an advocate with you while you file your report, or you can take a trusted friend with you for moral support and as a witness to what you are told while you are at the police station.)
RAPE DRUGS TAKE EFFECT IN AS LITTLE AS TEN-FIFTEEN MINUTES. You really do not have much time, and if you have already been drinking (as I had), you might not even notice that you are suddenly under the influence of something else (as I did not). You have to be vigilant. Keep your drink in your sight at all times. Put your hand over your glass or bottle when you are not drinking from it. Only go out with friends. If someone starts acting uncharacteristically loopy and intoxicated- way out of proportion to what they have had to drink- they may have been drugged. Get them somewhere safe immediately. This can happen to ANYONE. It happened to me. It can happen to you or anyone you know. Men, women, young, and old- this is a crime of opportunity.
(Edit: it may not be obvious to anyone else that you have been drugged. You can be walking and talking while in a blackout. You do not necessarily start falling down or pass out immediately. You appear to be intoxicated, but in a bar or party situation, no one else may realize that you’re under the influence of anything other than alcohol. This is why it is important to have a “buddy system”.)
I’ve been amazed at how “normal” I still feel. I know I’ve been victimized, but I don’t feel like a victim. I’m still “me” regardless of this despicable act against me. In so many ways I feel extremely fortunate. I woke up in a motor vehicle for fuck’s sake- I COULD HAVE BEEN DRIVEN ANYWHERE. I was so lucky to wake up in familiar surroundings, even if I’m still marveling at how the hell I knew where I was given the condition I was in. I was completely blacked out for about nine hours- I could have been dumped in the Bay. I could have been killed. I wasn’t. I’m still here. Yeah, so the HIV drugs I’m on make me feel nauseous and dizzy. That sucks, but I only have to take them for a short period of time (*fingers crossed*). I’m lucky to live in an area with a good community outreach nonprofit that has secured funding to give victims of sexual assault eight free individual counseling sessions. As the triage counselor said, “It can’t hurt,” and that’s a damn good point, so I’ll be happy to take them up on that.
In an odd way, I also feel fortunate that I can’t remember what happened. I think it would be a lot worse if I knew every detail. It is as though I was handed a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle, opened the box, and found only five pieces inside, and wouldn’t you know it? No corner pieces. I’m actually okay with that. Again, I can imagine every possible scenario and let my imagination run wild with it, but I don’t think that would be useful. I remember what I remember, and I’ll deal with that in counseling.
In another way, I feel fortunate because I’ve been through this before. I was 18 last time, passed out drunk, and woke up dizzy and ill to flashes of my “friend” Chris [name not changed, because, frankly, fuck that bastard] shoving his cock in my mouth, being inside of me, and then re-dressing me. I faded in and out as it was happening. I had drunk eight beers by myself, alone at home, and passed out in my bedroom. He had come over, let himself in, and then really…let himself in. In so many ways that was a lot worse than this, because it involved a betrayal by a “friend”, and I was a lot younger and didn’t have as many coping skills. If I was able to handle that incident at half my current age, then I can handle this.
So, now I’m just dealing with it day by day. I feel like I just picked myself up, dusted myself off, and proceeded to put one foot in front of the other. I’m still getting out of bed everyday. There have been a couple of times where I’ve told myself, “OK…go!” I’ll give myself twenty-thirty seconds of an intense crying spell and then, “OK…stop!” Wipe my eyes with a single tissue and go forth with my day. I’ve never been able to exert that kind of control over my emotions before, but maybe that is the extent that I’m able to feel right now. Mostly I just feel numb. There have been a few times I’ve told myself, “Come on, get pissed off already!” I should be angry. I should feel violated. I could feel humiliated, paranoid, dirty, disgusting… I’m not coming home at night, turning on every light and checking under the bed for boogeymen. I’m not a sopping mess. I’m not having nightmares or suicidal thoughts. I don’t feel anything except vaguely embarrassed, and that feeling only arises when I consider talking to someone who knows me personally. Time to get rid of that, so out it goes. Maybe I can’t speak it, but I sure as hell can type it. (Obviously, as I think I’m at over 4,000 words already on this. Go, me.)
If you’re a friend of mine and you’re reading this, I can’t emphasize enough that I’m fine. I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do. I’m getting professional help. In fact, the triage counselor was amazed that I came in only one week after my incident. I guess most people let it fester for much longer before they seek assistance. I’m going to be all right. If I really need to talk about this, I’ll come to you to talk about it but please don’t bring it up with me. Yes, I am isolating myself a little bit, as I don’t feel that I could handle socializing right now, if only because I can’t handle conversation at the moment. Because really, what the hell am I going to talk about? (“Ha ha, Newt Gingrich is finally ending his unrealistic Presidential campaign. What a baffoon! By the way, I was recently sexually assaulted by some stranger in San Francisco. Pass the pickle relish!”) I’m a loner by nature anyway, and this is how I recover and process. (With heaping servings of Game of Thrones for fantasy and stand-up comedy for levity.) In all actuality, I’m really kicking ass at this, whatever “this” is. Dealing? Accepting? Coping? As I told someone last week, if there were such a thing as the Coping Olympics, I’d be a medalist.
*A statistic from a BBC Radio One radio program on acquaintance and drug-assisted rape. Other statistics have shown this rate to be between 60-80%, but it depends on the study, the size of the polling sample, and the population polled.
**Total cost: $200 to get discharged…and I had to sign something that said I could be billed for other charges later. That’s because my insurance…sucks. Thankfully I had my credit card on me. The additional drug screen would have been as much as $600 or more, but the doctor didn’t know the price for sure. (Edit: Had I gone to the “correct” hospital to begin with, and not followed the advice of my insurance company, I would not have been charged for the visit, and would have had the proper drug screen done for free. That’s hindsight for you.)