Questions about date-rape drugs persist at Auburn University

On Oct. 23, 2013, Auburn University students and faculty received an email about six different instances on campus when date rape drugs were allegedly used in the past two months.

On Feb. 7 and April 1, 2014 similar emails stated that sexual assaults involving date-rape drugs had occurred at a fraternity house and residence hall, respectively.Public Safety Email from April 1, 2014

These emails have brought date-rape drugs to the forefront of public safety discussions at Auburn University. The Opelika-Auburn News, WTVM, The Plainsman and even the satirical website Total Frat Move have reported on the emails and the incidents. Despite the coverage, many students are left confused about how common date-rape drugs are in Auburn.

Nolan Griffin, a fourth-year Auburn student in business administration, didn’t see the first email that was sent out.

“I feel like that’s something that you get every year,” Griffin said. “It’s very sad and unfortunate, but it’s a reality of our life that when you’re in college, there are people out there that are going to try and do that.”

After receiving the next two emails, he began to have questions about the school and town he has called home for the past four years.

“I was really surprised, even scared,” Griffin said. “Not for myself, but for my girlfriend and other girls that I know. It definitely makes me uncomfortable, and makes you think twice every time you’re at the bar.”

Griffin has been a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity since his freshman year in 2010. He has lived in the fraternity house since the summer of 2011.

Public safety emails are sent to all students and faculty when an incident occurs on campus, but they are not required to be sent out if an incident occurs off campus, according to Susan McCallister, associate director of information and education at Auburn’s Department of Public Safety and Security.

On-campus locations include the core of campus, fraternity houses and the land owned by the veterinary medicine program. Downtown Auburn and off-campus housing are not included.

“The ones that are reported to us generally are the ones that happened at fraternities or a residence hall because that’s the most likely place on campus where you would have something like that happen,” McCallister said. “So it may look like it’s more prevalent at fraternities … that’s not necessarily true. It might just appear that way because that’s what we’re required to send out notifications about.”

Victims are referred to a program called Safe Harbor that provides confidential counseling and support. Safe Harbor is run by Health Promotion and Wellness Services. Their mission is to help students cope with all forms of sexual assault.

Auburn University’s crime statistics only cover incidents on campus, and any reported drugging is included in the category of aggravated assault cases.

“I think it’s really hard to quantify,” McCallister said. “Because number one, we know that it is very under reported. Number two is we get a lot of concerns about it without any testing.”

Finding a way to quantify the issue is a problem that many other schools have as well, according to Eric Smith, director of Health Promotion and Wellness Services.

“There’s a lot of reasons why,” Smith said. “If we’re just talking kind of the standard date rape drugs like GHB and roofies, they move through your system so quickly that quite often if an individual believes they’ve been … drugged, there’s no evidence to prove it.”

Gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid, or GHB, and Rohypnol, commonly known as roofies, are the two most common date-rape drugs. Colorless, odorless and nearly tasteless in its liquid form, GHB has surpassed Rohypnol as the most common substance used in drug-facilitated sexual assaults, according to the National Drug Intelligence Center.

Both drugs cannot be detected after 24 hours of consumption, and the effects are similar to that of alcohol.

“Quite frequently, I think that some students believe they may have been drugged when in all reality they just drank too much that night,” Smith said.

Auburn has its own specific problems when trying to inform the students and faculty.

“Far too often people believe that Auburn is this nice little bubble where bad stuff doesn’t happen,” Smith said. “You know bad stuff happens here, just as much as it happens at other places. It’s just talked about differently.”

“I think that’s probably a big part of this too,” Smith continued. “We’re not talking about stuff when it happens.”

Auburn University’s school newspaper The Plainsman has reported on each sexual assault release. Their biggest struggle is finding the balance between protecting the privacy of the victims and providing detailed information, according to Editor-in-Chief and senior in journalism Kelsey Davis.

“We do what we can with the very limited information that we’re given,” Davis said. “So a lot of times for us, it’s just limited amount of details available.”

The title of the article in The Plainsman reporting on the email sent on April 1, “Limited details available with sexual assault incident,” speaks to the difficult nature of coverage that Davis mentioned.

“I think that the more information that you get out there about it, the more of a reality that it becomes,” Griffin said. “I think that part of it is that people don’t understand how easily it can happen to them.”

Griffin’s roommate and a friend, both male, learned first hand that it can happen to anyone at Bourbon Street Bar in downtown Auburn.

The friend arrived at the bar and bought a round of shots for himself and a group of female friends. Afterward, he ordered a beer. For the friend, the rest of the night remains unknown.

After getting tested the next day, he learned that there was Rohypnol in his system.

“What I would imagine is that they (drugged males) just get caught in a group that is being targeted, and happen to take the drink that was meant for someone else,” Griffin said.

The friend did not file a report with the police.

Griffin worked as a camp counselor for Auburn University’s freshman orientation program Camp War Eagle. Despite the incident, he believes that Auburn’s campus is safe.

“Last summer when I got to the part on Tiger Talk Three about campus safety, it was always a long stretch,” Griffin said. “Because I feel like our campus does to a lot to ensure the safety of our students.”

The confidentiality of date-rape drug victims has made it difficult for Auburn’s students to learn about the details behind the emails. The media and safety releases educate students about safe habits that can prevent getting drugged, but in a crime with a variety of unknowns, there will always be unanswered questions.

“How do we know we prevented something if it never occurred?” Smith asked. “I think that’s a challenge for us as a field to try and figure out a little bit better. The other one is, at the end of the day, we will do a lot to try and make these systems and problems far better, but I doubt that we’re ever going to eradicate the university of this. Chances are, we will swim as hard and fast as we can to somebody, but they may still go under.”

Written for Dr. Fuhlhage’s Reporting class at Auburn University

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