Blair Weyer: Guest opinion
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
“It was a lesson learned early on that not everything the media promotes is as good as advertised … few commercial genres are more iconic than that of the hyper-sexual beer ad. The typical beer commercial is well known for scantily clad women, sexual innuendo, and the promise of a more vibrant sex life for those who would only purchase the product. Today, these commercials reflect a youth culture that believes alcohol and sexual activity to be kin. This is highly ironic since alcohol is strongly correlated with several undesirable sexual outcomes including … flawed evaluation of sexual situations, and the 900-pound gorilla of the bunch – sexual assault.”
The anonymous Harvard student and author of this article goes on to ponder the question “Where do we draw the line between alcohol-facilitated sexual assaults and mere ‘drunken hookups’?”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 200,000 sexual assaults are reported each year. These reports account for only a fraction of all sexual assaults, which go unreported to law enforcement and local health care professionals. In Colorado, one in four women and one in 17 men have experienced attempted or completed sexual assault, according to the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
This editorial, the first in a series of three, is meant to provide you with an educational understanding of drug-facilitated sexual assault. The second editorial will focus on the challenges faced by victims in reporting and follow-up with these assaults as well as assistance available for victims. The final editorial will focus on strategies we can take as a community to prevent drug-facilitated sexual assault. Personal responsibility and the community’s engagement are important steps in reducing this problem and creating a safe environment for all who live in, work in and visit Aspen.
In recent years, drug-facilitated sexual assault has become an increasingly significant issue in communities across the country. The Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault found that 62 percent of all sexual assaults can be characterized as drug-facilitated, in which alcohol and drugs are used as a tool to mentally and physically weaken a target. Surprisingly, only because we don’t think of it as such, alcohol is the No. 1 drug used to commit drug-facilitated sexual assault. Other drugs that may be used include GHB, Ketamine, Rohypnol, and other depressants that are difficult to detect when slipped into someone’s drink. These drugs act quickly, within 10 minutes, causing intense drowsiness, disorientation, and memory loss. They also leave the blood in as little as four hours, making them difficult to detect by the following morning, when a victim might realize he or she was drugged.
Contrary to popular belief, not all DFSA cases result from someone “drugging” a target in order to take advantage of them. In many cases the assault is opportunistic in nature, meaning an individual voluntarily consumes alcohol and/or drugs and an assailant takes advantage of their incapacitated state. Proactive assaults, on the other hand, are a direct and intentional plan to debilitate someone using drugs or alcohol. In both instances, perpetrators will often pose as a “rescuer” or “helper” as a way to remove someone from a setting. Some people may actually leave willingly with their assailant not realizing their intentions.
Colorado state statutes specifically state that consent for sexual acts cannot be given if an individual is drunk, unconscious, asleep, frightened, or unable to participate. Even if someone goes home willingly with an individual, they still need to consent to participating in any sexual act. This is the law whether a person consumed alcohol and/or drugs under their own accord, or was given them unknowingly by a perpetrator. Consent is an active decision that can only be carried out by individuals who are fully able to comprehend a situation. Simply put, not saying “no” doesn’t mean “yes,” and if someone doesn’t say yes, it is sexual assault.
As a city that thrives on a vibrant social scene full of concerts and special events, Aspen is no stranger to an active nightlife. Our community needs to be aware of the tactics used by perpetrators of drug-facilitated sexual assault. It is also important to keep in mind that most sexual assaults are committed by someone the person knows, not a complete stranger. Does this mean we need to fear every friend who offers to help us out if we’ve had one too many drinks? No, but it does mean that we need to be observant and practice safe habits such as staying in groups, monitoring alcohol consumption, and not leaving drinks out of sight.
Please read the Jan. 31 editorial to learn about challenges that are faced by victims in reporting and follow-up with DFSA, as well as assistance that is available for victims in the valley. The Aspen Police Department wants to remind the public that free drug tests and sexual assault exams are available for anyone who believes they have been a victim of sexual assault.
Please call 911 or contact the Aspen Police Department at 970-920-5400 to report an assault. You can also seek confidential assistance from RESPONSE by calling its 24-hour helpline at 970-925-7233. The Aspen Police Department would like to encourage all questions and comments on this topic on our Facebook page; please visit us at facebook.com/AspenPolice to become part of the conversation.
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