In assault fervor, confusion lingers

by Colin Barry | 11/21/03 6:00am

Although Dartmouth administrators speculate that rape drugs are used on campus, reports of drugging have never been confirmed.

Dean of Residential Life Martin Redman called date rape drugs "a serious issue," but noted he did not believe that such drugs are a rampant problem at Dartmouth.

"I'm not aware of any confirmed incidents where a date rape drug was used." Redman said. "That doesn't mean it didn't happen, but I think students would know more about it. We're kind of the last to know."

In a letter addressed to "interested students," Dean of First-Year Students Gail Zimmerman wrote that while the administration remains concerned and vigilant in its investigations, testing has never concretely demonstrated the presence of any date-rape drug, "alcohol excepted."

Part of the problem, however, lies in the efficacy of such drugs in rapidly concealing their presence. Prompt testing allows for the most accuracy, coordinator for the Sexual Abuse Awareness Program Abby Tassel said, and given the likely timing of a drugging and the victim's condition, this is not often plausible. More than 48 hours after exposure, testing becomes ineffective, Tassel said.

Another challenge lies in the shear variety of drugs currently in use. In her letter to the Dartmouth community, Tassel listed that number at between 30 and 40 rape drugs, the most common of which are alcohol, rohypnol, ecstasy, ketamine and GHB.

Given those difficulties, and the reports of numerous students, Tassel said she was "pretty sure" date rape drugs have been used on campus.

"Many students have told me they believe they have been drugged at Dartmouth," Tassel wrote in her letter earlier this month. Like Redman, Tassel said she had not heard of any Dartmouth student testing positive for a rape drug.

Tassel expressed uncertainty as to the prevalence of drugging.

"It's important to remember that one person can do an enormous amount of damage," Tassel said. "It's very difficult to catch people who do it because a big problem can be just one person."

Administrators also said rumors of drugging have not centered around any one Greek organization.

"I get the feeling that people are not saying that it was all in one house," Tassel said.

Redman and Tassel both urged party-goers and party-holders to take responsibility for safeguarding against drugs.

"At this point, most of the free beer and party environment here is given away at Greek organizations," Redman said. "They have a responsibility to follow procedures to ensure alcohol safety and to keep an eye on who's coming and going."

Administrators noted that fraternities and sororities cannot do everything, however, and admonished students to follow sensible guidelines when drinking at parties. Tassel's letter advised partiers to watch out for each other and not leave drinks unattended.

Party-goers who believe they have been drugged can be tested at Dick's House or Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

Recent controversy over rape drugs began when an anonymous undergraduate wrote an article in the Dartmouth Free Press last month alleging that she was drugged at a fraternity party. In the article, the author said that although her drink tasted "off" and she felt what she thought were the effects of being drugged, blood tests for rape drugs came back negative.

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