No one expected to have their drink tampered with at a high end fundraiser, an evening of glamour in a town that rarely gets dressed up.
But it did happen. At least one woman fell victim to drink tampering.
The how and the why are unknown.
“We have heard rumours of several unreported incidents and we are currently investigating one incident from that event,” says Revelstoke RCMP Staff Sergeant Kurt Grabinsky.
Without a formal complaint, the RCMP is limited in its ability to investigate. Interior Health is not required to inform the RCMP if suspected victims go to hospital.
The numbers of those affected that night are unknown. Grabinsky acknowledges while multiple attacks, especially at such a venue, is unusual, it is not unprecedented.
“Sometimes, perpetrators ‘go fishing’. They throw GHB in a number of drinks to see which of their targets is most affected,” he says.
Gamma-hydroxybutyrate, or GHB and also known by a large selection of street names including Grievous Bodily Harm, is a commonly used drink tampering drug.
Blackouts are not unusual in those affected by GHB. Other symptoms include sedation, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, unconsciousness, problems breathing, sweating, vomiting, dream-like feeling, black out, memory loss, and coma. Unlike rohypnol, GHB is a clear, odourless, tasteless liquid.
What happened at the fundraiser is the symptom of a larger problem of date rape and drink spiking in Revelstoke. Incidents involving GHB likely sees an increase in Revelstoke every early winter season.
“Since we mostly hear about incidents through the rumour mill, we can’t really say,” says Grabinsky. “Truthfully we see it year round.”
Bar owners and employees; however, do see a spike in drink tampering issues coinciding with the start on the winter season.
“I’m not personally out in the evening,” says Steve*, owner of a local bar. “In fact, my staff rarely see it first hand either. But we hear about it, mostly in October and November, when there is an influx of people in town.”
Tina*, a manager of a local pub, agrees. “At our bar, I personally haven’t seen many incidents of it, but I’ve heard about it more this past November and December than ever before.”
Victim Services Manager Stephanie Melnyk agrees that the number of drink tampering incidents has increased. “Confidentiality is my priority so I can’t speak to the numbers of drink spikings that I am supporting. That said, I can say there have been a number of them in the last two months.”
The reason employees rarely see the incident is because being drugged is often mistaken for being drunk, and victims frequently leave the premise.
Unfortunately, until the importance of consent is better respected, women will always have to take precautionary measures. “The problem is the offenders and what they are doing. But until people stop drink tampering, please do what you can to keep safe and protect yourself; travel in groups and watch your drink,” says Grabinsky.
Grabinsky hopes the Revelstoke Sexual Assault Response Assessment, currently being worked on and championed by the women’s shelter, can be used to both stem the growth of sexual assaults in town and ensure victims are supported.
“We really just want to get the message out to be cautious when going out,” says Grabinsky. He is adamant about the RCMP detachment concern for the wellbeing of any alleged victim. “There is no blaming victims, ever. It does not matter how you were dressed, how much you drank, or how you behaved prior to the assault,” he says.
“I want to highlight the impacts on those around the person who was drugged as well,” says Melnyk. “The drugged person often wakes up the next day with no recollection of the event, but the friends or family who were there can be seriously impacted by the scare.”
The people who have come forward this year have been exclusively female.
Steve finds the whole affair horrendous. “I just don’t understand it,” he says. “Why anyone would think they have a right to do that to another person. Drink tampering is about assault and I’ve never heard of it happening to a man. This is an issue of some creep men in town targeting women.”
Tina offers a slightly different perspective.
“GHB is the new drug everyone is taking recreationally, including men, before they go out,” Tina says. “It makes them feel drunk faster, so it makes it a cheaper night out. I’ve noticed a major influx of it in the past year, I think because people are worried about fentanyl and they feel like this is safer. The drink tampering to assault happens to women, but GHB is being taken by plenty of people by their own choice.”
Grabinsky notes that GHB can clear the system within eight hours, so if there is drink tampering suspected, going to the hospital for blood work immediately is very important. Grabinsky stresses that the RCMP doors are always open, if it was a day or a year after the fact. “Even if we can’t pursue what happened, we can offer support and Victim Services, and we can use the information shared to help stop this from happening to someone else,” he says.
“For anyone who is interested in reaching out for supports, Victim Services can be a safe place to find information and referrals,” says Melnyk. “I can also outline the options for making a police report, but there is no obligation to report.”
Steve does what he can to ensure his patrons’ safety. His servers follow a strict drink disposal rule. Any unattended drink is discarded. “If someone comes and complains their drink was tossed while they went to the bathroom or whatever we get them a new one.” Any suspected issues result in a police phone call. Steve has been researching into modern technologies that could help reduce any incidents and is hopeful there is, or will be, something useful in the Canadian market soon.
“Staff education is a big one,” says Steve, who is paying to have a professional company, Good Night Out, come to speak to his staff. He has made attendance mandatory and invited every other bar/distillery owner and employee to attend. The event will be held December 15 from either 10:30 am – 12:30 pm or 1:30 – 3:30 pm and covers several topics aimed at reducing harm in the service industry. Grabinsky is sending four officers to attend. Steve has yet to hear back from anyone else outside of his staff.
It’s important to note that Steve’s experiences are not unique. There is not a bar in Revelstoke that is immune.
Tina comments that it is difficult to tell if anyone is under the influence of GHB, but like at Steve’s bar, servers will discard abandoned drinks. “If someone comes to the bar worried that their, or their friends drinks were tampered with, we will have the cab come and pick them up from inside while they wait with staff,” she says.
Tina also believes people are not above drink tampering both genders just for the reaction. “I feel like people will mess with drinks not necessarily because they want to rape someone, but because they want to see what happens and see what they can get away with. Like it’s a prank.”
This tracks historically in Revelstoke, as men have come forward before. Why someone thinks drugging another person, in effect risking their physical wellbeing, is a fantastic prank, seems absurd. Sadly, it is likely also true in some cases.
“The only real solution that I can think of, other than a few despicable men not going out to assault women, is for the community to band together,” says Steve. “If you see someone who might be really drunk or might be drugged, let the staff know so we can get them home safe. If you see someone acting suspiciously around drinks or suddenly accompanying women, stop them. We need to rise up together to show predators that we are not okay with their behaviour. That we simply won’t tolerate it.”
*Names have been changed for confidentiality reasons.