Close your eyes and imagine this scenario for a minute. You decide you want to go out for some alcoholic drinks at your favorite or new local establishment. Now you are approached by an individual who has asked you for sexual favors and you deny them saying “no.” You are what you consider to be heavily intoxicated, and that individual takes advantage of you either by coercion (talking you into it even though you already said no) or by force (threat of force or physical force). You are too intoxicated to fight off the perpetrator, or your body does its more than normal response of freezing (you don’t know why you can’t fight them off).

This scenario hit close to home for one female individual in Minneapolis in May of 2017. After her sexual assault and reporting to law enforcement, officers decided it may fall under the criminal sexual misconduct in the third-degree, adding in mental incapacitation due to intoxication levels.

The offender was convicted of criminal sexual misconduct; however, through the appeals process he was found not guilty because the judge didn’t give information regarding mental incapacitation laws as they stand at that time. The case eventually reached the Minnesota State Supreme Courts in 2019 which backed the decision. Because the victim got intoxicated by herself, she was not deemed mentally incapacitated by coercion or force.

Alcohol plays a role in approximately of 50 percent of all sexual assaults across the U.S., yet victims are most often blamed because they chose to utilize their freedom to consume alcoholic beverages. Alcohol does not cause sexual assault! Then perpetrators utilize the environment that individuals are in and take advantage of them (power imbalance). When you add in prescription drugs (prescribed or not) symptoms of intoxication are multiplied making it even harder for a person fight, run away, and increase chances of freezing during an assault.

Thankfully, on Sept. 15, the loophole around mental incapacitation and sexual assault has been closed. The legislation change is hidden in the Public Safety bill recently passed by Minnesota House and Senate. This means victims who are intoxicated during their sexual assault are no longer at fault if they had those drinks without force or coercion by the perpetrator. This legislation also breaks down a barrier to reporting because victims knew if they voluntarily drank alcohol the assault would be blamed on their choices.

So, close your eyes again and imagine this scenario. Imagine you are at a local establishment and had only one drink (and your bill reflects that). Yet, you wake up the next morning in a strange place or even your own bed. You notice your clothes are off, a condom wrapper on the nightstand, and you can’t remember anything. You feel as if you are extremely hung over yet you know you only had one drink. Drug-facilitated sexual assault is also another avenue used by perpetrators of sexual violence. Date rape drugs, often called “roofies,” affect the brain’s central nervous system temporarily disabling most bodily functions. “Roofies” don’t stay in the bloodstream for long (48 hours or less) so it can easily be missed when going to the clinic or hospital days later.

What can be done to help reduce the changes for drug facilitated sexual assault? First step is education of public that, yes, this still happens. Second, as annoying as it  is, watch your drink and keep it with you at all times, if possible. If you cannot keep your drink with you ask a server, bartender or others with you to watch your drink. There is also a trick of putting a coaster or napkin over your drink, but again if no one is watching that drink, it’s easy tamper with those items.

Finally, there is a program in the Bemidji area called Safe Bars. This program is intervention-based to help those working in the liquor serving establishments identify, respond, and intervene is situations where sexual assault/harassment most commonly occurs. Your local Safe Bars are Slim’s Bar & Grill, Keg N’ Cork, Hard Time Saloon, and Fozzies Smokin Bar-BQ. Want to learn more about Safe Bars? Reach out to Kori Nelson at k.nelson@supportwithinreach.org

Kori Nelson is the Development and Outreach coordinator for the Support Within Reach Sexual Violence Resource Center.

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