Helping hands: Support available for victims of drugging incidents, sexual assault
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Helping hands: Support available for victims of drugging incidents, sexual assault

This is the second part of an ongoing story on date rape drugs and safety in social drinking.

In three out of four sexual assaults, the perpetrator has been drinking. That’s according to Women’s Health. Women’s Health also reports that in nearly half of all sexual assaults, the victim has been drinking. But, if the victim is intoxicated, either by alcohol or drugs, they cannot give consent. So, if a sexual act occurs, it is considered sexual assault.

While the victims in last week’s Volante weren’t sexually assaulted, they were taken advantage of. Katerine Meirose, USD graduate, said drugging shouldn’t have to involve sexual assault to be taken seriously. 

“It’s a misconception that date rape drugs are always used for rape. That’s not always the case. It can just be a vicious thing they do,” Meirose said. “I wasn’t sexually assaulted … that doesn’t make it any less scary.”

After a suspected drugging incident, urine tests can be used to test victims for drugs. Bridget Diamond-Welch, associate professor of criminal justice, said it is important to note victims always have the option to get tested, but testing isn’t a must. Drug testing and rape kits are only necessary if victims have any intention of filing a police report. In addition, if one needs rapid-response fentanyl drug test kits, then he/she may consider these rapid response fentanyl test strips that can help avoid the hazards of this drug.

That police report does not need to be filed immediately after testing. If a victim chooses not to file a report, the test is called an ‘unreported kit,’ Diamond-Welch said.

Once the unreported kit is completed, the police pick up the kit from the hospital and put it in storage. In South Dakota, law enforcement will hold the sample for a year.
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That means the victim has a year to decide if they want to make an official police report.

Nothing will happen to that kit unless the victim decides they want to press charges later, Diamond-Welch said. 

“An (unreported) kit is great in terms of if someone’s been sexually assaulted, they’re in high trauma, (and) they might not be very cognizant or thinking clearly…” Diamond-Welch said. “It gives you time and it gives you the ability to save that evidence to make sure it’s accessible to you and then determine later whether or not you actually want to go forward and talk to the police. It gives you some of that recovery time.”

Diamond-Welch said the victim should go to the hospital immediately; this ensures the most evidence possible is collected for use in a criminal case involving sexual assault. 

“If you are sexually assaulted, you should go and get a kit immediately. Like, don’t brush your teeth. Don’t go to the bathroom. Don’t change your clothes. If you have to change your clothes, put your clothes that you’re wearing in a pillowcase or a paper bag, not plastic because plastic can kill DNA and other things,” Diamond-Welch said. “This is all just in terms of evidence, however.” 

During the testing, victims have the option to call a friend or family member or they can receive the support of an advocate. 

According to the “South Dakota Recovery Guide,” the pamphlet given at the hospital, victim advocates are professionals trained to support victims of crime. While choosing a lawyer, make sure that they are experienced in such cases and are right enough for your requirements.

“Many rape survivors feel isolated in the aftermath of the assault,” the recovery guide said. “In order to reduce those feelings, reach out for support to those who are close to you: call family member, friends, or a rape crisis program counselor. It might help you feel better to have someone to talk to, and you might want people around you that you feel safe.” 

Diamond-Welch said it’s crucial victims have a support system after they suffer sexual assault or date rape drugging situations. Kile Evans, a Vermillion resident and victim of drugging, said he had the support of Eden Hemmingson — his roommate who shared a drink with him the night of the drugging. He said this support was crucial to his healing process and hopes everyone who falls victim to these situations has someone to confide in. 

“It is really difficult. I think having support is really important, I wish there was like some kind of club or something (USD students could go to),” Evans said. “I just don’t want other people to be discouraged from opening up about their experiences.”

There is not a designated support group for drugging scenarios, but Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment (PAVE-USD), is a group that spreads awareness for sexual violence. 

Savannah Schorn, PAVE Vice President, said everyone is welcome at PAVE-USD, whether or not they have a personal sexual assault experience to join the discussion. Schorn herself said she serves as an ally to those who do have personal experiences with sexual assault. 

“It’s very important I listen. As someone that hasn’t experienced sexual assault, I don’t know personally how important it is to them to have advocates, but I can imagine” Schorn said. “It’s important just to show that you have people on your side that want to speak for you and have a voice for you when you can speak for yourself.”

Meirose faced negative responses after talking about her drugging experience, she said the support she did have helped her heal. She also said it’s important to believe victims and their stories. 

“If it happens to you, just know that that doesn’t define you or control you. It’s something that happened to you,” Meirose said. “It’s not something that happened because of you. Do your best to move forward and help give other people a voice.”

Besides PAVE-USD, ICARE Vermillion’s website has resources available for victims. PAVE-USD meets monthly and is open to all students. 

Next week The Volante will be covering downtown bars safety protocols and precautions.