The Roofie Reality

CW: Discussion of being drugged.

Growing up and coming to college, I often heard about the dangers of going to parties and bars as a woman. There are unspoken rules about how to dress, how to act, when to drink, where to drink, how much to drink… the list goes on. There are a million things women are expected to manage in order to keep themselves safe. I followed each of them, every single rule I had heard over the last 18 years. So why did I find myself blamed for being roofied at a Tufts party?

It’s hard to recount every detail following that spiked drink. I went from lightly buzzed to numb in my arms and legs in 30 minutes with no reasonable explanation. I stepped outside for air, my friend holding me as I felt my body start to tingle and shake. I turned to her. Something is wrong. We left the party, making it about a block before I collapsed on the curb in a parking lot. I could barely move my feet, face, and hands, and I started to become extremely confused about who I was with and where I was. Eventually, I passed out, and my friend caught my head.

Weeks later, I read my Tufts University Police Department report, hoping it would help me patch together the events of the night. They describe me as “lying on the sidewalk with her eyes closed but was breathing and speaking. [She] was going in and out of consciousness and was unable to stand or get up on her own.” They mention the possibility of a roofie, noting that my friends “believed that [she] may have been drugged… they have been with [her] drinking before but have never observed her have this reaction to alcohol.” They didn’t mention my mental state, the way that I screamed at them to get away from me. The pure fear and vulnerability in my eyes. They watched Tufts Emergency Medical Services load me into the ambulance in one piece, but I think that in many ways I had been shattered into a million. The cautiously growing part of me that believed I could be safe despite everything I have experienced as a woman was gone.

Whatever hope that had not been uprooted by the actual roofie dissolved at the hospital. Lying semi-conscious in the emergency room with the lights off, the doctor came in, closing the curtains behind him. He didn’t care to think that I might be afraid; instead, he pulled up a chair right next to me, still in the dark. He questioned my certainty that I was not drunk, claiming that if he had consumed the same amount of alcohol as I had, he would be on the floor. However, as I reminded him, I would not be. I know my limits, and I could have had twice as much to drink and been completely fine. Finally, he said the words that crush me the most now:

“I’m not going to give you a drug test.”

I wish I had asked him why. He said something about the test taking two weeks to come back, about it not being useful. Useful to whom? It would have been useful to me. If he had asked me whether or not I wanted it, I would have said yes. But he didn’t ask and I was too drugged to insist. Finally, he discharged me, ordering me to get an Uber. The nurse led me to the small space between the door to the emergency room and the exit door. There were three chairs there. I sat down in the far one and wrapped the blanket they had given me around my shoulders. I was completely alone, clutching onto the discharge papers they had given me that said “consume alcohol in moderation.” I really thought that he would believe me, but he didn’t. He thought it was my fault.

The frustrating pattern of seeing this emergency as my mistake was echoed by the Tufts administration when they notified me that I needed to take part in their Amnesty Through Responsible Action policy. The first communication from Tufts explained that the policy is for “those who require medical intervention for their own use of alcohol or drugs.” They stated I needed to take part in the policy because I had a medical emergency “after consuming alcohol.” The following program consisted of a series of meetings with the administration and the on-campus substance abuse counseling group, the Haven at Tufts. Each time I completed a step, I was notified via an official PDF communication from the administration of which meeting was next and the date I must complete it by in order to not face disciplinary action for consuming drugs or alcohol. 

The language in the first email from the administration was extremely accusatory. My own use of alcohol or drugs? After consuming alcohol? Where is the mention of the roofie? Where is the language that doesn’t blame me, that views me as the victim of an event that intended to and succeeded in harming me? When I read the email while walking into my dorm room, I dropped everything on the ground and cried. I felt my roots of hope being torn away from me. I felt that the insistence to not believe me and the treatment of me as an object—someone lesser, someone who is weak—would never end. 

This is not just an issue at Tufts. At Northwestern University, several women were roofied at fraternity parties in mid-September. One wrote an op-ed about her experience at the hospital, where she was refused a drug test. This refusal is hindering her ability to pursue legal action against the men who drugged her. As she writes, “…evidence in the investigation against those who drugged me doesn’t exist. I wasn’t the only victim. The doctor’s negligence is an injustice to all of us.” Her description of her experience is eerily similar, as she recounts that she was “unceremoniously given my discharge papers and told to leave.” Her discharge papers also list alcohol intoxication as the reason for her admittance.

Why are doctors refusing to provide the treatment that their patients deserve? Is it because their patients are women who have consumed alcohol? It is disgusting that doctors refuse to believe women, and that it is ingrained in us to accept their diagnoses without question. Until I heard about the Northwestern incident and how it is a national issue, I had started to reconsider what I knew about myself and the events of that night. 

There is little we can do to change hospital environments besides filing complaints and speaking up for ourselves. However, we can make changes to the support systems on campus. The first communication from the administration to a student who requires the Amnesty Through Responsible Action policy is crucial. If TUPD notes that a student has possibly been drugged, the letter should not say “your own use of alcohol or drugs.” It is factually incorrect, and directly contradicts the evidence from the police report. Most importantly, this language reinforces the cycle of victim-blaming and leads the student to question their own understanding of the situation. Additionally, the first step of the Amnesty Through Responsible Action policy should be meeting with a therapist rather than someone from the administration. This would make the student feel heard and validated rather than just ordered around from meeting to meeting by official letters from the administration. It would also give the administration a face, and provide a resource for the student if they need counseling in the future. Lastly, a student who has been drugged should not be forced to participate in the final part of the policy’s program that addresses alcoholism and drug addiction. This painfully mirrors the discharge papers from the hospital that order less alcohol consumption, and once again questions the victim’s experience, making it their problem rather than the person who drugged them.

The Tufts Amnesty Through Responsible Action policy needs to be updated immediately. There is no excuse for the administration turning a blind eye to mentions of date rape drugs in the police report, yet highlighting my consumption of alcohol. I need to know that whoever the next girl is, she will not experience the same hopelessness I did.