Multiple people say they have been drugged in Seattle bars this summer. Yet, despite the accounts spreading on social media, police told The Stranger earlier this month that they had not received an uptick in formal drugging reports.
That may be because people who believe they’ve been drugged do not go to the police for fear that they won't be taken seriously, or they believe that police won't be able to do anything about the crime. (Most of the people I interviewed several weeks ago didn't report to police for similar reasons.) But now it appears that the Seattle Police Department is trying to send the message that it does take the problem seriously. And in the meantime, bar owners are trying to figure out what they can do without waiting for the police to intervene.
In a Monday interview, Seattle police spokesperson Sergeant Sean Whitcomb said he believed that drugging in bars "is definitely a problem." Two weeks ago, Whitcomb attended a meeting with the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, law enforcement, and bar owners to discuss increased reports on social media about people getting drugged. "Everyone is pretty vigilant and pretty aware that, hey, this is something that does happen and we need to guard against it," Whitcomb said.
"We all need to take this seriously," Sierra Hansen, executive director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, told The Stranger. "We're just going to really work over the next several months, with a unified nightlife effort, to keep our businesses safe for our patrons."
To address the gap in reporting to police, Hansen said that the Chamber and bar owners are considering setting up a reporting system outside the police department. In the meantime, she's asking that people with reports of being drugged e-mail her directly.
"It's not an official police report, but it's some way we can start to track where is this happening," Hansen said. "If there are hotspot areas, capturing as much information as possible right now is really important. The second thing is that I think there needs to be a very robust education campaign for staff, owners, and patrons of bars that will keep them safe, keep their business safe, but will also deter people who may have nefarious reasons for being in the bars, too."
Some bars, like Bar Sue and Chop Suey, told The Stranger that they had ordered test strips that can analyze a drink for the presence of GHB or Ketamine. But research on drug-facilitated sexual assault shows that attackers can use a number of other chemical compounds—some available over the counter—to incapacitate their victims.
Drugging a person's drink is considered a second degree assault in Washington State, but if prosecutors are able to prove that the perpetrator had a "sexual motivation"—as in, a motive to sexually assault the person who was drugged—the crime is considered a class A felony, Whitcomb said. The maximum penalty is life in prison, a $50,000 fine, or both.
"We're not just talking about something that is just mischief or a prank," Whitcomb said. "These are very serious crimes against other human beings. We had a conversation about it here at SPD, and the last thing we want it to be about is, 'You didn't look after your drink.' This is about people going after other human beings trying to live their life."
Whitcomb added that if perpetrators are caught drugging, or having drugged, another person in a bar, "the full weight of the law will be against you."
Still, capturing evidence in a timely way remains a challenge for the police department. Sometimes the drugs predators slip in drinks pass through a person's system within hours. Whitcomb said that nursing staff specializing in sexual assault kits—and blood screening tests, which are not standard for sexual assault kit testing—can gather that kind of evidence at Harborview, Swedish Medical Center, and University Hospital.
If you think you've been drugged, call 911 or go to Harborview, the main hospital that handles blood screenings for drug-facilitated sexual assault.