OPINION: Students deserve clearer information on drink tampering

Sydney Loew | Daily Trojan

On Nov. 1, Vice President for Student Affairs Ainsley Carry sent out a memorandum via email to all USC students titled “Community Safety Advisory — Nonconsensual Drugging is a Crime.” In the email, Carry communicated his concern for the safety of USC students, especially at parties. He said that many students came to him expressing anxiety about their drinks being spiked with sedative drugs.

This memo may have come as a shock for some; however, it is crucial for students to be aware of the pervasiveness of drink tampering on college campuses, especially considering the size of USC and its “party school” reputation. While addressing the issue was commendable, Carry’s memo failed to adequately convey the significance of the issue by failing to mention the risk of incarceration for perpetrator sand, more importantly, possibility of injury or death for victims.

In the memo, Carry described a moving encounter with a student and touched on the illegality of spiking fellow students’ drinks nonconsensually by noting that this act is punishable by University and federal laws. The email said that students found guilty of spiking drinks with sedative drugs can face expulsion, and encouraged victims to report any incidents to the Department of Public Safety or the Office of Professionalism and Ethics.

However, the brunt of the email is a Community Safety Advisory, which lists six preventative actions that students can take at parties to avoid consuming spiked drinks: not leaving drinks unattended, opening one’s own beverages, not sharing drinks with other people, being on alert for signs of drink tampering, paying attention to the taste of drinks and seeking immediate medical attention in the event of a drugging or possible drugging.

A study published in the American Psychological Association found that out of the 6,064 students surveyed, 462 students — or 7.8 percent — reported 539 drugging incidents. Some students had even experienced drugging more than once.

Additionally, the survey found that 83 students — 1.4 percent — had confessed to either drugging someone or having knowledge of someone drugging another person. Interestingly, the study found that some of these students said their motive was not malicious. Some claimed they spiked their friends’ drinks as pranks, to calm them down or keep the party going. These prank druggings are outliers, however. The more common motive of spiking a drink is to inhibit another person as a means to commit sexual assault.

While only a small minority of students spike the drinks of others “for fun,” it’s important to note the serious threat it poses to both the perpetrator and the victim. Alcohol alone can kill, if consumed irresponsibly, and adding sedatives only increases the likelihood of serious injury or death.

From a legal standpoint, spiking someone else’s drink can result in an attempted manslaughter charge, no matter the motive. Ketamine, benzodiazepines (like Xanax, Ativan or Valium), gamma-hydroxybutyrate (commonly referred to as GHB) and rohypnol — the most common drugs used to spike drinks — can be fatal when consumed without medical supervision, especially when consumed with alcohol.

It is also important to note that these drugs rarely have an identifiable taste or color, making it nearly impossible to know if a drink has been spiked without a drug test. Regardless of the motive, students who have spiked drinks or thought about doing so must understand the harsh, but extremely dire, reality of their actions.

While Carry’s email regarding his concern about the spiked drinks and the safety of USC students was apt and well-intentioned, it failed to stress just how grave the consequences are for those who commit such crimes and that these actions can be fatal to victims.

Similarly, the title of the email, “Nonconsensual Drugging is a Crime,” is misleading and trivializes the severity of the issue. Not only is the action of spiking someone’s drink criminal and   amoral, but it can do potential ruin both the life of the perpetrator and the victim to the gravest degree.

Though the email was a decent start to an honest conversation about the issue, USC must provide more practical, actionable information. More importantly, it must step up to actively prevent such crimes, rather than merely raising awareness.