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Editor's Notebook: Date rape drugs, an unspoken curse in our community

(Editor's note: SDGLN has exposed a very ugly secret in our community: intentional drugging of victims and male rape. On Thursday, SDGLN published a first-person account of a well-known gay man in San Diego who was drugged and raped sometime after being out celebrating at a nightclub in Hillcrest. We verified the source and his story. Because of the sensitive and personal nature of this incident, we granted his request to run his important first-person story without revealing his name. Additionally, SDGLN has heard circumstantial evidence of other cases involving gay men who have been drugged and raped by other men. SDGLN has requested an official response from the San Diego Police Department about whether these are rare incidents, evidence of a serial rapist, or indications of a serious problem affecting our community. If you have been drugged and raped, and want to talk about it anonymously, contact editor@sdgln.com. And today, SDGLN Editor and Chief Ken Williams, for the first time, publicly discloses his involuntary drugging and how it has impacted his life in the years that have passed.)


Very few people know this story, but today I bare my soul to share it with you.

I am inspired by the bravery and courage of a young gay man in San Diego who on Thursday told readers of San Diego Gay & Lesbian News: “I was drugged and raped.” His horrific story must be discussed in our community, and we must rally to protect each other from harm.

The young man’s painful story, which I edited this week, has unleashed a flood of bad memories that I had buried deep in the back of my brain and mostly have forgotten. Unfortunately, those horrible memories are now dominating my thoughts again, and distracting me from my everyday life. I know I need to get this off my chest.

The young man is so right when he says he has heard similar stories. SDGLN is gathering circumstantial evidence of other sexual crimes, and has sought a response from the San Diego Police Department about the severity of the problem. SDGLN is also aware of a number of victims of a predator prowling in the Uptown District who has lured men back to his home, where he videotaped sex encounters without their permission or knowledge and posted those videos online and earned money by charging per viewing.

My story is somewhat different and not nearly as horrific as the young gay man's, but no less frightening or dangerous. I wanted to put a human face on this type of crime. I also tell my story to you because I am twice the age of the young man who told his story. Druggings and rapes can happen to anybody -- young men, middle-aged men and our elderly -- and we must learn to protect each other from these predators.

The year was 2008. I worked nights and had off-days on Wednesdays and Sundays. This was months after my partner of nine years had broken up with me, and I was out on the single scene for the first time in a decade -- and it was a brave new world with which I was totally unfamiliar.

What little I remember

It was happy hour on a Wednesday at one of the most popular pubs in Hillcrest, and I had made it my goal that year to get out and meet people. Because I had been partnered for so many years, I didn’t know a lot of single people in San Diego, so this bustling happy hour scene was one place where I was starting to make a few new friends. My new bar buddy was a delightful young woman who I shall call Chrissy to protect her privacy.

Chrissy and I were chatting while sitting on stools at the patio bar. We were lost in conversation when we were interrupted by a young man who wanted to know if his smoking would bother us. The young man gradually wormed his way into our conversation, and it was clear that he was flirting with me, not Chrissy. To this day, I do not remember his name nor his face, other than that he was sort of scruffy-looking and was trying really hard to be mysterious yet appealing. And the one thing that has been burned into my memory is that he told us that he was “trouble” … and I now believe that to be true.

Eventually I left to go to the bathroom after placing a few napkins over my cocktail -- the first and only drink I had that day -- in the false belief that I was protecting myself. I now believe that the scruffy-looking dude put something in my drink while I was gone and while Chrissy was looking the other way.

The bathroom break would be the last thing that I would remember of the next 24 hours.

Almost a full day after visiting the bar, I woke up in bed alone and confused. I’ve never slept for more than nine hours in a row, even when I was very sick! So I went into a panic, and called in sick at work. I looked around the house to see if anything was stolen or amiss. Everything was in order. Then I worried that I might have been raped, because I had no memory of the past 24 hours or how I got home.

Desperate to find someone to calm me down, I called my ex on the phone because despite all that had happened between us, he was one of the few people I knew I could trust with this terrible secret. He rushed over to the house, and we plotted a course of action.

I did not call the police. I did not have any evidence of rape or theft, so I figured it would be a waste of time. I also worried about my employer finding out, and feared there was a “date rape drug” in my system that could cause me to be fired if I were subjected to random company drug testing. This had to be my secret, I thought.

What I immediately scheduled was a doctor’s appointment to get private testing. Did someone infect me with horrible diseases? Was my life going to be forever shattered? A million bad thoughts cross your mind, and the sense of helplessness overwhelms you. Trying to focus on work was one of the things that kept my mind together.

Days would pass, along with a constant stream of negative thinking, before all the test results came back. All clean! I burst into tears, but that hardly relieved all the agony that I was feeling.

“Date rape drugs” are ruthless and unforgiving. These drugs typically render the victim helpless and cause amnesia. Predators then take advantage of the victims, who may not even remember what happened to them, which makes prosecution extremely difficult because the victim cannot recall the crimes committed against them.

To this day, I do not believe that I was raped. I may be one of the “lucky” ones who got away. I think I may have left the bar because I somehow instinctively knew something was wrong. I just don’t have any memory, five years later.

Two events over the past decade have scarred me deeply: the attempted suicide of a partner and this terrible incident at a bar in Hillcrest. It has caused me to build walls around my heart and, worse, damaged my ability to trust. Furthermore, it has negatively impacted my dating life and, until maybe the past year, I don’t think that I seriously entertained the hope of falling in love again.

The Cleveland Clinic notes the harm of rape to its victims, and I believe they also apply to people who have experienced my circumstance:

Physical harm
• Broken bones, bruises, cuts, and other injuries from violent acts
• Injuries to the genitals and/or anus
• Being exposed to diseases that can be passed on during sex, including AIDS, herpes, gonorrhea and syphilis
• Unwanted pregnancy

Emotional harm

Even though the attack is not your fault, you may feel:

• Ashamed
• Embarrassed
• Guilty
• Worthless

You may also have these problems

• Fear
• Depression
• Anger
• Trust
• Attraction to men (if the attacker was a man)
• Consensual sex later in life (inability to enjoy sex without intrusive recollections of the abuse)
• Flashbacks (re-living the rape in your mind)
• Nightmares
• Falling and staying asleep

Help is available

I reached out to The Center for help, and counselors there are trained in these matters. If you have private insurance, you might be covered for counseling with a private therapist. And if you have no insurance or are uncomfortable going to The Center, the San Diego County Health System can help. No matter what, seek help!

Also, the Suicide and Rape 24-Hour Emergency Services National Hotline is a toll-free call to 800-333-4444.

Blessings and best wishes to the young gay man who shared his story with SDGLN and inspired me to confront my own demons.

If you are drugged or sexually assaulted, please report the incident to your local police and get yourself to the emergency room for treatment. After that, call The Center at 619-692-2077 for help where you can get immediate time with a counselor for further advice on how to deal with your situation.

Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at ken@sdgln.com, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.