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The Daily Tar Heel

Two years later: grappling with drug-facilitated sexual assault at UNC


DTH Photo Illustration. DFSAs, or drug-facilitated sexual assaults, reportedly make up about 75% of all occurrences of sexual assault. 

Content warning: This article contains graphic depictions of drug-facilitated sexual assault. 





He asked her if she wanted a drink before they left the cocktail for the evening, and she said yes. She said she waited almost 20 minutes before he returned, drink in hand. It was her second drink of the night and she felt completely normal. But taking a sip is the last thing Sydney said she can recall before waking up in a dormitory that wasn’t hers, without her dress on. 

Sydney, like all victims in this article, has been given a pseudonym to ensure her safety and privacy.  

It wasn’t until she looked in the mirror and saw her neck bruised and scratched that she understood why her body felt so sore and weak. It wasn’t until three days later, when the tampon she inserted before the cocktail finally came out, when Sydney understood the full extent of the assault. 

And it wasn’t until two years after this event that Sydney learned what it’s called when a UNC first-year goes to a cocktail and experiences a drug-facilitated sexual assault: a knocktail. 

Sydney did not report her drug-facilitated sexual assault, or DFSA, to the police, like 80 percent of female college-aged individuals who have been sexually assaulted. The fear of not being believed or understanding the legal process prevents victims from filing criminal reports. 

She did, however, report the assault to the University. Those who still want a record of their assault or someone to talk to can file a report with the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office. Administrators within the office are limited by how they can act when claims are made by victims who do not want to pursue an investigation. Finding the balance between fulfilling a victim's wishes and maintaining campus safety highlights the complex nature of Universities investigating sexual assault allegations.

Two years later

In February of 2019, the report detailing this alleged incident was submitted to the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office. The EOC oversees and addresses non-discriminatory policies like Title IX, which prohibits sexual-based violence. Although the alleged incident took place in October 2017, Sydney said she could not bring herself to submit the report until years later.

The report alleges the fraternity is the Psi Chapter of Sigma Nu.

“That was the last time I ever went to a fraternity,” Sydney said. “I even saw him a few months after it happened, and he acted like he didn’t know me. He came over and tried to introduce himself to me.”

The Psi Chapter of Sigma Nu declined an interview with The Daily Tar Heel and referred the request to their nationals organization. The Sigma Nu Nationals Organization also declined an interview but provided a statement on Friday, Sept. 27 saying they had "no information regarding the subject matter" of The Daily Tar Heel’s inquiry.

“I didn’t include his name, but I did include his fraternity when I filed a report through the University just so there would be a record,” she said. “I don’t know what I said or what I did when I was incoherent, and if I reported to police, I didn’t want him to come back and say that I said yes.”

Sydney’s report is called a blind report, where the individual asks the report not be investigated. However, the individual can change their mind at a later time. UNC, Chapel Hill and Carrboro police departments all accept blind reports. 

Sydney’s belief that she was unknowingly given a controlled substance resonates with four women The Daily Tar Heel spoke to who identified specific fraternities on campus where they believed an individual had altered their drink. In North Carolina, a bill that would have explicitly criminalized this act — knowingly altering another individual’s drink, which could be harmful to their health — has not been passed. 

The University response

Another EOC report obtained by The Daily Tar Heel alleged that on April 16, 2019, a UNC first-year, Jessica, attended a party at a fraternity. She alleged she was given a drink by a man who claimed to know some members of the fraternity, despite not being a member. 

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The University redacted the name of the alleged perpetrator and fraternity in the report because of its “commitment to protecting student privacy consistent with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.”

The Daily Tar Heel also requested comment from the fraternity Jessica identified, whose chapter president said they were unaware of any incident involving attempted sexual assault by a guest or a fraternity member last spring. They also said they would work with local authorities in any investigation into the matter.

Jessica, now a sophomore at UNC, said that when she accepted and consumed the drink from the alleged perpetrator, she began to feel strange. The Drug Enforcement Administration lists this symptom, along with substantial memory loss like Sydney’s, as one of many signs of being drugged. 

“I had only taken a few sips, and then he leaned in and started making out with me, but I pushed him off, and said I didn’t want it,” Jessica said. “Thankfully, some guys walked by the open door, and I used it as an excuse to leave.”

The next 12 hours included vomiting, passing in and out of consciousness and a visit to Campus Health Services.

 After filing a report with the University, Jessica tried to move on. 

As outlined in the University’s Sexual Assault Programs and Response Procedures outlined in the 2019 Annual Security Report, response procedures present a balance between honoring the wishes of the reporting individual and “recognizing that the University must move forward with cases in which there appears to be a threat to any individual or the University as a whole.” The victim’s requests — asking not to report or that their identity not be shared with the accused party — are also followed at the discretion of the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office. 

UNC's Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life declined to answer questions about disciplinary actions taken against fraternities in the event of a drug-facilitated sexual assault. Instead, they referred The Daily Tar Heel to the University's media relations department, which provided a statement identical to one given by the Title IX Office. 

Police encourage reporting

While law enforcement offers a different avenue for victims to pursue action, Jessica, Sydney and the three other women The Daily Tar Heel interviewed said they did not feel they had the ability to go to the police, whether it was due to a lack of time, energy or proof.

Investigator Kevin Kuhn of Chapel Hill Police said he hopes victims will still come to the police in these situations. Kuhn is the head of Alcohol Law Enforcement and Be A Responsible Server programs, and is working with Student Wellness on implementing Raise the Bar, an outreach program to local bars on bystander intervention in potential cases of DFSA. 

“If someone is underage and has been drinking, they are not going to get in trouble for reporting a sexual assault,” Kuhn said. “They are not going to be charged with anything. I don’t care if there’s cocaine found in their system or other narcotics involved.”

Kuhn suggested tactics for preserving evidence if an individual believes something may have occurred while they were incapacitated: do not take a shower, do not wash your clothes and go to the hospital for an examination. However, he also said that if this evidence is not preserved, it does not mean there is no case.

“The burden is not on (victims) to save absolutely every detail. We have our resources. We can go out and collect video and conduct interviews. That’s what the police are there for,” Kuhn said. “I encourage anyone who feels like this has occurred to report it, and don’t worry about feeling like the burden is on them to have it all neatly wrapped up and packaged to present to law enforcement.”

A word of caution

In the months and years since the women interviewed said they were drugged at fraternities, they have opened up to peers and first-years on campus, hoping their stories may encourage others to exercise caution and potentially prevent another incident.

On Sunday, Oct. 6, it was two years to the day when Sydney went to Sigma Nu for a cocktail. On Wednesday, Oct. 16, it will be six months to the day since Jessica went to a party at a fraternity recognized by the University. 

“No one will ever fully understand the experience of reliving trauma,” Jessica said. “If someone confides in you, believe them. It takes a lot to even say it out loud in the first place.”