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SC self-defense instructor creates new partnership after hearing hundreds of students were unknowingly drugged

Published: Aug. 19, 2021 at 8:29 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 19, 2021 at 10:15 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - With college students back on campus and hanging out with their friends, experts want everyone to keep up their guard against unknowingly being drugged, especially when in entertainment districts.

A self-defense instructor who works with students at the University of South Carolina says it’s happened to hundreds of the people she’s taught.

“I was hearing so many of the girls talk about drug-facilitated crimes, being drugged and waking up, not remembering where they were. Their friends were having similar experiences,” said nonprofit leader and University of South Carolina adjunct professor Shannon Henry.

Henry sent her students an anonymous survey last school year and heard from 300 students, majority women and some men, who say they are victims of a drug-facilitated crime within the same 90-day period.

She says some told her they woke up in unfamiliar places likes a stranger’s car, on the side of the road, alongside a river, and sometimes were bruised or concussed with no memory of what happened.

The Columbia Police Department says they’ve gotten 12 reports of people being unknowingly drugged in the past three years, but say they know these types of crimes often go unreported.

“The victims are not coming forward,” Henry said. “They know that’s not how they normally feel after a couple of drinks, but they can’t prove in that moment that anyone drugged their drink, so there are all of those factors playing into doubt. On top of that, there’s also a big part of you when something like this happens that doesn’t want to know.”

To give victims an efficient system to report what happened to them and to make sure officials can detect trends of drug-facilitated crimes, Henry started calling the people with the power to find and stop these crimes from happening.

She contacted the Columbia Police Department, the Richland County Emergency Medical Services, the South Carolina Attorney General, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, and Prisma Health. Her goal was to create a partnership and regular flow of communications between all the different groups a victim could interact with if they choose to come forward.

They all agreed to help. She refers to this group as the “Justice League” for stopping these types of crimes.

For example, Prisma Health is now able to collect a victims’ blood and urine samples more easily for SLED to analyze.

“We want [victims] to allow us to maintain that chain of custody and contact law enforcement on their behalf,” Prisma Health Baptist CEO Michael Bundy said. “And encourage them to discuss it with the law enforcement professionals at the emergency department.”

After analyzing the sample for compounds often used to drug people in these situations, SLED can then start to look for patterns in these incidents and try to catch the criminals.

“We want to make sure everyone is safe. When there is a report of consistent information, we want to see what we can do to help investigate that,” said SLED Captain of Alcohol and Vice Services Connie Sonnefeld.

Local agencies working as a part of this partnership are hopeful these strengthened relationships can make their communities safer.

“The sharing of information and collaboration with our partners help us identify the potential existence of unreported drug-facilitated crimes. By working together and educating the public, we reduce the chances of someone being impacted by these crimes while also catching and holding those criminals accountable,” Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook said.

Henry’s hope is knowing this only months-old partnership will encourage victims to come forward.

“[These] are the people I stare at weekly and love and adore. These are people’s kids and it’s important,” Henry said.

If someone is a victim of a drug-facilitated crime, Henry encourages them to go to the hospital as soon as possible because the drugs that can be used in this situation can leave the victim’s system quickly. She also has an anonymous form on her organization’s website that allows victims to anonymously report a crime.

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