Caution urged after cocktail spiked
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Sherry Mckay knew something was very wrong when she fell ill immediately after leaving an outdoor concert last week.
Mckay attended a show Friday at a downtown Winnipeg venue with her cousin, and had two drinks. She took every precaution to keep herself safe, including keeping her drink close, even when using the washroom.
That’s where a man appeared to pick up her cousin’s drink (a can) by accident, brushing past Mckay’s open cup in the process. Not thinking much of the encounter, they left, but she immediately felt ill after finishing her margarita and began to panic.
She took to a park bench to compose herself while her cousin went back to the washroom. When her cousin returned, Mckay said she was barely conscious — and the man who had been in the washroom earlier was hovering over her before her cousin intervened.
“I could barely talk. And I couldn’t move, I couldn’t move my arms and I couldn’t even open my eyes,” Mckay, 40, told the Free Press on Thursday.
“I could barely talk. And I couldn’t move, I couldn’t move my arms and I couldn’t even open my eyes.”–Sherry Mckay
Mckay said she had been drugged once before, years ago, and realized the feeling was the same.
Her cousin took her home, where she eventually recovered, but the incident has weighed on Mckay since. She and her cousin were scared and didn’t seek medical attention, something she now regrets.
She also decided initially not to go to the police.
“And (as an) Indigenous woman, I honestly didn’t want to hear, ‘Well, what were you doing there? Why did you leave your drink alone?’ I didn’t want to be questioned like that.”
The Winnipeg Police Service did not make anyone from its sex crimes unit available for an interview Thursday.
Mckay admits she felt a misplaced sense of guilt afterward, but later realized she wanted to speak out about the experience.
She has a large platform to do so. Mckay, who describes herself as an Indigenous content creator, has a massive following of more than a half-million on TikTok. A video sharing her experience published Wednesday was viewed more than 46,000 times, liked more than 6,800 times and received hundreds of comments in less than a day — many saying she was not alone.
“I have a daughter who’s… going to be 18, and I know that she’s going to go out with some friends. So I thought it was really important to kind of bring it up,” Mckay said. “And by bringing it up, I honestly didn’t realize how many people were have experienced the same thing with a not-so-great outcome.
“I just felt like I needed to use my platform to bring up a larger discussion.”
”I would say most people who we’ve dealt with in this situation don’t want to go to the police, because they don’t think they’re going to be believed.”–Nicole Hawkins
After sharing her experience publicly, she informed police of the incident on Thursday.
It’s a situation Nicole Hawkins, a counsellor at Brandon’s Women’s Resource Centre, said staff have seen multiple times. Hawkins recalled an incident where an Indigenous woman had been drugged at a party and woke up in hospital in handcuffs.
“I would say most people who we’ve dealt with in this situation don’t want to go to the police, because they don’t think they’re going to be believed. They don’t think they’re going to be taken seriously,” she said. “And they don’t want to go get medical care, because they just get looked at differently. And that’s a system that I think we’re all trying to change, but it’s not an easy thing to do.”
Sedatives rohypnol (commonly called roofies) and gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) are among the common “date rape” drugs. Both are illegal in Canada, and are difficult to detect as they are tasteless, colourless and odourless. They’re also fast-acting, and often impossible to detect in the bloodstream after 72 hours. Symptoms can include confusion, loss of muscle control and possible blackouts.
(Alcohol used with the intention of getting someone too drunk to consent is considered the most common date rape drug.)
If you think you may have been drugged, Hawkins said, getting to a hospital fast is first priority: they will be able to confirm it and offer medical attention.
Such incidents can happen even when people are being as safe as Mckay was, Hawkins said. Her advice: remain vigilant and trust your instincts.
“You need to be very cautious of who’s around you and your surroundings,” she said. “If something feels out of place, you have a weird gut feeling about a situation or about somebody, that gut feeling’s there for a reason.”
”Had I been alone, not had someone there to protect me and help me, I don’t know what would have happened, and for me that’s super scary.”–Sherry Mckay
Mckay said she still feels some lingering anxiety.
“For me, now, I know how it can happen, it can happen so fast. And had I been alone, not had someone there to protect me and help me, I don’t know what would have happened, and for me that’s super scary,” she said.
Shared Health’s sexual assault nurse examiner program has recorded 25 cases of suspected drug facilitation from April to August of this year.
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.