Bars and restaurants throughout Carroll County will soon serve words of caution about date rape along with beverages.
Following the lead of a program established in Florida, land of the spring break drinking party, an advocacy group for rape victims is distributing tens of thousands of cocktail napkins imprinted with a message.
"Who Else is Watching Your Drink?" it says in red letters. "Watch out for date-rape drugs!"
"A beverage napkin is a different way to reach all kinds of people of all different ages," said Jo Ann Hare, executive director of the Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County. "This is a message we want to get into people's hands while they are drinking."
Anyone can tamper with an unattended drink, tainting it with rohypnol or GHB (the depressant gamma-hydroxybutyrate), so-called club drugs that leave the unwary victim confused, vulnerable and unconscious, Hare said.
"Combined with alcohol, these drugs are the perfect weapon and a good cover for the perpetrator," she said. "This is a sneaky crime that makes it almost impossible for the victim to remember what happened. They often wake up with unmistakable signs of sexual activity and, sometimes, serious side effects."
Prosecuting date rape is difficult, Hare said. Evidence is often gone by the time a victim goes to the police, and any memory of the crime, even of the perpetrator, is unclear, she said.
A national survey of college-age women conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that 27.5 percent of those surveyed suffered rape or attempted rape. Only 5 percent of those crimes were ever reported.
Statistics on date rape are harder to find, and it seems that no one really knows how common the crime is, Hare said. Carroll County has not experienced any reported incidents of date rape, but a handful of cases have occurred in neighboring counties, she said.
"This is really hard to pinpoint because people don't often put the pieces together right away," she said. "You have to be careful and savvy. Don't leave drinks unattended, and avoid communal drinking bowls."
The idea came from a program created by the health department in Florida, a state that sees an influx of college students on spring break. Hundreds of thousands of napkins were distributed throughout the state about two years ago.
"They gave us information and a sample," she said. "No one really knows how successful the Florida program is, but it is worth a try."
A focus group at McDaniel College helped Hare come up with the logo, which is a filled wineglass, and the wording on the napkins.
The napkin is folded nearly in half with a teaser "do not open" printed down its side. Human nature will win out, Hare said. Nearly everyone will ignore the "warning," unfold the napkin, and find a 24-hour hot line number and an e-mail address for the crisis service.
The students also gave her a list of places popular with students. The napkins are to start appearing next month at Stables and Sofia's in Westminster, Beck's in Sykesville, and other bars and restaurants in Carroll County.
The Carroll County Community Foundation and a state grant paid the $1,700 tab for paper and printing. Hare has 51,000 napkins that she is distributing to restaurants that are willing to use them throughout next month, which is National Rape Awareness Month. "Nobody has turned me down," Hare said.