She kept screaming ‘don’t touch me, don’t touch me’

By Sophie Baldwin

AN INNOCENT night out with friends in April has left Brenda* almost certainly raped and her life in ruins after her drink was spiked at a local hotel.

There is no question she was sexually assaulted although her whole night is a blur.

But experienced trauma staff at the hospital where she was examined told her they were sure she had been raped.

She is just one woman who has come forward with her story but even police agree she would not be the only one.

Campaspe police region Inspector Geoff Owen told the Riverine Herald spiking a drink is a criminal offence usually associated as a Melbourne metropolitan issue.

However he conceded ‘‘regional and rural areas are not immune from incidents occurring’’and that this case was ‘‘reflecting of incidents of drink spiking that have occurred across Victoria, and it is usually younger adult females who are the targets’’.

‘‘It is a serious issue as the intent of the perpetrator if often sexual in nature,’’ Insp. Owen said.

‘‘A victim of drink spiking loses the ability to make informed and conscious decisions and may act out against their usual personality, putting themselves at risk (see boxed story).’’

In recent incidents some who are believed to have been spiked have escaped whatever was to come next but Brenda was still seriously struggling as she tried to come to grips with the fact she was most likely raped as well.

Brenda has no memory of what occurred but the bruises on her arms, inner thighs and scratches to the side of her face are consistent with being held down and tell their own horrific story.

Her distressed state and the fear in her eyes when her friends finally found her left no doubt in their minds their friend had been viciously assaulted while drugged and helpless.

Poor quality security footage at the venue and other cameras in which she appeared and in which a man was shortly after seen taking the same route have made identification impossible.

Leaving Brenda with questions unlikely to ever be answered – and fears unlikely to ever be resolved.

She has not been able to work since the attack and rarely leaves the ‘safety’ of her home.

Brenda’s friend and Echuca resident Linda Dwyer is speaking on her behalf to warn other women .

“My friend is a mother to two beautiful kids. She was dressed in jeans and a jacket and just out having a good time with her friends.

“She’s not 18, she wasn’t dressed provocatively – she is just a normal 33-year-old woman and if this could happen to her, it can happen to anyone,” Linda warned.

“Call me naïve but I had no idea something like this could even happen to people like us, when all we wanted to do was have a few drinks and a good night out together.”

Linda said they last saw Brenda she was dancing around 11.45am on a recent Saturday.

“We walked the venue twice but couldn’t find her. By 1am we were starting to get really worried and then around 1.15 we received a message saying she didn’t know where she was and we needed to find her.”

Linda said they eventually found her in front of Target.

“She was screaming her head off, it was really frightening.

“She just kept screaming ‘don’t touch me, don’t touch me’.

“The look in her eyes was horrendous – they were full of absolute fear and she had no idea who we were.”

Linda said somehow in her panic and her friend’s terror she knew to contact the police and shortly after a couple of officers arrived.

She said they managed to calm Brenda down and take her to the station, but it still took her another couple of hours before she was able to again recognise her friends.

Echuca police confirmed she had been drugged and the Sexual Crimes Unit from Bendigo was called in.

A statement was taken and at 6.30am Brenda was transferred to Bendigo Hospital for an examination.

“And that is the last we have heard. Echuca police were fantastic but she hasn’t heard anything from Bendigo at all,” Linda said.

It is very hard to prove a case of sexual assault without the presence of DNA but the lady who examined Brenda believed she had been raped.

Brenda decided to view the footage from the venue to see if it could help reconstruct what happened that night and to her horror and Linda’s, the footage was useless.

“The footage was blurry and it all showed was Brenda exiting to the left. Shortly after that a man left the venue and turned left as well, but the poor quality of the footage meant he couldn’t be identified.”

Other cameras also proved useless because they were dirty and covered in cobwebs.

Linda is now outraged by the lack of security footage they have been able to obtain.

“I now feel very unsafe in Echuca and I don’t want to go out anymore. I felt sick and cried for days. I also feel guilty because this has happened to my friend in my hometown.”

Linda has spoken to the publican of the venue and he told her on that particular night there was a glitch in the system that affected the cameras.

She has since been contacted by another female who had her drink spiked at the same venue earlier this year and she had the same problem.

“She was unable to obtain any footage either.

“My girls go out in Echuca and I feel sick with worry thinking this could happen to them.”

Linda believes something needs to be done to address this issue.

“Brenda doesn’t appear to be an isolated case so what is the point of having cameras inside and out if the footage is blurry or you can’t see anything because they are not maintained and they are filthy?

“I just want to create some awareness and make sure the women of this town are safe.

“After all we have a right to go out and enjoy ourselves without having to fear something like this can happen and the person can just get away with it – and do it again.’’

*Brenda’s name has been changed to protect her identity.