Editor’s note: Park officials said Saturday that Acadia plans to stay open through Sunday, Oct. 1 if the federal government shuts down.

If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 800-871-7741.

Earlier this month, two women suspected that they were drugged at the same place while out in Portland’s Old Port. Portland Police announced the alleged incidents in a press release last week, which included tips on being aware of these types of drugging incidents and how to try to avoid them.

We’re all for caution and increased awareness. However, with this press release, and with issues involving sexual violence or attempted sexual violence, the continued focus on caution and awareness feels imbalanced.

The police press release, and often society in general, put too much emphasis on victim behavior rather than the actions of the alleged perpetrators. The unfortunate trend of “victim blaming” can deflect attention, and resources, away from those who may commit crimes, and needs to change.

“I think I kind of have the mindset that you can never be too careful,” bartender Ashley Sanborn told the Portland Press Herald. “But also it sucks that women in particular have to especially be on guard all the time.”

That’s how we felt when we received the press release from Portland police, and it’s why we reached out to the department with questions about the release and about its overall approach to these incidents.

We heard back quickly, from interim chief of police Robert Martin. He apologized and emphasized that the intent with the press release was to raise awareness, not victim blame, and said current feedback would inform future releases about incidents such as this so that details about potential crimes and penalties would also be included.

“We’re not victim blaming, and not focusing on the one bar, because this can happen anywhere. This can happen in a restaurant, it can happen in a bar, any place that you leave a beverage or something that you would consume open to other people. So instead of focusing all the attention on the one bar, it was an overall, ‘Be aware of these things, be aware of your surroundings,’” Martin said in a phone interview.  

Enforcement in these cases is typically reactionary rather than proactive, Martin explained. A police unit has historically focused in part on bar-related activities in the city such as overserving and this kind of predatory behavior. “But because of manpower, that unit is very small right now,” Martin said.

“We actively investigate it. If we can locate the person responsible, we’ll prosecute them to every extent of the law,” Martin stressed. “In most cases, these are felonies that are crimes against person felonies, and they’re treated very seriously by the courts too. So if we can identify somebody, it will be a significant criminal charge and potentially prison for the person who is responsible.”

On the proactive side, Martin said members of the department meet with establishments and their staff to identify potential issues, talk about expectations, discuss staff training and security protocols. Such a meeting happened earlier this summer, and these conversations are currently voluntary. While Martin said businesses are “all very eager to meet with us and work with us,” we have a suggestion: make it mandatory. Condition licenses on the businesses being part of this important proactive discussion.

While Martin said these drugging incidents are infrequent, he also said that when something like this is in the news, police sometimes hear from more people who suspect they might have been drugged too, sometimes months after it occurred. This indicates that druggings and attempted druggings might be underreported and more frequent than authorities realize. That is all the more reason to increase focus on the perpetrators.

The conversation — particularly from authorities — needs to be more than just making sure that people are aware of the possibility of perpetrators trying to drug other people. There also needs to be emphasis that if people do this, they are committing a serious crime and should face serious consequences. In press releases and in society, we need to think of these actions as both outrageous and preventable, not inevitable.

This goes far beyond a single press release, to be sure. But the framing of this conversation is critical, and it often starts when authorities put out information like this and then members of the media amplify it.

“I do apologize. I reviewed the press release before it went out,” Martin told us. “My goal was that we alert people, and I’ll definitely take a note of it, and like I said, in the future we’ll try to incorporate a line in there to identify that we don’t condone this kind of conduct and that there are penalties, absolutely.”

That would be one piece in a much needed reframing of how the public thinks and talks about these despicable incidents.

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...