The epidemic of drug-facilitated sexual assault: Spiking by drink and needle

Drink spiking is nothing new, it’s been around for some time.  Even when I was a teenager, many years ago, there was an attempt to spike me twice.  We are talking 1980s here.  The first time, I was seventeen. My best friend (I’ll call her Kim) and I left a bar, (in those days no one ever questioned your age) and an open-top sports car pulled along-side us. Two guys shouted “hello” and asked us to jump in. I replied, with a short “no”. However, Kim reassured me, that she knew them, and all was well. We hopped in and sped off, arriving at a seafront luxury apartment just a few minutes later. Once inside, I was immediately drawn to the floor to ceiling, sliding glass doors that opened to a huge balcony. I could hear the sound of drinks being poured behind me, but I was busy gazing out across the sea, watching the flickering lights dance upon the water, completely in awe of the stunning view. “How could such young men afford such an expensive penthouse apartment, I wondered?”

Tearing myself away from the mesmerising ocean, so as to not appear rude, I was met by the frantic eyes of Kim, her eyes darting from the table full of drinks, to me, and back again. Suddenly alarm bells were ringing out in my head and my heart pounding so fast, I could feel it in my throat. Kim whispered, if I could accompany her to the bathroom and I obliged willingly. Once there, she very quickly explained that she had seen from the corner of her eyes, a white power being added to our drinks. I gasped in horror and felt terrified. We were cornered like frightened rabbits and I began to tremble. We needed to get out and fast, but our bags and coats were still in the other room with our now captors, and scarily we did not know how much resistance we would come up against. We decided to walk calmly into the other room, grab our bags and coats and run. And run we did, not stopping until a safe distance from the area. Once I’d calmed down, I asked Kim, why she thought, her friends would do such a thing? She confessed to not actually knowing either guy, but just thought it might be a fun night. She had pretended to know them, she admitted, because she knew I would never have got in the car otherwise. I was aggrieved and angry, but so relieved we had escaped unharmed.

My second encounter with spiking was quite some years later, I was in my early twenties. It was my birthday and I’d chosen a favourite haunt of mine to celebrate. The Pink Toothbrush nightclub was an alternative club, full of punks, goths, skinheads, scooterists and rockabillies. It was where all the cool cats went, who couldn’t abide dancing ‘round their handbags to Duran Duran. My group of friends mainly consisted of females, although a couple of guys were there too, one of which I considered a close friend, whom I’ll call Steve. The evening was going well, the music was a blast, the club was heaving and despite the sweltering heat, my little heart was well chuffed with my new birthday biker boots on my feet and my old beaten leather biker jacket around my shoulders. The joyful evening was not to last however.

The night was still in nappies, when I caught Steve putting something into my drink. I confronted him angrily and he laughed, saying “just chill, it’s your birthday.” I repeatedly asked what he’d put in my drink and why, but he was far too amused and stated “Com’on, it’s just a laugh, lighten-up.” For me though, he had crossed a boundary and broken my trust as a friend, and I ended the birthday party early.

Looking back, I am unsure to how much spiking went on back in the 1980s. I didn’t hear of anyone else being spiked and I consider myself lucky that neither attempt in drugging me was successful.

Fast forward to the year 2022 and the current generation are not being so lucky. My daughter was spiked around three years ago along with a female friend, thank goodness both made it to a pre-booked taxi, before passing out. My daughter was violently ill for a couple of days and never regained the memory loss from that night, but was otherwise unharmed.

Concern about the increase in drink spiking and drug-assisted sexual assault, along with such high-profile cases, as the cruel rape and murder of Sarah Everard, have culminated in a renewed focus on the safety of women. Women’s fears are embedded within a rich exploration of the embodied experience of being born female and a consumer within alcohol-centred night-time spaces. Worryingly one in nine women in the UK say they have had their drink spiked; a recent poll has found. The poll by YouGov, carried out for The Independent, which also reveals eleven per cent of women say they have been spiked in the past and one in three women said they know someone who has been a victim of spiking.

The poll also found that four in ten women do not think that police officers would believe them, should they report the drink spiking and this correlates with why perhaps, the reporting and conviction rates are so low. For example, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request shows Avon and Somerset police received five hundred reports of drink spiking, but not a single conviction was recorded. This data does perhaps suggest just how common drink spiking is and many believe the true figure is much higher.

However, what has dominated headlines in recent weeks is that – horrifyingly – women are now being injected with unknown substances in nightclubs and bars. Young women and female university students have been reporting spiking by injection in increasing numbers. Nottinghamshire police are investigating twelve separate reports of young women being “spiked” in less than a month.

South Yorkshire police have launched investigations into three incidents of women, two aged eighteen and one aged nineteen, being spiked by needle in clubs in Sheffield. The nineteen-year-old, remains in hospital in a stable condition at the time of my research.

In fact, police right across the UK are carrying out investigations into needle spiking, but it is believed that the main drugs used in such spiking are the same used to spike drinks, such as, Gamma Hydroxybutyrate (GHB) or Rohypnol (roofie), both commonly known as date-rape drugs.

A quick google search took me, just like Alice, down a rabbit hole and into a vast array of women across the country, sharing their experiences of blacking out and waking to find a purple and blue bruise with a red and pink puncture wound. They state these are indicative of a needle mark that according to many women recounting their terrifying experience, were an indication of the sinister needle spiking. Many women uploaded photos of their “needle wounds” along with lengthy captions of their horror stories, which reflect their fears of going out.

It is without doubt an incredibly difficult time to exist as woman – the senseless murders of Sabina Nessa and Sarah Everard are a constant reminder of the dangers of being born female, and this daily gnaws at the mind and savagely steals a young woman’s confidence, joy and carefree years.

It didn’t take long for some of these incredibly sad and horrific accounts of needle spiking to circulate on social media and ultimately on news outlets. Late October of last year, a UK wide protest was organised, called ‘Girls Night In’, which urged young women to stay at home and boycott nightclubs, over two thousand participated in Nottingham, Leeds and Edinburgh. The organisers state, they wish the nightclubs would take needle spiking more seriously, as a proportion of women had been seemingly classed as drunk and thrown to the streets rather than be believed they had been spiked. Some experts have voiced concerns that the risk of spiking of this particular nature was extremely low, but many women feel however, that this is not social mass hysteria, but that women’s fears, are once again, being ignored and dismissed.

Newcastle University Students’ Union society ‘It Happens Here, Newcastle’, which campaigns against sexual violence, is giving out free testing kits to students following fears about the increase in spiking across the UK. When a drop from a drink is put on a patch, the test which checks for GBH and ketamine, changes colour. Ms Baugh, the student union society president added: “No matter how many provisions are in place or how we look after ourselves, we need to address the key problem of changing the culture and acceptance of perpetrators. “We’ve all got to recognise the cause is mainly male violence.”

A photo campaign on Instagram to tackle sexual assault, named ‘Cheer Up Luv’ has collected hundreds of spiking stories and a common thread running through all the stories is one of victim blaming attitudes. Women are told to cover your drink, be aware, don’t leave your drink unattended, all aimed directly at the victims, but where are the lists of “don’ts” for the perpetrators of these crimes? Once again, the onus is on women to protect ourselves, to cover our drinks, to wear denim to protect our skin from needles. We deserve more. Women deserve more. At the very least, police, nightclubs, bars and experts, must believe in the victims of these hideous crimes and elevate their voices, in a world that is so quick to cruelly crush and silence us.

The home office has now requested an urgent update on the situation and searches for “drink spiking” have increased by an incredible eight hundred per cent. A petition to make it a legal requirement for nightclubs to thoroughly search guests upon entry has earned 173,994 signatures at the time of writing. You can find the link to the petition here https://petition.parliament.uk/signatures/122513965/signed 

If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article, or you have or think you may have been a victim of drink or needle spiking, you can contact the charity ‘Victim Support’, which helps victims of crime, by calling 08 08 116 89 111 or by visiting their website https://www.victimsupport.org.uk/