Drink spiking has been a hazard that has posed a risk to generation after generation.

Drink spiking has been a hazard that has posed a risk to generation after generation.

As part of my university induction, it was drummed into me just like those students before and after, the importance of never leaving my drink unattended. Girls on a night out will commonly say to one another “watch my drink”; this just comes as second nature after years of being aware of this risk on a night out.

Over the years, we have seen bottle stopper drink covers, when it was fashionable to drink alco-pops and, more recently, hair scrunchie type hair bands that can be stretched over your glass to form a seal.

Over the last months, all around the UK, drink spiking has hit the headlines again, primarily in university areas due to the usage of needle spiking to the limbs causing paralysis. This should be a fun time for many: their first time living away from home.

As of 23 October 2021, the NPCC had also collected 198 reports of drink spiking, in addition to the 56 reports of incidents involving a needle.

The campaign ‘Girls night in’ was held to boycott nightclubs to raise awareness of spiking, but the question is: by females staying at home, what progressive change is being made?

Social media sites such as TikTok have begun sharing videos showing just how easy it is to distract someone and spike a drink with a simple tap on the shoulder again to raise awareness.

However, a further problem with needle spiking is that it does not allow any way to protect yourself. The assault can take place without your knowledge in a crowded space, making it unclear who the perpetrator is. Many who have provided statements after such incidents have found a needle stick injury the next day, not realising at the time what had happened.

Of course, our presumption is, that just like drink spiking, the intention is to incapacitate the victim with the intention of committing a serious sexual assault. Such drugs can take as little as 10 minutes to begin to impact the victim.

There are further risks of needle stick assaults such as transmitted viruses or infections such as HIV. You may have to wait weeks to confirm whether there has been any long-lasting damage to organs. This no doubt increases the psychological trauma after an already terrifying event.

Of course, as with any form of sexual assault, the rates of people coming forward will be less than the true number and this is only likely to be a snapshot. One of the difficulties with spiking is that often an individual will question what has happened to try to persuade themself that nothing happened , maybe they drank more than they remember as many of the symptoms of spiking are consistent with too much alcohol consumption.

By the next day, even if you are suspicious, unless you have attended hospital within a short period of time (12 hours for date rape drug GHB), the drug may have already become untraceable.

This issue is primarily impacting 18-25 year olds at this time. Those impacted may wish to move on after such a frightening experience without reporting. It should be noted that despite this being very female focused in the media, recent statistics found a high percentage of men are also victims of such assaults.

It is clear change needs to be made. Venues and nightclubs must take responsibility for the safety of their clients. I would call for venues to complete compulsory full body searches, requiring female and male bouncers to be on shift to allow such to take place. As we all know, concealing a needle would not be difficult especially in the winter months with coats and boots.

Nightclubs have now begun to hand out drink covers for free after receiving criticism for some initially charging for the same.

Drink testing kits should be readily available to all, as this is a simple dip strips which instantly flag a spiked drink.

Other practicalities should include monitoring smoking areas which are normally in a barricaded outside area which allows for passing individuals to transfer items to those already searched and permitted entry. CCTV should be increased and monitored vigorously, and procedures in place if an individual is leaving the premises with suspicion of being spiked.

Nightclub giants Rekom UK plan to introduce full body searches on entry and drink testing as set out above and I hope other organisations will follow.

Our advice would be to tell someone you trust immediately if you think you have been spiked, if you are still in the venue such as a staff member, attend hospital, report the incident to the police and the venue.

The individual who has maliciously spiked or inflicted the needle stick injury would be subject to criminal conviction for administration of poison (or noxious thing) would be subject to conviction for misdemeanour and assault. This could result in a custodial sentence. Further serious criminal charges would also follow if the abuser went on to sexually assault the individual.

The individual may also look to bring a civil claim for compensation against the abuser for the assault/sexual assault.

Danielle Vincent is a Senior Associate in the Abuse Specialist Injury Department at Hugh James Solicitors.