As I close the chapter that is university in the book of my life so far, I find myself reflecting upon my three-year journey and naturally Fresher’s Week comes to mind as the starting point. Fresher’s Week is otherwise known as an intense period of social events in venues such as bars and clubs where the alcohol is free flowing as students use the recreational substance to lower their inhibitions and overcome nerves when meeting new people. While I must stress that drink spiking can happen at any time throughout a person’s life, not just exclusively during Fresher’s Week and not exclusively to students, Fresher’s Week is a prime example of when the crime – punishable by a ten year plus prison sentence – takes place. Although there are no official statistics to reveal the true extent of the crime, as often many victims do not report incidents due to shame, embarrassment or simply because they do not remember, according to the NHS, hundreds of people are thought to be targeted every year in the UK. The fact that this figure is speculation makes it that bit more terrifying.
Far from trying to dissuade readers from drinking and going out, the purpose of this article is to spread awareness. Although I count my blessings that I have not been a victim myself, as a student I personally know of and have heard of many incidents. Drinking is a conscious choice, whether a person opts for an alcoholic or a non-alcoholic drink. The said person is in control. However, it is a different matter altogether when someone else adds alcohol or drugs to someone’s drink without them knowing. The owner of the drink is no longer in control. Drink spiking may be done with the desire to steal from the victim, to assault the victim, or as a very cruel prank as the perpetrator obtains a position of power over their victim. But whatever the motivation, drink spiking is illegal and should be considered as much of a crime as those that hit the headlines on a daily basis. We must remember that just because we do not hear about drink spiking every day, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening.
As well as alcohol being used to spike drinks, such as double measures being used instead of single measures, drugs such as gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), gamma-butyrolactone (GBL), ketamine and tranquillisers including Valium and Rohypnol are often used. Such drugs are often referred to as ‘date rape drugs’, although they are not always used by the perpetrator with the intention of carrying out sexual assault. Alarmingly, date rape drugs may come in powder, tablet or liquid form and do not always have a noticeable taste or smell which makes them particularly hard to detect. Both GHB and GBL leave the body within a short amount of time which problematizes the chances of detecting them further. Most date rape drugs take effect within 15-30 minutes, with the symptoms typically lasting for several hours. Common symptoms include, but are not limited to: lowered inhibitions, difficulty concentrating or speaking, visual problems such as blurred vision, memory loss or ‘blackouts’, unconsciousness, loss of balance, impaired movement, nausea or vomiting, paranoia and hallucinations.
If you think your drink has been spiked, or your friends, then authoritative sources such as the NHS recommend telling someone you trust completely such as a close friend or relative and then also seeking further help in the form of reaching out to the police and medical professionals. Sources urge victims to never lean on a stranger for support, or leave a venue with them and in the instance of an emergency, to call 999. It is also important that victims are tested as soon as possible, especially considering that GHB leaves the body within 12 hours. It is particularly important to get medical attention if you think you have been sexually assaulted; for although it will be confronting, tests may be needed to extract the DNA of your attacker and increase the chances of them being caught and punished, and also to determine whether you have any sexually transmitted infections or whether you could be pregnant. Places to visit to seek such advice and treatment in the instance of sexual assault include a sexual assault referral centre, a doctor or nurse at your local GP surgery, a sexual health clinic, a hospital A&E department and voluntary organisations such as Rape Crisis. Lastly, reach out to the services offered at Queen Mary, either email CUB directly at firstname.lastname@example.org we can put you in touch with the appropriate people, or click on the following link to see what advice and counselling services are available: https://www.welfare.qmul.ac.uk/emotional-wellbeing/
It is also important to remember that the damage of drink spiking is not solely physical, but can be mental and emotional too. But remember, you are not alone. If you find that you are able to open up about your experience, there will always be someone to listen to. Most importantly, remember that you are not to blame, you are a victim. Again, I must stress that drink spiking will not happen to everyone, but it is nonetheless vital to be aware yourself and to help other people be aware of drink spiking too. The list that follows is provided by the NHS and may help prevent drink spiking – I would also add that if you do not see a bottle physically opened in front of you, then remember that you do not know what has been done to it without your knowledge:
- Never leave your drink unattended, and keep an eye on your friends’ drinks.
- Don’t accept a drink from someone you don’t know.
- Consider sticking to bottled drinks and avoiding punch bowls or jugs of cocktails
- Don’t give out your address to someone you have just met.
- If you think your drink’s been tampered with, don’t drink it – tell a trusted friend or relative immediately.
- Before going out, let someone know where you’re going and what time you expect to be home.
- Make plans for your journey home.
- Avoid taking expensive equipment with you or anything that could be a target for thieves.
- If you’re travelling abroad, be aware of the local area and where you can find help.
To end, I’d like to stress that I set out to create awareness of drink spiking through this article, not to discourage anybody from having a good time. All I ask is that you keep your wits about you, look after each other and encourage everyone else to do the same. Safe partying everyone!