Spiking is one of the things we get asked about quite a lot during our workshops in schools. It is understandable, given the relative frequency with which stories appear in the media. It is also something of which the DSM Foundation team has first-hand experience: drugs educator Asha has been spiked three times.
While that stat is awful enough in its own right, it is maybe even more shocking given that the last incident happened just a few months ago. This starkly illustrates that spiking is not just something that affects young people – Asha is in her late 40s – but also that no matter how knowledgeable and cautious the individual, it can happen to literally anyone.
The reason for this is that spiking actually says much more about the character of the perpetrator than the person on the receiving end. That person is a victim, in every sense of the word; a victim of a crime that can turn violent, and a victim in terms of what the incident can do to them physically, mentally and emotionally.
In Asha’s most recent experience, she started feeling very disorientated after just one or two drinks, and sensibly took herself out of the auditorium and into the lobby of the venue she was in. Uncharacteristically and perhaps unconsciously, she insisted her husband leave with her, and this was a blessing given that for the next hour or two, she struggled to stay conscious and was repeatedly sick. Vomiting aside, she seemed OK, communicating not very much but coherently when she did, but she has little to no memory of that time.
She got home safely, but the physical effects continued into the next day, and Asha was physically shaken for some days. Emotionally it also took its toll, with her feeling very anxious about going out, particularly into London. The nervousness has eased with time, but hasn’t disappeared completely, meaning that someone who was formerly very confident when out and about, now finds travelling and social events much more stressful than before.
Statistics on spiking are difficult to come by, because it is a massively under-reported crime but research published by YouGov in 2021 stated that a third of women said they had either been spiked themselves or knew someone who had. It’s important to remember that it isn’t only women who are targeted: the same research revealed that one in five men had either been spiked themselves or knew someone who had. And while individuals seemed confident that family and friends would take them seriously if they said they’d been spiked, confidence levels were much lower in terms of reporting it to the police.
This lack of confidence seems well founded, with a recent BBC news story describing how only 40 convictions for spiking-related incidents had taken place over a period of four years, despite nearly 5,000 police reports having been filed in just one of those years. There are pockets of work to try and address this, but it seems piecemeal at best, even in government releases on the topic.
Given this landscape, what can people do? There is useful information on prevention and spotting the signs available from the Alcohol Education Trust and the not-for-profit organization Stamp Out Spiking. Asha also did a Facebook Live video on her experiences (recorded before this latest incident) which also describes some really practical hints and tips, not just on prevention but also on what to do if you suspect spiking has taken place.
But probably more broadly, the best advice for young people is to make sure they keep their heads, both for themselves and for their friends. Staying safe adv ice doesn’t come more basic but potentially more profoundly effective than that.