A recent report by the Home Affairs Committee of the UK Parliament reveals that victims of drink spiking are often dismissed as having had “one too many” and thus, the crime remains under-reported. The report also states that the reluctance of victims to report such incidents is due to a widespread belief that police in England and Wales “won’t do anything”. The practice of drink spiking is defined as having drugs or alcohol put in a drink without consent or being secretly injected, and anecdotal evidence suggests that it is “widespread and dangerous”. However, the MPs found that insufficient data is available to give an accurate picture of the prevalence of drink spiking. The report argues that more support needs to be provided to the victims of drink spiking and steps need to be taken to prevent such incidents.
Of the 1,895 drink spiking victims who responded to a questionnaire conducted by the inquiry in December and January, almost nine in ten reported receiving no support after the incident, and fewer than a third reported it to the authorities. In most cases, no further action was taken. The report highlights that many victims criticized the attitudes of door staff at pubs and clubs, who dismissed their concerns or even threw them out for being “drunk”. The inquiry was initiated after a sudden increase in reported drink spiking incidents last October.
Zara Owen, who was a victim of needle spiking on a student night out in Nottingham last year, described the incident as “gruelling” in her evidence to the committee. She said she had no memory of most of the night until waking up in the morning “with a really sharp agonising pain in my leg which left me limping”. The centre of the pain was a pinprick mark, and she realized she must have been a victim of needle spiking. She told MPs that “the fact that someone has injected a narcotic into my body without me being aware is terrifying”.
The questionnaire results suggest that the vast majority of victims of drink spiking are young women, but others are also targeted. The report’s recommendations include local authorities requiring night-time venues with poor records on drink spiking to improve if they are to keep their licenses, a support package to help night-time venues hire more and better trained door staff, particularly women, and a national anti-spiking communications campaign to encourage victims to come forward and make it clear that drink spiking is a serious offence, carrying up to 10 years in jail. Additionally, all police forces should provide rapid testing to anyone who reports having been spiked.
The Safeguarding Minister Rachel Maclean has stated that the Home Office would consider all the report’s recommendations, adding that the government was “not afraid to legislate if it will help the police and courts better tackle the issue”. The Home Office is considering whether a specific new offence of drink spiking is needed, and the MPs have welcomed this proposal, and want a written update in six months’ time. Michael Kill, the chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, welcomed the report and said that they stand ready to work with the government on improving people’s experience when they are reporting these crimes. Deputy Chief Constable Jason Harwin, drugs lead for the National Police Chiefs Council, has reassured the public that if they do report drink spiking incidents to their local police force, they will be listened to, and the matter will be taken seriously from the outset.