Most spiking cases 'lack motive other than to distress', study suggests

The latest wave of spiking cases could be fueled by people wanting to carry out pranks or cause distress, new research suggests.

The majority of victims (84 per cent) spiked in 2021 who participated in this year’s Global Drug Survey said they had not subsequently been assaulted.

However some 14 per cent said they had experienced sexual assault and 2 per cent said they had experienced physical assault.

Professor Adam Winstock, who leads the survey, said a lack of subsequent assault “does negate the fact that the sense of being violated and having your autonomy removed can be massively distressing”.

Spiking is illegal and involves someone putting alcohol or drugs in a person’s drink or body without their consent or knowledge.

The study found 40% of victims were male and 51% female, with 9% identifying as non-binary or other.

A minority (5%) said they had been spiked with a needle, suggesting it is “far less common” than drinks spiking.

Researchers said the data “challenges the gender bias that we would expect and suggests that perhaps the motives for spiking in recent times are indeed changing”.

But they said it could also be the case that previously there has been too narrow a focus on spiking being perpetrated as a means to committing crimes such as sexual assault or robbery.

Prof Winstock said creating a specific criminal offense for spiking – which the UK government is considering – would raise awareness among perpetrators about the consequences.

The consultant psychiatrist and addiction medicine specialist said: “The fact that both genders seemed similarly at risk might indicate the intent is more likely to be to prank, distress or other disrupt that person’s night as opposed to carrying out an assault.

“As soon as I saw that, I just went ‘OK this is not what you would expect’.

“And then once you link that with relatively low levels of sexual assault, and find that they’re not all drunk, I think what we are seeing is different to how we’ve previously considered drinks spiking, which has almost been exclusively in the context of drug-facilitated sexual assault, and/or robbery or taking advantage.”

He added: “It may not be that it’s changing, it may be there was always this going on, it’s just we never asked.”

Prof Winstock pointed out that some victims will be unsure if they have been assaulted due to memory loss.

He also said the logistics of spiking with a needle are not straightforward and that this seems to make injecting “an unusual choice for spiking unless the intent is purely to cause distress and place the other person at risk of severe harm”.

Previously, victims told the House of Commons home affairs select committee’s inquiry into spiking that it can be done for “humour” or “primarily for fun”.

For the latest research, more than 5,000 people across the globe answered questions on spiking, with 951 (18.2 per cent) saying they had been spiked in their lifetime and 94 (1.8 per cent) saying this had occurred in the last year (2021) .

Of the latter, half had consumed four or fewer drinks – a level at which most people would not typically be expected to experience severe or unexpected intoxication.

More than a quarter (26 per cent) reported seeing or hearing things, visual distortion and being confused, suggestive of a drug such as a hallucinogen being used to spike the victim.

Most date rape drugs take effect within 30 minutes, and symptoms usually last for several hours.

The most common symptoms of being spiked with a drug include:

  • difficulty speaking
  • loss of balance
  • blurred vision
  • memory loss or blackouts
  • feeling confused
  • hallucinations
  • nausea and vomiting
  • unconsciousness

If you fear your drink has been spiked, tell someone you trust such as a friend, relative, medical professional or the police.

If you aren’t with anyone, call someone you trust and get to a safe place. Ask to use a phone if yours has been stolen.

If you need urgent help, call 999. Be wary of accepting help from a stranger and don’t leave with someone you don’t know.

If you feel unwell, someone you trust should take you to A&E. Tell the medical staff that you think your drink’s been spiked.

Arrange for a trusted friend or relative to take you home and stay with you until the drugs have fully left your system.

Report it to the police as soon as you can. They may ask you to provide blood and urine samples.

If you have been physically assaulted, robbed, or both, you should report this to the police. If you have been sexually assaulted, you should get medical attention as soon as possible.

Some 24 per cent knew it was someone they who had spiked them and 22 per cent of incidents occurred in private homes – the second most common location after entertainment venues.

The study found the current trend “appears short of motive other than to distress, disrupt or otherwise place a person at risk without their consent or awareness”.

While it could be done to harm someone, it could also be a “misguided attempt” to give someone an enjoyable drug-fueled experience.

It reads: “The truth is we don’t know the motives behind those who spike. What is clear is that it is always wrong.

“The problem is all of these motives are rooted in a degree of selfish disregard for the other person that is unacceptable.

“The person who spikes someone does not know their tolerance to a drug, their past experience, how they feel that day, underlying mental or physical health problems, other medications or drugs they may have taken, whether they have things they need to do later , whether they are driving, or pregnant.”

the 2022 Global Drug Survey will remain open until the end of February and can be completed anonymously online.

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