By Jane Byrne
Reporter Jane Byrne looks at the new spiking trends in Ireland and the UK by examining the key part social media has played in bringing awareness to the issue and how it has affected one young woman from Dublin.
Warning: Some readers may find the this article upsetting. Topics of rape, spiking and sexual assault are featured.
With nightclubs and bars finally back open in Ireland for the first time in 19 months, partygoers are eager to attend. However, since their return, an alarming amount of drink spiking incidents have been reported in Ireland and the UK.
According to the HSE website, drink spiking is defined as ‘when someone puts drugs or alcohol into your drink without you knowing. The drugs used are mind-altering substances that affect how you behave.’ A person may find it difficult to know if their drink has been spiked because the drugs usually don’t smell or taste.
Someone may spike a drink to carry out sexual assault or rape, to carry out a theft, to carry out a physical assault or for amusement. Drink spiking has been reported as far back as 1903 and common drugs used are tranquillizers, ketamine or Xanax.
But the way in which drugs are covertly administered in the last number of weeks has changed. Reports of injection through needles are now on the rise. Therefore, even if people choose not to order any drinks when out, they are still at risk of being spiked.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) revealed there have been approxiamately 140 confirmed reports across September and October of drink spiking, and 24 reports of some form of injection within the UK.
Anger and frustration began emerging on social media and victims who had been spiked, notably young women, began sharing their stories on Instagram and Tiktok. Naturally, this gained a lot of attention which allowed the situation to escalate into a digitally-borne movement.
Petitions, warning signs, aftercare and protest information have circulated widely across Instagram in the last few weeks.
A group known on Instagram as ‘Girls night in’ set up a petition for safer nightclubs. The petition, ‘make it a legal requirement for nightclubs to thoroughly search guests on entry,’ which was set up at the end of October has already garnered over 172,000 signatures. On the 4th of November, Westminster Parliament debated the topic and discussion is ongoing.
Similar petitions were set up in Ireland. To date this petition on needle spiking has reached 5,000 signatures with growing numbers daily.
“Girls night in” also set up thirty different Instagram accounts that focused on specific colleges and areas within the UK. This allowed students within the UK to keep up to date on issues relating to spiking in their area.
On the 28th of October, ravers decided to boycott night outs in an effort for club and bar managers to implement better safety measures in their premises.
This was a movement that was seen across all social media sites with participants sharing stories and encouraging others to follow suit. Their mission was a success with thousands of young people boycotting clubs for the night.
Since then, Instagram, Tiktok and Twitter have been flooded with spiking stories, helpline information and safety precautions.
Elysia O’Neill and Della Clayton are two female students from Leeds who set up a spiking database where people can see where spiking has been prevalent. Victims can also report spiking incidents themselves. Their motto is “awareness is the best safety measure.”
The database is nothing short of harrowing with girls detailing traumatic and scary dark club nights where they have been spiked and woken up with no recollection of the night. They encourage everyone to use it because more reports and more information mean more awareness and hopefully prevention. The database can be accessed here.
With most of the noise on social media surrounding British nightclubs, Irish party goers might think our clubs and bars are safe. Unfortunately for young doctor Megan, * this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Megan just recently graduated with a degree in medicine and was on a night out in Dublin City with friends celebrating their graduation. Megan and her friends did not ‘pre-drink’ before heading into town and her first drink was at the club. She details what happened next.
“My friends and I were all at the bar dancing and celebrating getting through the last five years. I ordered a vodka soda lime. After that, I ordered another, eager to catch up with my friends. Unfortunately, that was the last thing I remember.”
She continues, “it’s easy for me and others to think that I was just drunk and hadn’t eaten that much that day, but the reality is I had been out with my family for a three course meal two hours before meeting my friends and I had two single measured drinks, it wouldn’t make sense for me to be that drunk.”
The next thing Megan remembers is being at home in her childhood bedroom. “I woke up and thought to myself ‘god did I really get that drunk that I had to be brought home, how embarrassing.’ Then I looked at my phone and saw messages from friends I had been with asking me to ring when I saw their call, texts saying ‘were at the dancefloor where are you??????’ At this point I panicked and called out for my Mum. She came in and told me everything.”
The nightclub was packed, and Megan’s friends were all dancing. Soon they realised Megan wasn’t with them and they began searching the club. “We couldn’t find her, and the bouncers just kept saying she probably went off with a boy or is talking to someone she knows in the smoking area but we hadn’t seen her with anyone. We were calling her phone and there was no answer. After an hour of looking, I decided to put my head over the toilet doors and Megan was on the floor unconscious. It’s an image that will never leave my mind.”
Luckily Megan’s friends found her and were able to stay with her. They implemented safety measures and made sure her state didn’t deteriorate. Megan regained consciousness and was well enough for her parents to collect her. Her parents describe the situation as every parent’s worst nightmare.
The following day Megan went to the hospital to run blood and urine samples. “It’s so scary not knowing what happened and I will carry the trauma of it around for a long time. I’m lucky I had my friends with me and that I went to an empty toilet stall and not home with someone. It’s a very invasive feeling and I have reason to believe it was the staff who spiked as I wasn’t drinking anywhere else, and they were the only ones handling my drinks.”
If you believe you have been spiked, make sure to tell a friend, a medical professional or someone you trust straight away. If you are with someone who is acting drunker than usual or is suspected to have been spiked, stay with them, keep their drink if they still have it, report the incident to the Guards and if necessary, go to the emergency room.
The spiking movement sparked a larger conversation about safety for women in our communities. Following the murder of Sarah Everard earlier this year and the way in which spiking has developed whereby victims could have all safety measures in place and still be spiked, a broader discussion has developed. Many echo the response on Twitter that it should not be up to the victim to make sure they are not attacked but up to society to hold predatory behaviour and attackers accountable for their actions.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.