Several police forces across the UK are investigating reports that women are being "spiked with injections" in clubs. Cities including Nottingham and Edinburgh have so far been implicated.
Nottinghamshire Police say that the force has received 44 spiking reports dating from 4th September 2021. Twelve of these have alleged spiking by something sharp as opposed to a traditional method of contaminated alcoholic drinks. The first of these 12 were reported on 2nd October 2021.
The Home Secretary has requested an urgent update on the situation. A Home Office spokesperson told Refinery29: "These reports are extremely disturbing – we are pleased to see that the police are taking this issue seriously and dedicating both local and national resources to investigating it. We remain in close contact with the police on this issue and the Home Secretary is receiving regular updates. We must now give the police the space to conduct their enquiries, and we would urge anyone with information on these incidents to contact their local force."
Meanwhile, on social media, young women are drawing attention to the issue and sharing their stories of incidents which they believe involve being "spiked with needles". These involve accounts of blacking out and later finding what appear to be puncture wounds.
So what’s going on?
In one Twitter post, a 19-year-old woman named Zara Owen said she had been spiked in Nottingham’s Pryzm nightclub.
Zara told Refinery29 that she went out to the club with her friends last Monday. She explained that memory loss is not something she suffers from, even after drinking. So she was concerned when she woke up on Tuesday to find that large parts of the night "were just a blank page". She remembers getting to Pryzm, going to the bar and then the toilet. But after that almost nothing.
"It’s not something that ever happens to me," Zara said. "I thought that I had been spiked. I’d heard of these cases before and I thought that it could be a possibility."
Along with memory loss, Zara told Refinery29 that she woke up with a sharp and agonising pain in her leg that made her suspicious. She checked her leg and found what she believes to be a pinprick mark where the pain was centred. She posted a picture of this to Twitter. Zara told Refinery29 that she went to A&E, where she waited for eight hours. Because the wait at the hospital was too long, she did not get a chance to provide a urine or blood sample because she had to leave. Zara also called her GP but the next doctor’s appointment she could get was in two weeks.
Zara has reported the incident to Nottinghamshire Police and an investigation is ongoing. Police in Nottingham have arrested a 20-year-old man following social media reports of women being injected with needles in the past fortnight but there is no suggestion that this is connected to Zara’s case.
Stealth, another Nottingham club, has released a statement via Instagram about the reported rise in cases of spiking: "Anyone we suspect of spiking or coming into our venues with the intention to carry out spiking will be detained, and the police informed."
"Enquiries into incidents of spiking are ongoing but I understand people are concerned about incidents like this. As Police and Crime Commissioner, I am continuing to do my utmost to increase safety and feelings of safety. I have also led discussions in the city to develop a strategic approach to tackling violence against women and girls in Nottingham’s nighttime economy. Our wonderful city of Nottingham is known for being a brilliant night out. We want people to continue to enjoy our city safely. Any victims affected by these crimes can access help through Nottinghamshire Victim CARE on 0800 304 7575."
Spiking is a widespread problem. However it is usually drink spiking which makes headlines. Just last week it was reported that drink spiking at house parties had become a leading concern for police officers. Added to that, police in Northern Ireland responded to an incident this month in which a young woman was hospitalised.
The use of needles to inject and spike women with drugs intramuscularly, however, is less well understood. Police are rightly taking reports seriously but drug experts are urging caution to avoid panic.
Professor Adam Winstock is the founder of the Global Drug Survey. He told Refinery29 that it’s important to remember that "the most commonly used drug in spiking is alcohol because alcohol is the easiest thing to add to an already alcoholic drink."
"Sometimes people forget that alcoholic blackouts leave you with no memory of what’s happened," he added. "When this happens sometimes people look for an alternative explanation."
Winstock said that spiking someone via injection would not necessarily be easy to achieve. "Whenever I see people being jabbed in the neck in films and then rendered unconscious I wonder how realistic that is," he explained. "When you give an injection to someone, you have to draw up the medication and insert the needle. It would not be easy to go up to someone with a loaded syringe and jab it through someone’s clothing. Injections hurt, not so much because of the needle but because you’re injecting reasonably large volumes of fluid under someone’s skin. It would be difficult to do this. It would also be difficult to get hold of the medication to do this. It’s not impossible but it is unlikely."
He added: "If you were going to spike someone with a drug to alter their perception, like ketamine or a hallucinogen, it would be difficult. People who are not expecting these drugs act in very unpredictable ways."
However he said that we mustn't dismiss stories of potential incidents of spiking with needles. "We do know that spiking with needles does happen," he said. "If somebody thinks that has happened then, of course, they should report it."
Ultimately, Winstock says, the most important thing is to take women's reports seriously while encouraging vigilance without causing undue anxiety. For young women across the UK who understandably might feel on high alert after the recent murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, this is going to be a tough balance to strike.
Another young woman in her early 20s, who asked to be known only as Megan*, a student at the University of York, also believes that she has experienced spiking by injection.
Last week while out with friends at York's Club Salvation, despite having little to drink, Megan experienced a two and a half hour window in which she remembers absolutely nothing. Her friends told her later that she was making no sense during this time.
Megan tells us how careful she and her friends were, as they always are, with her friend immediately putting bottle stops in the only drinks they bought in the club. The next day, Megan noticed a small pinprick on her arm, surrounded by a bruise and paired with an ache that bothered her for a few days.
We do know that spiking with needles does happen. If somebody thinks that has happened then, of course, they should report it.
PROFESSOR ADAM WINSTOCK, fOUNDER, Global Drug Survey
Hannah set up the petition after she was sent a post from the Instagram account Edinburgh Anonymous which detailed reports of girls being spiked with needles in the city’s nightclubs.
"To think that this was happening in clubs that I used to spend so much time in hit home for me," Hannah told Refinery29. "I just instantly thought, How are they getting into the nightclubs with needles?"
A planned boycott of clubs, called Girls Night In, is set to take place in the last week of October across several UK cities.
"It’s absolutely disgusting that in the past few days a number of students have reported instances of women being spiked by injections on nights out. My rage, love and solidarity goes out to all those who have been impacted by these violent acts, and all other women and marginalised folks who experience sexual violence on our campuses and in our communities."
"We need person-centred, trauma-centred support for those impacted by these horrific acts. More broadly, we need to see a culture shift across society, rooted in accountability and transformative justice, to ultimately end sexual violence and gendered violence."
Refinery29 also spoke to Imogen Horrocks, cofounder of The Last Taboo, a UK-wide campaign that empowers university students across the country to raise awareness, address and tackle the issue of sexual violence and harassment within UK universities. The Last Taboo recently launched a spiking consultation to gather as many experiences as possible and try to drive non-government policy change.
Imogen, who is a student at the University of York, tells of the horror she felt when she first heard about spiking by injection a few weeks ago. "The way the emergency services respond to spiking, the info put out about spiking, the specific protocols and reporting procedures that are used within the police and A&E departments because they’re currently just failing everybody."
Imogen is also trying to encourage the NHS to put more information about spiking on their website, and criticises the lack of urgency surrounding the issue. "The risk associated with spiking through drinks is terrifying but with a needle there’s an even greater risk with blood-borne disease. That could actually kill people."
*Some names have been changed to respect requested anonymity