We all know about spiking. My girlfriend’s been spiked. My sister’s been spiked. If you haven’t been a victim of it, the chances are, someone you know has. This particularly disturbing act has become all too common in UK clubs and bars, and often leaves victims traumatised. Perpetrators slip something into their victim’s drink (Rohypnol, GHB, alcohol), or in some especially scary cases, inject directly into arms on crowded dancefloors, typically with the intention to make their target more susceptible to either unwanted sexual advances, or robbery.
Public interest in spiking peaked in 2021, when a massive rise in reported incidents led to the ‘Night In’ campaign, where young women in 45 UK cities boycotted bars and clubs, demanding more rigorous entry searches, covers for drinks, and more training for bar staff.
Since the campaign though, as often happens with these types of issues, public interest has waned and the body politic has largely moved on. Is this because the new wave of measures implemented in 2021 succeeded in tackling the issue? If only. National figures suggest that the problem is as prevalent as ever, and I’ve been trying to get a gauge of the issue on a local level.
According to a Freedom of Information request filed with the Royal Devon University Healthcare Trust, local hospitals recorded 546 spiking related admissions in 2021, which tracks with the national peak that triggered the ‘Night In’ campaign. Given the country-wide impetus to tackle spiking at the time, it might be hoped that cases dropped significantly the following year. They did fall, but only marginally. 505 cases were recorded in 2022, less than a 10% drop on the previous year and still nearly ten times the 2018 figure.
A survey of Exepose readers sought to understand students’ personal experiences of the issue. 17.4% of those students asked said that they have been spiked in Exeter, and more than three quarters claim to know someone who has been.
17.4% of those students asked say that they have been spiked in Exeter, and more than three quarters claim to know someone who has been.
Several readers agreed to share their specific personal encounters.
Third year History student, Rosie Price-Timmins, described her experience.
“I was spiked in Exeter in my first year, it led to me completely blacking out for the evening and then feeling and being very unwell for the next couple of days. What was scary is from what I heard I was unable to really understand where I was, I couldn’t walk well and just became very emotional which is unlike me normally when I’m drunk.”
Some more students have shared their stories but chosen to remain anonymous.
“Went from mildly buzzed to unable to move/stand up in less than 5 minutes. Luckily my partner got me home safe, but I passed out completely within a few minutes of getting back.”
“Got stretchered out of Fever then taken to hospital where my friend was told I was spiked. I don’t remember anything. I was then told I was banned from Fever although it wasn’t my fault.”
“A male in my life was spiked in Fever. This led to him having a seizure. He was still confident enough to continue clubbing as he said ‘it’s rare to happen to a boy so I felt better about it’ “
Out of the 47 incidents reported by our readers, 29.8% took place in Timepiece, and 48.9% in Fever. I reached out to both the clubs for a response and an explanation of their anti-spiking protocols.
Out of the 47 incidents reported by our readers, 29.8% took place in Timepiece, and 48.9% in Fever.
Timepiece said, “we do take any suspected incidents seriously and operate spiking prevention measures in our venue such as anti-spiking drink covers at the bar.” Without doubt this is a positive measure, but when we polled our readers about whether they were aware that Timepiece offered drink covers, 83% of the 188 respondents answered ‘No’, indicating a clear need for this service to be better publicised.
Fever responded by reiterating that safety of both customers and staff “has always been our number one priority.” They listed examples of their anti-spiking measures including “Ask for Angela” (a nationwide scheme where customers can ask staff to see ‘Angela’ as code for assistance if they feel threatened), drink covers and First Aid rooms.
Despite this, it’s evident that the students surveyed have little faith in local club’s abilities to prevent spiking.
When asked how effective they thought local venues were at spiking prevention, 55.1% responded either ‘ineffective’ or ‘very ineffective’ while only 13% responded ‘effective’ or ‘very effective’.
But what about the University? A spokesperson for the University explained to me their position on spiking, and their comprehensive list of preventative measures.
The spokesperson said that ‘While instances of spiking in Exeter are very low, any incident is unacceptable’ and listed the schemes that the University licensed venues (Ram, Lemon Grove etc) are signed up to, including SWaN and Best Bar None.
Unfortunately, as many readers commented, the issue is borderline impossible to eradicate completely. That being said, there are certainly steps that can be taken to reduce the numbers or to better protect victims when they have been spiked. Drink covers, more effective searches, better training for bouncers/bar staff – all these measures do make an impact, and we must ensure that they continue to be implemented, even if public attention has largely moved away from the issue. My research has found that local venues and the University do offer a good range of anti-spiking measures, but the example of the drink covers at Timepiece is indicative of a wider need for these measures to be publicised better, ensuring that they can be utilised more effectively to keep people safe.