There’s Something in the Water: Impact Investigates Drink Spiking in Nottingham

Over the past twelve months, more than 1,000 women in the United Kingdom have reported being raped as the result of drink spiking. A Freedom of Information request carried out by Impact has revealed that last year, there were 42 reported incidents of drink spiking in Nottingham alone. However, due to the problematic nature of proving an event that the victim cannot even remember, there has been limited success in prosecuting perpetrators.

Paranoia, disorientation, hallucinations, nausea, confusion, lowered inhibitions and poor vision: these symptoms are common to the four most prevalent drugs used for drink spiking in the UK. Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), gamma-Butyrolactone (GBL), Ketamine and Rohypnol all take effect within half an hour of consumption. Date rape drugs like GHB, Ketamine and Rohypnol are particularly dangerous when mixed with alcohol because they combine to create a very powerful anaesthetic effect. The NHS list the following four most common reasons for drink spiking: for amusement, to be malicious, to carry out a sexual assault or rape, or to carry out a theft.

I began my investigation into this strange phenomenon by Googling drink spiking. Within five minutes, I had a list of drugs, which could be used to spike someone’s drink for the intention of sexual assault, and details about the amount of time they would take to affect the victim and the symptoms they would produce.

A medical website I stumbled upon described Rohypnol as “a popular drug of choice for drink spiking and most often comes in pill form. This depressant is similar to the drug Valium, but much more potent. Effects of this drug include slurred speech, inability to concentrate, poor coordination, dizzy feelings, lack of inhibition, nausea and amnesia. It takes approximately 15 to 30 minutes to feel the effects of this drug.”

With a bit more digging, I found out that the drugs were readily available online. There were even articles explaining how to spike someone’s drink without getting caught. With only fifteen minutes of my time, I had all the information I needed to spike someone’s drink. Even more worrying was that people had previously Googled the question, “Where can I buy Rohypnol?” The question was generally followed by a badly worded and unconvincing explanation about how they were actually a scientist, a professor, a student, doing a research project on its properties or needed the drug for other mysterious medical reasons; and yet for some unknown reason could not get the drug through a prescription or legally through their university science departments.

The Roofie Foundation Statistics showed that the victims of drug rape and sexual abuse through drink spiking are largely female with approximately 11 women falling victim for every one male victim during the past five years. Shockingly, incidents of drink spiking in the UK since the 1960s have increased by over 3,000%. But even more worrying is the fact that these statistics are incomplete since they are formed by the limited proportion of victims brave enough to report attacks.

London consistently has one of the highest rates of drink spiking, followed by the Midlands. Nottingham itself, as proven by the results above, is far from immune to drink spiking.

However, Nottingham police told Impact that: “The vast majority of the drink spiking reported to the police do not involve any other crime and therefore are recorded as only an incident, unless a crime has occurred. There is often no intent on the part of the spiker(s) to commit any crime other than to see what the effect on the victim will be.”

If the thought of being spiked by strangers isn’t scary enough, the horrifying fact is that drink spiking amongst students does occur. One Nottingham student, Nicola, had her drink spiked during pre-drinks while visiting her friend at university in Dublin. After only consuming one glass of Strongbow each, both her and her friend passed out and were unable to recall the majority of the night. They could remember nothing of ten hours of their lives after they woke up the next day; the night before was completely blank. Nicola said, “I couldn’t remember anything; it was a complete haze. I’d never felt anything like it before.”

Another student, Annabelle, attended a student house party with her boyfriend; she had only had one cider and one Smirnoff Ice from the house when she passed out in a fit. She said, “It was horrifying; they had to take me to hospital in an ambulance.”

Nottingham police warned us that: “A person who spikes a drink may be the victim’s friend, acquaintance, friend of a friend, workmate, date, team member, or a stranger.”

Drink spiking is illegal under the ‘Noxious Substances’ section of the 1861 ‘Offences Against the Person Acts’. However MP Kenneth Clarke’s suggestion that date rape is not as serious as other kinds of rape exacerbates the frame of mind that those affected by drink spiking and sexual assault should leave the crimes unreported. The idea that ‘date rape‘ spiking is an urban legend has also become prominent in recent years, with cynics arguing that those who have drunken themselves to dangerous levels of intoxication blame their incapacitation on drink spiking. This trivialisation of the issue undermines the efforts to prevent drink spiking and date rape.

So, what has been or is being done to prevent the incidence of drink spiking? For one, the manufacturers have added a blue dye to Rohypnol as a quasi-warning signal; however, this dye cannot be seen in darkly coloured beverages or bottles. There are now also home and professional drug tests, which can be used to test alcoholic drinks and urine for Rohypnol.

Furthermore, the Government in conjunction with the NHS have organised an awareness campaign for drink spiking. This increase in awareness has encouraged individuals to take their own measures against it. Common advice include not leaving one’s drink unattended, checking that drinks are sealed and refusing drinks from those you don’t trust. As part of Week One, the University of Nottingham’s Student’s Union run the ‘Why Let Good Times Go Bad?” campaign, which offers advice on sexual safety and drinking responsibly, including how to avoid drink spiking.

In spite of these efforts, incidents of drink spiking in Nottingham rose from 39 to 42 from 2010 to 2011. Only by further increasing awareness of drink spiking can we hope to start bucking this concerning upward trend.

Hannah Pupkewitz

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3 Comments on this post.
  • Stanley Grossman
    18 June 2012 at 18:54
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    Hannah Pupkewitz’s story about drink spiking is a good introduction to a complex and horrifying phenomenon. However, she should have mentioned a product, called the Drink Detective, that not only detects virtually all the so called date-rape drugs in drinks but has a program that reduces both drink spiking cases and all the other types of sexual assaults in and around pubs, bars and clubs.

  • Dave J
    19 June 2012 at 22:47
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    I don’t have a product to advertise. Good article though.

  • ‘Within minutes I had a list of drugs for spiking drinks’ | Ones to Watch
    21 June 2012 at 21:46
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