Study says latest spiking wave could be people ‘wishing to prank or cause distress’

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Gareth Milner

By Gareth Milner

Published: 04/02/2022

- 06:48

Updated: 04/02/2022

- 06:48

Some 14% of victims said they had experienced sexual assault, and 2% said they had experienced physical assault after the spiking, with 84% saying otherwise.

The latest spiking wave could be being fuelled by people wanting to carry out pranks or cause distress, research suggests.

The majority of people spiked in 2021 who participated in this year’s Global Drug Survey said they had not been assaulted after they were spiked.

Some 14% of victims said they had experienced sexual assault, and 2% said they had experienced physical assault after the spiking, with 84% saying otherwise.

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 also found that 40% of victims were male, with 51% female and 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 drink-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.

Creating a specific criminal offence for spiking, which the UK Government is considering, would raise awareness among perpetrators about the consequences, said Prof Winstock, a consultant psychiatrist and addiction medicine specialist.

He told the PA news agency: “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 persons 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 Home Affairs 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%) saying they had been spiked in their lifetime and 94 (1.8%) saying this had occurred in the last year (2021).

Of the latter, 50% had consumed four drinks or fewer – a level at which most people would not typically be expected to experience severe or unexpected intoxication.

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

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

The study said 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-fuelled experience.

It added: “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.”

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