Fun, Friends and Fear: The truth behind Bournemouth’s drink spiking problem

The worrying reality of the situation is that most of us will know at least one person who has had their drink spiked

“Why me?” they say.

“They often break down and cry”, says PC Scarratt, telling me this is how many victims react to their harrowing ordeal of drink spiking and sexual assault after a seemingly harmless night out with their mates.

“They did not believe that it would have ever happened to them. They saw spiking as something they read about in the news, or heard about on campus amongst their friends.”

The harsh reality is that any one of us could get spiked, and instances of drink spiking are on the rise.

In 2017, The Daily Echo reported that one in four BU students have had drinks spiked, according to research carried out by Check Your Drink.

Even as far back as 2012, The Bournemouth Drug and Alcohol Action Team declared that 200 students reported their drinks being spiked in one week, before the annual Freshers’ Fair had even happened.

Drink spiking is illegal and can result in a maximum of 10 years in jail.

I’m in my third year now. This means that regretfully I’ve had to store my heels away, leave my clutch bags at home, and chain myself to the isolated desk in the corner of the silent floor of the library.

This is a stark contrast to first and second year, where I was practically living rent free in the Cameo main room. I’m not a huge drinker, but I’ve never once backed out of a party or club night out of fear of getting my drink spiked.

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I’ve always been a cautious person and for those reasons I always try to keep a hand over my bottle top, but I’m curious as to how many people are genuinely concerned about the issue in the midst of a Lollipop Friday and its overflowing madness. Probably, not many.

Whether you’re a fresher or in final year, clubbing is a central part of university life. With club culture undeniably taking high priority at university for a lot of students, it’s about time we addressed the elephant in the room – the problem of drink spiking.

It almost feels like spiking is a term so casually tossed about it’s a part of student jargon. Unfortunately, for the many who have been victim to spiking or have witnessed it happening to their friends, it is far from a colloquialism.

My friend Georgina got spiked in The Old Fire Station in our first year at university. It turned her hysterical, forcing her to cry loudly on my shoulder and lose her ability to walk.

This lack of control let her slip and roll down a flight of stairs, passing out by the bottom step and leaving her unresponsive.

After a while, her condition got worse and she began to salivate, dribble and shiver until an ambulance arrived, carting her away in a stretcher. This is not how people imagine their night outs to end, but it can happen.

Research suggests that so called “date rape drugs” may be used to spike a drink before a sexual assault, intent of stealing, or assaulting the victim – but PC Scarratt says this is maybe a misconception.

He does highlight the high probability of sexual violence or sexual assault in instances of drink spiking, but he also believes that in Bournemouth’s clubs it’s a simple case of the culprit “being vindictive, just concocting another person’s drink for the sake of it without a specific motive in mind, and lesser so, rape.”

Findings from The Tab revealed that in 2015, 77 per cent of female freshers believe that being touched inappropriately is a growing problem on campus.

In the UK, by the end of the each year, hundreds of people become victims of drink spiking. It seems that this brutal and cowardly act really peaks at university, where local clubs and bars are frequented by often vulnerable and unaware students. With these venues becoming a hotbed of dangerous attacks where your VK or vodka and lemonade is infiltrated by an unknown substance.

Again, PC Scarratt disagrees, claiming that spiking is less of a risk at present, because students nowadays are more aware of the threats posed, especially when compared to the generation before us, and partly due to the decline of Rohypnol, a dye that was used to spike drinks back in the day, and less frequently today.

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PC Scarratt says we “shouldn’t be worried about spiking specifically, but that we should be responsible when drinking, champion personal safety, and definitely not leave vulnerable friends alone”, and also to be “mindful of consent”.

He advises it is best to report an incident straight after it happened, however, he is sympathetic and understanding to victims who feel unable to do so.

Freeze samples can be kept along with forensic evidence so that if you later want to prosecute, there is evidence to go forward with.

Spiking also constitutes pouring alcohol in to someone’s drink without them being aware. In fact, alcohol is the most common substance used to spike drinks, with shots of added alcohol causing you to get drunk quicker than expected, which can lead to you being taken advantage of easier.

Some examples of drugs that have reportedly been used for drink spiking include, GHB, GBL, and tranquillisers like Benzodiazepines, including valium (diazepam) and, other drugs such as ketamine.

According to the NHS website, symptoms include lowered inhibitions, difficulty concentrating or speaking, loss of balance, finding it hard to move, visual problems, blurred vision, memory loss, disoriented or confused, paranoia, hallucinations, nausea and vomiting, as well as unconsciousness.

Some drugs such as GHB may taste slightly different or smell unusual. Date rape drugs are particularly dangerous when mixed with alcohol, because they combine to have a very powerful anaesthetic, and most date rape drugs take effect within thirty minutes and can shockingly remain in your system for up to 72 hours.

Dr Sarah Jarvis, Drink Aware’s medical adviser, says: “The symptoms will depend on lots of factors such as the substance or mix of substances used including the dose, your size and weight and how much alcohol you have already consumed.

“If your drink has been spiked it is unlikely you will see, smell or taste any difference. Most date rape drugs take effect within 15-30 minutes and symptoms usually last for several hours.

“If you start to feel strange or more drunk than you should be, get help straight away.”

Jamie, a third year business student, looks back on his experiences of spiking at BU, and tells The Bournemouth Tab: “In my first year, I witnessed one of my closest friends become the victim of spiking at The Old Fire Station.

“I was called to the medical room where I found her foaming at the mouth. The club refused to call an ambulance, and even went as far as to take my phone off me to prevent me from doing so.”

“It always seems to be girls who are the victims. I’ve never witnessed a boy being spiked which makes you think that certain individuals are specifically targeted at bars and smoking areas.”

The NHS website tells us to never leave our drinks unattended, to not accept drinks from strangers, to avoid cocktail jugs and punch bowls, to make plans for your journey home, and to avoid taking noticeably expensive and flashy items out to a club, to deter thieves.

If you don’t want to share your experience with people that you know, then you can visit the ‘Talk to Frank’ website, and other voluntary organisations such as Victim Support, Dorset Rape Crisis Centre, and Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre.

Thankfully, we are shaping our culture into one where we can talk freely about sexual assault, without judgement. Sadly,  however, victims often place blame on themselves, and that shouldn’t be the case.

Should your friend be spiked – call an ambulance, tell a member of staff, stay with your friend and keep talking to them, and if you can, prevent them from drinking more alcohol.

So, the next time you’re in a club having plenty of fun, taking selfies, and slut dropping to Drake, ask yourself this – are you avoiding risks, are you refusing drinks from strangers, and are you looking out for your friends?