The number of sexually motivated spiking crimes recorded by police had increased by two-thirds before the pandemic, exclusive findings from NationalWorld reveal.
Between 2016 to 2019, spiking attacks recorded by police in England and Wales had risen by 67% before the forced closure of nightclubs and bars from March 2020, according to a Freedom of Information request to the Home Office.
And there was still one spiking attack every three days on average in 2020 - despite Covid lockdowns.
The legal term for the attacks is ‘administering a substance with intent’, a crime intended to cover all instances of drink-spiking as well as any other method of administering a substance with the intention of overpowering someone to sexually assault them.
NationalWorld’s exclusive investigation into spiking, which has been launched this week, comes as the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) exclusively revealed to this publication that 274 reports of spiking offences involving a needle were reported between September and 8 November to police forces.
Not all of them will necessarily yet have been confirmed and officially recorded as crimes.
Spiking incidents peaked before pandemic year
The Home Office data shows offences peaked in 2019, with 214 crimes recorded by police – an increase of 67% on 2016. The data covers 40 police forces across the two countries, with Manchester, Kent, Staffordshire and Wiltshire not included.
There were only 10 fewer offences recorded in 2020 than in 2016 – 118 versus 128 – even though the night time economy was fully open for just three months of 2020.
It means during the first year of the pandemic, there was still one attack every three days on average despite two national lockdowns and pubs and bars not reopening until July 2020. Clubs closed entirely after March.
However, the figures are based on the ‘principal offence’ a suspect was charged for. That means if a suspect was charged with both spiking and a subsequent rape, only the rape, as the more serious crime, will be captured in the data.
Stigma still surrounds reporting spiking incidents
Helena Conibear, chief executive officer at the Alcohol Education Trust, said there is a real problem with a lack of reporting spiking among the young people her charity works with.
The charity polled 16 to 25 year olds receiving support from them in October, finding 94 people who said they had been spiked and a further 26 who thought they might have been spiked.
Just 8% of those who had been spiked reported it to the police or A&E, their poll found.
Victims either felt they wouldn’t be believed, that it was too late by the time they realised what had happened, or were too embarrassed.
The charity Drinkaware told NationalWorld that spiking symptoms can last up to several hours after drinks have been tampered with.
Alcohol and drugs, including date-rape drugs, take effect as quickly as 15 to 30 minutes.
Drinkaware chief executive officer Elaine Hindal said: “Drink spiking is a heinous act and a serious crime.
“Although most reported victims of drink spiking are women, men are targeted too.
“If your drink has been spiked it’s unlikely that it will look, smell or taste any different but the consequences can be very serious.”
Ms Conibear added that some young people who reported a spiking to police or A&E said they received no follow up.
She said sometimes young people feel as though they are being pushed from “pillar to post” between the two authorities.
Where victims have gone to the police, they have been sent to stretched A&E services for a toxicology report only to be turned away.
NationalWorld put the claims to NHS England, but it declined to respond.
Ms Conibear added: “The recorded spikings in our view is the tip of the iceberg. The rise could be two things – more reporting of cases, which I hope is the case, or there is a rise in the number of people having their drink spiked.
“In the 11 years we have been supporting young people across the country, it has always been a significant, under-reported issue – with hardly any perpetrators brought to book.”
Spiking is as common at private events and house parties as it is in clubs, she added.
“We now expect reports to rise as the whole issue has been raised in profile so much, which is great – the night time economy will be more vigilant,” she continued.
A Welsh government spokeswoman said it is strengthening its violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Strategy and will work closely with the Crown Prosecution Service and Welsh police to raise awareness of the inequality and safety issues faced by women and girls.
A spokesperson for the NPCC said: “We would encourage anyone who believes they have been a victim or witness to spiking, in any form, to contact their local police force.
“Any reports of spiking will be investigated and taken seriously. You should try and report it to police as quickly as possible to help officers carry out tests and gather the best evidence.”
A message from the editor:
Thank you for reading. NationalWorld is a new national news brand, produced by a team of journalists, editors, video producers and designers who live and work across the UK. Find out more about who’s who in the team, and our editorial values. We want to start a community among our readers, so please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and keep the conversation going. You can also sign up to our newsletters and get a curated selection of our best reads to your inbox every day.