> Victims call for students to wake up to the dangers of ‘date-rape’ drugs

Let’s be honest here, we, as students, have almost all fallen out of a club, pub, bar or alcohol based event after seven too many drinks, perhaps, on more occasions than we’d probably like to admit. Due to media representation and the precedent set by our former students, we have come to accept heavy partying and all that comes with it, as parts of student life.  The inevitable walks of shame, the piecing together of nights over tea and naps the next day is what a lot of students would call, the new traditions of their life. Whilst we can collectively claim to have drunkenly stumbled, mumbled and fumbled our way home to our beds, or someone else’s, the fact of the matter is, almost all of the time, this consumption of alcohol, however reckless it may seem afterwards, is under our control.

As a young person and perhaps more so, as a young woman, I have heard the words, ‘drink spiking’ and ‘date-rape’, and the names of ghastly drugs used to spike drinks, banded about in the media for the last few years.  But it is a situation you honestly never think you would find yourself in, after all, these things always happen to other people. This was exactly how I felt about it, and then it happened to me. 

It is hard to recount anything from the night in question, which is effectively the point of drink spiking. But I had had one drink before I went to meet friends at a well-known club in the centre of Bristol. I remember walking to the club, getting money out of a cash-point near the club, and paying my entry, and being inside, a friend suggested we all get drinks, and I, barely tipsy agreed to this. The last thing I remember was standing at the bar, paying for, and then being handed my drink. I then remember nothing more, nothing at all. The next thing I remember is waking up the next lunchtime quite literally in a daze, but in my own bed, with absolutely no recollection of what had happened, how I had got home, or any sign of my handbag, containing my keys, purse and phone. As if this wasn’t terrifying enough in itself, I also had a graze across my shoulder and down the left-hand side of my face, accompanied by a swollen black-eye. My whole body ached and I found it difficult to focus my eyes, and then even more difficult to stand and control my limbs.  I felt like Bambi on ice, or perhaps Bambi after being hit by a large lorry. I knew quickly what had happened to me, this was like no hangover I had previously experienced. Past having my belongings stolen I was thankfully all in one piece, I instinctively knew nothing more than a bad fall had happened to me. About three days later I came to my senses, I don’t know whether it was the shock, a concussion from hitting my head or the effects of the drug, but I felt almost alert again, awake for the first time in days. It was a really terrifying experience, and a very emotional one as well, one that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Afterwards, when I told people about what had happened, it became clear to me that it is a lot more common than you would like to think. The Chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) Professor Sir Michael Rawlins has previously described drink spiking and, to use the correct term, ‘drug facilitated sexual assault’ as a ‘particularly disgusting offence that ruins lives.’ And as ‘a significant but under-reported problem.’ Having spoken about it with a few people, the range of reactions and experiences that were consequences of drink spiking really shocked me.  From a friend who had her drink spiked with acid, to a friend who vividly remembers literally everything about what happened from the club to the hospital, but like me, couldn’t control her limbs. Almost equally alarming is how difficult a crime it is to prosecute, or in fact to prove at all. This is due to how quickly many of the drugs commonly used leave the body. When I went to the police, about fourteen hours after the event happened, I was told that they could not do anything but file a stolen property report because the drugs wouldn’t be traceable in my system, the police officer I spoke to was kind, and told me that telling people they could do very little was one of the more frustrating elements of her job.

Although it is a hard crime to prove, unless there is further, forensic, element to the crime it is important to remember that is a crime, it isn’t just bad luck. To be found guilty of drink-spiking related crimes can mean a jail sentence of up to ten years, and it is always vital to report if it happens to you.

I am aware that I am at risk of sounding distinctly like my Mother here, but the whole experience made me really realise how vulnerable drunk people are, and especially what easy targets girls are.  Whilst I am not advocating never leaving your house again, it is good to remember that the world out there can be a big bad place. Have fun but try your best to stay safe.

Hattie Barnes