Art student who lost ability to draw after spiking feels unsafe five years on

·4-min read

A fine art student who lost the use of her drawing hand for weeks after her drink was spiked has said she still feels “vulnerable” during nights out five years later.

Lancaster University graduate Polly Sutherland was spiked when she was 19 and said paramedics, doctors and the students’ union did not take her complaints about the incident seriously.

Miss Sutherland, from Stone in Staffordshire, had been on a night out at the university’s The Sugarhouse, run by the students’ union, in December 2016 when friends noticed her behaving strangely.

The graduate, who also has type 1 diabetes, said being drugged left her needing to use a walking stick for around a month because it damaged her blood sugar levels – something which can be fatal for people with the condition.

Recalling the night, Miss Sutherland, now 24, said: “I don’t remember anything suspicious happening, or noticing anything happening.

“It was just, later in the night, friends with me noticed that my personality changed – I seemed very different… erratic.

“So they took me home, I went to bed, but when I woke up in the morning I had a lot of bodily weakness and twitches in my arms, legs, all over really.”

She went on: “When I went to (my GP) they weren’t very helpful.

“I remember feeling really disappointed, because I went to them saying ‘From what’s going on, I think I’ve been spiked’.

“They almost raised their eyebrows, almost accusing me of taking drugs, and I was trying to get out of it somehow or making excuses.

“I felt very let down by the doctors at that point.”

Miss Sutherland had to apply for deadline extensions in the final year of her art degree because she could not paint or draw following the incident.

She said she reported the incident to Lancaster University Students’ Union (LUSU), but received little response.

Asked how the incident made her feel, she said: “Very… I don’t want to use the word violated, because maybe that’s too strong.

“But it’s scary to think what could have happened.

“I’m lucky that I had a lot of friends around me that took me home when they noticed something wasn’t right, so I’m very thankful for that, because I don’t know what purpose that person went out with.

“It made me feel very vulnerable. Even now, when I go on nights out, I’m very cautious of it now, and it’s in the back of my mind all the time.”

The graduate, who is now in her second year of a politics degree at Keele University, said she has joined the Girls Night In movement, which sees students boycotting clubs following reports of drink spiking incidents.

Polly Sutherland
Polly Sutherland said the incident made her feel vulnerable (Family handout/PA)

But she said: “The thing that bothers me is that, with the boycotting, the onus is on girls, again, to stay in.

“I think the fact that we are the ones that have to stay in because this is happening is putting it on us, it’s our responsibility to make sure we don’t get spiked, instead of telling people not to spike people.”

Miss Sutherland said clubs should use CCTV and scan ID cards on entry, instead of just checking them by eye, so that they have a record of who attended each night.

In a statement, Lancaster University said: “We pride ourselves on Lancaster being a safe place to study and are distressed to hear about any of our students being assaulted in this way. The Sugarhouse is owned and managed by Lancaster University Students’ Union, and we cannot comment on individual incidents.

“However, if any of our students have safety concerns in relation to spiking, or any other kind of assaults, then we would strongly encourage them to report them to the university and we have created a range of ways to enable our students to do so. We would also encourage students to report any such incidents to the police.”

A spokesperson for the student union said: “We have thoroughly investigated our records for this period and we can find no report of this incident. If the student concerned contacts us with further information we will, of course, look into the matter. All other reports of incidents at that time were thoroughly investigated and appropriate action was taken.

“Anyone found spiking would be reported to the police, reported to the University Deanery and banned from The Sugarhouse for life. All victims of spiking are given immediate first aid by dedicated welfare staff and taken to hospital if needed or if they request it.”

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