Are universities facing a date rape crisis?

Flora Carr
A bar in Shanghai, China - www.Alamy.com

One year on, Alexandra still only remembers fragments from that night. She recalls being in a pub with friends, drinking wine, before catching the eye of a male acquaintance. The last thing she remembers from the evening is his hand on her thigh. The next morning she woke up in his bed.

“At the time I didn’t call rape because I was attracted to him,” she says. “But I don’t remember giving consent.”

Alexandra believes that, in the casual setting of the pub, where everyone’s drinks were left on a long trestle bench, her drink was spiked. But she still can’t be sure, and she didn’t contact the police. She isn’t alone in her decision not to report. Our knowledge of drink spiking is pieced together in fragments.

Last year there were 35,699 rape offences and 70,399 other sexual offences reported in the UK, but it’s unknown how many of those took place as a result of date rape drugs. A survey conducted by ITV in 2014 found that 1 in 10 people said that they’d been drink spiked. The NHS estimates on its drink spiking web page that hundreds are spiked in the UK every year. But in reality, the true extent of drink spiking remains unknown.

The latest UK government statistics on sexual offences from the year ending March 2016 show that the number of sexual offences recorded by the police is up by 21 percent compared with the previous year. The Office of National Statistics puts the increase partly down to a greater number of victims willing to come forward.

copy of A history of advice on alcohol

So why do victims of drink spiking seem reluctant to speak out?

A lack of statistics means that the issue still isn’t being taken seriously. And for people like Alexandra, a fear, firstly, of victim blaming  means that they aren’t reporting to the police, creating a vicious circle.

Victim blaming is a serious issue concerning sexual assault. Many took to social media recently to accuse retiring judge Lindsey Kushner of victim blaming, after she used her final criminal trial to warn drunken women that they must realise they’re rape targets.

“[Kushner] could have used her platform to push the consequences of rape… rather than victim blaming,” Alexandra said.

Anna was also spiked on a university night out, after which she experienced victim blaming. She is in her second year at Newcastle, and believes she was spiked with MDMA, otherwise known as ecstasy. She had never taken the drug before, or since, yet she vividly remembers feeling spaced out and unexpectedly cold in the sweaty club, whilst her jaw was frantically chewing, so much so that a friend had to give her gum.

These are all symptoms of MDMA usage. She also remembers pushing away a man who approached her whilst she waited outside the toilets. But because no one witnessed this, and she didn’t pass out, a friend cast doubt on her story story.

6 rape myths which need busting. Badly

“That made me really sad. I expected better from someone I considered a friend,” she says.

“Everyone knows about drink spiking,” she continues. “But no one expects it to happen to them, or their friends. It’s more likely to happen to students, because of the amount people go out at university. There definitely needs to be greater awareness of the problem.”

Spiking is an issue that, anecdotally, disproportionately affects university students. I was also spiked in a club whilst still at university, and although friends with me realised what was happening and took me home, the thought of myself then, so vulnerable – 19-years-old, a cocktail of drugs swimming in my veins – still frightens me.

Yet at the time I didn’t report the incident to the police. Having faced victim blaming and probing questions the next morning from other students – what were you wearing? How much had you drunk? – I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I began to doubt myself, and couldn’t bear the thought of the police not believing me. I still regret my decision.

Self-doubt, alongside victim blaming, is another reason why victims of drink spiking may not be reporting. A difficulty is that, alongside traditional date rape drugs like liquid ecstasy and flunitrazepam (otherwise known as Rohypnol), alcohol itself is often used to spike drinks. Victims face public scrutiny – some automatically question whether a victim has just had ‘one too many’.

“The drug most often used in these cases is alcohol itself, [so] spiking someone's drink with more alcohol than they've asked for, or realise they're consuming,” explains Katie Russell of Rape Crisis UK.

“Additionally a lot of the drugs used [for] this kind of crime leave the system relatively quickly and they can also affect memory. It's generally quite difficult to separate the data and to gather accurate statistics on this topic.”

Shame is a third reason why victims of drink spiking are reluctant to speak out about their experiences, not only to the police, but also to friends and specialists.

I couldn't face going back to Birmingham after it happened and I had to quit my job

“From my experience, working with women in my clinic, shame is undoubtedly the biggest factor,” says psychotherapist Catherine Asta Labbett. “They don't want to be seen as a victim, and would rather be labeled depressed or anxious than a victim of sexual assault.”

“With date rape assaults, the victim often knows the perpetrator. It is pre-meditated, which can make the victim feel like a fool for trusting that person in the first place.”

“It’s important people seek help,” says Keith Best of Survivors UK. “The consequences of not seeking help are devastating. This never leaves you. You need help to make sure it doesn’t dominate your life.”

Yasmin Smith (not her real name) is one victim of date rape drugs who did report her attacker to the police.  Smith was 21 when her drink was spiked with cocaine on a night out in Birmingham.

“I woke up in a dark B&B room with no windows, and a strange man looking over me. My underwear was on the floor.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/stanford-sexual-assault-the-shocking-case-that-shows-the-reali

Smith was terrified, but managed to convince the man to drive her back to her friend’s flat. Once there, her friend immediately took her to the local hospital and to speak to the police. She had to hand over her phone, clothes and underwear to the police, before taking several blood tests and the morning-after pill. She initially felt that the police doubted her story.

Then the medical reports confirmed Smith had been spiked and then raped.

“CCTV showed me being dragged into the B&B. In the footage I was lifeless, unable to walk and unresponsive.”

Her  rapist was found guilty and sentenced to 6 years in prison.

“I couldn't face going back to Birmingham after it happened and I had to quit my job,” she says. She’s reluctant to tell new friends about her past experience.

Despite her bravery, cases like hers are rare, and there is still no clear picture on the extent of drink spiking in the UK. Statistics are urgently needed to bring the issue to the police and public’s attention – and to show victims that they are not alone.

Flora Carr is a Masters student in Investigative Journalism at City University, London. She has a first-class degree in English literature from the University of Exeter. 

*All victims named in this article have provided written consent for use of their first name or an alias. 

RegisterLog incommenting policy

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes