The Stigma around Spiking: Sitting in Silence

Katie Preston (she/her)

The University needs to do more to create change.

Ever since university started up again a few weeks back, you’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard of the rampant reports of spikings occurring in York. 

Following these apparently increasing cases of spikings and sexual misconduct, it is clear that more needs to be done to ensure both the safety of University of York students and to lessen the stigma and uncertainty surrounding asking for help.

With the ending of COVID-19 regulations and the re-opening of bars and clubs, it is sadly no surprise that spikings have seemingly become much more frequent in the past month. What should have been a welcome reintroduction to university and campus life has too quickly become traumatic nights out and the fear of harassment. But what can the student body do to try and avoid the awful experience of being spiked, and how can the University better educate and protect us?

Whilst the stigma surrounding speaking out about being spiked is gradually being decreased on account of international movements such as MeToo, I believe that not enough is being done to prevent spikings from happening in the first place. When I spoke to Women and Non-Binary Officer Imogen Horrocks, she said it is evident that the “root of the problem” must be confronted, telling me: “We absolutely do not think it’s anyone’s responsibility to have to keep themselves safe from spiking but unfortunately it is a big problem at the moment.”

Emphasised in a presentation by the York branch of The Last Taboo, focused on reporting spiking and sexual misconduct, the University’s ‘Report and Support’ tool is a key method of accessing support. Allowing students to report incidents of spiking by using their contact details, the ‘Report and Support’ tool permits the University to conduct an investigation, although reporting anonymously means that the University can’t directly act on a specific incident.

However, I believe that the shame and stigma surrounding speaking out still runs rampant, with the fear of approaching the authorities or not being believed being an all-too-common experience. Similarly, education on what spiking feels like, how to identify spiked drinks, and what to do if you are a friend or colleague dealing with a spiked person is incredibly lacking.

To make matters worse, university students across the UK are now reporting horrific ‘spiking by injection’, with awareness raised on social media. If it wasn’t for organisations such as The Last Taboo and the phenomenal work they carry out, I am confident that many more cases of spiking would go unnoticed.

The issue with the idea of spiking, in my case at least, was that I never thought it would happen to me. I would read the awful stories of students, statistically more often young women, being spiked and sometimes worse, and I’d repost any helpful information on how to identify spiked drinks on my social media. But when it did happen to me, suddenly I became one of those stories, and I couldn’t wrap my head around how I had gotten here.

To this day I have no idea what happened to me. It was a quick, under the radar attack by someone with horrifying motives, and even weeks later I am still mentally recovering. In many ways I was quite lucky: my friends found me and took me home and I had no lasting physical damage. But this narrative has become all too familiar with many students at the University, and for some it has resulted in much more serious consequences.

To anyone at the University of York who has been spiked, regardless of your gender identity, sexuality, race, or age, I urge you to speak out. In some form. If that’s to a trusted friend or partner, a flatmate, a course-mate, or to the authorities if you feel comfortable, I urge you not to sit in silence.

The Last Taboo has launched a consultation allowing students from any university to anonymously share their spiking experiences, and I’d urge you to respond if you believe you have been spiked. 

And to the University itself, more needs to be done to educate students and staff on how to identify, prevent, and protect ourselves from being spiked. Currently, anti-spiking posters in collaboration with YUSU are being launched in every official student club night, outlining common symptoms of spiking, with free anti-spiking bottle toppers available behind all YUSU bars.

This is an amazing, student-led start, but the huge increase in spiking needs to be addressed by the University itself if change is to continue to be made.