Fight against spiking hampered by lack of understanding and poor victim support
26 April 2022
The Home Affairs Committee has warned that spiking will remain an invisible crime unless more is done to improve awareness and support victims. In a report published today the Committee finds that a lack of available data on spiking has made it difficult to get a clear picture of its true extent, and will remain a barrier to policing until data collection is improved. A culture of viewing victims as having had ‘one too many’ and a lack of co-ordinated support from venues, police and health services has meant many incidents are going unreported. The Committee calls for a focussed response to ensure that incidents are better investigated and a knowledge base developed to underpin new strategies to combat spiking.
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At present, not enough is being done to support victims. The Committee’s own survey conducted as part of this inquiry revealed that nine out of ten respondents said they did not receive support after a spiking incident. Fewer than a third reported the incident, and for those that did, no further action was taken in most cases.
The Committee finds that more needs to be done to ensure that victims know their complaint will be taken seriously. The creation of a new spiking criminal offence, currently under consideration by the Government, would help improve the response to incidents and effectiveness of prevention strategies. Police forces should also be required to carry out forensic testing quickly and to a quality that can be used in court cases. Communications need to improve so that victims know where they can receive help and to increase overall awareness.
Venues where spiking incidents are more likely to occur, such as pubs, clubs and festivals, must be safe spaces for their patrons. Local authorities and licensing authorities need to use their licensing powers to ensure that venues have adequate security and staff trained to identify spiking incidents. Places with a bad track record for spiking, and wider issues relating to violence against women and girls, should have improvement measures required as part of their licence renewal.
As new strategies are developed to combat spiking, the focus must be on communicating to perpetrators that it is illegal and unacceptable. The Government should ensure that work is done to understand the motives of those carrying out spiking attacks to inform policy development. It should also address current barriers to prosecuting spiking cases so that there is a clear deterrent.
Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Dame Diana Johnson said:
“Spiking is an insidious act. Victims will often have little idea of what has happened, who spiked them, when it occurred or what has been put in their system. They are left with feelings of self-doubt and vulnerability. Yet, while the threat is well known, little has been done to prevent it from happening.
There needs to be a concerted effort to stamp out spiking. Much more work needs to be done to improve understanding and awareness so that people are reassured that the help will be there should they need it. They need to know that they will be taken seriously and action taken.
It isn’t good enough to tell people to put lids on their drinks or normalise taking a testing kit out with you. Everyone should have the right to go out and enjoy themselves without fear. The message needs to be sent to perpetrators that spiking is absolutely unacceptable and will be punished."
Key conclusions and recommendations:
Too little is known about how widespread spiking is. There is insufficient data to give an accurate picture of how often cases occur and where, whether it be by drink tampering or injection, or who the perpetrators are and their motives. The Home Office must ensure that reporting and information gathering is improved if counter-measures are to be as effective as they need to be.
The Government is currently considering whether a specific criminal offence for spiking should be established. The Committee finds that while this may not eradicate the practice on its own it would have a positive impact. Victims would be more likely to come forward to report cases if they were reassured that it was a criminal act that would be prosecuted. Similarly, perpetrators would be sent a clear message that such behaviour will not be tolerated and result in severe penalties.
Information and awareness
A national communications campaign should be launched to improve awareness of spiking. The Home Office should work with partners including the night-time, education and health sectors to ensure messages reach the audiences they need to. It should make clear to perpetrators that spiking, whether done for fun or with malicious intent, is a criminal act that could result in a lengthy prison sentence.
The campaign should emphasise the importance of reporting incidents to the police, with an option to report anonymously if necessary. It must also make clear how and where additional support can be accessed, recognising the long term impact that spiking can have on victims’ mental wellbeing.
Making venues safe
Venues such as pubs and nightclubs, where spiking incidents may be more common, must do all they can to ensure that they are safe spaces for their patrons. The Government should consider setting up a support package to help venues boost security measures. This should aim to ensure that adequate numbers of security staff are recruited and specialised training provided.
The Government should also ensure that local licensing authorities are using their powers to regulate the night-time economy’s response to spiking. They should work with local authorities to develop anti-spiking strategies that make use of licensing powers to impose conditions on venues who do not take sufficient steps to protect and provide support to customers.
At present, accessibility to forensic testing for potential spiking victims is poor and will need to be improved if the police are to have sufficient evidence to investigate and prosecute cases. The Government should place a duty on all police forces to provide timely forensic testing of a standard that would be admissible as evidence in court.
The motives and profile of spiking offenders are not well understood and this hampers the development of effective strategies to combat spiking. The Government should commission academic research to better understand their motivations and help improve the prevention and detection of spiking offences.
The low number of successful prosecutions for spiking offences means there is no clear deterrent for actual or would-be spikers. The Government needs to examine what barriers to prosecutions exist, including barriers to incidents being reported and poor collection of forensic evidence, and devise a strategy to overcome each factor.
There have been successful initiatives put in place across the country to tackle spiking at a local level. The Government should develop a national strategy to ensure a consistent approach nationwide. It should examine which anti-spiking strategies have been successful, to develop and communicate best practice that police forces and local authorities can learn from.
- Inquiry: Spiking
- Home Affairs Committee
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