Content Warning: This article contains discussion of drink spiking and sexual assault.
Incidents of drink spiking have allegedly increased across Durham city as a whole during freshers week, according to a post by University College JCR.
There have been at least five cases affecting students from University College, and five from Hild Bede College, as well as numerous from across the wider student body. Incidents are reported to have taken place at multiple locations in Durham.
In a post on the Facebook group Urban Angels Durham, a group aimed at promoting the safety of women and non-binary people in Durham, one student alleged they had been spiked during Castle’s Freshtival event. The student was taken to A&E, and urged fellow students to “take care and look out for one another”.
Another student claimed they were spiked on the Tuesday night of freshers’ week. The student was taken to hospital, where they stayed overnight. Students have expressed dismay and concern around reports of increasing incidents.
A post to Castle Freshers from the JCR said “it is now evident, with the events of Freshtival that we have to address the hugely concerning evidence that a member of our community is potentially perpetrating this crime. I would like to tell you now, if this is you, there is no place for you in our community.”
Jonah Graham, Welfare and Liberation Officer for the SU, said: “The numbers of spiking cases are abhorrent.”
Spiking is legally considered a form of assault, and is a crime under the 2003 Sexual Offences Act, with charging resulting in up to ten years imprisonment.
St. Mary’s College sent an email to students in which the Assistant Principal urged students to be vigilant, and noted strategies that could be used to avoid spiking, including not accepting drinks from strangers and never leaving a drink unattended.
The email also said: “Without wishing to downplay the significance of drink spiking in any way, we’re sure you are aware that people can become unwell on nights out for a number of different reasons; we are also aware that there have been cases recently where an incident which was initially assumed to be a spiking was later confirmed not to have been due to spiking.”
Palatinate has spoken to a number of clubs across Durham about the rising cases. Jimmy Allen’s, one of the most popular, said: “We do take drugs seriously.”
“We are aware of an increase in spiking in the Durham area. Our bar staff and door staff are being additionally vigilant towards this and we ask our customers to do the same.”
“We have not had a confirmed spiking in Jimmy Allen’s but we are aware of incidents through the city of Durham.”
Various organisations offered guidance and support to students. Urban Angels Durham told Palatinate that they are equipped and ready to support any victims who approach them.
They are also sharing graphics and information to make people aware of ways to prevent spiking, what to do if spiking occurs, and how to seek support or legal action as a victim, with an emphasis on the fact that spiking incidents are never the victim’s fault.
Urban Angels has also started a dialogue with venues in Durham over their need to be vigilant after recent cases.
Durham SU Welfare and Liberation Officer Jonah Graham emphasised that “There is no scenario in which a survivor of such assault is to blame. The SU recognises the stigma around gender based violence.”
“I understand that students will be frustrated that the conversation is framed around how women and other students can avoid being spiked. No one should spike a drink – it should not be for women to avoid violence because society should prevent gendered violence.”
“The SU is dedicated to this work through supporting Womxn’s association and It’s Not Okay Durham, creating a culture commission to provide tangible goals for cultural change, providing our own active bystander training focused on sexual and gendered violence, and pushing the University to include relevant examples within its respect training.”
Jimmy Allen’s were asked what they were doing to prevent incidents occurring: “We have increased the amount of door patrol staff inside the venue to try and deter, also alongside this we now give a couple members of bar staff body cams to wear behind the bar.”
“Our bar staff and door staff are being additionally vigilant towards this and we ask our customers to do the same.”
Jonah Graham offered advice to students, but expressed that “the following advice is merely a self-defence mechanism and under no circumstances tries to lay the burden on the victim.
“Students can do several things to avoid being spiked. All students should watch their drink when being served and never leave it unattended – keep it in sight or in hand. Students should not accept drinks from people they do not know. If a student is in a college, they should ask for a spikey.
“If a student suspects they have been spiked, they should seek help immediately. A student can work out they have been spiked by monitoring themselves for symptoms – spiking can cause visual problems, a loss of balance, confusion, nausea, vomiting, and even unconsciousness.
“Most date rape drugs are tasteless and new forms of spiking, such as ketamine or additional stronger alcohol, are being used. If a drink tastes odd or a student is disproportionately drunk after only a few drinks they should seek assistance.
“Seek help from a member of staff or a trusted friend especially if the student feels in immediate danger. Date rape drugs normally take 15-30 minutes to take effect, so students need to act quickly. They should ask the person helping them to take them out of the immediate situation and to the nearest accident and emergency room. Medics should be told there has been a suspected spiking.
“Once treated the student should consider reporting the incident. There is no pressure to report incidents, especially if spiking has led to sexual violence, however, the police can conduct an enquiry by accessing possible CCTV footage, and a hospital can perform blood tests. If the student was just spiked they can report it to their college.
“If the spiking led to other forms of assault the student can go to the North East SARC Support Service who support students emotionally and with STI testing and treatment, and blood tests up to seven days after the incident.
“If a student has been the victim of sexual violence they can email the student conduct office – on student.cases.ac.uk – for specialised advice.”
An email from St. Mary’s College encouraged students to contact student support if they have been subjected to suspected drink spiking or other unwanted behaviour, including sexual violence, explaining that student support can offer support and explain reporting options.
Durham Constabulary was contacted for comment. Neighbourhood Policing Sergeant Jason Mole said: “Drink spiking is a serious offence and we will always take any reports of this type of crime seriously so encourage anyone who thinks they have been a victim to get in touch by calling 101.”
“I would also urge them to seek medical advice immediately and ensure that a hospital blood sample is taken to aid us in an investigation.”
Durham Constabulary told Palatinate that “students can also discuss any safety concerns with their college or the Police University Liaison Team.”
Image by Adeline Zhao