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Written by Mair Howells

After she was drugged at a London club, Mair Howells, voltaren i paracetamol 23, launched a platform to support spiking victims. Now, with cases rising, she’s calling for urgent action.      

Early on a Saturday morning in February 2020, I opened my eyes and sprang out of bed. This wasn’t normal for me: I’d been out the night before and I usually need to sleep off a hangover. But I didn’t feel hungover – I felt like I’d been beaten up. My wrist was in agony, there was a huge gash on my chin and my nose throbbed like it had been cracked against a wall. I was still wearing my outfit from the night before, and it was covered in blood. The worst part was that I had no idea what had happened to me.

I tried to remember but drew a blank. I knew I’d gone out with my 18-year-old sister; our friend had rented a floor at a London club for a private party. I’d had a beer at home, then bought a rum and Coke in the club. I remember taking a sip and everything went dark.

With the help of my sister and some friends, I’ve pieced together fragments of that night. Apparently, I stumbled off after buying that drink and was staggering around the outdoor smoking area talking rubbish – totally out of character. Then I disappeared. Eventually, my sister found me in the men’s toilets. I’d smashed my nose and chin against the floor; there was blood everywhere. She got me home, but I started vomiting uncontrollably.

My injuries felt serious, so that morning I went to A&E. It turned out I had a concussion, a fractured wrist and needed stitches in my face. I thought someone must have put something in my drink – my sister had been spiked two months earlier, so it was on my radar. But I had to wait hours to be seen and wasn’t offered a blood test. Most drugs leave your body in 12–72 hours, so I guess they assumed it was too late to tell. The nurse had been spiked herself, though, so knew the signs and asked: “Do you think you could have been sexually assaulted?” I hadn’t cried until that point; I’d felt numb. But now I broke down. I didn’t remember anything, so I couldn’t answer her. I felt mentally and physically violated.

Meanwhile, my mum went to the club and demanded to see the CCTV footage. But the crucial camera – the one pointed at the bar – had been covered with fairy lights so there was no evidence. She saw me enter the club, though, and then head out to the smoking area. “When I saw you arrive, I thought: ‘I know that girl,’” she said. “But 15 minutes later, you were a different person. Even the way you were moving was unrecognisable.”

I didn’t go to the police. When my sister tried to report being spiked, they said they couldn’t investigate without test results, but the hospital refused to check her bloods because they “didn’t do forensic testing”. She was passed between services, with no one taking responsibility. I didn’t have the energy to go through that.

But I did want to turn my ordeal into something positive. I had so many questions, but I realised it wasn’t beneficial to dwell on them. Instead, I posted on Instagram to raise awareness. I got so many messages saying, “I’ve been spiked too,” yet until I saw Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You, I’d never seen it treated as a mainstream issue.

So in March 2020, I created I’ve Been Spiked: an online safe space for people to share stories, offer support and demand action. I’ve set up a petition too, calling on the government to launch a review into spiking and place a legal duty on venues to do more to prevent it.

Lately, we’ve seen horrifying reports of women being spiked by injection on nights out. We should be enjoying the return to socialising, yet we are once again having to confront the fear that our night out will end in assault or worse. It has to change. Some campaigners want more searches at clubs, but if people want to get drugs in, they’ll find a way. Instead, I’d like blood testing to be more accessible so it’s easier for police to investigate, better aftercare for victims, and increased education such as bystander training in universities. We need to see it as part of a wider culture of sexual violence, which has to be challenged at every level of society.

I get horrible messages from incels and other abusive men, saying women only talk about being spiked to show off how attractive they are, or that I shouldn’t go out if I don’t want to get drugged. But I refuse to be intimidated. Going into lockdown shortly after I was spiked gave me time to heal, and speaking out about my experience has been my way of taking back control.

The fact is, spiking is a much bigger problem than anyone wants to admit. But I’m hopeful that there are things we can do to stop it and to better support victims when it does happen. No one should have to accept this as a risk of a good night out. We deserve to enjoy ourselves – free of fear.

What we know

Drink spiking is on the rise

Official figures don’t reflect the true scale of the problem as many victims can’t or don’t report the crime. However, 198 incidents were reported to UK police from 1 September 2021 to 23 October 2021, according to the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), with most involving young women. An investigation by the BBC just before the pandemic also found a rise in recorded cases, with over 2,600 in England and Wales between 2015 and 2019.

Injections are a danger too

In recent months, several women have shared stories on social media about being allegedly spiked by injection at clubs across the UK. There have been more than 1,300 reports of needle spiking made to police forces across the UK in less than six months. 

The government is aware of the need for action

In October 2021, Priti Patel, the home secretary, asked for an urgent update from the police on the spate of spiking cases. The Commons Home Affairs Committee has also tasked police chiefs with urgently assessing the scale of the problem.

Victims should get help as soon as possible

If you suspect that you have been spiked, get help from someone you trust as soon you can. The NHS advises going to A&E or your GP immediately if you start to vomit, hallucinate or feel very sleepy; call 999 if you need to. Deputy Chief Constable Jason Harwin, the NPCC’s national lead for drugs, also suggests contacting the police straight away.

Images: Mair Howells

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