A committee of MPs has urged the Home Office to improve education and awareness of spiking as part of a national strategy to tackle the issue, which otherwise risks remaining an “underreported” crime that data suggests is much more likely to affect students and young people.
Police and the Home Office must encourage more people to report spiking and improve data on alleged offences and the outcomes of any investigations, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee said. At the moment, the MPs warned, “it is very difficult to get a true picture of how widespread spiking is due to poor data”.
What police data does exist suggests females account for nearly nine in 10 victims of drug needle spiking – and almost three-quarters are aged 18 to 21. Where official records identify an occupation of the victim, 81% were students. A separate survey of spiking victims conducted by the committee found that 68% were under 24.
The problem of spiking received renewed exposure when – last October – reports emerged of a spate of spiking offences involving hypodermic needles, many linked to students, across the country.
The MPs noted that the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) recorded 1,032 cases from September 2021 to December 2021 – with a peak around October 2021, when university terms started. “Victim profiles suggest that students and the student-age population are selectively vulnerable to drugs needle spiking,” evidence from the NPCC warned. Of those offences with a student victim recorded between September and December last year, 94% occurred in October.
The problem last autumn led the shadow universities minister to call on the Home Office to instigate a multi-sector response from higher education and police. Many universities warned students of the risks: some student unions introduced bag-search policies and metal detectors, while others offered free drink test kits or trialled passive drug-detection dogs.
The Home Affairs committee also said it wanted the government to lead an education campaign in concert with universities to highlight the impact on victims and repercussions for offenders. It also recommends a new national strategy to evaluate and unify the “current patchwork” of anti-spiking programmes.
The committee’s report said it was “pleased” the findings of a scientific review of testing kits were expected soon – but warned “that, in the meantime, victims could get false assurances” about their safety from an as-yet-unknown rate of false negatives. It urged the Home Office to “expedite” the review of the “relative merits of the various spoking testing pilots being run by the police, universities and hospitals”.
To aid police understanding of the offence, the committee also recommends Home Office commission academic research into the motivations and profiles of spikers.
Julie Spencer, head of student wellbeing at the University of Lincoln, told MPs students inadvertently spike drinks at house parties by “over-pouring or free pouring”. Spencer said more education on drinking and spiking before students start HE. She also warned that tackling alcohol spiking would be harder to test and prove than illicit drugs administered via a needle.
Last autumn, Jess Phillips, shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, said she was in contact with an Oxford City Councillor “working with 25 young student freshers who have been spiked in recent months”. The freshers “were all deeply reluctant to report it to the police, saying that they did not want the hassle or were worried they would not be taken seriously”, Ms Phillips continued.
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