New working group formed to stamp out ‘heinous’ spiking attacks on students

Michelle Donelan praises bravery of victims for coming forward to help others in campaign to stop spiking on campuses.

Catherine Lough
Tuesday 24 May 2022 14:00
Higher and Further Education Minister Michelle Donelan said she would be asking every university to introduce a policy to tackle spiking by the end of the year (PA)
Higher and Further Education Minister Michelle Donelan said she would be asking every university to introduce a policy to tackle spiking by the end of the year (PA)

A new working group will be set up to stamp out the “heinous” issue of spiking at universities, the Government announced today.

The group will bring together vice-chancellors, police, campaigners and victims to create plans for practical steps to keep students safe following a spate of attacks in UK universities.

Last year, universities said that the increasing number of cases of spiking by injection during nights out was “incredibly disturbing”.

Several women, including students, reported fearing they had been targeted by people injecting them with drugs at nightlife venues, with reports in a number of parts of the UK, including Nottingham, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

I think to tackle this horrendous and heinous problem, we do need to work collaboratively

Higher and further education minister Michelle Donelan

On Tuesday, it was announced that Professor Lisa Roberts, University of Exeter Vice Chancellor, has been appointed to lead the working group and coordinate responses across the university sector.

Higher and further education minister Michelle Donelan said she would be asking every university to introduce a policy to tackle spiking by the end of the year.

“I think to tackle this horrendous and heinous problem, we do need to work collaboratively,” she told the PA news agency.

“Most of these incidences happen outside of the university or college campuses, but of course they are important anchor institutions in their community – equally, we know that the night-time economy have a role to play here, police have a role to play here.”

She added that the Government wanted to “hear from the voices of victims” and praised the “exceptional individuals [who] have the courage to come forward and use their harrowing and awful experience to try and help others”.

She said her priority was that students felt “safe” so that they could “enjoy that broader student experience that is so important”.

Ms Donelan said she knew someone personally affected by spiking, and she wanted to highlight this to show spiking “is something that is happening to thousands of people, predominantly women, every year – this isn’t something that is aloof and people don’t experience it”.

“And also, because I saw first hand the devastating consequences that this can have and what it can lead to, not just for the individual but also everybody around them.

“It made me more determined to ensure that we do tackle this issue head on, but equally so have all of the other stories that I have read or the people that I’ve met that have experienced these kinds of horrendous incidences.”

She praised universities such as Nottingham Trent which has been involved in delivering bystander intervention training to staff in night-time city venues, and said that practices like this should be made widespread.

She added that the Government wanted to “remove some of the stigma around this issue” with a Students for Sustainability study showing that 70% of those who believe they have been spiked do not come forward, which “leads to the perpetrator in fact getting away with it, free to attack another victim”.

Ms Donelan added that with the “evolution” of spiking some perpetrators “horrifically inject [victims] in the arm, which is shocking behaviour and is very hard.

“The best practice is obviously to have something over your drink – you can’t sort of protect your arms at all periods of time, so it is quite terrifying.”

She said the prevalence of spiking through injection were hard to assess, with some studies suggesting the rate of people coming forward was low, which made “evidence-based good practice” more important.

Last month a Home Affairs Select Committee report found the true prevalence of spiking – which can include spiking someone’s drinks, “hazing” rituals and attacks with needles – remains unknown.

A recent survey by student outlet The Tab suggested 11% of students believe they have had their drink spiked, while research by the Alcohol Education Trust found more than one in 10 young adults had been victims of spiking.

Spiking is a heinous crime which puts lives at risk

Home Office minister for safeguarding Rachel Maclean

Ms Donelan added that recent incidents had shown perpetrators were becoming more “brazen” in how they carried out “this appalling crime”.

“I am committed to tackling real issues that affect students across campuses – whether it is ending the use of non-disclosure agreements, standing up against antisemitism or now looking to end spiking – I will always fight to ensure students are protected at our universities.”

On Tuesday, Ms Donelan and Home Office minister for safeguarding Rachel Maclean met victims, campaigners, senior police officers and university leaders to discuss attacks seen in different regions and explore how more collaboration between universities and the police could give a clearer picture of how prevalent the problem is.

Ms Maclean said: “Spiking is a heinous crime which puts lives at risk.

“We have already reclassified drugs which have been used for drink spiking and provided funding through the Safety of Women at Night and Safer Streets funds to support initiatives which prevent people from becoming victims of spiking.

“I know more must be done, which is why I will continue working with experts across the sector to discuss how we can go even further to tackle this crime and bring offenders to justice.”

The evidence will be used to inform the Government’s report to Parliament on spiking, to be published next spring.

Professor Roberts, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Exeter, said: “Everybody has the right to be safe and enjoy their night out with friends without the fear of spiking or violence.

As chair of the new working group I will work with partners to look at the evidence, best practice and incidents across the UK so that we can make practical recommendations to improve the night-time economy for students.”

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