Is 'injection spiking' the latest threat to women's safety?

Security guard  are regulating the situation of safety in an event concert in a nightclub.
A shortage of bouncers could mean nightclubs can't ensure safety for patrons. (Getty Images)

Fears have been raised this week about the safety of students and young people thanks to reports of a post-Brexit bouncer shortage in nightclubs.

Concern for the welfare of young women, in particular, has risen dramatically with news that some have reported being spiked in nightclubs, in large student cities including Nottingham, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

And while most are now aware of the threat of drink-spiking, and careful not to leave drinks unwatched, or allow strangers to buy them, alarming anecdotal reports have emerged of a new method which criminals may allegedly be using to render women unconscious.

Read more: 'Don't be that guy': New anti-sexual violence campaign makes men responsible for women's safety

One student, Zara Owen, wrote a measured and detailed status on social media this week explaining that she had been at Pryzm nightclub in Nottingham last week, before her memory cuts out.

She was later told she had been wandering around alone, 'making no sense' and added that the following day, she had woken with an agonising pain in her lower leg and what looked like a puncture mark, suggesting to her that someone had injected her with a drug such as Rohypnol, the 'date rape' drug.

Closeup shot of a man drungs into a drink in a nightclub
Watching your glass is now standard, but is there a new worry? (Getty Images)

Friends put her in a cab she added, and she got home safely, despite having no memory of events - Owen has now reported the incident and wanted to warn others.

Similar reports emerged in the wake of her post, with women recounting marks on their backs and arms following a memory black-out, and leading to a barrage of worried and angry posts from young women, parents and women's campaigners on social media.

Many posted their own or friends' experiences, recounting that they had drunk very little but suddenly were unable to speak, slurring their words and struggling to stand up.

Nottinghamshire Police are increasing their focus on the issue and Superintendent Kathryn Craner said: “Over the last few months we have seen an increase in reports where people believe that drugs may have been put in their drink – that’s due to the fact that they have experienced a distinctly different feeling to their normal reaction to alcohol.

“But we’ve also received a small number of reports where people are telling us, as Zara has, that this has been associated with a pain or a mark on a part of their body, scratching sensation, and as though they have been physically spiked.”

Now, campaigners are demanding that nightclubs do more to keep patrons safe.

Watch: Putting the spotlight on women's safety

Girls Night In, a social media campaign launched by Bristol student Milly Seaford, Edinburgh student Martha Williams hopes to raise awareness of the threat of spiking, saying they had begun the campaign due to "growing anxiety on nights out with fear of being spiked especially by injectables.

"Although Bristol doesn't seem to have as bad of a spiking problem, the recent alleged spiking in Bristol Pryzm shows that we're not exempt!’

A nationwide boycott of nightclubs is being organised for 27 October in hope that it will prompt clubs to do more, including providing lids for drinks, and first aid and drug misuse training for staff.

There is a petition calling for searches on entry which currently has more than 100,000 signatures.

The campaigners also said: "Ideally our end goal is to change the class of date rape drugs from Class C to a higher class so there are more consequences for offenders."

Cheerful female friends enjoying while having champagne in nightclub
Women are advised to look out for each other - but some think the onus should be on clubs. (Getty Images)

Other suggestions include better staff training, first aiders on hand and better information about help available.

The police are aware of the new allegations of injection spiking, but so far have made no arrests in direct connection with such an incident.

In the wake of Sarah Everard's murder, female safety is high on the agenda, and women are keen that the onus does not once again fall on them to take excessive precautions, rather than on the criminals themselves, and on the clubs.

Read more: Women’s safety campaigner: ‘Pace of change is too slow’

Whether or not 'injection spiking' is an epidemic or a handful of anecdotally reported incidents, even once is of course too often.

Writing in student newspaper The Tab, Louisa Riley said that "the push for female safety has never been stronger, yet this new trend feels like the latest attack on our safety. Spiking by injection is the newest in a long list of fears that women will be forced to keep in mind whilst clubbing.

"Drink spiking is rife within clubbing culture."

Watch: Women's safety phone number ;'whitewashes' issue

But while a BBC report found that between 2015-19 there were 2,650 reports of drink spiking in England and Wales, 72% of victims were women and around 10% were under 18, there are no official statistics on the crime.

This may be due in part to victims being unsure whether they simply drank too much, incidents going unreported, and the difficulty of investigating when typically, the drugs used are fast-acting and swiftly leave the body. With a damaged memory of events, even sexual assault may often go unreported – or be impossible to prove.

That's why campaigners and security advisers are increasingly vocal when it comes to demanding more action from the venues charged with keeping their clientele safe.

Ross Worthington served with the Police in investigative roles for 15 years, including working as a town centre policing officer liaising with pub and club owners.

"I have previously dealt with incidents of spiked drinks, and have in fact been a victim of spiking myself in an oversea location whilst working in capacity as an expedition leader, so it is not just a UK issue," he says.

"I have not personally been made aware of injection spiking occurring but I would suggest this may have been happening for sometime whilst people are not aware. The most likely method of delivery will not be a traditional needle - it's more likely to be a spring loaded “auto-injecting” device, similar to those used for insulin injections," he explains. "These tend to be similar to the size of a pen and people can carry them legally, using diabetes as a cover story."

Protecting yourself against such incidents is 'incredibly difficult' he goes on. "The first port of call should be additional security consideration at venues with 100% consented search policy, so you can make positive choices with the location you visit.

"If you suspect you or a friend have been spiked in any way, you should make you way to a member of staff immediately and seek a place of safety with an identifiable person or uniformed police officer. It is imperative to seek medical attention ASAP", he goes on, "as, although rare, side effects can occur with serious implications as well as the risk of sexual assault.

"But injecting is a targeted action taken by an offender and can be masked in a busy club by simply bumping into someone, rather than trying to catch a drink unattended," as awareness has increased vastly over recent years.

Alison Marsh, security expert at, says: "Injection spiking in clubs and bars is a new criminal activity we are seeing more and more – and sadly looks set to continue.

"It follows on from drink spiking and so far is particularly prevalent in student cities. The perpetrators seemingly select busy locations to inject their victims with Class A and B drugs that leave them with no recollection of a night out or what has happened between certain hours.

"As part of my new workshops, injection spiking is covered and I advise those who are out and potentially at risk to take extra precautions by alerting staff at the earliest opportunity.

"Because victims are so vulnerable with no warning of when an injection spike might happen, I’m calling on the pub, club and bar trade to give all hospitality staff access to first aid training should people feel a scratch (from a needle) in their legs or arms.

"Friends should also come together and make a plan before going out to support each other and stay together to stay safe."

Watch: There's a shortage of bouncers - and nightclub bosses fear it could put public safety at risk