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The government needs to introduce new 'spiking' criminal offence to keep people safe

The Home Affairs Select Committee has today published its new report on spiking | Alamy

3 min read

Last year, when reports emerged of a new and sinister form of spiking, where victims were being injected with unknown substances, there was understandable concern. The Home Affairs Select Committee recently held hearings on the issue and have published recommendations.

Spiking is not a new phenomenon. For decades, it has been a lingering threat facing those who want to go out and enjoy themselves. However, what has emerged during our inquiry is how little attention has been paid to understanding this form of crime.

Despite increased focus over the past year there still is no clear picture of the scale of the problem, what form it takes and the motives of perpetrators. There is also a lack of coherent support available for people who are victims of spiking – usually, but not exclusively, women. The overwhelming majority do not report what has happened to them because they either do not know where to go for help or think that they will not be believed.

This is not good enough. Spiking is a particularly pernicious crime, with victims left unsure of themselves, afraid and vulnerable and a potential gateway to other crimes. There needs to be a clear message sent out that it is completely unacceptable and will be met with severe penalties. Victims need to have confidence that they will be listened to, that their complaints taken seriously and that long term help will be available to deal with the potential lasting physical and psychological effects.  

Testing of spiking victims is patchy, either taking place after substances may have left their system – or not at all

Everyone is entitled to go out and enjoy themselves without fear of harm. Pubs and clubs, where spiking incidents are more likely to occur, must do all they can to ensure that they are safe spaces and that spiking is not tolerated. Local councils should use their licensing powers to regulate the night-time economy in their areas, ensuring that venues have adequate security and staff trained to respond to spiking incidents.

At present testing of spiking victims is patchy, either taking place after substances may have left their system – or not at all. The government should ensure that everyone who reports a spiking incident has access to rapid testing of sufficient quality to be used as evidence in court.

Understanding must be improved significantly if effective measures against spiking are to take place. This will require more victims to come forward and this will only happen if they are confident that their complaint will be handled appropriately and taken seriously.

The creation of a new criminal offence for spiking would be a positive step as it would focus the response of law enforcement and send a clear message that spiking is a criminal act that will be prosecuted. The low number of convictions for spiking is concerning and the government should investigate what can be done to remove barriers to prosecution in the criminal justice system.

The motives of those carrying out spiking attacks are also poorly understood. There are cases where it has been used to further theft or sexual assault, but in most instances no further criminal activity is reported. Without better knowledge of why people perpetrators do it, it will be difficult to develop strategies to combat spiking. Improved reporting should lead to increased understanding as more cases are investigated, but the government should also commission academic research to get a clear picture.

Too little attention has been paid to spiking for too long. This must change. People who are attacked like this should not be left to deal with the consequences on their own. Most importantly, much more needs to be done to send the message to perpetrators that their behaviour will no longer be tolerated.


Dame Diana Johnson is Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull North and chair of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee

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