Staying Safe(r) for New Year’s

I believe that I was drugged with GHB in 2015, at the end of a meal out at a local restaurant with my dad. It should have been a very safe moment. But when the conversation went weird, neither my dad nor I had the experience to realise what was happening. He left to go catch a flight and after that, I have a 5 hour complete gap in memory. I woke up naked in a hotel bed next to a man I had never seen before. You’ve probably heard of my campaign to bring a private prosecution against my rapist, but for right now, let’s put my story to the side.

Let’s just try to make sure that this New Year’s Eve, you don’t wind up with your own story like mine.

Tampering with drinks is at a near epidemic level. It may have happened to you. According to an ICM survey that I had done after I was raped, 51% of women in the UK aged 18–24 have either been drugged themselves or know someone who was drugged for the purpose of sexual assault. That doesn’t mean that all of these women were raped, it just means that they were drugged against their will. In many cases, either they realised it in time or the people around them realised it and helped them to stay safe. But, unfortunately, in more than a few cases, these women were indeed assaulted, just like I was.

And let’s be clear: it’s not just women who this happens to. I have a male friend who I am convinced was drugged at a work event a few years ago, with disastrous results. He doesn’t remember what happened — but he was sexual aggressive with a junior staff member and nearly lost his job. GHB and alcohol together pretty much create an ecstasy like effect and also wipe your memory of what happened. That’s why it is the ideal date rape drug.

But there are things you can do in this New Year’s Eve, and going into 2018, to try and keep yourself a bit more safe:

  1. The buddy system: Having a buddy isn’t just for those in nursery. Even for a New Year’s Eve at the pub, get a buddy. Agree guidelines ahead of time and check in regularly with your buddy. If something seems off, put them in a cab. If something seems really off, get in the cab with them.
  2. Don’t take drinks from anyone: Much like your mother probably taught you, don’t take candy from strangers. In the hubbub of the festive season, even if you’re usually up for a drink from a stranger at a bar, best to give it a miss this time of year. And if you will anyway, go with the stranger to the bartender and get the drink from the source.
  3. Let the bartender be your best friend all night: For simplicity’s sake, just get your own drinks from the bar. When a bartender is putting together a large order, there’s more time and more confusion to make it easy for someone to tamper with your drink. Ordering one drink at a time straight from a bartender is your safest bet, but if all else fails, be with a very small group and agree to do rounds.
  4. Once you put a drink down, it’s gone: Want to go off and dance? Fabulous. Good way to work off the calories in the alcohol you’ve been drinking all night. But either finish your drink or recognise that it’s gone. Do not go back to a drink that’s been out of your sight. It might seem paranoid, but honestly, better safe than sorry.
  5. If you see something, say something: If something seems off with someone, even someone you don’t know very well, intervene. That quiet friend of a friend who is suddenly all over someone? Probably better for everyone if you put her in a cab. You’re not getting in the way of true love. If it’s meant to be, they’ll connect again when sober heads prevail. The same with your sister’s best friend’s cousin’s dog walker. If something seems off, help them get home.
  6. Here’s a novel one: How about, if you are thinking of putting something in someone’s drink for any reason — even just to “loosen up” the uptight guy, as I think happened to my friend — how about you don’t do it? If we wanted to do a drug, we’d make that choice ourselves. If you need to drug someone to get them home with you? Don’t.

At the end of the day: if someone spikes your drink, even if you took a drink from a stranger or danced and went back to your abandoned drink: it isn’t your fault. You shouldn’t have to protect yourself from someone tampering with your drink.

If you think you, or someone you know, has been drugged, call the police. If you think that you may have been raped, call the police. Even though my story is one of epic police bungling and an incompetent prosecution service, I cannot be more clear: call the police. Under 15% of rapes are reported, which is one reason that fewer than 1 in 100 rapists in the UK goes to jail. The very first step to changing this to call the police.