Exclusive

'Predators down the hall': Students tell of spiking epidemic plaguing universities

3 December 2021, 07:48 | Updated: 3 December 2021, 11:48

(L-R) Sophie Watson, Phoebe Kowhai, and Lexi Covaulsen from Cambridge Girl Talk are among students who spoke to LBC
(L-R) Sophie Watson, Phoebe Kowhai, and Lexi Covaulsen from Cambridge Girl Talk are among students who spoke to LBC. Picture: LBC

By Charlotte Lynch

A spiking epidemic is plaguing the UK's top universities, with perpetrators roaming campuses and targeting society socials, students have told LBC.

Students have said it is "normal" for people to be spiked at house parties and society events by their peers, who often see it as "a laugh". It's a problem that has been rife for years.

Sophie Watson, a student at the University of Sheffield, told LBC: "It's normal to wake up in the morning and find out that someone has been spiked on a night out. It's in lots of clubs across Sheffield, and it's not just drink spiking, it's a lot of spiking by injection.

"It's happening in clubs which are specifically students, so it's obviously students doing it to students, which I think is even worse."

Tabitha Gerr, who studies at the University of Bristol, said: "Everybody knows somebody that has been spiked. I've got a friend who was very recently spiked at a house party by someone she knew."

Read more: 'Terrifying': LBC joins spiking victims on London night out as reports surge

Rhea, a student at University College London, told LBC she believes she was spiked and has since suffered liver failure.

"I was in hospital for about two weeks, it was horrible. I'm five weeks behind on all of my uni work now, it's completely changed my life. I had to have a tube inserted in to my neck and down to my liver.

"I haven't heard anything about what the uni is doing necessarily, and I haven't heard anything about what the police are doing. I don't think they care that much. I hope they do something, but right now I don't think anybody is looking out for you."

Hundreds of people have signed a petition after reports two people were spiked by injection at a Cambridge University college last week.

Read more: Police to review scale of drink spiking amid reports of women being injected at nightclubs

Lexi Covalsen, the director of women's group Cambridge Girl Talk, said: "I think we want to think other students are our friends, our peers, and we're all in the same boat together. But when you hear stories like that it just makes you think there are predators living right down the hall from you, or possible predators."

Hughes Hall College said a full investigation was ongoing and support was being offered to all students.

A student at Cambridge University told LBC on a separate occasion she had taken her friend to hospital, after it's believed she was spiked by a fellow student.

She said: "It was at a society event, and I avoided going out for quite a while afterwards. The morning after I was studying in the library, and I couldn't focus at all, I was still shaken.

"The worst could have happened to my friend and I'm just glad I was there. Maybe I was naive in thinking that Cambridge would be different because of its status."

Read more: Man jailed for spiking drink in London pub with viagra with intention of sexual assault

Research from the Alcohol Education Trust suggests around 35% of spiking cases happen at private parties, and 28% occur in nightclubs.

Phoebe Kowhai, who is studying a masters in English at the University of Nottingham, said: "It does happen, students just spiking each other for a laugh. They just think it's funny. It's directly happened to one of my male friends.

"Spiking has always been around but it's got to the point where needles have had to be introduced for people to start taking it seriously. It's got to the point where women's lives are at risk on a night out.

"You would think that our peers would have a similar mind-set - we're all equal and you don't hurt others, you don't hurt women. But it doesn't seem to be the case and that's terrifying. You just don't feel safe."

Izzy Schifano, senior assistant editor at student news site The Tab, has been researching the so-called epidemic of spiking at universities.

She told LBC: "We've spoken to people all across the country who have been spiked, and I've spoken to students who have been spiked at house parties which they thought were full of their friends.

"Exeter, London, Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Durham... I'd be surprised if there's a single uni in the country where there hasn't been at least one incident of spiking this term."

In a survey by The Tab, 2,600 students said they had been spiked since term began in September. 50% of those surveyed, almost 12,000 people said a friend or someone they know had been spiked.

43% of London students surveyed by The Tab said they have either been spiked themselves or know a friend that has.

LBC has contacted the University of Cambridge, University College London, the University of Sheffield and Bristol University for comment.

A spokesperson for the University of Nottingham said: "The university will not tolerate this behaviour by anyone in our community. Where evidence is found, we will support the police in their investigation to ensure those responsible feel the full force of the law and will not hesitate to take swift action to address the matter under our Code of Conduct, which in the most serious cases can include suspension and exclusion."

Today Dame Cressida Dick told LBC that anyone who reports a spiking incident will have a "proper investigation" by the Met Police.

Speaking to Nick Ferrari at breakfast he said: "This is a horrible phenomenon, but it is not a new one.

"We’ve had campaigns against spiking, I can remember in the 00’s.We’ve had awareness raising, we’ve worked with licensees…

"All the things we are doing at the moment to try to encourage people to keep an eye on their drink, to keep their eye on each other, to make sure that licensees do discharge their responsibilities to keep people safe.

"And of course, if someone reports it, for us to do a proper investigation.

"You described it as an epidemic, we don’t believe that we get told about all the incidents that there have been.

"Maybe sometimes people don’t know, maybe they are going to tell us but then perhaps for some reason they don’t think it’s worth it. We would want to hear about them.

"In one week recently I think we had 19 [reports of spiking] and some people seem to think this is a sport.

"Some people think it’s funny, some people are presumably doing it for the worst predatory reasons.

"Either way it is incredibly dangerous and a really horrible thing to do."