Spiked: An Invisible Crime

Spiked: An Invisible Crime

Critic Investigates Drink Spiking in Aotearoa

TW: Mentions of sexual assault and detailed depictions of drink spiking 

At university, everyone seems to know someone who’s been spiked. The phenomenon hangs in the air at flat parties and lingers about the bathrooms of student bars, yet remains grossly stigmatised. Following incidents of spiking to Critic Te Ārohi staff members, we realised how alarmingly little is understood about spiking – it’s barely treated as a crime. Note: it’s a fucking crime. Under the Crimes Act 1961, drink spiking related offenses are classed as a form of assault, punishable by fines and imprisonment.

Researching an issue we thought we were alone in, we grew increasingly shocked at the number and nature of others’ personal stories; and even more shocked at the lack of New Zealand coverage on the issue and barriers victims face when trying to seek support. Drink spiking is an issue tied closely to alcohol, and students are a population known for their boozing. While this may increase risk, it increases victim-blaming, too. As most drink spiking crimes don’t fit the stereotypes seen in popular culture, victims are prone to dismissing their trauma. Worse still, it’s often dismissed by others – including authorities. This, coupled with the lack of national research and data, has made drink spiking an invisible crime. 

Critic Te Ārohi conducted a five-week-long survey with the title: “Do you know someone who’s had their drink spiked?” There were 330 responses and of those, 80% answered yes. Worse still, 34% had their own drinks spiked – that’s 113 victims from our small survey alone. Yet, New Zealand averages only two drink spiking-related convictions per year.

No one seems to know how common drink spiking is in New Zealand. The NZ Drug Foundation claims it “seems more common than it is”, while NZ Police state that “it happens a lot more than we have recorded.” Well, in the Critic office of around 30 staff, there are two of us: Lotto and Jodie. Due to our trauma histories involving spiking, we’ve had queries about whether we’re the right people to talk about this – and maybe we’re not, because fuck knows it’s been hard to write this feature. But someone has to. As one anonymous respondent to Critic’s survey emphasised: “The more we talk about it, the more likely we are to see change and hopefully reduce instances of this occurring.” 

Critic Te Ārohi acted on the need to shed light on the invisible crime of drink spiking; speaking to healthcare professionals, authorities, and victims of spiking to understand how it goes unnoticed in NZ; to dispel myths of what it looks like, who it affects, its perpetrators as well as  examine the cultural and systemic barriers to seeking help.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Lotto (they/them) knew it wasn’t normal to collapse and blackout several hours after having four drinks before going to a karaoke club. They also knew it wasn’t normal to then wake up in their mate’s bed in different clothes with a grapefruit-sized sprained ankle, a projectile-vomited on carpet, and no recollection of how any of that had happened. The natural assumption was that they’d just gotten too drunk, but they discovered that their friends had taken them home immediately after collapsing at the karaoke venue. They’d also only been drinking water: “So why the fuck did I wake up feeling high?” It took them all day to somewhat regain their mental faculties as they pieced together that they may have been spiked. After this realisation, a second one hit: Lotto didn’t understand drink spiking at all – and it seemed like no one around them did, either.

The idea of it felt almost selfish. Lotto had spent most of their life thinking that drink spiking was virtually synonymous with drug-facilitated “date rape”, and that because “date rape” drugs were too difficult to get in New Zealand, drink spiking didn’t really happen. Most certainly not from water glasses in a quiet karaoke venue. Their friends had gotten them to safety before anything “bad” could happen, so Lotto felt guilty in thinking that something bad had happened. Yet they’d been drugged to the point where they had no recollection that their friend had undressed and showered them, and injured their ankle so badly that they’d later need a moon boot. 

News articles on drink spiking always seemed to pair it with sexual assault, and listed sexual violence hotlines. Lotto knew that they hadn’t been sexually assaulted. Maybe this made them “lucky”? It certainly didn’t feel that way. While their was supposedly a “best case scenario”, they were missing ten hours from their memory and one functioning ankle. By the time Lotto had come to terms with the fact that they were spiked, it was much too late for the drug to show up in any tests. 

“Thinking about it was painful. I eventually got my parents to take me to an urgent clinic for my ankle – I still felt like saying I suspected drink spiking was somehow wrong, but as we filled in the ACC form and more came out about how I honestly could not describe where the stairs were or how I fell, [the nurse] seemed concerned. It was nice to have someone be concerned instead of thinking that I was just drunk.” Lotto had no idea what they were meant to do. In Critic’s survey, over half of spiking victims claimed that they “didn’t know what to do” in the aftermath, either. As Critic would find out, about the same proportion of people only disclosed the incident to a close friend or relative in lieu of accessing other support. 

When Lotto could somewhat form thoughts again, they began researching. Were they spiked? What could they have been spiked with? What are the symptoms? How common is spiking in NZ? Can you be spiked without being sexually assaulted? Where should you go and who do you tell? How do you find out if it’s a crime you should report? There were next to no New Zealand resources to be found, outside of mentions in headlines. The Australian Alcohol and Drug Foundation defines drink spiking, which “occurs when a person deliberately adds alcohol or another drug to someone’s drink without them knowing,” and makes it clear that drink spiking is illegal in Australia. 

The only mention of drink spiking from the New Zealand Drug Foundation, however, is in a booklet aimed at bar owners. The booklet has a single page dedicated to what to do when a customer says their drink was spiked: “Drink spiking seems more common than it is. It can be claimed by someone who consumed more alcohol than they recall, missed a meal before they started drinking, forgot a medicine they took, or who made decisions they regret.” Still, the resource instructs training staff: “Take complaints of drink spiking seriously.” Yet the more Lotto researched, the less they took themselves seriously.

What is spiking?

So, what is spiking? In Critic’s survey, we included two different ‘definitions’ to gauge not only how common it is, but also what people count as spiking – or more potently, what they don’t. We first asked, “Have you ever had your own drink spiked?” to which a third of respondents answered “yes”. Further down, we asked: “Has someone ever added more alcohol or drugs to something you consumed, without your knowledge/consent?” The percentage of people saying “yes” rose to 43.9%. 

Though this article focuses on drink spiking, it’s important to consider the variety of forms that spiking can take as revealed by our survey. Spiking is the administration of substances (e.g. drugs or alcohol) to another person without their knowledge or consent, and “not merely the addition of another drug to a drink,” as Max Phillips of Know Your Stuff told Critic Te Ārohi. Max pointed out that spiking also includes the act of  “misrepresenting a pill, powder or other drug as something else for the purposes of inebriating someone”, needle spiking involving covert injection, or even “vape spiking” when one is offered a vape assumed to be nicotine that actually contains a more malicious substance. Drink spiking is just one kind of spiking – all of which are dangerous. However, from this point on, when Critic Te Ārohi uses the term “spiking”, we use it to refer to “drink spiking”. 

According to Student Health Director Margaret Perley, drink spiking is “deliberately adding  alcohol or another drug to someone’s drink, without their knowledge or consent.” Last year, Police told Newshub that alcohol is the most commonly used spiking drug in New Zealand: “Having extra alcohol added to your drink, or being poured a stronger drink than requested is drink spiking.” Perley reiterated this, telling Critic, “Alcohol is legal, cheap, readily available, and often not easily detected when added to a person’s drink, or in their system after the event. Other substances can be used but they often have a noticable [sic] flavour, are expensive, illegal and more difficult to obtain.” 

As far as spiking with drugs, Otago Uni Professor of Neuropharmacology Paul Smith told Critic that the three most reported drugs in NZ appear to be GHB/GBL, flunitrazepam/rohypnol (where “roofie” derives its name) and ketamine. Other sources also report on the usage of other benzodiazepines, MDMA, cannabis, methamphetamine, and commonly used medications, such as antidepressants or antihistamines. It might be true that some of these substances are difficult to get a hold of, but others not so much – Critic reported on wastewater testing data from Police that revealed a 71.6% increase in MDMA during Flo Week, for example. As for information in the literature, however, “I just wish I could give you more precise information about the specifics,” Prof Smith told Critic, “but I have looked and there’s very little.” 

Prof Smith also emphasised to Critic that “alcohol is the biggest culprit, [though] the New Zealand Drug Foundation and the Police seem to say that irrespective of any really good study that shows it.” However, Paul makes the point that “the bottom line is, any drug that can be used that will impair people’s attention, and particularly their memory, make them drowsy and lose self control, could be exploited for [drink spiking].” 

Drink spiking has become synonymous with “roofie-ing” or “date-rape drugs”, though this is far from what most cases of drink spiking look like. While we might expect that drink spiking is always linked to sexual assault, this can be a harmful misconception. Less than a third of spiking cases lead to sexual assault — which is still far, far too many – while spiking without sexual assault makes up the majority of cases, and motivations are still poorly understood. Ignoring these aspects of spiking has a two-fold consequence: standalone spiking victims are left in the dust, while victims of additional sexual assault don’t receive support that meets all their needs. 

Drink spiking is also not just about the serious risk between alcohol and drugs used for spiking, which serves to exacerbate symptoms. Paul Smith also communicated the risk of “major interactions” between alcohol, illicit drugs and potential medication the victim may be on. “If someone spikes somebody else’s drink, they may not know what medications that person might be on […] it’s potentially a very dangerous situation.” In severe scenarios, this can lead to “loss of consciousness, and potentially a coma if doses are high enough.” Again, the act of drink spiking itself is assault. 

How common is spiking?

Comments left on Critic’s drink spiking survey ranged from being “warned that drink spiking was a huge thing in O Week”, to others who had “assumed shit like that didn’t really happen in Dunedin for whatever reason” before witnessing a spiking event. 

Critic’s survey didn’t aim to gauge the prevalence of spiking in the general NZ population. Our results are only representative of those who chose to answer a survey on drink spiking – but it was the best means of gathering local data that we had. However, of our respondents, a third reported being victims of drink spiking – not an insignificant number. 

Critic’s survey got backlash because of its participation bias; people with experiences of drink spiking would be more likely to take part. However, in the Global Drug Survey of 2022 which looked at 22 countries, New Zealanders made up almost half of respondents (for reasons unknown). For a survey about drugs in general, 21% of NZ respondents reported having an experience with drink spiking. This is also not an insignificant number.

In the Global Drug Survey (the biggest drug survey in the world), researchers discuss how the study “sheds light on the current understanding of drink spiking as it is being experienced by people at the beginning of the 2020s. Our findings challenge gender-based stereotypes and the belief that drink spiking occurs most commonly in association with drug facilitated sexual assault. It also questions the presumed dominant role of alcohol as the most frequently used substance in spiking incidents. However, our study cannot exclude the possibility that unexpected experiences were the result of intentionally consumed other psychoactive substances.”

On the other hand, there is no New Zealand specific data on the prevalence of drink spiking, or even on reporting of drink spiking. After previous headlines reported that Police have “no data” on drink spiking prevalence, Critic queried their media team, receiving the following: “Unfortunately drink spiking is not specifically identifiable in the data that Police record. Police do record offences such as disabling or poisoning with intent [drink spiking], or sexual assault where drink spiking may have occurred. These offences are not limited to scenarios just where a drink is spiked so providing statistics from these data will not accurately answer the questions. But to identify reference to drink spiking behaviours would involve manually going through every file to identify how often drink spiking is an element of these offences.”

The New Zealand Police’s page on Alcohol Safety does mention drink spiking, in that it “is rare, but it can happen.” However, sentiments have changed, as 2003 saw a lengthy Police campaign to raise awareness on drink spiking, involving TV ads, posters, and especially ads in university magazines – including Critic. Though, internationally, drink spiking doesn’t seem to have decreased since 2003 (and drugs are now even more accessible in NZ), Police confirmed to Critic that “there are no current campaigns specifically for drink spiking.” 

While campaigns may not solve the issue, they have the benefit of raising awareness – which can aid in prevention but more pertinently, show victims where and how to reach out. For example, coverage of the Mama Hooch case (a case involving bar owners spiking patrons’ drinks last year) recently lead to a reported increase in referrals to sexual assault services. Speaking out is easier when others join the chorus. When authorities can’t make informed claims about how common drink spiking is, let alone broadcast information on the issue, how are victims meant to know how to report in the first place? 

Hidden Barriers

Like Lotto, multiple responses to Critic’s survey detailed a feeling of hopelessness in seeking help after instances of spiking. Only 15% of our respondents went to a health professional after being spiked, and less than half of that amount made reports to the police. Not only do most victims not know what to do after a spiking event, but those that do know run into further obstacles with testing or reporting. As one respondent disclosed to us, “Police cannot assist unless you get a blood test within 24 hours, but ED treated me like another drunk student and did not do this test.”

Police investigations into cases of spiking are dependent on toxicology results – that is, a positive test (usually from the hospital) confirming spiking drugs in your system. For those who have their drink spiked with additional alcohol, toxicology is even trickier. However, Paul Smith noted that, with the exception of cannabis, most other drugs that can be used for spiking are rapidly eliminated from the body – some within several hours – which is often what makes these preferential for the perpetrator. For the victim, however, this can create a race against the clock in an already stressful scenario.

Firstly, the victim must have the knowledge and faculties to discern that they were spiked (while still likely experiencing effects). Secondly, they must be able to get themselves being to ER and wait to receive a test (hopefully within the time limits). Thirdly, the victim’s results rely on the test having the sensitivity to detect the specific drug(s).

 The Community Alcohol and Drug Services page on drink spiking – one of the few NZ resources – informs readers, “The drugs don’t stay in your system for long, even if you feel you cannot speak to anyone initially, at least get a sample of your urine and store it in a clean sealable container in the fridge until you decide what you want to do.”

One survey respondent told Critic, “[There’s] incredibly poor support from both the medical and police side: both myself and my friend’s experience [was] being told that they can’t test what you’ve been given and basically shit all can be done,” – a heartbreaking outcome for someone in the midst of a traumatic event. How are you meant to seek help when it seems no one knows how to help you? Trauma victims too often have their experience scrutinised,  and when drink spiking is a poorly understood, poorly treated issue here, this only brings more opportunities for scrutiny. 

While spiking victims face blame and doubt from those around them, they can also face dismissal from those in places of authority. “People thought I was ‘so intoxicated’ even when I had told them I had 2 standard drinks,” said one respondent. “Nobody knew what was happening until I went to the GP the next day complaining about how ill I felt [...] the whole night/morning was a giant blur. Even then the GP said that I had drunk too much.” They were able to convince their GP to organise a drug test, which came back positive. “The fact I had to talk my GP into testing me was such a let down.” 

There’s a sort of Catch-22 in our systemic barriers that keeps drink spiking invisible: a lack of data proving spiking occurs limits the amount of resources dedicated towards it, while this lack of resources is exactly what gets in the way of victims being able to report said data in the first place. Victims need support, not scrutiny. 

A normalised crime

It took far too much digging for Critic Te Ārohi to work out whether drink spiking is even a crime. We could not find any resources explicitly mentioning which laws spiking violates, nor what the consequences of such an offence would be, much to our confusion. Drink spiking is explicitly criminalised in Australia, and is even a felony offence in parts of the United States. But New Zealand has no specific ‘drink spiking’ offence – part of what makes data difficult to record. According to an OIA from last year, drink spiking can fall under three different offence codes: “Other Disabling/Stupefying”, “Poisons with Intent to Cause Grievous Bodily Harm,” or “Poisons with Intent to Inconvenience”. Again, between these, NZ still only averages two drink spiking convictions per year.

Readers are told to contact the police “if you suspect an alcohol or drug-assisted sexual assault”, but there is no advice regarding spiking in the absence of sexual assault available on the page. Reaching out to the Police Media team, Critic Te Ārohi was advised that, “Anyone that believes they have had their drink spiked is encouraged to make a report to Police [...] This offending will be taken seriously, and victims can trust that Police will respond to their complaint with sensitivity and compassion.” Police advised calling 111 in the case of emergency or suspected sexual assault, and also stated, “After the fact, you can report a drink spiking incident to police by calling 105 or making an online report.”

Unfortunately, this information does not seem to be publicly available. Despite seeing multiple health practitioners after being spiked, as well as working on this article for months, Lotto was still unaware that they could report spiking in this manner.

There may not be sufficient data on how prevalent drink spiking is in New Zealand, but data isn’t the full picture. There are stories. A lot of them. 

“Maybe I’m Just Looking For Attention”

Getting spiked cost one student Sam* her entire friend group. A girl’s trip had turned sour when a group of young men showed up at their party, armed with booze, drugs, and cruel intentions. After sharing drinks and a cigarette, Sam found herself losing complete control of her body. As Sam’s sense of reality slipped away, her friends got out their phones – not to dial 111, but to take pictures. A photo shown to Critic Te Ārohi on Sam’s phone shows her lying unconscious in a field. Her clothes are muddy, her body covered in scratches and bruises, and each one of her acrylic nails snapped off to the stub. When she tried to explain her hurt and confusion, her friends accused her of attention-seeking. Amid rumours swirling about Sam, she was cast out of the group. 

Sam’s experience sadly isn’t unique. Critic spoke to Dr Jess Ison, a senior lecturer at La Trobe University in Melbourne, who specialises in sexual violence prevention. Her paper ‘Paralysed and Powerless' explores the stories society tells about drink spiking. Namely, how drink spiking is represented in the media, how this shapes our understanding of it, and how this influences how we treat survivors like Sam.

The normalisation of drink spiking is embedded within our broader culture of alcohol and societal violence towards women. You may have heard the term rape culture, describing the naturalisation of rape and sexual violence as a result of misogynistic attitudes toward gender and sexuality. Though spiking can, and does, affect people of any gender, it is still deeply embedded in rape culture and systemic disregard for women's bodies, autonomy, and consent. 

What comes to mind when you hear the term “spiked”? Is it a man slipping a pill into a young woman’s drink in a bar at an ‘inappropriate hour’? Do you imagine her outfit to be ‘provocative’? Do you see her engaging in ‘risky behaviour’? Jess explains these popular understandings “function to make women or other marginalised people believe their experience is not valid and to not speak up. They ultimately function to oppress survivors.”

Jess and her colleagues studied 14,000 Reddit posts of drink-spiking accounts. They found that survivors tended to be quick to dismiss the impact it had on them: “One of the things that really struck us, people who had their drinks spiked who weren't sexually assaulted were very quick to say, ‘It didn't impact me that much, I'm fine.’ Then they'd say, ‘I never go out anymore’ or ‘I'd never go to a bar again.’” 

Rape myths would have us believe that spiking happens when an individual takes risks such as binge drinking, leaving their drink unattended or not remaining in sight of their friends. The focus on victims’ choices shifts the blame for this crime onto them rather than the perpetrator. The result is survivors feeling an overwhelming shame for “letting it happen to them” and discouraged from speaking up or reporting it out of fear of judgement. Rape myths also have us believing that when the incident doesn’t result in alcohol or drug-facilitated sexual violence, it is not spiking. Critic Te Ārohi received a number of responses where survivors felt what happened to them was “not bad enough” to talk about. Often because they were not physically hurt, or because they made it home safely. “Safely”, however, is subjective.

Spiking and assault can look very different, and can have a variety of impacts on the individual or individuals involved. This doesn’t need to look like the ‘textbook’ spiking from movies or TV to be valid and worthy of reporting and getting support for. One anonymous submission to Critic heart-breakingly ended the story of how they were spiked with: “Maybe I’m just looking for attention.” 

Sam doesn’t blame her friends for what happened. They were young. They didn’t know what they were doing. And after all, they didn't spike her. But because Sam’s experience didn’t look like what her friends had seen in movies, they didn’t think it warranted her distress.

The ‘Mystery Man’

It was Lauren’s* female classmate who spiked her. They’d sat beside each other in a tutorial and instantly clicked. So when Lauren’s classmate invited her to a flat party – boasting free drinks, no less – she went. Lauren found herself in a room of unfamiliar faces, quickly realising that none of her other classmates had shown up. After accepting an open Corona from her classmate and taking a few sips, Lauren’s world began to spin. She locked herself in a bathroom, listening to the party guests talk about her through the door as her entire reality began to distort. Anxiety overcame her body as she began to lose control of it. Luckily, Lauren managed to escape the flat and get home. 

In many cases (like Lauren’s), the perpetrator is someone you know: a classmate, date, partner or a friend. Dr Jess Ison tells Critic Te Ārohi that rape myths uphold the idea of the ‘mystery man’ to obscure and protect actual perpetrators already known to the victims. 

Dr Ison describes what she suspects the majority of drink spiking looks like: A group of young people are out drinking. One party-goer realises that if they buy an individual more drinks or give them drugs, they might be more willing to have sex. At some point, this becomes a deliberate effort. The perpetrator may think they are fundamentally different to an abuser – they’re not the “mystery man” after all. But this is still alcohol-assisted sexual assault. By imagining perpetrators as always being overtly hostile strangers, it normalises the spiking that happens around us, in familiar settings, with familiar people. Critic’s survey responses to “Where was your drink spiked?” included the answers “my own birthday party”, “kick-ons” and “my best friend’s house”. 

Getting someone drunk to take them home is horrifyingly normalised in popular culture. Remember that one scene in Superbad where Jonah Hill’s character excitedly lays out his plans to bring booze to the party of a girl he likes? “She’s going to be at the party and she’s going to be drunk and she likes me at least a little enough to get with me.” It may seems innocent, until you realise what he’s planning is sexual coercion. This, Jess explains, is part of the reality of drink spiking. Believing what they are doing is inherently different from spiking relieves the perpetrator of guilt and brings them moral comfort in spite of their predatory actions. This normalisation, along with the focus on their responsibility, leaves survivors doubting the ‘severity’ of their experience and the worthiness of reporting it. 

Lauren told Critic that she still sees the classmate who spiked her around campus. She catches her eye in the library and sits behind her in tutorials. She says the best she can do right now is try to distance herself and pretend it never happened.

We want systemic change, not GHB-detecting nail polish

When Jodie left for university, her dad bought her a rape-alarm. He’d told Jodie he looked for plastic drink covers, but couldn’t find any. This was “the next best thing,” he promised her. It was clunky and to activate it you needed to yank off the keyring part with a fair amount of force. When Jodie was spiked four years later, it sat at the bottom of her bag. She’d managed to get home without getting hurt (beyond the paralysis) and the next day, she attached it to her keyring.

Critic’s survey responders warned “don’t drink the communal water”, “always cover your drink” and “don’t get drunk around people you don’t know.” You’ve probably seen TikTok ads marketing “ingenious inventions” to keep women safe on nights out: hair scrunchies that unfold into cup covers, coasters that detect drops of ketamine or a nail polish that turns red when you dip your finger into a GHB-laced drink. 

Myths around drink spiking work to harm victims and their likelihood of seeking help for experiences that fall outside the stereotypical “norm”. Of course, just as women can be perpetrators of drink spiking, men can be victims too. Critic Te Ārohi heard of several stories of male students being spiked by their flatmates or friends on nights out as a “prank”. However, drink spiking is often a deeply gendered issue and, as explained earlier, is connected to wider societal violence and disregard for women’s bodies, autonomy and consent. 

When young women go out and drink, they are given tips and gadgets to keep themselves safe. There's no doubt these can make a difference and bring a lot of comfort to some. However, they do little to ease the frustration many girls feel when they have to alter their behaviour considerably (during what is supposed to be a fun night out), in order to not get spiked or sexually assaulted. 

Jess and her colleagues explain that the narratives surrounding these tips and inventions run the danger of perpetuating victim-blaming: “The onus is on women to stay safe and further than that, they are expected to do labour to remain safe.” They obscure the actions of the perpetrator and normalise spiking as the responsibility of the survivor. One anonymous response to Critic admitted, “I used to think these sorts of experiences are a given being a young woman in town.”

Three years later, Jodie still doesn’t drink as much as she used to. She remains constantly on edge at bars and finds it difficult to trust people outside of her close friends.

What can the university do?

Drink spiking is clearly an issue affecting students to a significant degree, so Critic Te Ārohi reached out to the University of Otago for their input. Student Health Director Margaret Perley, in response to our questions over whether it’s an issue of concern for them, said, “Yes, drink spiking is of concern to our service and carries significant risks. Student Health Services does have contact with students who report that they or someone they know has had their drink spiked. We do not capture specific statistics relating to the number of presentations of drink spiking.”

Perley said that, in instances where Student Health receives reports of students who’ve been spiked, a typical situation is “the student was in town or at a party and does not fully recall events due to ‘black out’. They often report they do not believe that they consumed excessive amounts of alcohol.” She said that there are a range of support options available for students reporting drink spiking. Depending on the case, they’ll be referred to a service most appropriate. These include OUSA Student Support, Te Whare Tāwharau, the Proctor’s Office, Māori Centre, Pacific Centre, Chaplaincy, and residential college teams.

In terms of mitigating drink spiking affecting students, Perley said, “People may spike drinks for various reasons; Student Health has no control over this. We can work with students who describe unhealthy drinking patterns to manage, and hopefully reduce, their risk of drink spiking happening to them, by addressing their alcohol use. Anyone who is significantly intoxicated is more at risk of experiencing an adverse event, including drink spiking, as their judgement, perception, and sense of risk will be impaired. Therefore, helping students to understand the risks of their alcohol use, and to manage use to reduce risk, is what we aim for.”

Critic also reached out to Thursdays in Black Otago, a student-led organisation campaigning against sexual violence which “stands with anyone impacted by drink spiking. We believe you. We care,” they told Critic. “Thursdays in Black believes that the student community would benefit from having University staff specifically trained in support for drink spiking survivors and supporters of survivors; with training that allows them to support students adequately. The use of a third-party support organisation that university students have easy access to could also be an opportunity for helpful change.” “Losing your autonomy on a night out is a scary thought, young people shouldn’t have to worry about even the possibility of drink spiking.”

Proctor Dave Scott told Critic that they “do not keep statistics” on drink spiking. “I have not been made aware of any specific issue or increase around drink spiking at the University compared to society at large. However, we remain vigilant and have measures in place to ensure the safety of our students.” He said that where they can, they always provide safety advice tips to students including: don’t leave your drink unattended; avoid drinks offered by strangers; have a plan to get home; stick with your friends; and watch your drink being made by bar staff. 

While good advice in the current circumstances, students who Critic spoke to and who responded to our survey are tired of the onus being on the victim, wanting systematic change. One anonymous respondent says, “[There’s] huge victim blaming stigma for not watching your own drink rather than questioning the person literally bringing drugs to a venue with the intention of spiking somebody (and likely worse intentions).” 


Drink spiking is a pervasive issue that remains overlooked and poorly understood in New Zealand. Systems that are meant to support victims often serve to silence them instead. The trickle down effects of this are immense. We thought we’d struggle to find personal accounts from students and peers, but Critic’s survey received a devastating amount – too many for this problem to be so invisible. Thank you to each and every one of you who responded and shared your story. It shows that none of us are alone, and when given the opportunity to speak, many of us will. 

It’s true that university can be an amazing environment for exploring alcohol, drugs and your sexual identity in early adulthood. We all deserve the freedom to do this safely. However, researching and writing this piece has brought to Critic’s attention the systemic misogyny and rape culture that brings significant harm to our student community. This culture, combined with (and influenced by) lack of education on sex, pleasure, consent and positive engagement surrounding alcohol use impacts so many students, so deeply. Knowing all this is against victims of spiking, it’s hard to know where to start. The first step is empathy. 

Dr Jess Ison stressed the importance of dispelling rape myths, believing survivors and looking out for your friends and university whānau. Understanding the realities of sexual assault is the first step: “It’s about presenting the facts and empowering young people to make informed decisions”. Know that drink spiking and sexual violence can look very different and all survivors’ experiences are worthy and valid, no matter who they do or don’t tell. Believe victims, support them – help them to get help. To survivors: it’s not your fault. All responsibility lies with the person who did this to you. 

*Names and identifying details changed 

If you suspect your drink has been spiked, you can get help from one of the following: 

Police: Call 111 for emergencies and/or sexual assault,  otherwise call 105 or mak an online 105 report
Student Health: 03 479 8212
Te Whare Tāwharau Sexual Violence Support: 0800 479 379, tewharetawharau@otago.ac.nz (drop-in sessions available)

Believe victims. And fuck drink spiking. 

This article first appeared in Issue 12, 2024.
Posted 11:02pm Sunday 19th May 2024 by Jodie Evans and Lotto Ramsay.