This is not a post that I ever imagined I’d be writing but if you follow my Instagram account you’ll know that something pretty unpleasant happened to me last weekend – my drink was spiked. Since I talked about it on there I’ve been flooded with stories from people who’ve had similar experiences so even though it’s something I really just want to forget, I’m going to write about it in more detail so that you can see just how easily it can occur. You see we think it’s just something that happens to younger women but I’m afraid I can now tell you that when it comes to drink spiking – midlife women, it’s happening to us too.
Some quick context for people who don’t usually read this blog
(Regular readers can skip past this). There was a big response when I talked about spiking on Instagram and I’m going to tell people the people who were interested that I’m writing about it in more detail in this post. That means that some people will be coming here for the first time so if you are, welcome – I hope you’ll return. In the meantime here’s a little context as to who I am.
I’ve been writing this blog for nearly eight years now and I started it exactly ten years after I moved to the Lake District with my husband and three small sons. I’d gone from being the editor of Selfridges magazine, a glamorous job that was based in the Oxford Street store to a much more low key life, running a small marketing business and raising my boys in a country village. During that time I’d dressed practically, completely losing my sense of style so Midlifechic began initially as a personal project where I used my former editorial skills to map my journey as I tried to get myself back on track again.
Other like-minded women soon started to join me and we now have a community of 54,000 on here. We still talk about clothes a lot but we also cover anything else that crops up in the course of being a woman in midlife: travel, relationships with teens and adult offspring, menopause, fitness, interiors… you know the kind of thing. It’s very much a passion project for me, my day job continues to be working mostly with retailers as a consultant – which of course gives me the insight on trends and zeitgeist that I bring back to this blog.
Last September our youngest son headed off to uni, leaving his dad and me as empty nesters. One of the first things we decided to do was buy an apartment in Newcastle to give us an urban base near to his mum who has Alzheimer’s and Dementia. It brings with it a complete contrast to our rural life and we’ve been enjoying going out and having time together for the first time in over twenty years… and that just about brings us up to last weekend. I just want to add that because I discuss quite personal things on here I try to keep my husband’s and sons’ identities private – or at least out of the reaches of Google search – so that’s why I call him Mr MC, it isn’t meant as an affectation
Drink spiking – midlife women, it’s happening to us too
Now this isn’t going to be much fun to read (or write) but it’s important that I tell you what happened to me because I now realise that drink spiking of women over 40 – and men too – is much more prevalent than I’d ever have imagined.
Last week we were over in the North East for a few different business meetings so we decided to stay on in our apartment for the weekend. It had been a busy working week so we decided we’d have a night out on the Friday, after all with Covid surging we’d cancelled a lot of our pre-Christmas plans. And then of course I caught it and so Christmas itself was a bit subdued.
We had a lovely day on Friday – we went for our first post-Covid run which wasn’t as bad as I’d feared, especially as we mapped our route so that we could finish with a nice brunch. On an endorphin high we walked into town that afternoon and picked up some curry dishes from the deli at Fenwick’s Food Hall for later on. So we had a relaxed meal at home and I deliberately didn’t have a glass of wine because I didn’t want to spoil the joy of sitting in a nice bar and having what would be my first sip for quite a while.
We began the evening at Mr MC’s favourite old city centre pub, the historical Beehive which reminds him of his dad, then we moved on to my favourite bar on High Bridge. With it being mid-January it was quiet everywhere, for a while we chatted to a family of midlife siblings who had travelled up from Hertfordshire for the weekend with their partners after their Christmas get togethers had been repeatedly cancelled by Covid. So it was a relaxed evening but we reached the point where we’d had enough and were ready to go home.
There’s a small chain of bars in the north of England called Flares. As you can imagine they have a cheesy 70s theme and usually a small dance floor. It was at a Selfridges work event in the Manchester branch of Flares back in 1998 that Mr MC asked me to dance for the very first time. Love sparked under the glitterball and the rest, as you know, is history. So we’ve often passed the Newcastle Flares and joked that if we ever happened upon it without a queue outside we should pop in for old time’s sake. And of course on a quiet Friday in January there was no queue so even though we were on our way home, we took one look at each other and decided to go in for a nightcap.
It wasn’t very busy so we were served quite quickly and then a great 70s song came on so… (you know what’s coming)… we put our drinks on the table and headed to the dance floor. After a while it really was time to go home so we went back to the table, picked up our coats and finished our drinks. We left through the main door and were crossing the road chatting when my legs, quite suddenly, crumbled. Mr MC looked round in surprise and put out a hand to help me up but I couldn’t stand… and as I tried to explain I found I couldn’t speak either.
He knew instantly what had happened and seeing the panic on my face kept trying to reassure me that my drink had been spiked but I would be ok… that I just needed to work with him to get to a spot where he could sit me down and assess me. I remember trying to reply and just hearing garbled sounds coming out of my mouth. Then nothing.
He tells me that I was out cold and that we sat on a step for at least half an hour while he tried to work out what to do for the best. He thought through trying to get me to A&E but Covid was peaking in the north east and there are three hour waits for an ambulance. Covid regulations would also have meant that he’d have to leave me there alone, unable to speak or move. Our apartment was closer so his plan was just to help me home. I remember coming round and seeing fear in his eyes. Mr MC is never afraid of anything so that’s when I knew it was bad.
Slowly, slowly, with him half-carrying me we started the walk home. In the moments when I was lucid I felt so ashamed, knowing that anyone passing by would assume I’d drunk myself into that state which is something I’ve never, ever done. Every so often I’d completely lose consciousness and come round to see his petrified face trying to work out if I was still breathing. On one of these occasions I opened my eyes to see a policeman and woman approaching which was a relief. They asked if I was ok – I couldn’t answer so Mr MC explained that my drink had been spiked with some kind of drug and that he was struggling to get me home. They smiled and shrugged. And walked on.
Eventually though we made it home by ourselves. I woke briefly at 8.30am, drank the water that Mr MC gave me and then slept again until 2pm. Later that evening I was determined to walk back up to Flares and be there as soon as it opened. I wanted to tell them what had happened and find out if they had policies in place in case somebody more vulnerable found themselves in the same position.
The (female) head of security began her response by suggesting it hadn’t happened, that I’d just had too much to drink but on seeing our reaction and perhaps realising that we were too well-informed to be fobbed off, she ran through their procedure which would work if somebody collapsed inside the bar. They’re clearly primarily keen to avoid negative publicity but also well trained and know what to do if this does happen. In order for them to look into my case using CCTV they said they would need evidence that I’d been spiked from the police. By this point it was too late for blood tests so I left it at that, knowing that I could achieve far more by raising awareness of what’s going on via Instagram and my blog.
Drink spiking – midlife women – what I’ve learned this week
Like most people I never imagined that a middle aged woman out with her husband would be a target for this kind of thing. We’re forever reminding the boys and their girlfriends to be careful but had no idea that we would be at any kind of risk. However since I posted my experience on Instagram I’ve been sent a lot of information along with countless personal stories and I feel I should share the following points:
- Spiking for fun is a rapidly growing ‘sport’. Spiking is no longer solely a tool for sexual predators, instead people are going out alone or in groups and deciding who to ‘take down.’ It’s like a real life video game.
- It isn’t just men who are doing it, there are an increasing number of women targeting other women which seems utterly shocking at first. However when you think of the various online forums where women go specifically to tear others down while hiding behind an avatar you realise that spiking is a few steps on for people who are motivated by their own bitterness. Spiking currently gives them the same level of anonymity and lack of accountability.
- It isn’t just women who are targeted, it’s increasingly men too, young and old, sometimes so that they can be targeted for theft but more often for sport – because somebody wants to humiliate them.
- Spiking can happen anywhere. I’ve had seven emails/DMs telling me about professional women and men who’ve experienced it in expensive London bars and restaurants – and another two where it’s happened at private dinner parties.
- It most often happens when a drink is left unattended – not always when you walk away from it as I (stupidly) did but sometimes when you just turn your head to speak to the person next to you.
- Another common occurrence seems to be when you’re offered a shot from a tray by someone you don’t know – I didn’t have any stories about this happening to women but there were a few whose husbands, brothers or sons had experienced it.
- I was told of one case where a bartender had fortunately noticed in the mirror that somebody was spraying a substance over the pot of straws at the bar.
- And of course we’ve all heard recently about spiking via injections, so far nobody has told me that this has happened to them in midlife, the stories have been about their daughters and sons.
- Spiking is a very cheap way to have ‘fun’. Apparently these drugs can be bought easily for pence on the dark web and the trail is untraceable.
- As yet there is very little comeback for perpetrators, even though the maximum penalty for spiking is ten years in prison. I’ve had countless stories of hospital staff and police not taking it seriously when someone has tried to report it. Others have told me that when they’ve had a hospital blood test showing the presence of drugs, the police have refused to accept it because it wasn’t done by them.
- Spiking does not currently have its own criminal offence code which makes it particularly hard to quantify cases.
- The Independent discovered that “incidents are often dismissed by the Police and the NHS which generally does not carry out blood and urine tests to check if victims have been spiked – with survivors routinely being left with nowhere to turn.”
- A Freedom Of Information request by The Observer newspaper showed that in Avon and Somerset alone there had been 500 reports of spiking and not a single conviction.
- Rebecca Hitchen, of the End Violence Against Women Coalition says that “data demonstrates just how common drink spiking is…Too often we see concerns about spiking translate into additional safety work put on women and girls to protect themselves. But what is actually needed is for there to be actions that focus specifically on the perpetrators who choose to violate the rights and wellbeing of women and girls.” She also calls for police officers and employees at nightclubs and bars not to “dismiss and minimise women’s experiences”.
Drink spiking – midlife women – can we fight it?
I think this is one of the many fights where women need to hold hands through the generations and work together. On a community level we can watch out for each other when we’re out. We can also raise awareness of spiking – please tell other women about my experience, we’re very quick to educate and protect our teens and young adults about risks but we forget they apply to us too. However, getting back to Rebecca Hitchen’s point, there needs to be a critical focus on the perpetrators along with the police and security officials. At the moment spiking is a problem that is only set to grow. The perpetrators won’t stop unless there are a number of stronger deterrents in place both in terms of penalties and surveillance that increases the likelihood of them being caught, stopped and punished.
So what exactly can we do to help?
The MP Dame Diana Johnson has been in touch with me. She’s chairing the cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into spiking which is happening right now and you can follow it live on Twitter here. Let’s start by encouraging them – show the people who have the power to change the law that we have eyeballs on it – the more people who like their Tweets, the more traction it will have. Please go through and ‘like’ the individual tweets outlining the live discussions they’re having with key parties such as the NHS, the Police and the night time industries, it will only take you a minute.
If you have any experience of spiking – if it’s happened to you personally or to a friend or relative – please fill in this quick Home Affairs Committee survey before 31st January – it’s anonymous but they really need the data. I’ve told Diana Johnson that I’m willing to give evidence to the committee and I’ll send them a link to this post so we’ll see if anything comes of that.
Given that I hope they’ll read this, please add any stories you have to the comments below. You can be completely anonymous – the reason I use the Disqus comment system is that I have no GDPR headache because your identity is protected. It also enables me to download the comments as a PDF so on this occasion I can send them to Dame Diana Johnson. Even if you’ve already told me your story via Instagram or email, please do it again here so that I can collate them all – and others can see just how prevalent spiking is. You will help to bring the data to life and perhaps make the police, the medics and the security people listen and take it far more seriously. I may not be able to respond to them all but you’ll be playing your part.
You know that I always try to leave you on an uplifting note. There’s no denying that what happened to me last week was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced but I’m ok. Physically I have a very bruised coccyx from falling down so suddenly and so hard. Emotionally I’m a bit nervous about going out again but I will. And good things will come out of this – I’ll be able to play a small part in raising awareness, hopefully helping to eventually get spiking stopped. As well as being read by my 54,000 regular readers, sooner or later my blog posts are viewed half a million times on average, that’s a lot of people warned over the next few months.
On a personal level, as we come through it, it’s certainly been a bonding experience for me and Mr MC – my goodness I’m lucky to have him in my life and at my side. My boys too rallied round the following day with long, comforting phone calls, sending the middle one across Newcastle with flowers and chocolate so I felt very loved. And I was stunned by all of the incredible messages I received on Instagram, thank you to every single person who took the time to send a few words – on a day when I was feeling very vulnerable it helped to remind me that there are far more good people in the world than bad.
While I want you to feel what my experience was like so that you’ll take it seriously, it mustn’t make you feel afraid. In midlife lots of us are experiencing a renaissance – free to go out and enjoy ourselves after years of spending our nights at home, looking after everyone else. There are a few bad people out there but we can’t let them win; we can combat them by taking the practical steps I’ve outlined above and also by being aware that midlife women – and men – can be targets too. Tell your friends, your sisters, your mothers, your daughters and the men in your life. If Dame Diana Johnson meant what she said on Instagram and follows through, I’ll keep you updated. And next week’s post will hopefully be back on track with our normal subjects – until then thank you – for all the words you’ve sent and your support.
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