Drink spiking is still a hidden crime. Mair Howells was at a party in a private club in February 2020 for a friend’s 18th birthday when she went to buy a round of three drinks. It was around 11pm but she had barely touched any alcohol.
As she handed her card over to the barman, she took two of the drinks and turned around to pass them to her friends. Turning back again, she then picked up her own.
It was in those split seconds that the 23-year-old creative director believes her drink was spiked with drugs.
“After that, the only thing I vaguely remember is being back home and being sick in the bin, which is something I’ve never done because I hate being sick,” says Howells, from Peckham, South East London.
“I remember waking up in the morning and I was wearing the same clothes from the evening before and covered in blood. I jumped out of bed, in shock and realised that I couldn’t remember anything from the night before. I went to find my mum and my younger sister and said, ‘What happened?’ They looked horrified, replying, ‘We were going to ask you the same thing!’
With the help of her sister – who was also at the party – Howells managed to piece together some of what had happened the previous night.
“I don’t remember anything after having the drink but my sister had been searching for me in the club and eventually found me on the floor of one of the cubicles in the men’s toilets covered in blood,” says Howells.
“It looked like I’d injured myself from falling. The security guards were no help whatsoever. So my sister managed to get me up and out of the club and home safely and put me to bed. I was very lucky that she looked after me.”
Next morning Howells went to her local A&E to get her injuries treated. Her nose was swollen, her chin was split open and it turned out she had fractured her wrist and had concussion.
“It was the nurse who first said to me that she thought I’d been spiked because she had had the same thing happen to her and suffered the same kind of injuries,” says Howells.
The terrifying truth
“She then asked me if she thought I’d been a victim of sexual assault and it was at that point that I broke down. I think in the back of my head, I suspected I’d been spiked because it had also happened to my sister a couple of months earlier and she’d had a lucky escape too. But I was in denial until that point.
“I told the nurse that I didn’t think I’d been raped or assaulted but the hardest part of me was that I couldn’t remember. What people don’t realise is how confused a victim becomes when they’ve been spiked. I think part of me was blanking out the possibility of what could have happened. I didn’t want to accept it.”
Howells didn’t report the incident to the police, believing they wouldn't take any action. Sadly, this belief is all too common amongst victims.
A recent investigation by MPs found that spiking victims are too often brushed off as having had ‘one too many’ which means the crime is under-reported. Yet anecdotal evidence suggests that spiking is ‘widespread and dangerous’.
Howells was one of the women who offered evidence to the investigation. She set up the campaign @ivebeenspiked on social media a month after the incident, wanting to highlight what had happened to herself and thousands of other victims.
“I shared what had happened to me on Instagram saying: ‘Be careful’ and so many women reached out to me to tell them that the same thing had happened to either themselves or their friends,” says Howells.
“When I was searching for answers about what had happened to me, I couldn’t find much at all so my aim was to create a space for victims to share their stories. I’ve found comfort in sharing mine openly but people can share their stories anonymously if they want.”
Howells has now produced posters and stickers to warn people of the symptoms of spiking – blackouts, short term memory loss, hallucinations, losing sensation in the body.
“There are such a wide variety of drugs out there that can either knock you out or make you feel completely turned on and so victims can actually find themselves trying to kiss strangers, but can’t remember anything about it next day,” says Howells. “But you can also spike someone with alcohol too and that’s very difficult to prove.”
She is now campaigning for more support for those affected. “I want to see blood tests readily available for people who suspect they have been a victim because that simply isn’t there right now,” says Howells.
“When my sister informed the police about her spiking, they told her to go to A&E to get a blood test but A&E said they didn’t do that kind of testing and sent her away. So we need somewhere for suspected victims to go before the drugs are clear of their body.
“We also need to educate people and not blame the victim for putting their drink down or leaving it alone but put the onus on the people doing the spiking in the first place. And there needs to be legislation that bars can follow if they think a customer has been spiked. So that means more training.
A hidden crime
“Although I haven’t let it affect my confidence and I still enjoy going out with friends to clubs and festivals, I’m definitely more wary. But spiking is an anonymous crime. I can’t help thinking that the person who did this to me two years ago is still out there doing it to others and that’s a frightening thought.”
If you think you may have been spiked and would like support, visit Victim Support or call their free 24-hour Supportline on 08 08 16 89 111. In an emergency, always call 999.
You can listen to Mair Howells podcast Pricks: An Investigation By The I've Been Spiked Campaign now.
Watch: 'The memory loss was extreme': Student fears she was spiked by injection on a night out