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A woman’s TikTok video demonstrating how easy it is to spike a drink has sparked an important conversation about the dangerous and illegal act.
Mel Hall, who goes by ‘renaissancewomanhood’ on TikTok has used her platform to discuss various issues which are usually off limits, one of which was drink spiking, and her video went viral not just on TikTok but also on other social platforms.
It all started with a video of Ms Hall explaining how coasters can be quite handy - not to prevent ruining the table, but to protect your drink when you’re out.
Speaking to Yahoo News Australia Ms Hall said the first video was inspired by a trend on TikTok where people pretend they’re holding a drink for someone.
On the video where Ms Hall demonstrates the coaster trick, people said it was “paranoid or unnecessary”, which prompted Ms Hall to show how easy it is to spike a drink.
“I decided the best way to respond and explain the risk was with a video. I thought a visual would be more impactful,” Ms Hall told Yahoo News Australia.
“So, I searched my kitchen for something pill-sized (popcorn kernels) and got to work. I read the comment, made the video, and posted it all within about 15 or 20 minutes.”
Under-reporting means there is limited data
Drink spiking happens all over the world, in Canada where Ms Hall hails from and here in Australia.
Melinda Lucas from Australia’s Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) told Yahoo News Australia due to the lack of reports surrounding drink spiking, it’s hard the determine how prevalent the issue is.
“You will get lots and lots of anecdotal reports of people saying that, ‘that happened to my friend’,” she explained.
“Unfortunately, we don't have a great deal of actual data.”
Drink spiking is illegal in every state and territory in Australia and the act can be adding more alcohol to someone’s drink, or spiking it with any drug, without that person’s knowledge.
“People usually spike drinks as a prank to get someone drunk or high, but sometimes drink spiking is used to assault, rob or rape someone,” the ADF warns.
“Estimates suggest that one-third of drink spiking incidents are associated with a sexual attack.”
Although Ms Lucas said it is believed it happens most frequently when someone, maybe even a friend, buys a drink for someone else and gets a double shot of alcohol, instead of a single shot – which is illegal.
Victim shaming prevents people reporting
Often there is an element of shame victim’s feel when they have their drink spiked, which is why often it goes unreported, and sometimes there is a degree of victim blaming.
“There's an element of shame and an element of disbelief and victim shaming,” Ms Lucas said.
“We know this when we talk to people when we say ‘oh, well maybe you drank more than you thought you did’ or ‘maybe you weren't aware of it’.
“So there's that second guessing that happens and that means people are less likely to go and report it because they fear they’re not going to be believed.”
Ms Lucas says it’s important to make your friends feel safe, if they or you suspect their drink has been spiked.
“The most important thing in that time is to keep that person safe,” Ms Lucas said.
“If the person is particularly unwell or symptoms are up, get medical assistance when possible, we will also highly recommend in every circumstance to contact the police.”
Ms Hall also said it was important to look out for friends when they’re drinking, as allies “save lives”.
“The reality is that, if someone does manage to spike your drink, your awareness has been taken away from you,” she said.
“You’re now relying on the people around you to recognise that something is wrong and to help. That’s why it’s important that we’re looking out for others as much as ourselves.
“So, if your friend is acting weird or if you see something suspicious across the bar, check-in with them.”
It could also happen to individuals alone at venues, if it happens it is important to alert the bar staff, Ms Lucas added.
“That's important from a data collection perspective, but it's also a lot of venue operators are really concerned about this and obviously don't want it happening in their venue,” she said.
“Not just from a from a perspective of reputation, but because they care about the people that they are providing entertainment for.”
Ms Lucas said it is videos like Ms Hall’s which can be used as a prop to make way for a conversation, then hopefully people will be more inclined to report if they get their drink spiked.
“Let's make people feel confidence so that we can stop it, and people can have a safe night by themselves or with their friends,” she said.
‘I knew the risk, but I didn’t take it seriously’
Ms Hall says she worries about drink spiking.
“This is the unfortunate reality we live in,” she said, having her own experience with the issue, which she says was a “turning point for her”, although she knew it was a reality before.
On her 19th birthday, Ms Hall was with a few friends at a bar and two men who they did not know joined them.
“One of them heard it was my birthday and insisted on buying me a drink,” she told Yahoo News Australia.
“He handed me the bottle and I turned to my friend and said to her half-joking ‘I’m going to drink this because it’s free, but you better keep an eye on me after in case there’s something in it’.”
Ms Hall heard a song she liked and went off to dance, while the two men bought a pitcher for the table, which was drugged.
“All the girls I had been sitting with drank from it, including the friend I’d made the comment to, while I danced in the next room,” she said.
“I didn’t find out exactly what happened until days later. I felt really guilty. I knew the risk, but I didn’t take it seriously.
“I made that comment to my friend saying she would need to help me, but I wasn’t there to help her.”
How to prevent getting your drink spiked
Like Ms Hall’s coaster trick, there are a few harm reduction strategies people can use when they’re out to ensure their safety. Always keep an eye on your drink, go with someone to the bar if they’re shouting you a drink or pour your own and avoid sharing drinks.
There are also several symptoms to be aware of which might indicate you have had your drink spiked.
Feeling dizzy, faint, ill, or drunk when you’ve only had a couple of drinks could indicate you have had your drink spiked.
Some people may pass out or wake up the next morning with memory blanks from the night before, feeling uncomfortable or confused.
You can go to the nearest hospital or emergency department if you have been sexually assaulted or feel unwell - certain drugs can be detected in urine or blood tests up to 24 hours later.
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