Needle spiking is happening in Australian pubs and clubs


HomeHome / News / Needle spiking is happening in Australian pubs and clubs

Dec 27, 2023

Needle spiking is happening in Australian pubs and clubs

Taylor* thought showing her friend Ross Broodryk around Sydney would be a fun

Taylor* thought showing her friend Ross Broodryk around Sydney would be a fun night out in the city. But everything went black at about 5:30pm.

We're investigating drink and needle spiking in Australia.

"It was just a case of like, a big blackout, like hours completely blacked out," Taylor said.

After having three drinks at the popular Sydney venue ivy, Taylor doesn't remember anything.

Later that night, she found a blood stain on her white pants in the middle of her upper thigh and there was a pinprick underneath.

Taylor believes she was spiked with an injection in one of the bars or clubs in the popular ivy precinct on November 20, 2022.

Ross was visiting Taylor from Perth, and the friends got to the venue at about 3pm. From the time they had their third drinks, neither can piece more than a few seconds of the next five hours together.

Taylor had been texting a friend throughout the night, but at about 5:30pm she stopped.

About 8pm, after not hearing from Taylor for a while, the friend decided to head to the venue, where they found Taylor on the floor in a toilet cubicle.

"Apparently, I was very, very white in the face," Taylor said. "I was vomiting and everything."

Taylor was taken home to her mother, who immediately became worried. She'd seen her daughter drunk before, but nothing like this.

That's when Taylor's mum found the bloodstain on her daughter's white pants, and beneath it, a puncture mark.

By 10:45pm, paramedics had been called, and they performed an ECG on Taylor after finding a heart arrhythmia. Taylor remembers being taken to hospital in the ambulance.

"My heart had an extra beat which was quite pronounced," Taylor said.

"And in my state, they were like, 'We're just going to bring you into hospital just to check that everything's alright.'"

Taylor says it took a few days for her body to recover from the spiking incident, but weeks for her mental health.

"I'm literally terrified," she said.

"At the end of the day, you think someone's spiked you or needle spiked you, usually the first thought is, if no-one had been there, what could have happened?"

The only thing Ross remembers after 5:30pm is flashes of the dance floor, a disco ball in the bathroom and briefly speaking to his partner back in Perth on the phone.

"According to my partner, I tried to order an Uber," he said.

"I got in an Uber but then couldn't find my way to the hotel.

"I apparently ordered another cab to get me back to my hotel, even though I was just in front of it."

In an unfamiliar city, Ross had no sense of direction. He left the club at about 11:30pm and somehow found his way to his hotel bed – with no idea how he got there – by 3am and woke up the next day at about midday with a text from Taylor.

"She had the mark on [her] body and had been to hospital, so she thought I should just check myself just in case," he said.

"I checked myself and obviously found the spot and some blood on my clothes."

Ross flew out of Sydney on November 22 and immediately went to see his doctor who believed he had been spiked.

His doctor took blood to check for any needle-borne viruses. Three months later he needed a follow-up appointment to be sure he had not contracted anything.

The incident left Ross with severe social anxiety.

"I got invited to events and I just didn't go out," he said.

"We ended up going to a festival and I had an anxiety attack beforehand.

"I thought I got spiked because someone just touched my back."

Ross said the incident was not something he brought up with friends as he felt embarrassed and feared he would not be believed.

"I find it disgusting that someone would do it," he said.

"Obviously, it's happened more to females, but as a male, I didn't think it would happen.

"It could ruin someone's life. I don't understand why you would need to hit someone with a needle."

Taylor said the help she received from the hospital she attended was fantastic. However, when she followed up with the club, it was a different story.

Taylor contacted ivy's parent company Merivale on Tuesday — two days after the incident — to tell it about the spiking.

There are reports coming from all around the country of people being needle and drink spiked. Here's a guide on what to do if you think you're one of them.

The Merivale staff member said they watched the CCTV footage from that Sunday.

"The person I spoke to basically said, 'You drank this much, you spent a lot of time with a man that wasn't my friend (Ross) that I came with,'" Taylor said.

"It sounded like slut shaming, to be honest, and it's not the thing you want to hear the day after you get out of hospital."

Taylor said due to the anxiety she felt after calling the venue, she did not report the incident to police.

Ross also did not report the incident as he has been told by friends the police did not take spiking matters seriously.

Hack contacted ivy operator Merivale, but it did not respond by deadline.

Needle spiking is a crime, but it is not dealt with by specific state laws like drink spiking is.

NSW Police told Hack they had been working to support and promote safe drinking in pubs and clubs with drink covers and coasters.

Under New South Wales legislation, drink or food spiking carries a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment in the state and/or an $11,000 fine.

"In cases where a drink is spiked and another indictable offence occurs, such as sexual assault, the offence rightfully carries a much higher penalty," Assistant Commissioner Brett McFadden said.

"For those who think they can slip something in someone's drink and take advantage of them, they should know they could spend the next quarter of a century behind bars."

Needle spiking has been making headlines across the world in recent years.

One responder to Hack's crowdsourcing campaign said after becoming aware of the rising needle spiking cases in the United Kingdom, checking for puncture wounds from injections became a night-out routine.

"We actually used to joke and say, 'Alright when we get home we've all gotta strip and check for needle marks after clubbing,' … that was our new ritual after hitting the town," they said.

Helena Conibear, who is the chief executive of the Alcohol Education Trust in the UK, said needle-spiking reports rose when the university year started in 2021.

"Students were finding pinpricks, they weren't sure what had happened, they'd experienced blackouts, or they passed out or had got home and didn't realise what had happened," she said.

"Drink spiking is far more prevalent. But every month we have people coming to us where they have been spiked by injection."

In early 2022, UK students in more than 50 British cities boycotted clubs and pubs, took to the streets and declared a "Girls Night In" in protest against the rise in spiking incidents.

More than 2,500 reports of needle spiking were made to UK police forces from September 2021 to August 2022, but Ms Conibear said the major issue with the offence was that it was hard to prove.

"We have very little evidence to show what's happening or what the substances are being used," she said.

Ms Conibear gave evidence at the House of Commons inquiry looking into the issue throughout 2022.

The inquiry recommended the Home Office introduce a new offence targeting drink spiking.

"There's a move by organisations to have a more up to date sort of standalone offence of spiking of any sort," Ms Conibear said.

She said while there had been great work already, including having a dedicated police officer for spiking incidents and testing of victims for up to seven days post-offence, more investment was needed.

Beyond some scattered media reporting, it's really unclear how big the needle-spiking problem is in Australia.

What is clear is that spiking, especially in drinks, is not a problem that is going away.

triple j Hack has heard from people across the country about their experience with drink, and needle spiking.

"I found blood on my shirt with a needle mark and thought the worst but then found a needle site on my body. I had no memory of the entire night even though I had only had a few drinks," one submission read.

"I had a massive bruise on my leg which had a very hard ball on the inside of it which led me to believe it could have been by needle — the bruise lasted for three weeks," another person told Hack.

For Taylor, her needle-spiking experience has changed her nights outs.

"It's not like I'm going to be able to wear body armour or something so I don't get needle spiked," Taylor said.

"I can't really do anything about it. I shouldn't have to do anything about it. It shouldn't be up to me to protect myself against predators. It should be about predators not doing it."

*Taylor's name has been changed to protect her identity.

Have you experienced drink spiking, drugging, or needle spiking? Or do you have something else to share on this topic? We want to hear from you.Your stories will help inform our reporting on this overlooked, under-studied issue.

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Have you experienced drink spiking, drugging, or needle spiking? Or do you have something else to share on this topic? We want to hear from you.