Right, I’m a bit worried about writing this, but I also have nothing but disrespect for my own emotional wellbeing, so I’m obviously going to do it.

This week I want to talk about the recent spate of nightclub spiking incidents that have made the headlines recently; in particular, stories about “needle spiking”, how those stories have been reported, and our collective response to them.

Because the topic is, of course, deeply sensitive (not least because most of us will still be reeling from the murders of women like Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa), I want to preface what I’m about to say with a couple of things.

Firstly, I want to make clear that in no way am I seeking to minimise the very real and profound fear that young women across the country are feeling about these stories – again, particularly in light of some of the horrific acts of gendered violence we’ve seen perpetrated in recent months and years.

The National Wales: Walking home alone at night has taken on new, terrible significance since the murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa this yearWalking home alone at night has taken on new, terrible significance since the murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa this year

Like most women – and really, anyone of a marginalised gender identity – I feel that fear when I’m walking alone at night, and the simultaneous frustration and anger that comes with it.

Nobody should be afraid of nipping to the shop after dark, or feel compelled to shell out a tenner on a taxi home from a night out when you could just as easily walk.

I also have my own stories of harassment and assault, which range from the merely annoying to the serious and violent, and have taken place on the street, in my home, at work and in bars. Many of us have these stories – I’m sure I’ve absolutely have gotten off lighter than some – and they stay with us, irrevocably altering us in ways large and small.

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Secondly, I want to take a moment to (briefly) go through a history of drink spiking as a phenomena (a basic one – I’m by no means an expert). It is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a complex one.

Stories about spiking have been around since at least the 1960s (with the drugs usually thought to be LSD or cannabis), but our modern conception of spiking comes from around the 1990s, and is most often attributed to GHB, or similar sedative drugs.

The National Wales: Our popular conception of "spiking" is the poisoning of drinks with GHB or other sedatives in nightclubs, or other crowded social settings where drinks are servedOur popular conception of "spiking" is the poisoning of drinks with GHB or other sedatives in nightclubs, or other crowded social settings where drinks are served

The practice is associated with “date rape” - the common conception being that a woman’s unattended drink is laced with GHB at a nightclub, or some other social setting, and the predator waits for her to become incapacitated before separating her from her friends and attacking her. This was the version popularised in popular consciousness during the 1990s, most famously in TV soaps like Brookside.

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How often this specific kind of “drug-facilitated sexual assault” (DFSA is the technical term for such attacks) actually occurs is something disputed amongst academics, health professionals and law enforcement agencies to this day.

As I understand it, this is in part because drugs like GHB can be difficult to administer – dosage required to incapacitate a person would be highly dependent on the individual and its effects would be unpredictable – and also because DFSA can be much less overtly sneaky, and involves a much wider array of drugs (most commonly, alcohol).

The National Wales: Brock Turner served just 3 months of his 6 month sentence for violently sexually assaulting an unconscious woman (Photo: PA)Brock Turner served just 3 months of his 6 month sentence for violently sexually assaulting an unconscious woman (Photo: PA)

A recent, upsetting example of this was the case of Brock Turner in the US, who attacked an unconscious young woman outside a party in 2015, and whose lenient treatment by the justice system sickened the world.

I’m not going to go further into drink spiking specifically, simply because I don’t feel I know enough about it to draw a definite conclusion.

It seems plausible to me that in some contexts, a person could add a sedative to someone’s drink unimpeded – more plausible still, that somebody could offer you a line or a pill or a bomb of something that turns out to be very different than advertised, or top up your drink without you realising it.

Clearly, readily available testing would help.

READ MORE: Misogyny as a hate crime - the law explained

Something that worries me, though, is recent reporting on so-called “needle spiking” – ie. young women being injected with sedatives at nightclubs.

I’ll be honest - when I first heard the term, I assumed it meant that syringes were being used to drop sedatives into drinks, because having that volume of liquid injected into you undetected seemed unlikely.

But stories kept coming up. Papers as far flung as the Washington Post have reported on this new British threat to women, a petition calling for thorough body-searches outside nightclubs began circulating, and in student Facebook groups I saw young women remark that they’re afraid to go out at all.

READ MORE: Former Police Commissioner slams denial of police misogyny

As it went on, an acute unease settled into my stomach. The idea still seemed strange to me, but few articles seemed to be talking about the mechanics of something that was causing so many people so much distress.

Then I came across a blog post written by journalist and media critic Mic Wright. The piece - subtitled “Who needs proof when you’ve got terror?” – perfectly articulated the discomfort I’d been feeling.

Here I will include a whole ass paragraph from the article – sorry to Mr Wright.

“The ‘needle spiking’ story… catches a mood of ambient anxiety and combined with other real stories — the murder of Sarah Everard among them — it feels very real and in line with a society where violent misogyny is prevalent.

“But stories that present ‘needle spiking’ as a fact are exploiting fear over facts.”

Precisely. It was through that article I came across a piece by Sophia Smith Galer for Vice News, who’d taken the time to speak to scientists and healthcare professionals. All raised doubts that needle spiking could be done successfully.

The National Wales: While needle spiking might not be impossible, more evidence is needed While needle spiking might not be impossible, more evidence is needed

I’ll be clear – I'm not in any way implying that the women who’ve reported “needle spiking” are lying or exaggerating.

Everything that happened to them could have happened without an injected drug being at the root of it – they could, for example, have been jabbed with something while incapacitated by a sedative dropped in their drink.

Further, their feelings of fear and violation are valid, tragic, and an indictment of our still misogynistic society.

It could well be that the women were injected with something – we should just be very wary of spreading these stories as fact prematurely, causing undue terror during a year that's already contained so much of it.

READ MORE: Wales police misconduct: The scale revealed

I also want to say something quick about that petition. Again, I absolutely understand the instinct – when you’re afraid, you want something done to resolve it, and you want it done now.

I’m old now, and haven’t been to a proper nightclub since 2018 (and only then because I was in Berlin, and therefore legally obligated to) – but from what crusty memories I have of clubbing, I worry that pat-downs as a club entry requirement will result in more young people arrested for petty drug possession than it will prevent sexual assault.

You can, after all, spike someone extremely effectively with alcohol, and I don’t think more twentysomethings with MDMA-based criminal records really helps anyone - except perhaps our pal Priti Patel, who I imagine would be very happy to add more drug arrests to her stats.

The National Wales: This past year, the Home Secretary has introduced a number of frighteningly harsh, authoritarian Bills (Photo: PA)This past year, the Home Secretary has introduced a number of frighteningly harsh, authoritarian Bills (Photo: PA)

That’s the crux here – do we really trust this government to solve the problem of misogyny and gendered violence? This government, headed by a man who said single mothers raise “ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate” children?

Priti Patel herself this year introduced the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) Bill, which in its original form granted undercover agents working for state bodies including the police, the Home Office, MI5, and even the Food Standards Agency the explicit authority to commit crimes such as torture, rape and murder in their work. Amendments in the House of Lords removed the most extreme elements, but the fact that this Bill even exists should tell you something.

I say all this not to be dismissive, but because I myself am also afraid – and I’m worried we’re having the wrong conversations and looking to the wrong people to resolve them.

This year has surely proved that gendered violence is a problem so much bigger than one tweak of policy here and there, coppers in clubs and more CCTV.

What we need is a transformed society – one where power imbalances are torn down, where children are raised to know their worth as human beings regardless of gender, where mutual kindness and respect is the standard.

… Yeah, I know.

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