Students are regularly drugged
When your drink gets spiked
Her whole body is limp; she feels like a rag doll. The only thing she wants to do is sleep. The world seems so far away, as though she’s been anaesthetised. But she isn’t in the hospital. She’s in an unfamiliar house with men she doesn’t know. As soon as her body hits the mattress, she knows that fighting back will be useless.
The first thing Laura sees when she wakes up the next morning is the blood. It’s everywhere. She has no clue where it came from. Groggily, she sits up. ‘I’m going to the bathroom’, she tells the guy next to her in bed. As she’s getting out of bed, she feels a hand close around her wrist. ‘You’re coming back, right?’ he asks. ‘Of course’, she says. She quickly gathers up her clothes. In her rush to get away, she forgets her bra and her leather jacket.
It felt like my body didn’t exist anymore; just my brains
On wobbly legs that don’t feel like they belong to her, she walks down the stairs. But then her body gives out, and she faints. Eventually, she manages to drag herself downstairs, where she spots her friend lying on the couch. She’s unconscious, although her eyes are open. Laura shakes her until she wakes up. ‘We have to leave, now’, she says, panicking. Holding hands, they stumble into the hallway, through the front door, into the street.
Laura tries to remember what happened the night before. All she can recall are vague flashes and an all-consuming feeling of fear. A group of guys in the pub. A frantic search through a residential area. After that, her memory goes blank. Now, after intense therapy, she knows what happened that night: he wanted to, she didn’t.
Laura, a student from Groningen, was drugged three years ago. She is not the only one. An UKrant survey among 293 Groningen students showed that 3 percent of students have been given drugs without their knowledge. Another 4 percent suspect they might have fallen victim to drugging. Of the first group, 66 percent is female. Of the second, 83 percent.
Half of the respondents know at least one person who was drugged at some point. It happened in a pub, at a festival, or on holiday. Most of them (56 percent) were between eighteen and twenty-four years old when it happened. Respondents name pubs like De Negende Cirkel and ‘t Golden Fust, as well as student associations, as places where their drinks were spiked.
Not nearly all students who filled out the survey had an experience as harrowing as Laura’s. Most of them ended up in their own beds, with a bad case of amnesia. Friends took care of them and took them home. Several male respondents write that they were robbed and can’t remember a thing. ‘Everything went hazy and I lost a few hours. I can’t remember anything. Four hours later, I suddenly found myself on the Vismarkt with my bike. It was locked, but the chain was undone. My keys and backpack were gone’, one of them writes.
The amnesia alone can be very disorienting, says associate professor Judith Daniels, who specialises in trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. Not knowing what happened can eat at you and make you feel unsafe. These feelings are only intensified when something traumatic happened, like it did with Laura. Getting professional help will aid in processing the experience. But, says Daniels, many people manage to get over the experience on their own.
Laura had just turned eighteen that summer. She wanted a night out on the town, together with her best friend Amy. In the pub, they meet a group of guys. Amy knows one of them, and the guys offer them drinks. ‘Watch out’, a fling of Laura’s tells her, ‘these guys are dangerous.’
When Laura steps outside for some fresh air a little later, she sees Amy jump on the back of one of the guys’ bikes. She immediately gets a bad feeling. Amy had not been into the boys at all, and she certainly wouldn’t just leave with them. Laura starts chasing the group, but they’re too fast. She is panicking: where is Amy?
A high dose will make you act like you’re tipsy or drunk
She gets to a nearby residential area, where she spots a few of the guys in front of another pub. She goes up to them to ask where her friend is. One of them says: ‘Kiss me and I’ll tell you.’ She feels pressured and is afraid to say no. She just wants to find her friend.
Suddenly, she spots Amy near a house down the street. But it’s like Laura’s brain has stopped working. She feels so tired all of a sudden. The boys hand her and Amy another round of drinks. They don’t know how to refuse them. It’s now morning, and all she can think about is that she wants to lie down and close her eyes. When the guys say they’re going to bed, she automatically follows them.
Various drugs are used to incapacitate people, among them flunitrazepam, ketamine, and GHB. These medications all have a narcotic effect, although the physical symptoms vary. GHB is the most popular drug of choice: as a liquid, it can be easily poured into a victim’s drink.
How do you know if you’ve been drugged? ‘A low dose will make you feel relaxed and calm. The feeling of intoxication is similar to that of alcohol’, says Rob Otten, addiction expert at Verslavingszorg Noord-Nederland (VNN). ‘A high dose will make you act like you’re tipsy or drunk. It’s very close to an overdose, which makes you fall asleep.’ Other symptoms of GHB are confusion, dizziness, nausea, tremors, fatigue, and sexual arousal.
GHB is also very salty, which means you should be able to taste it in high dosages. But, says Otten, ‘if you’ve already drunk a lot of alcohol, your sense of taste decreases as well.’ A mix of GHB and alcohol can have even more severe effects, he says. ‘But if you fall asleep after an overdose, GHB won’t give you a hangover’, says Otten.
Because the symptoms of being drugged with GHB are so similar to those of drinking, people tend to doubt themselves: was I unable to hold my liquor, or did someone spike my drink? Of the respondents, 67 percent turn out to not be familiar with these symptoms, or just barely familiar. Of the students who thought they’d notice if they’d been drugged (37 percent), two thirds were unfamiliar with the symptoms, or only knew of a few of them. After reading about the symptoms, twelve respondents amended their answers to say they might have been drugged, while eight of the twelve respondents who already thought they were drugged now withdrew that answer.
Four percent of respondents say they still aren’t sure if they were drugged. ‘I suddenly felt unwell and everything went dark. The next thing I knew I was on the floor. But I’d only had two drinks’, one respondent says. ‘I had been drinking, but not so much that I would forget the whole night’, another says.
On that particular night, Laura wasn’t feeling well, but not in a normal way, she says. She’d compare it to being put under anaesthesia just before surgery, something she has experience with. ‘It was definitely not just because of the alcohol. I was in this haze, completely out of it. It felt like my body didn’t exist anymore; just my brains.’
Once she and Amy have fled the house that morning, they call a taxi. Dazed, they have the driver take them to the nearest train station. After they get out, they both start crying uncontrollably. What happened to them last night? They decide to report the incident the following Monday.
Amy has school that day, so Laura goes on her own. She doesn’t mind, as it allows her to talk more freely. Unfortunately, her meeting with the police officers only serves to confuse her further. There are so many things she can’t remember that she’s unable to paint a clear picture of what happened that night. She has no evidence. Since she had also been drinking, the police say they can’t help her. Discouraged, ashamed, and filled with doubt, she goes home. She doesn’t tell her family.
My friends acted like I’d simply drunk too much
According to the Sexual Assault Centre (CSG) in Groningen, many people have difficulty taking that step of going to the police. The centre coordinates with the police vice squad and general practitioners to ensure victims get proper help. ‘We’ve seen that people who are drugged during a night out rarely go to the police’, says Peter Strijbosch, who, when UKrant spoke to him, was a process coordinator at CSG. He currently no longer works there. ‘They feel like they encouraged it somehow. They think they shouldn’t have been drinking so much.’
He thinks this means the CSG doesn’t have a good overview of how many victims there really are. Nevertheless, the centre receives at least one report of drugging a week, and Strijbosch thinks they’re getting more.
According to the CSG, victims have to jump through way too many legal hoops to report a drugging, and they say the police will discourage victims from reporting it if they think the case will be dismissed anyway, like when the victim willingly went with the person who drugged them, or if they’ve been drinking. ‘It becomes a matter of their word against their attacker’s’, says Strijbosch.
Laura wishes she could have told the police more details when she reported her drugging. Now, the guy who drugged her got away with it. The CSG specifically aims to ‘de-blame’ people; their approach is different than that of the police. ‘When a victim feels like they’re a victim, we will treat them as one’, says Strijbosch. Fetzen de Groot, current process coordinator at CSG, confirms this. ‘People already tend to doubt themselves so much, so we believe them without reservations.’
One respondent writes how she suppresses her experience of being drugged, because people didn’t take her story seriously. ‘My friends acted like I’d simply drunk too much, and I didn’t want to think about it, so I suppressed it. I’m still doing that. It’s like it never happened. I do talk about it sometimes, but it feels like it happened to someone else.’
Laura also suffered the effects of staying quiet about her experience. ‘I became a monster’, she says. She was no longer able to enjoy things that used to give her pleasure. ‘I was snapping at everyone and I couldn’t handle anything anymore.’ Whenever her father pulled a prank she’d immediately burst into tears and she was constantly picking fights with her parents and her sister, who didn’t understand what was wrong with her. Until she realised that she couldn’t go on like this. She first told her sister, who later told her parents.
I was snapping at everyone and I couldn’t handle anything anymore
Laura had been worried that her parents would get mad at her, and initially, they did. ‘Why did this have to happen to you?’ they asked her. It sounded like a reproach. Her parents asked her increasingly personal questions about what had happened and made her doubt herself even more. Her mother insisted she go into therapy immediately. Now, they no longer talk about it. ‘We all know what happened, but we’re done with it.’
Talk about it
Nevertheless, Laura knows how important it is to talk about experiences like these: it helped her get over the trauma of it. She was able to talk to good friends and saw a therapist. ‘You have to talk about it. Otherwise, it’ll end up consuming you.’ Daniels also emphasises how important sharing your experience can be to the healing process. ‘Let your feelings out.’
These days, Laura can calmly talk about what happened to her, but it took a lot of work to get there. The effect the incident had on her will always stay with her, she says. ‘I never thought something like this could happen to me, but now I know better.’
She’s still wary of guys, and she no longer drinks alcohol. ‘That way I can at least stay alert.’ But the people who blame the victim, who say you shouldn’t leave your drink unattended, are wrong, Laura says emphatically. ‘That’s not how it works. What they do is premeditated. They know what they’re doing, and they’re dangerous.’
Have you had an unwanted sexual experience? Do you need immediate help? Are you doubting yourself or do you have questions? The Sexual Assault Centre is available 24/7. You can call or chat for free: 0800 0188.
* The names Laura and Amy are fake. Their real names are known to the editorial staff.
In an earlier version of this article, student associations Vindicat and Albertus were mentioned as places where your drink is likely to be spiked. However, their names only showed up once in the survey. This is why we decided to remove them.
The survey was held just before pubs and clubs closed down in March because of the corona crisis.
293 people took the paper survey that was handed out on the street. The same survey was disseminated online via UKrant’s Facebook and Instagram pages. This elicited 81 responses. A separate Instagram poll was answered 262 times. The total sampling consisted of 636 Groningen citizens. We were unable to check whether the same people filled out the survey more than once.
More than 90 percent of respondents said they were a student at the UG, but the survey has also been filled out by students and staff at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences.
The results from the paper and online surveys and the poll were largely similar, with one exception: when asked if they’d ever been drugged, 9.5 percent of respondents to the Instagram poll and 16 percent of people taking the online survey answered in the affirmative, as opposed to 3.1 percent of people who filled out the paper survey.
We think this might be a case of participation bias; it’s possible the online respondents specifically took the online survey because something had happened to them. Since the paper survey was taken by the largest random sampling of students, we’ve mainly based our findings on these results.