“Nothing happened.” Those were the first words I heard when I woke up in a strange bed, with nine hours of memory missing. The last thing I had known, a colleague and I were out for a drink. It was 8pm, still light out, and I remember thinking how great it was that it was early enough to make it to my friend’s house for dinner.
The next thing I knew, it was 5am. I was lying in his bed, with his hand around my wrist, telling me to go back to sleep as he tried to pull me back down. My brain was completely submerged in fog, my head was pounding, and my body was weak. This can’t be happening, I kept thinking, maybe it’s just a nightmare and you should just fall back asleep. But alarm bells in my head kept screaming: get up, find your shoes, find your bag, put your dress back in place, get out now. And that’s what I did. I managed to stumble out of his bed, fold myself into an Uber, and stagger back to my apartment, bursting into uncontrollable sobs, begging my brain to just remember something, anything, so I could attempt to piece together a night stolen from me.
But he hadn’t only stolen my night. He had stolen my mind, my body, and my autonomy. The irony of his words “nothing happened” will never be lost on me. Technically in my mind, absolutely nothing happened for nine hours. But unfortunately for me, that is not the reality.
I knew something bad had happened to me, but was still hesitant to go to the hospital. Rape myths permeated my brain, telling me maybe no one would believe me, or they’d blame me. I immediately feared the dreaded questions of: “Were you drinking?”; “Are you sure you weren’t just drunk?”; “Are you sure you didn’t consent and now just regret it?”
These narratives stem from the rape myths that work to shift blame away from the perpetrator and onto the victim.
Pointing a finger at the victim for what happened, expressing disbelief and believing that only certain “types” of women are targeted, all uphold rape myths. All of these tactics are deployed in cases of drink spiking and, now, in the latest method of spiking we women apparently need to protect ourselves from: injections.
Female students in Scotland are planning to boycott bars and clubs in protest at a rise in spiking – both drinks and via needles being stuck into their bodies by strangers. Police Scotland, Nottinghamshire Police and Devon and Cornwall Police have all confirmed they are investigating allegations of women being “spiked by injection”. Women have shared stories of blacking out, being unable to walk and prolonged memory loss – later finding puncture wounds on their skin. On social media, concerned parents have repeated conversations with their daughters who have told them they’ve started wearing denim jackets out, to avoid being spiked in this way.
That makes my stomach rot. At what point will we stop looking at women to prevent violence against them? Am I meant to flag down a bus if I think I’m in danger of being spiked again?
The alcohol double standard that exists without our rape culture plays a huge role. When a man drinks, he is generally seen as less responsible for the actions he committed. But when a woman drinks, she’s told that she only put herself at risk.
We both had drinks. The difference is that he drugged mine, took me out of the bar, took me to where he lived, and put me in his bed.
It’s why so many women don’t report incidents of being drugged, assaulted, or both. A fear of being blamed, shamed, criticised or disbelieved leaves us to suffer alone, keeps justice out of reach, and continues to feed a broken system.
Despite fears of being blamed or shamed, I went to the hospital. I sat in the aptly labeled “victim’s waiting room,” my mind so cloudy I could barely keep my head up, so I curled into a ball and fell asleep until a forensics doctor came to get me. Luckily, she believed me, and was kind to me as I sat there numbly while she swabbed the entirety of my body, inside and out. All I could think about was how this probably wasn’t even the most invasive thing to happen to me in the past 24 hours.
The doctors told me that incidents of date rape drugs are nearly impossible to prosecute, because they’re nearly impossible to detect. By the time the victim wakes up, they’re usually out of the body. My awakening was the drugs leaving my system.
This difficulty in testing means that there is often no proof. There’s only the word of the victim that she was spiked. It’s a “he said/she said” situation, a disgustingly common phrase deployed to downplay the realities of rape. You never hear “he said/she said'' in a mugging case.
I found out, months later, the results of my testing. Male DNA had been found all over my body. My worst fears had been confirmed. And I am not a fringe case. Spiking is not some urban myth. More and more women and girls are coming forward this week with stories of being drugged or injected, at bars and at houses, by strangers and by people they know.
The Government’s offer to put undercover police in bars, and a new app that is meant to make us all feel safe and comfortable, completely misses the mark, and shows a gross failure to recognise the depth of the problem, as does the Metropolitan Police’s latest announcement that police officers who stop lone women while not in uniform will have to call back to their stations to prove their identity.
This, said Met commissioner Cressida Dick will “put the onus” on officers, but this only proves the Met does not really understand. They want us to believe this is the solution to preventing what happened to Sarah Everard from happening again, but it fails to address the deep roots of the issues at hand. We can start with taking this latest threat seriously, and not make women shoulder the responsibility, and their denim jackets, to keep themselves safe.
Mary Morgan is a scholar, writer and expert on body politics. She is the former UK Foreign Office's Communication Director on Syria. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @msmarymorgan