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Preventing vulnerability - focus on drink spiking during Freshers Week

- News

As the new academic year rapidly approaches, bringing with it a wave of new students, universities and licensed premises are being urged to make sure students are fully aware of the latest safety advice when it comes to drink spiking.

The start of a new school year is usually celebrated with gusto during Freshers Week by students new and old, many of whom will be leaving home for the very first time. Pubs and clubs across the UK will see an increase in numbers and of alcohol consumption as students have a fantastic week getting to know one another, their university and the surrounding town.

Unfortunately, this is also when reports of drink spiking tend to increase, with offenders taking advantage of busy licensed premises and unsuspecting students. Venues are being reminded to ensure all staff are aware of their responsibility when it comes to the vulnerability of customers and their role in enhancing safety and prevention, whilst customers are being reminded to stay alert, look after each other and not to leave drinks unattended.

Mark Morgan, who runs the Licensing Security and Vulnerability Initiative (Licensing SAVI) said: “We’ve seen a lot of adverse media in relation to drink spiking within licensed premises over the past year, which is of real concern at a time when there is such a focus upon the safety of women and girls in particular.

“There are simple steps which can be taken to avoid this, from venues displaying prominent signage reminding customers not to leave their drinks unattended and not to accept drinks from strangers; training all staff in the danger of drinks being spiked - remember alcohol is the most common form of spiking, so confirm that the person actually drinking wants double measures etc when ordered, encourage staff to monitor unattended drinks; making all staff aware of the types of vulnerability, what they can do to reduce vulnerability and the necessity to provide immediate assistance to any customer feeling dizzy, disorientated or showing signs of intoxication. If anyone is acting suspiciously around unattended drinks, ask them to leave or call the police immediately if drink spiking is suspected. Venues can also consider providing stopper devices, such as lids to put on drinking vessels, which can reduce the risk of a drink being spiked.

“For customers, if your drink has been spiked, it's unlikely that you’ll see, smell or taste any difference, albeit some drugs may taste slightly salty or smell unusual. If you start to feel strange or feel that your drink has had more of an effect on you than it should have, get help immediately. Try to avoid drinking too much alcohol, particularly when in unfamiliar surroundings as you could make risky decisions and become less aware of potential danger. Never leave your drink unattended and keep an eye on your friends' drinks. Be careful about accepting a drink from someone you don't know. Think about drinking bottled drinks and avoiding shared drinks such as punch bowls or cocktail jugs. Please don't provide personal details, especially your address, to someone you've just met. You should plan your nights out and travel arrangements, using only recognised travel routes and providers.

“If you think your drink has been tampered with, don't drink it – tell a trusted friend, relative, medic, police or someone you completely trust immediately. If alone, call someone you trust and get to a safe place. If you need urgent help, call 999. Be wary of accepting help from a stranger and don’t leave with someone you don’t know. If you feel unwell, someone you trust should take you to your nearest A & E department and tell the medical staff that you think your drink has been spiked, being sure to arrange for a trusted friend or relative to then take you home and if necessary, stay with you until any drugs have fully left your system”.

The Government have launched a working group1 involving both the Department for Education and Home Office dedicated to tackling the number of attacks against students, with universities being required to introduce policies by the end of the year to crack down on drink and needle spiking, amid concern about increasingly brazen attacks on students2.

Mark adds: “We have been working with the National Police Chiefs’ Council to support venues in tackling recent spiking trends and have written good practice guides for venues and customers. Alongside this, we have worked with behavioural scientists from the National Crime Agency to develop offender-focused posters and digital screen displays, targeting those most likely to cause harm and moving away from traditional ‘victim blaming’ campaigns.

“We’re also producing posters with the Night Time Industries Association in preparing for the return of students in September, to promote awareness of how staff at licensed premises can support victims and prevent spiking. These materials are available for free in both English and Welsh language versions on the Licensing SAVI website:”.

The Licensing Security and Vulnerability Initiative (Licensing SAVI) self-assessment specifically covers the issue of drink spiking in licensed venues and gives advice on reducing risk. Licensing SAVI was developed at the request of the Home Office. Licensing SAVI is a confidential self-assessment tool designed to help the owners and operators of licensed premises provide a safe and secure environment for their managers, staff, customers and local communities.

Licensing SAVI is focused on supporting those who manage and work in licensed premises to be able to undertake a ‘health check’ in relation to their operating practices and security measures, providing feedback to help improve where necessary and to accredit venues with a Police Safety Award to reflect the efforts they’ve made. Find out more at: