The dark side of festive celebrations: What to do if your drink is spiked

Never leave your drink unattended.Picture: Pexels/Cottonbro studios.

Never leave your drink unattended.Picture: Pexels/Cottonbro studios.

Published Nov 22, 2023


As the festive season approaches, South Africans eagerly anticipate the arrival of #keDezembaboss, a period marked by vibrant celebrations and social gatherings.

However, the heightened revelry and social interactions, comes with an alarming increase in drink spiking incidents, posing serious risk to individuals engaging in festive merriment.

The appeal of the holiday season is heightened by gatherings where alcohol is free flowing and people unwind and relax, but the downside is the creation of a setting ripe for exploitation. The prevalence of social interaction and alcohol consumption gives criminals plenty of opportunity to carry out their vile acts.

It's no secret that the holiday mood often creates a sense of trust and friendship among celebrants, presenting an opportunity for exploitation.

People may unknowingly let down their guard during the holiday season, making them more vulnerable to the devious act of drink spiking.

In recent years, drug-facilitated rape, commonly known as date rape, has emerged as a prominent cause for concern in public discourse. Drink spiking has become synonymous with sexual assault, drug rape, and date rape.

Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, a leading advocacy organization, emphasized the reluctance of date rape survivors to come forward due to their struggle to recall what transpired, leaving them feeling fragile and traumatised.

The violation runs deeper as the perpetrator "steals" the survivor's memory of events in addition to perpetrating sexual violation, making it one of the most violating types of rape.

Reporting drink-spiking and drug-facilitated rape cases becomes challenging as survivors often feel ashamed due to their inability to precisely recall the events.

Drink spiking typically involves the introduction of drugs, most commonly rohypnol or gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB), into an unsuspecting individual's beverage.

These drugs are known to cause disorientation, memory loss, sedation, and a range of other debilitating effects, thereby rendering the victim vulnerable to exploitation and harm.

In 2022, Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, released shocking statistics showing that 10% of all reported rape cases in South Africa come from institutions of higher learning. Date rape, also known as acquaintance rape, is one of the most common forms of sexual assault.

In April 2023, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) organised a Social Justice Café luncheon focused on date rape. Led by Prof. Thuli Madonsela, director of the CSJ, the discussion united panellists to spotlight various aspects of the issue and its impact on university campuses.

Clio Sass, the head of Nemesia residence and a panellist, highlighted a major misconception about date rape. Sass explained that it happened not only through physical force or threats but also through verbal abuse, emotional manipulation, and the involvement of alcohol or other substances.

“In fact, date rape can occur through verbal abuse, emotional manipulation as well as the involvement of alcohol or other substances.”

How does date rape work?

It can be slipped into a drink (spiking) by perpetrators quickly when the unsuspecting person is not looking.

There is no way to detect it because it is tasteless and there is no indication that you have been drugged until it kicks in.

When drugged, weakness and confusion often occur within 30 minutes, sometimes resulting in loss of consciousness, but the most dangerous thing about this though is that the individual appears drunk to others. So it's easy for people to assume that you’ve had one too many.

When drugged with Rohypnol or similar club drugs, you can't defend yourself, refuse sex, and can't remember what happened while drugged.

Rohypnol can also cause other serious problems, such as difficulty standing; difficulties in moving and talking; feeling drunk; dizziness; sleepiness;

Incidents of drink spiking are not limited to South Africa. The Boston Police Department received reports of 116 drink-spiking cases in 2022 and 47 cases in the first six months of 2023. This highlights the global concern surrounding this issue.

South African businesswoman Peach Piche created Drinkerbell, a stylish scrunchie-style drink covered with a hole for a straw to protect against drink spiking, after her daughter fell victim to drink spiking while socialising with friends,

This innovative accessory provides enhanced safety in social settings by preventing tampering with drinks and offering peace of mind to individuals.

Drinkerbell's water-resistant lining and eco-friendly design make it a valuable tool in the fight against drink spiking, serving as a practical and versatile solution for individuals of all ages.

Stay safe during festive celebrations:

To protect yourself from drink spiking, it is advisable to:

1. Never leave your drink unattended.

2. Keep an eye on your friends' drinks as well.

3. If someone offers to buy you a drink, accompany them to the bar and watch the drink being prepared.

4. Trust your instincts - if a situation feels uncomfortable, remove yourself from it.

If you suspect drink spiking or experience any unusual symptoms, seek help immediately and inform a trusted friend or authority figure.

To establish a sense of safety and normalcy after a rape, use coping mechanisms like calling a trusted friend or family.

Preserve evidence of the rape by not washing it up, as it could be lost. If injured, go to the nearest hospital, community health centre, or doctor.

Report the assault to the police and receive medical attention and a forensic examination.

The Tears Foundation offers crisis intervention, advocacy, counselling, and prevention education for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child sexual abuse.

The Trauma Centre offers trauma counselling and violence prevention services.

Thuthuzela Care Centres are part of South Africa's anti-rape strategy, aiming to reduce secondary victimization and build prosecution cases.

Sexual Assault Centres - Netcare Hospitals provide quality, multifaceted treatment and support free of charge to women, men and child survivors of sexual assault.