A review should take place into whether spiking is treated like stalking and made a specific offence within Scots law, according to higher education and hospitality industry leaders.
The call comes amid growing concern over a lack of clarity around the reporting arrangements that are available to those who believe they are victims.
Police Scotland has, since October last year, operated a bespoke “tagging system” for all suspected spiking events. It aims to identify, review and manage reported incidents.
Police analysis submitted to MSPs says the period in which the process was introduced saw an increase in complaints across the UK. The rise came after media and social media reports about spiking by injection.
Reporting was highest over the Halloween weekend and has declined significantly since then.
Superintendent Hilary Sloan told Holyrood’s Education, Children and Young People Committee: “The key for me is making sure that people are confident about reporting the incidents in the first place.
“Our investigative strategy will then take over and we will go through all those different inquiries in order to get as much evidence as possible to be able to put perpetrators or offenders to court.”
But MSPs were warned of significant worries regarding processes for those wishing to report spikings.
Martha Williams, of the Girls Night In campaign, said: “There is such a lack of clarity on the procedure. As a student, as someone who this could very well happen to – I know a lot of people who this has happened to – nobody really knows the exact procedure… and I think that is one of the fundamental issues.”
Professor Sally Mapstone, Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of St Andrews and Vice Convener at Universities Scotland, said: “It does seem to me that it is a bit of a problem that we do not have a specific offence which targets spiking.
“And if you look at the equivalent legislation in England, which has its own limitations because, again, spiking is badged under the Sexual Offences Act, in particular – but we don’t in our legislation specifically refer to spiking and I think, at the bare minimum, that needs to be looked at. Because I think specific references to spiking in legislation really could, again, seek to consciousness raise and actually give us something more to focus on in that context.
“As to whether and how we should pull out spiking as a specific offence, I think that’s worth looking at, yes.”
Asked by committee convener Stephen Kerr if the idea should be the subject of a formal review, she added: “Yes. I think so.
“I think it would be useful to take a serious look at it and see if we need to construct an offence in that way.”
Indicating her support for Prof Mapstone’s suggestion, Kate Wallace, chief executive at Victim Support Scotland, said: “The conversation that we’ve been having around the importance of people feeling confident to report, people feeling confident that they’ll be believed, and that there’s an appropriate response, both within a support system but also within the criminal justice system – I do think that looking at that would be helpful, and making an assessment, and looking at other jurisdictions and what they do.
“So, for example, stalking in Scotland has a specific offence now attached to it, and that makes a massive difference for victims and how they perceive how they’re going to be believed or how it’s going to be taken seriously.”
Andrew Green, Policy Manager – Pub Operations at the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, added: “A specific offence, obviously, would hopefully raise the confidence of anyone that wants to report this, that it would be taken seriously, and it aids the consistency and accuracy of reporting. So, on both levels, I think it would be a bonus to do that.”
Russell Findlay, Shadow Community Safety Minister for the Scottish Conservatives, said: “After years of inaction on an issue that can be so traumatising – particularly for young women – a review on making spiking a distinct offence is long overdue.
“The way these crimes are recorded makes it difficult to evaluate how common they really are. The lack of clarity does not help victims.
“But regardless of the name of the offence that criminals are charged with, it will make no difference to victims if the conviction rates remain as shamefully low as they are now.
“The SNP Government must start taking spiking seriously by clearly defining these offences and exempting spiking drugs from diversion from prosecution policies.”