Stuart Waiton: Police find no evidence of spiking – yet calls grow to outlaw mythical menace

IN the same week that Police Scotland said they had found no evidence of spiking by injection in nightclubs across the whole country, Holyrood lobbyists push for a new law to make spiking a stand-alone offence.

A few months ago, a furore erupted about young women being spiked with needles in pubs and nightclubs across Scotland and the UK. At the time I suggested that this looked more like a modern-day moral panic than a new threat to women and that rather than adopt a knee jerk reaction to the claims we try to remain calm and look at the evidence and try not to elevate irrational fears in society.

Last week, Detective Chief Superintendent Laura McLuckie explained that the police had found no evidence to support claims of needle spiking in the 51 reported cases. She added that they had found no traces of drugs used for spiking and suggested that the anxiety about needle spiking had emerged “as a result of the media and social media attention that it was given at the time”.

One would have hoped that the actual evidence of a lack of needle spiking would lead to a more cautious and rational response to this and to what is also arguably something of a panic about drink spiking more generally, but for some, the opposite is the case.

READ MORE: Are we really in the midst of a nightclub drug-spiking epidemic? By Stuart Waiton

In the recently held meeting of the Education, Young People and Children Committee at Holyrood, Kate Wallace, the chief executive officer of Victim Support Scotland, argued that a stand-alone offence against spiking was needed. Women need to feel “confident that they will be believed”, Wallace argued.

Following this emotivist line of argument, president of the Edinburgh University Students’ Association, Ellen MacRae, added that the creation of a new offence would “legitimise people’s experiences and their fears around spiking”. Even the chairman of the Night Time Industries Association, Mike Grieve gave his support for new legislation, saying it could help to “build up an accurate picture” of spiking in Scotland.

But we already have a pretty accurate picture of both needle spiking and drink spiking, and that evidence suggests that rather than this being a common occurrence it is incredibly rare and, in most cases, where even drink spiking is presumed it is not true.

If we were to follow the evidence, to have “evidence-based policies” as politicians like to call it, we would be dampening down fears about the perceived mass of rapist young men stalking our pubs and clubs, but this is not the way of things today.

Today, not only are we to accept panic reactions, however improbable, we must ensure we do not “victim blame” and indeed we must go further, as Ellen MacRae explains, because the job of the criminal justice system is increasingly to legitimise people’s fears and experiences.

At the time of the needle spiked panic our enlightened institutions did just that. Not only did politicians and much of the media jump on the bandwagon of fear but universities sent out emails warning about the “life threatening” events taking place in pubs and clubs.

Now that we have the evidence about the myth of needle spiking will those individuals and institutions put things right, will universities send out a new email explaining that there is not a single case to be answered? In our irrational safety obsessed world, it seems unlikely.

In the Education Committee, to his credit, James Dornan the SNP MSP raised doubts about the need for new legislation and asked, “where do you draw a line” on any offence. Should we criminalise someone buying a friend a double without telling them, he asked.

Hopefully, Scottish politicians will resist the urge to create another irrational virtue signalling law. They may at last come to their senses and realise that when we ignore the evidence and simply endorse “people’s experiences and their fears” we turn Scotland into an ever more irrational and reactionary state.

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