Drink-spiking: Shift onus off victims

The content originally appeared on: Cayman Compass

Local advocates say proactive measures are needed to address drink-spiking before it gets out of hand in Cayman, as police confirm they are investigating two incidents which indicate potential drink-spiking.

The call for action comes as victims come forward on social media to share their stories of spiking. One of the affected women sat down with the Cayman Compass last week to tell her harrowing story of being drugged with a spiked drink.

It also follows stalking incidents last week, which prompted Infrastructure Minister Jay Ebanks to pledge to implement law changes to allow women to legally carry pepper spray.

“The fact that it [drink spiking] is coming to the forefront a lot more and that people are speaking out about it on social media and trying to mobilise around it is always a positive sign,” Carolina Ferreira, deputy director at the Cayman Islands Red Cross, said as she weighed in on the issue.

Change in messaging needed

Pointing out that drink-spiking is not new to Cayman, and that there have been complaints about it over the years, Ferreira said victims are often wary of coming forward.

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“I think a lot of the messages that we’re still getting, and that includes even from key agencies, tend to be around individuals, and around what individuals should be doing to prevent their drinks from being spiked. It’s not that that is a bad message; that is, of course, a unnecessary message,” she said.

Red Cross Deputy Director Carolina Ferreira says victims of drink-spiking are often reluctant to report it.

This puts the focus of the issue back on victims and persons who are being targeted, she said, “as opposed to looking at it more holistically, as far as using bartenders, bar managers and whatnot, to be part of the solution”.

“If we keep giving messages to potential victims…, we are missing a huge part of the point,” she said.

With the issue at the forefront of conversations, she said, it is time for a rethink on the messaging around drink-spiking and developing actions to address it.

More importantly, she said, messages targeting perpetrators is equally needed, “to actually target perpetrators in terms of saying ‘Don’t spike people’s drinks to try to rape them’.”

“The way in which we have looked at prevention has been from the perspective of getting potential victims to try to minimise the way in which they might be targeted, but we’ve never really done a good job when it comes to ensuring that there are clear messages that are actually dissuading perpetrators from trying to commit these crimes,” she said.

Training frontline staff important

The Compass attempted to get input from local bar owners on the issue, but the few we contacted declined, either saying it is not a worry or they cannot comment as they have not had such experiences at their establishments.

For Simon Miller, prevention specialist at the National Drug Council, confronting the issue is key to finding ways to not only safeguard residents, but ensure individuals who may be in trouble can get help when they need it.

Simon Miller of the National Drug Council is calling for mandatory training for bar tenders to help deal with drink-spiking.

Following reports of drink-spiking cases in Cayman a few years ago, the NDC, he said, introduced the TIPS alcohol certification programme to offer free training to staff in the hospitality industry to help deal with the responsible sale of alcohol and to spot a patron in distress.

“We started to try to push for it to be mandated because it is a concern. There’s not enough people that is talking about it and, therefore, doing some things to try and mitigate [against] the situations repeating themselves,” Miller told the Compass.

Signs to look for:
• Nausea
• Loss of bowel or bladder control
• Difficulty breathing
• Feeling drunk when you haven’t consumed any alcohol or consumed very limited amounts
• Sudden increase in dizziness, disorientation, or blurred vision
• Sudden body temperature change that could be signalled by sweating or chattering teeth
• Waking up memory loss

He said the programme certifies the holder for three years and promotes corporate responsibility through server training.

“The police can’t be in every location at all times. Persons like security officers can’t be in locations at all times. So the people who are serving alcohol, who are selling alcohol at establishments, who selling alcohol at retail outlets, they are the first line of defence,” he said.

The NDC has been vying to make such training mandatory, and the council has been trying to work with legislators, policy makers and the liquor licensing to make it happen, Miller said.

“We’re very hopeful that this particular government will be the ones who will take that very seriously,” he added.

Vigilance is key

Ferreira shared Miller’s position that training is needed if this issue is to be dealt with swiftly.

With limited options for protection available on island, like colour changing nail polish that detects if a drink is spiked, Ferreira said the first line of defence – bartenders – must be fortified.

“It’s about how do you remain vigilant as a bartender and react quickly and appropriately. Do you know to recognise the signs of someone who has been drugged? How do you respond effectively? How do you take away the suspected drink? How do you keep an eye on the patron that may have been victimised, as well as the potential suspect?” she said.

All these questions and more should form part of policies at local establishments to protect patrons, male and female, Ferreira said.

“This whole idea of ‘tell us the next day if something happened’, that’s a lot of time, and are you intervening even when people themselves may not necessarily feel empowered to do so? I think that’s one of the things that ends up happening,” she said.

Additionally, Ferreira said, women are socialised to think that it is flattering when someone buys you a drink, but there should be aspect of consent on behalf of the bartender to ask first.

Similarly, she said, a bartender should be equipped to effectively handle situations where a person, for example, orders a shot for their companion but asks the bartender to put water rather than alcohol in their own shot glass.

“There are ways in which bartenders can ensure that they can expose certain situations in a way that is genuine, effective … So, why are we not looking at ensuring that we are training the people who are there, on the forefront of this, to be more proactive,” she said.

She also urged students to be educated about the dangers of spiking, so that a culture change can begin from school age.

Bartenders Against Sexual Assault, she said, is a good resource that members within the local industry can look at for measures to take action.

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