Page 3873 - Week 11 - Tuesday, 19 September 2017
Based on these findings, we know that younger women are at greater risk of drink spiking than any other members of our community. Interpersonal violence in any form is not acceptable in our community, and the government takes the issue of sexual assault seriously. Of course, not all victims of drink spiking are sexually assaulted, but we know that there is considerable under-reporting of the crime, which is common also in other forms of personal violence.
The Australian Institute of Criminology found that in 2002-03 between 60 and 70 per cent of drink spiking incidents involved no additional victimisation other than the act of drugging a person without their knowledge, and only one-third of incidents involved sexual assault. At present, it is difficult for police to lay an appropriate charge for drink spiking incidents. If the victim is not seriously or fatally injured or does not experience sexual assault, a suitable charge is not available.
Even where sexual assault is not involved, victims experience considerable distress from the incident. Commonly reported effects include memory loss, nausea, vomiting, lethargy, dizziness and unconsciousness. The new offences recognise the seriousness of being victimised in such a way. They address the gap in our legislation to ensure that all victims of drink spiking have access to justice.
The Canberra Rape Crisis Centre advised that alcohol is the substance that is mostly used in drink spiking incidents. The new drink spiking offence also covers circumstances where a person expects to be given a drink containing alcohol but is given a drink which contains more than the alcohol that was expected, if the person giving them the drink intended to cause them some harm. The Canberra Rape Crisis Centre is supportive of these new offences, as young women regularly seek support from the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre after a drink spiking incident has occurred.
Drink spiking causes victims to become traumatised in a compounded way. We all hear stories from people, mainly women, who have continually questioned themselves because they have either trusted someone to handle their drink and ended up the victim of an incident or, as is common, experience anxiety, regret and self-doubt about whether they actually were drugged or not. Victims are often unaware that the memory loss and other effects they are experiencing are a result of drink spiking. It is more difficult for victims of crime to overcome the trauma they experience if they are unaware of the details of the crime. The new offences will provide access to justice to victims to assist them to overcome trauma.
There are some challenges in the enforcement of a drink spiking offence. In 2015-16, 16 incidents involving drink spiking were reported to ACT Policing. It is likely that this offence is underreported, either due to the delay in victims realising that their drink was spiked or through victims not realising that their drink was spiked at all due to the high level of intoxication. If a victim is delayed in realising that their drink was spiked, they may miss the short time frame available to participate in medical testing to confirm drink spiking. Memory loss and unconsciousness may make it difficult for victims to participate in testing. To address this difficulty with collecting evidence, it is important that we continue to raise awareness about drink spiking across Canberra. The more aware of drink spiking the community is, the more likely it is that a person will attend a police station or a hospital if they suspect that their drink has been spiked.