Initial reports pertained to locations across the United Kingdom:
Speculative safety alerts aimed at women have a history of viral popularity, often based on word-of-mouth reports and concerning common services like rideshares or nightclubs. Versions of the rumor circulated on Instagram too, where one account asked commenters to share reports of being spiked by injection:
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“Spiked by injection” began registering as a popular search on Google Trends on October 17 2021. On October 18 2021, rumors of women being spiked by injection appeared to graduate from social media warnings to more a formalized discussion, with a Sky News correspondent and UK lawmaker reiterating them on Twitter:
Both tweets tagged Nottinghamshire police (“spiked Nottingham” was one of Twitter’s search suggestions). However, the verified account @nottspolice did not acknowledge the rumor on Twitter as far as we could tell.
On October 15 2021, a Scottish university newspaper reported not on specific incidents of spiking, but a popular petition created in response to the rumors. Anecdotal, second or thirdhand reports drove the creation of the petition, according to the article:
The petition was created by Hannah Thomson a former student at Edinburgh Napier University. Hannah became aware of the claims when her boyfriend sent her a post from a girl claiming to have been spiked by injection.
“I was so shocked and disgusted that this was happening.” HANNAH THOMSON
Over the past couple of days posts have been circulating around social media with multiple women claiming to have been injected by a needle into their back.
Hannah also stated that upon her own research found there was a case of a man bringing a knife into a nightclub in London.
“Why are we not getting searched? Why is there not metal detectors? Why are these things not in place for when you are entering a nightclub?”
A BBC article published on or about October 15 2021 reported an “anecdotal rise in spiking,” in a piece with similar overtones. In that instance, the anecdotes concerned locations without security footage (and one of the anecdotes involved a lag during which the window for testing closed):
A charity says it’s seeing an anecdotal rise of cases in spiking in places that don’t have CCTV or security staff.
The Alcohol Education Trust, which helps 11 to 25-year-olds to make safer choices around alcohol, say they’re hearing an anecdotal rise in spiking occurring in places that don’t have CCTV or security staff.
The charity speaks to more than 25,000 young people every year and says over half the spiking stories they hear about happen in places where people might not have their guard up so much.
“Most people we talk to, their spiking incidents have happened at house parties and festivals. It’s not necessarily in bars and clubs, perhaps because people know they’re more likely to be caught there,” says the charity’s CEO Helena Conibear.
One day earlier, a partly-paywalled The Times article (“Women report being injected in nightclubs”) began with vague information about Instagram rumors:
Police are making inquiries after claims that several women have been spiked by injections in Edinburgh nightclubs.
An Instagram page that shares students’ anonymous testimonies of sexual abuse has reported women being injected.
Those claiming to be affected say they have woken up with a small red bump on their back and have reported symptoms similar to being spiked with a pill, including suddenly feeling drunk, drowsy or sick. Most of the comments suggest that this was happening at the Liquid Rooms club.
One alleged victim said she began feeling unwell at about 2am and was found “passed out at the bottom of the stairs to my flat”.
On October 18 2021, TheTab.com published an editorial about the rumors, with an opening paragraph illustrating how the specter of being “spiked by injection” was distressing to people — whether or not it was occurring.
That article speculated that these rumors and fears were emerging partly as a reaction to the murder of Sarah Everard:
Recently, it seems impossible to open Twitter without seeing horrifying accounts from girls up and down the country who have been spiked by injection. And it’s always the same story. They wake up after a night out with no memory and a red bump somewhere on their body. As a result, I’m absolutely terrified to go out.
‘Drink spiking is rife within clubbing culture’
Although the attacks are not limited to women, they feel very personal. Following the tragic murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, the push for female safety has never been stronger, yet this new trend feels like the latest attack on our safety. Spiking by injection is the newest in a long list of fears that women will be forced to keep in mind whilst clubbing.
Later in the same piece, the author inadvertently demonstrated how hearing a rumor and fearing the claims can influence an individual’s perception, describing “intrusive thoughts” after a night out:
After a recent night out in Leeds, I woke up with a huge bruise on my thigh – something I would typically brush off as a funny drunk story. With the news headlines of spiking by injection fresh in my mind, however, I couldn’t shake the intrusive thoughts that someone had injected me. Despite remembering everything from the night and knowing I hadn’t been spiked, the thoughts persisted and led me to obsessively research the dangers of dirty needles and repeatedly asked for reassurance from those around me, two compulsions that I struggle with.
In that passage, “news headlines of spiking [by injection]” linked to the above-quoted BBC article from October 14 2021. However, the story did not mention women being “spiked by injection,” even in passing.
That excerpt was also notable, as primary “news stories” about the rumors were initially difficult to come by. The rumor increased in popularity on October 18 2021 and likely would generate speculative news stories — but we were unable to find any verified instance of spiking by injection in the news in October 2021.
Safety warnings such as the “spiking by injection” rumors were a perennial feature on social media, often surging in response to current events at the time of their circulation. Rumors of injections were particularly common in Nottingham and Edinburgh, but we were unable to find any corroborated instances of women being drugged by injection in the UK or United States at the time the rumor was popular, nor were we able to locate any credible advice on preventing such an attack. Although anecdotes were plentiful, the above excerpt also demonstrates the power of suggestion in creating a “new trend” or firsthand reports.