“A matter of seconds can change the lives of victims, both physically and mentally”- an interview with UEA(su) Women+ Officer Patrycja Poplawska

With an influx of cases of drink spiking taking place across the country and within the UEA community, statements have been issued from both the SU itself and from Womens+ Officer Patrycja Poplawska condemning those involved in the practice and offering advice for those who have been affected. I had the opportunity to sit down with Patrycja and speak to them about the problem.  

She made it clear if a case of spiking is reported, it is “thoroughly investigated by the students’ union, and while the investigation is ongoing, the perpetrator is not allowed into any SU events. If they are found guilty, their SU membership is completely revoked, and they are unable to join societies or attend events like Damn Good. It is then escalated and reported to the university, who will follow their own disciplinary procedure which could result in exclusion from your course, and of course pressing criminal charges is always an option.” 

When asked if this was severe enough, Patrycja told me she does think these punishments are adequate, as “a matter of seconds can change the lives of victims, both physically and mentally. Also, if you’re excluded from your course, this goes on your record, good luck finding a job as a lawyer or a doctor- people with allegations like that will never find work again. The SU does have a complete zero-tolerance policy on spiking, and I think we need to make that clear.” 

She pointed to resources such as Drinkaware, which can be used to highlight a number of the signs and symptoms to look out for if you suspect someone has been spiked, including “nausea, confusion, loss of balance and lowered inhibitions.”

In terms of reporting instances of spiking, they said there are “two parts to the process: on the night, you can go to any member of staff- Venues, bar, security or Alcohol Impact, who are specifically trained to help in these situations. Equally, if you think your friend has been spiked and isn’t in a position to report it, make sure to report it on their behalf so they can get the help they need. Reporting on the night informs our security that something’s going on and gives us the best chance to catch them so they can be held accountable, so try to give as much information as you can. After the fact, we also have Report and Support and Advice SU, and it’s really important that if you feel comfortable, you report instances such as this to the University.” 

Patrycja assured me SU are taking a proactive approach to dealing with spiking, with an “awareness and education campaign” taking place for staff and students in the near future. Furthermore, she was keen to promote the anti-spiking devices available for bottles in the bar and mentioned “the SU are looking to get more of these for different kinds of drinks, such as something to cover cups”.  

“Student feedback is also really important to us,” she said to me, “I attended an event with Feminist Society talking about how we can keep women safe on campus, and all their suggestions were fed back to the union and be introduced into their future plans”.  

When asked whether current messaging, which has been accused of placing the onus on victims by members of the student community, was effective, Patrycja said, “it’s always important that we are telling the people who would even consider spiking someone to check themselves, to remember that you’re not only ruining your own lives but other people’s too, and you’re making everyone uncomfortable.” 

To end the interview, Patrycja offered these reassuring words: “we also want to make sure we’re helping people to keep themselves and each other safe, so while the focus should always be on the perpetrator and those considering spiking drinks, but there are things we can do to keep each other safe”

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Emily Kelly

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November 2021
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