La Trobe University : Research to tackle drink-spikin

New research led by La Trobe University in the Greater Bendigo region will help response agencies and the community prevent and better respond to drink spiking-related sexual violence.

Funded by a $265,876 grant through the Victorian Government’s Crime Prevention Innovation Fund, results of the study will underpin an online resource aimed at upskilling police, health service staff, hospitality managers and schools.

Drink spiking is when alcohol or drugs is given to someone without their knowledge, often with the intent to sexually assault them.

Project lead, Associate Professor Leesa Hooker from La Trobe Rural Health School, said there is little research on drink spiking in rural communities, making this project a crucial step towards improving community capacity to respond to and prevent sexual violence.

“Drink spiking is not well understood; its prevalence, the lived experience of victim-survivors, and what works to keep them safe. It’s not just at pubs and clubs – house parties and the home are locations where drink spiking sexual assaults can occur,” Dr Hooker said.

“The issue is not specific to Bendigo, but a number of previously reported cases in the region make it an important place to begin addressing the issue in Victoria.”

Dr Jessica Ison, project manager and Research Fellow at La Trobe University’s Judith Lumley Centre, said researchers will partner with the Centre Against Sexual Assault Central Victoria, Bendigo Community Health Services, and the Greater Bendigo Coalition for Gender Equity to better understand the experiences of victims.

“There are high rates of sexual assault in this country, and it needs to be tackled in a multi-faceted way. This is just one specific issue, but hopefully our work will lead to better response pathways for drink spiking, that can also apply to the broader context of sexual assault and violence,” Dr Ison said.

The study will happen over four phases to; gather information about existing interventions and victim-survivor stories, engage with the Bendigo community, develop targeted educational information for the public, industry, and government organisations to implement the study’s findings and collect feedback.

The last drink spiking study in Australia was conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology in 2004 but the issue remains poorly understood.

The global prevalence of drink spiking is also currently unknown, however there is growing international attention. In December 2021, the UK Parliament announced an inquiry into drink spiking to better understand how widespread the issue is and the effectiveness of the police response.