Naomi Long sees 'no clear case' for change of law on 'drink-spiking'

Justice Minister Naomi Long has said there is 'no clear case' for changing the law to address 'drink-spiking'.

Monday, 25th October 2021, 1:43 pm
A spate of 'drink-spikings' have been reported to the PSNI.

The minister was pressed on the matter by SDLP MLA Sinéad McLaughlin after an alarming spate of reported drink-spiking incidents in Derry.

Last week the PSNI confirmed they received more than three times as many reports of 'drink-spiking' (seven) than they had in the five years 2016 to 2020 (two).

There were disturbing reports that a teenager had to be taken to hospital by ambulance from Derry city centre when she became unwell having reportedly had her drink spiked on October 16. Ulster University confirmed at least three students at Magee believe they were spiked in Derry last week.

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Seven Derry drink-spiking reports in 'couple of days' over three times the total...

In response to these incidents, Ms. McLaughlin asked the minister 'given the reported increase in the number who have had their drinks spiked in bars, or who have been forcibly injected with drugs, in ways that are intended to cause them physical harm or facilitate sexual assault whether she will review legislation to increase protection for women?'

Ms. Long replied: "Any incidents of spiking drinks or injecting drugs to facilitate physical harm or sexual assault, regardless of a person’s gender, are abhorrent and are to be condemned in the strongest terms. While this can affect anyone I recognise that women are more likely to be affected.

"Under current law, the Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 2008, it is an offence to cause a person to engage in any type of sexual activity without consent.

"Where it is proven that drugs were administered, there is an evidential presumption that the person did not consent. Depending on the circumstances of the case and the nature of the sexual assault, offenders can be liable to a maximum of life imprisonment."

The minister said she does not believe fresh legislation is needed to address this type of crime but that she is willing to consider any relevant evidence that should become available.

"At present there is not a clear case for a change in the law in this area to address the particular concerns raised; however, I remain open to considering any such evidence which may emerge and particularly the experience of victims of this incredibly distressing crime," she said.

The Justice Minister also said there is a need for cultural and societal action.

"There is also a need to focus on addressing attitudes to women and girls across our wider society, as well as violence targeted against them, whether directly or indirectly. This requires societal and cultural change where we tackle the root causes of aggressive and entitled behaviours at an early stage.

"This cannot be achieved by my Department alone. The approach needs to be much broader than justice. There is a need to work together to address the structural and gendered issues that persist in society, relating to both gender inequality and societal attitudes, beliefs and behaviours.

"The Executive has agreed to bring forward a violence against women and girls strategy on foot of my proposal which, recognising that this is a cross-cutting issue, is to be led by the Executive Office.

"This is intended to ensure that the cross-departmental co-operation and support required is delivered. I understand that the scope and approach to developing the violence against women and girls strategy is currently being developed. My Department will continue to do all we can to support this.

"We are also currently in the development stages of a new domestic and sexual abuse strategy as the current ‘Stopping Domestic and Sexual Abuse’ strategy is approaching its final year," she said.