When Kate Molloy, Executive Director of the Kerrisdale Oakridge Marpole Community Policing Centre (KOMCPC), noticed there was a concerning lack of public awareness about the issue of drink spiking in Vancouver, she became committed to helping change that. Having moved to Vancouver from Ireland in 2019, she quickly realized that the unfortunate reality was that most people just weren’t privy to how common – and serious – drink spiking is across the world. So, in an effort to raise public awareness about such dangers, along with providing safe-guarding solutions, Kate launched the ‘Shield Your Sip’ campaign in October 2023 with funding from the Vancouver Police Foundation and support from the Vancouver Police Department, as well as the VPD’s Women’s Personal Safety Team. The campaign launched just in time for the holiday party season.
We recently spoke with Kate about the dangers of spiked drinks and how Shield Your Sip is helping people across Vancouver.
Firstly, can you please tell us more about spiked drinks and what that means?
“When we refer to ‘spiked drinks’, we are most often speaking about drinks where an offender has added an illicit drug(s) or alcohol without the other persons knowledge. Many times, the criminal act of drink spiking can be linked to sexual assault and robbery. The reason for the predator spiking the drink in these situations is to lower the victim’s inhibitions and defenses, in turn making them vulnerable.”
What substances are predators putting in the drinks of unsuspecting individuals?
“It is important to be aware that this can happen anywhere and at anytime. Some of the common drugs that are being used to spike drinks are Rohypnol and Gamma Hydroxybutrate (GHB) – both sometimes referred to as the date-rape drug. Sleep aids, such as Ambien and ketamine are often used as well, but the reality is the substance used for spiking could be a cocktail of many illegal and legal drugs mixed together.”
What are some of the symptoms of these drugs that people should be aware of?
“Each person will react differently, but it is advised that if you suddenly feel light-headed, nauseous, confused, suffer memory loss, have difficulty breathing, loss of coordination, or have trouble speaking, tell your friends and the venue’s security right away.”
Where did your inspiration for the Shield Your Sip campaign come from?
“I simply observed that many people in the Greater Vancouver area were quite reckless with their drinks in bars and clubs, often leaving them unattended. Coming from Ireland, and having travelled through Europe, drink safety is talked about much more. There are many advertisements in busy alcohol consumption areas such as, restaurants, pubs and clubs, to warn people of the risks. In Ireland, for example, it is very uncommon for anyone to leave their drink uncovered or unattended to hit the dancefloor or quickly use the washroom. Your drink stays with you at all times, and even then drink spiking can happen.”
“Vancouver is unfortunately a high drug use city and the lack of awareness and public conversation around drink spiking was confusing and concerning to me. The unfortunate reality is it can and does happen, with many sexual predators out there, sometimes in groups, with the intentions of committing this crime. I also personally know women who were victims of sexual assault after having their drinks spiked. They suffered very difficult mental and physical trauma, as expected from their assault. For all these reasons, I began researching ways to help prevent this from happening others. If I can help protect people from being a victim of drink spiking, then I will do everything in my power to do so.”
Why is this campaign so important for Vancouver?
“The topic of drink spiking is, in my opinion, underplayed in Vancouver. This leaves too much room for sexual predators to have the opportunity for their planned out evil acts. It also leaves the public in a very vulnerable position, many not knowing the signs or symptoms to look out for that they themselves or a friend might have been spiked. The problem is also hugely underreported for many different reasons, not only in Vancouver, but all over the world – making it extremely difficult to track spiking trends and bring justice to those who commit this crime.”
What are the key elements of Shield Your Sip, and when did the campaign begin?
“Shield Your Sip grew extremely fast from day one, and within the first week I had a meeting with VPD members from both the Drug Crimes Unit and Sex Crimes Unit. Together we organized an in-depth training session for Community Policing volunteers on “Drug/Sex Crime Education and the Most Common Drugs in Vancouver” – with more than 45 volunteers in attendance. Once I was confident that we had well informed volunteers ready to go, I began an extensive social media awareness campaign as well as in-person pop-up events in busy bar and club locations. Here we provided free drink shields, that also featured a QR code, to anyone who stopped by. The QR code is extremely important as this directs the person to the VPD “Drug Assisted Sexual Assault” webpage which has lots of related information and resources.
“We launched Shield Your Sip on October 31, 2023, and have since hosted four additional pop-up events around the city distributing 500+ drink shields. The biggest event was held before Christmas when three other Community Policing Centres purchased their very own drink shields and joined the Shield Your Sip program, each of us hitting well known “party” locations in Metro Vancouver. Between all of our locations, we handed out almost 1000 drink shields to safeguard community members in one day.”
What has the response been from the public?
“The response has been amazing! We have received such positive feedback, both in-person and via our online survey. Many people also shared with us that they themselves or someone they knew have been a victim of drink spiking here in Vancouver. One of our Instagram awareness posts also went viral, hitting 100k views. We are thrilled as this greatly supports our goal of generating awareness about both the risks and safety measures you can take to protect yourself – especially with female youths who have the highest figure of reported drink spiking assaults. It is also important to remember over 90% of people DO NOT report the crime when it happens, meaning the number of victims is likely much higher than we know”.
What should someone do if they suspect or know their drink has been spiked?
“The first thing a person should do if they think their drink might have been spiked is tell a friend or someone they trust, as the drug can kick in extremely fast in some cases, so time is of the essence. The next step would be getting the person to the nearest hospital ideally within a 24 – 36 hours. If outside this timeframe, they should still be checked over by a doctor. Making a report to the police is of course something I would encourage they do next. If, for any reason, they are not ready to call the police, the next best thing for them would be to make a report with one of the many Victim Support Organizations available.”
What’s next for the Shield Your Sip campaign?
“The KOMCPC along with partners Mount Pleasant CPC, Strathcona CPC, Grandview Woodlands CPC & Granville CPC will be continuing the Shield Your Sip program into 2024. We aim to keep spreading awareness to the community and helping keep people safe from drink spiking, sexual assault, robbery and harm. Please feel free to contact your nearest listed CPC and enquire about receiving your own drink shield and to learn more.” CLICK HERE for VPD CPC locations and contact information.
New partners are also welcome to enquire about joining the program by contacting the Kerrisdale Oakridge Marpole Community Policing Centre. Please email email@example.com
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