Love Island star Sharon Gaffka has spoken out about how a drink spiking ordeal left her feeling 'victim shamed' and labelled as 'asking for it'.
In the summer of 2020, Sharon had a lunch date with girl friends that ended with her being admitted into hospital after becoming unconscious due to her drink being spiked. As a 26-year-old woman, she felt vulnerable and made to feel ashamed and she worries that others feel the same after they've been spiked.
She has told Tyla how she felt when many people just thought she'd had one drink too many: "I was really fortunate that I had friends that noticed I hadn't been there for over 10 minutes. And I was lucky that on that incident I had my friend who is a doctor with me, and she knows me well enough to know that I wasn't just acting drunk. Not everyone is lucky enough to be in that situation."
Sharon was found in a locked toilet cubicle where she'd passed out and was struggling to remain conscious. "I wasn't breathing and my breaths were very faint. I couldn't open my eyes, they were rolling around in my head," recalls Sharon.
"I remember the last drink I had and then I remember the second time I came round in hospital, but everything in between them is a blur. My friends have tried to piece it together and how it could have happened. In the first instance, I didn't think I'd had my drink spiked but I thought it might have been an allergic reaction instead."
Since the event Sharon has had time to reflect and feels like she initially blamed herself for not being more aware. "When I look back, the last drink I had just didn't taste right. This is what's awful as I blamed myself because if I'd paid more attention to what I was drinking then I might have been able to stop it. We were sat outside in a courtyard and as a group of girls, it could have been anyone walking past that managed to spike one of our drinks. It just happened to be that day."
When Sharon was found by her friends, they called for help from the emergency services but found their support to be lacking. Sharon explains, "My friends called for an ambulance and when two male paramedics arrived to assess me, they said I had just had too much to drink and suggested I go home to sleep it off instead.
"I remember being discharged from hospital very clearly. I had to have a nurse hold me upright and walk me out. It was about 10pm and I'd been drinking at 2-3pm and I still couldn't walk straight seven hours later. My friend met me and asked the nurse for what to do next or for what medication I'd had, and the nurse just told her to put me in an Uber and walked off.
"The attitude from everyone that I dealt with from the paramedics to the doctors to the nurses was that I was too drunk and it was my fault."
Sharon is not alone. More than a quarter of UK police forces have seen a stark rise in reports of drink and drug spiking in the past four years by almost 50%. Between 2018 and 2021, there was a 54 per cent rise in spiking-related incidents with a total of 3,625 incidents reported.
However, only 3,161 of these went on to be treated as crimes.
After her drink was spiked, the traumatic ordeal affected her to the point that Sharon didn't feel like she could leave her home.
"I had what you would describe as a comedown. I had severe anxiety for the week after, where even if a delivery driver knocked on my door I would freak out. I found myself flinching and being paranoid that whoever had spiked my drink would come to find me. It's completely irrational but also completely out of my control, and I didn't know that behaviour and those feelings are normal when you've been spiked.
"After that first week I built up the courage to phone up and ask because I was too worried to do it before in case they rold me it was my fault and I would feel ashamed. When I called and spoke to the hospital I mentioned that I had nothing from being discharged and no sense of aftercare, and I remember crying on the phone and their words were 'if you think you've been spiked then you should have gone to the police to get tested'."
"I understand how stretched the NHS are and I know there must be incidents where there are people who have drank too much or can't control their alcohol, but it then affects us who aren't in that position and genuinely need their help. I think the patience has run out across the NHS for cases like these and they just want to get people in and out."
"Even if I had been discharged with a leaflet or some guidance on what I would go through or how I would feel after being spiked, or even pointing me in the right directions of who to talk to."
Since speaking out to the media and highlighting her own experiences, Sharon has heard from many who have experienced similar. However, not everyone who reaches out has been supportive.
"I've spoken out on TikTok to hear from those who have spiked. I tend to get a lot of messages or responses back from teenage boys who say 'oh you're always moaning' and 'you don't understand this' or 'it's not rape'," explains Sharon. "We need to start with educating younger people, and that's how we can stop victim shaming. Victim shaming happens because of the ignorance around spiking and what it is."
The lack of awareness of how victims feel in the aftermath of having their drink spiked, is something Sharon is working hard to change.
Sharon describes: "Every testimony that I've read, whether it's a man, a woman, a child, no matter what their sexuality is or their race, every single one says that they blame themselves. They ask what they could have done to stop this, or what they could have done to make themselves less of a target. They don't report it and they don't really speak out about it, because of the fear of being shamed. I completely understand why.
"I did one eight minute interview for TV and I've been called 'a slag' and had people talk about me saying I was 'begging to be spiked'.
"I've been so open because if I normalise speaking about it, so that more people feel like they can talk about it."
It's making the conversation around drink spiking feel more supportive that Sharon wants to see, and for advice to move on from only focusing on how people can protect themselves.
"I want to reach out to organisations like Talk To Frank and NHS England because their websites do still have victim shaming language that doesn't help. They give advice such as 'cover your drink' and 'you should not leave your drink alone', but what actually happens when I'm spiked? What does my body do, what happens to me and my emotions after I've had my drink spiked?"
"Spiking can be anything, and it isn't always picked up by medical professionals. For me, I'd like to see it built into education within schools so within PSHE or equally within sex education classes, as spiking is classed as a sexual offence.
There are lots of discussions around sex education but I think spiking needs to be a topic within that syllabus."