They call it needle spiking: a concerning trend of attacks mainly against young women in nightclubs, in which the victims find themselves to have been surreptitiously injected with the contents of a hypodermic needle. First reported in the UK, it has reached Catalonia in summer 2022, and since July 11th, when the first cases were detected, a total of 17 instances have been officially reported. The majority are in the Costa Brava town of Lloret de Mar, and of these, most at the Tropics nightclub, but there are also five more in Barcelona. But even these figures are out of date when the complaints that have been filed in this last weekend to the Catalan Mossos d'Esquadra police and at local police stations are included.
Map showing needle spiking cases in Catalonia
From data collected by El Caso, this map (provisional, as of August 1st, 2022) has been drawn up with all reported and known spikings at nightclubs and nightlife venues in Catalonia that have taken place in recent days, all in entertainment settings and dance clubs. The map (in Catalan) shows three categories of spikings:
- Official count (Recompte oficial): complaints confirmed by the Mossos police
- Complaints not yet official (Denúncies no recomptades): complaints confirmed but not yet included in police count
- Cases not yet subject to complaints (Denúncies conegudes): the police know of the case but no complaint has been lodged.
According to the data collected, and confirmed by the Mossos d'Esquadra, in addition to the confirmed cases, which are part of the official count, it is necessary to add two complaints in the Tarragona area, both in Salou, at the Tropical and Enjoy nightclubs. The first case occurred overnight between last Thursday and Friday and the victim was a young woman of French nationality. The second case was overnight between Saturday and Sunday night and the victim was a 17-year-old girl from Zaragoza. Both cases have been reported by El Caso in Catalan.
More spikings in Mataró, Girona and Barcelona
The Mossos d'Esquadra are aware of two more nightclub cases. In both, with complaints made by the victims. According to the police, overnight between Friday and Saturday in a venue at Mataró, on the Maresme, two people were attacked. One further case took place in Girona: on Friday night- Saturday morning, a female presented herself at the Trueta Hospital in Girona reporting that she had been spiked at a nightclub in the city.
This Monday morning, Barcelona city police sub-inspector Gemma Alfonso confirmed that the Guardia Urbana have received two more complaints this weekend, a fact that unofficially raises the number of complaints for these mysterious attacks to seven cases in the capital of Catalonia. This Tuesday, when the Mossos have announced they will update their data, these figures seems likely to rise.
El Caso has become aware of two more Barcelona spikings, with regard to which it has not been possible to confirm whether they are the two that sub-inspector Alfonso announced this morning: overnight from Friday to Saturday in the area of Gran Via / Aribau, and a second case in the area of Drassanes. In the Lleida area, a girl who was at a music festival was also taken to Hospital Arnau de Vilanova after being injected. Up till now, with more data pending, none of the analyses carried out after the attacks have revealed the presence of toxins that could be related to a possible chemical doping, the preparation for a hypothetical sexual attack or robbery.
Who is doing the spiking and why?
Nobody knows. Everyone has theories, including the investigators and officers of the Mossos d'Esquadra, but right now all those fighting the war against the the spikings says it is a battle against a "ghost". The spikings reported do not leave traces of toxins in the body of the victims and there is no known case that after the injection resulted in abuse or sexual assault, robbery or theft.
The investigation of the cases must be carried out by looking at images from security cameras to see if the authors of the spikings can be located. In one of the cases, the second in Salou, the victim's friends were able to say that the possible perpetrator was a tall man in a green shirt. The security guards looked through the images from the club's security cameras to try to locate him, although at the moment it has not transpired whether they have been successful or not.
Mossos investigators are analyzing the phenomenon along two lines. First, the start of the spikings. Cases registered in Lloret de Mar and with the focus on French tourists, bearing in mind that this type of incident has also been recorded in their country, which often also ended up in contexts related to pranks, viral challenges or macabre games. The second theory, however, is that of the copy cats: people who take the idea and use it for their own purposes, which may include the same or graver motives than those which applied in Lloret, and are leading to actions in places beyond the usual tourism areas of Catalonia.
New protocols for spikings
Catalan equality and feminisms minister Tània Verge, sought to give a message of calm based on solid information Monday, after the modification of the protocol for this type of attacks. Speaking to Catalunya Ràdio, the minister, while emphasizing that no sexual assaults or abuses have been recorded, also asked that the the problem of spikings should not be "minimized", since, she assures, they can generate anxiety, are aggressions in themselves and even cause the feeling of fear or "sexual terror". From the official data, sixteen of the seventeen complaints have been made by women.
The new protocol includes instructions on how to act and key messages for the different groups and reminds people to use the emergency telephone number, 112. It also states that once the person is treated by the health services, a toxicological analysis must be carried out as soon as possible. It also states that the activation of the HIV post-exposure prophylaxis protocol will have to be assessed, an intervention that must be carried out during the first 72 hours after the puncture, as is always done in cases of accidental needle spikings, whether or not in leisure settings. The minister warned that although the attacks have up till now only been recorded in nightclubs, they can also occur at concerts or towns' Festa Major street parties and that people need to be alert.
For their part, the Mossos d'Esquadra have strengthened their presence in leisure areas, such as in Lloret de Mar itself, where this weekend there have been vehicle checks and selective searches to prevent spikings and, with plain-clothes officers deployed, operations have been carried out inside the nightclubs where spikings have taken place in recent days.