A young woman was left feeling like a zombie for days after something was slipped into her drink on a night out.
Caitie Howarth arrived for a night out in Cairns, North Queensland, with two of her friends on Saturday at 7.30pm.
The trio were bar hopping but not consuming a lot of alcohol, with Caitie revealing to news.com.au she’d only had four drinks – something well under her personal limit.
She’d been eating and had consumed plenty of water throughout the day.
At 9pm things changed with the young woman blacking out suddenly.
“I remember feeling dizzier and less aware before I blacked out,” she said.
“I honestly don’t remember much going through my head. After I blacked out and came somewhat back into consciousness I was surrounded by my friends and paramedics and it put me into a panic mode.
“I’d just woken up surrounded people with no idea what had happened. Everyone was telling me to calm down and control myself and I remember saying ‘I’m trying I’m trying.’”
Caitie said her friends saw her suddenly collapse and carried her to a chair before security helped them.
She said her pals knew something was wrong immediately as she hadn’t consumed much alcohol and she’d never behaved that way in her life.
Paramedics helped Caitie breathe, kept her warm, but the ordeal didn’t end there.
On Sunday, the Cairns woman was in and out of consciousness, falling dizzy any time she opened her eyes or tried to move.
“On Monday, I went to work a three-hour shift and I felt like I could feel the blood moving in my veins,” she said.
“Anytime I tried to relax and stop moving, my body would start twitching or sort of ticking. I would also catch myself suddenly breathing fast and abnormally and I’d have to try to make myself calm down because I could feel my heart beating out of my chest.”
Tuesday was a complete flip, with Caitie feeling like a “zombie” as she went into work after sleeping for 13 hours.
“I couldn’t think right, I couldn’t talk right, I’d try to talk to customers and I’d have to take a moment to think about what I had to say to make sure the words came out right,” she said.
“I didn’t really come back to normal until Wednesday.”
But it wasn’t just physical, there has been a mental strain put on her as well as she hears about things she doesn’t remember.
“And of course being so public about the situation I’ve had ‘friends’ and people tell me I’m attention seeking or I’d just had too much to drink,” she said.
“Which is tough because I know how I felt. And the amount of alcohol I had was nowhere near enough to make me blackout.”
She said it’s resulted in her both losing and gaining some friends, after she took to a local community page to warn others of her experience.
“I’ve had so many people reach out to me since sharing what had happened and that made me so honoured to know that people felt comfortable sharing their stories with me,” she said.
“I think that’s why sharing the story is so important to me. It happens far more than anyone realises and so many men and women haven’t spoken up about it. Not speaking up about it means the situation is sort of brushed under the carpet and forgotten about.
“But I think the more that happens the more people are going to get away with doing it.”
She asked people who have been through a similar situation to her to speak up about it, as she wants to raise awareness about something she “wouldn’t wish on her worst enemy”.
Caitie also had some words she’d like to share with the person responsible for what happened to her.
“I’m so mad and saddened at the same time. Upsetting to think people do it as a ‘joke’ not realising how big the after affects can be,” she said.
Caitie revealed she spoke to one of the venues she was at that night but says she has no way of telling where it happened.
She also plans on filing a report with police.
According to sexual assault service Full Stop Australia’s director of clinical and client services Tara Hunter, when more people go out – such as post lockdown, Christmas and summer – more people need help after being spiked.
“Very often people will contact our service feeling unsure about whether they have been sexually assaulted but they suspect that they have had their drink spiked and they may have woken up with clothes inside out, with unexplained injuries or they are experiencing fragmented memories,” Ms Hunter told news.com.au in October.
“Full Stop Australia is able to support people who are worried about whether they have been drink spiked and are also concerned that they have been sexually assaulted.”
Full Stop’s CEO, Hayley Foster, said the most common targets are young women and gender diverse people.
There is a really big role for bystanders here. Bystanders – trust your instincts and step up. It is a good idea to set up plans at the start of the night to look out for each other,” she said.
“But for anyone out and about, if you see something that doesn’t look or feel quite right, report it to staff or security
“And check in with the person you’re concerned about.”
Ms Hunter said spiking was a difficult crime to prove, and that’s why it was so underreported.
She said Full Stop helps people get the support, information and testing they need, as toxicology screening is time sensitive.
Ms Hunter added data has shown more people coming forward after an assault, with drink spiking a way to get people vulnerable.
“We hope some of the increase is that people feel safe coming forward,” Ms Hunter said.
In Australia, drink spiking is illegal and in Queensland, it is punishable with up to five years in prison.
Police advise if you think you have been spiked or assaulted, to immediately go to the emergency room as blood tests can find traces of certain drugs up to 24 hours after the spiking has occurred.
Typical signs to look out for is feeling dizzy, faint, ill, sleepy, passing out, waking up confused with memory gaps and feeling drunk without much to drink.
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