SHARON GAFFKA’s life changed for ever when she went for lunch with a group of girlfriends to mark the end of lockdown.
The Love Islander ended up in hospital after her drink was spiked and she collapsed unconscious in the restaurant toilets.
At first, she feared she’d be judged if she spoke out.
But she has been so shaken by her ordeal, and the stories of other young women who have been victims of spiking, that she has now thrown herself into campaigning for a change in the law.
Sharon, 26, says: “I was so ashamed about what happened to me that I never intended to speak about it. There is so much victim shaming and I didn’t want other people to judge me.
“But I have this platform now where around 90 per cent of my following is young women, and last year there were stories coming out about spikings by injection.
“I thought if I could normalise sharing our stories, more women might feel empowered to come forward and then we could actually challenge the perpetrators.”
Her ordeal happened in July 2020 — she had drunk only a few glasses of wine and was “completely sober”, but friends became concerned when she did not return from the toilet.
She says: “The last thing I remember was having a drink in my hand, and after that I have no memory whatsoever.
“I went to the bathroom but didn’t come back so two of my friends went to find me. The cubicle was locked, they couldn’t get a response and that’s when they started to panic.”
Sharon’s friends called an ambulance, but when the two male paramedics arrived, they dismissed Sharon as having had too much to drink and advised her friends to take her home.
It was only thanks to her friends’ insistence that Sharon was taken to hospital, where she woke up on a drip and with no memory of what had happened.
She says: “I was discharged later that evening, went home and that was it. One of my friends stayed over that night, because I was very anxious and didn’t want to be left on my own. I really wasn’t myself.”
The next day they pieced together what had happened.
Sharon says: “I realised I must have been spiked because this didn’t feel like a hangover. I was hyper-anxious and I don’t suffer with anxiety. It was like I was having a heart attack.
“I couldn’t really breathe and I would jump at my own shadow. I also had a lump on my head where I’d fallen.
“I didn’t leave my house for a week, or want to see or speak to anyone. I didn’t feel safe and that’s how I knew it wasn’t the two glasses of wine — I know what I’m like the morning after and this wasn’t even close.”
Sharon believes she was targeted by a stranger, but she has only a vague recollection.
She says: “I knew there was this guy at our table and thought I should have known better — I should have kept my drink close to me. I felt violated but also guilty.
“And that’s been part of my journey, having to overcome this feeling that it was my fault.”
A few days later Sharon called the hospital to try and establish what had happened to her while at A&E but she found them unsympathetic.
She says: “I asked if they could tell me what had happened and they refused.
“They told me I should have gone to the police. But how would I have been in a position to go to the police? It was as if I was being fobbed off as a stupid, irresponsible person.”
Sharon kept quiet and buried the trauma until last year when, following reports of a spate of spikings by injection, and through her work with the Young Women’s Trust, she felt compelled to speak out.
As the first step towards a public inquiry into spiking, the Home Affairs Select Committee published a Call for Evidence — which Sharon shared on her social media platforms, collating and submitting around 1,500 responses.
She also met her local MP David Johnston and is very clear on what needs to change.
She says: “We need to look at what we teach in schools. Consent is black and white, there is no middle ground.
“The only way we can start to change the future is by talking to young people now. We also need the police and NHS to work together.
“There is no bridge between them when it comes to spiking.
“Even something as simple as a leaflet with some information would have helped me.
“And finally, the offence of spiking should become its own stand-alone piece of legislation.”
According to Stamp Out Spiking, four out of five victims of spiking are female and there has been a 108 per cent rise in the crime since 2015. Helena Conibear, chief executive of the Alcohol Education Trust, says: “Young people are reporting being spiked more, but what remains shockingly low is the level of conviction.
“Home Secretary Priti Patel is looking at changing the terminology to being a malicious drugging and also making it a stand-alone offence, which will make a big difference.”
Incredibly Sharon has received online abuse for raising the issue. She says: “I get ‘slut-shaming’ comments — people telling me I deserved it, I asked for it, that it’s a publicity stunt. I get called a liar on a daily basis.
“I don’t get paid for doing this. It’s my own time and it’s emotional trauma every time I have to relive what happened.
“All of my life, I’ve been told not to wear this or not to wear that, to make sure I’m not on my own, to share my location with friends if I go for a run, to always cover my drink — and I’ve just grown tired of it.
“At what point do we stop asking how women can protect themselves? The onus is always on us and never on men to make us safer. I know it’s not ‘all men’ — but all men can do their bit.”
When she considers what could have happened, Sharon becomes tearful and believes the man who spiked her intended to commit sexual assault.
She says: “Obviously, he didn’t realise my reaction would be the way it was — rather than just lowering my inhibitions to make an assault easier, it rendered me completely unconscious.
“I think about what could have happened if I didn’t have such amazing friends who instantly knew something was wrong.”
A former civil servant, Sharon now has designs on becoming Love Island’s first MP.
She says: “I could really see that — it’s definitely a long-term goal for me.
“I’m not particularly party political but the Women’s Equality Party follow me on Instagram and I’d like to do something with them.
Read More on HOAR
“I don’t want to be known just as Sharon from Love Island — I’m more than just a girl in a bikini.”
- If you believe you have been spiked, contact the police. For support, call Victim Support on 08 08 16 89 111 or visit victimsupport.org.uk.