Alarm is spreading on dance floors across France following needle attacks on dozens of young people in nightclubs, with police in the dark as to the assailants’ identity or motives.
The victims, who are mostly women, report the sudden onset of identical symptoms — nausea, dizziness and sharp pain — while out partying, and only later detect a needle prick on their skin, a red dot surrounded by a blue circular bruise.
Returning home from a night of dancing last month in Nantes, western France, 21-year-old Eloise Cornut had a sudden onset of “cold sweat, nausea, shivering and dizziness.”
The beauty parlor apprentice felt better the next day, but a colleague noticed a needle prick in the back of her arm.
“It was a red dot with half an inch of blue bruising around,” she said.
Cornut, who does not drink or take drugs and only goes out at weekends, said she quickly realized that the needle attack must have happened during her Saturday dance outing.
Her colleagues urged her to file a police report and get a blood test.
“I now have to wait five weeks before I can get an HIV test,” she said. “That totally stresses me out.”
Since early last month, police have been dealing with about 60 such cases reported in nightclubs, a police source said, with the true number likely much higher.
The gendarmerie, France’s paramilitary police force mostly active outside of large cities, said that it was not able to give any countrywide figures yet, as the data had not been sufficiently evaluated.
About 45 cases have been reported in Nantes since the middle of February, prosecutors said.
Complaints were also filed in the western city of Rennes and in areas of France’s south, the southwest, the French Alps and the Atlantic coast.
Blood tests have not revealed the presence of gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB), known as “liquid ecstasy” or the “date rape drug,” a substance that potential sex assailants sometimes mix into the drink of their victims, prosecutor Renaud Gaudeul said.
Lab tests had also failed to establish the presence of any other toxic substance, and nobody had been arrested, he said.
However, experts say that GHB disappears from the bloodstream without trace within hours of being administered.
The needle attacks were sometimes followed by a sexual assault, and sometimes not, one police source said.
In Roanne, a picturesque town in the Loire valley, an 18-year-old woman who asked not to be named was celebrating a friend’s birthday at a disco.
When she accompanied a friend to the toilet, a man groped her bottom.
“When I got home I checked in the mirror and there was a big bruise with a red dot on my right buttock,” she said.
Her friends later told her that they had noticed a man staring at her in the disco, “as if he was waiting for something to happen to me.”
Doctors immediately gave her preventive treatment for HIV and hepatitis.
Roanne police are investigating the incident for “pre-meditated violence and the pre-meditated administration of a harmful substance.”
A similar probe was launched following a complaint by a young man in his 20s, who reported a needle stab in his shoulder in the same disco on the same night.
The phenomenon has been spreading to music festivals such as the Printemps de Bourges in central France, one of the country’s biggest music gatherings.
After nine complaints from festivalgoers, police there also launched an investigation into “administration of harmful substances,” without having been able so far to find any culprits or determine exactly what devices were being used.
“We don’t know whether we’re looking for syringes or whether they’re using simple pins,” said Agnes Bonjean, chief of staff to the prefect of the Cher region where Bourges is located.
“It really hurt,” said Noemie, 23, who was stabbed “in the thigh, right up to the sciatic nerve” during a night out in Beziers, southwestern France, and immediately rushed to hospital by friends after nearly losing consciousness.
The public prosecutor in Beziers, Raphael Balland, said that 15 complaints had been filed there, of which 14 followed attacks that happened over a single night, from April 17 to 18.
Prosecutors in Paris said that six investigations had been launched in the capital since last week.
Meanwhile nightclub owners are beginning to feel the effect of the attacks on their earnings.
Saying the “sick and perverse” attacks are sparking “hysteria” among young people, Thierry Fontaine, president of the UMIH hospitality association, said they were also creating a fresh problem for nightclub owners who were still reeling from the effects of COVID-19 restrictions.
One nightclub owner in southwestern France reported a revenue drop of 50 percent last weekend as people stayed away following two needle attack cases, Fontaine said.
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