James Cleverly acknowledges that the spiking joke resulted in evident emotional distress.

The home secretary, James Cleverly, has acknowledged that a joke he made about adding Rohypnol to his wife’s drink may have diverted attention from the government’s efforts to address the issue of spiking.

In his first public appearance since the controversial comments were made at a Downing Street reception, Cleverly expressed remorse for his remark and emphasized his track record of implementing policies to support women and girls.

Following the incident, campaigners and others have called for Cleverly’s resignation. The comment was made just hours after the Home Office announced plans to crack down on spiking, which involves administering drugs to others without their knowledge.

Speaking to Sky News, Cleverly stated, “I apologize because it caused hurt and potentially distracted from our work to combat spiking and support predominantly female victims. I regret that. However, I remain determined to continue the work I have been doing for years.”

Campaigners argue that such comments can be upsetting and triggering for survivors of spiking and sexual assault, emphasizing the need to challenge attitudes that normalize joking about date rape and coercive control.

During the Downing Street reception, Cleverly reportedly remarked that adding “a little bit of Rohypnol” to his wife’s drink every night would not be illegal. He also joked about the secret to a long marriage being to keep one’s spouse sedated.

While conversations at Downing Street receptions are usually considered off the record, the Sunday Mirror made an exception due to Cleverly’s position and the subject matter.

Reflecting on his comment, Cleverly stated, “It was an awful joke, and I immediately apologized. Throughout my political career, I have been committed to safeguarding the well-being of women and girls. Those who work with me are aware of my dedication to this cause, and I hope to be judged by my record.”

Last month, Jemima Olchawski, the CEO of the Fawcett Society, a leading women’s rights charity, described the comments as “sickening.”

According to a Home Office report, the police receive an average of 561 reports of spiking each month, with the majority being made by women and often occurring in or near bars and nightclubs. Between May 2022 and April 2023, there were 6,732 reports of spiking in England and Wales, including 957 incidents of needle spiking.

These recent comments are not Cleverly’s first instance of landing in hot water. Last year, he was accused by a Labour MP of referring to the constituency of Stockton North as a “shit-hole” in parliament.

On Tuesday, when asked about this matter again on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Cleverly denied using the word “shit-hole” in parliament and clarified that he had used the term to describe an individual.

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