By SÁRA KENDE
As the nationwide lockdown lifted and nightclubs reopened, a new epidemic emerged in the UK. Chilling stories of drink spiking and even spiking by injection in clubs and bars are now circulating on social media every day.
In response to these shocking stories, a group of students at the University of Edinburgh launched the Girls Night In campaign on Instagram, a planned boycott of all clubs and bars on Thursday, October 28th. The name, a play on ‘girls night out’, encourages people to stay in safe environments (at home or at house parties) on the chosen night of the boycott. More than 30 other universities, including Warwick, have since followed suit, although some tailored the chosen boycott night to fall on their city’s most popular club night – hence Girls Night In Warwick has now extended the boycott to Wednesday the 27th as well. After some complaints that the original campaign name was not inclusive enough, Girls Night In decided to rebrand as simply ‘Night In’, however, some groups still go by their previous name, as some of the Instagram handles were already taken.
The organisers emphasised that the boycott is “not an attack on clubs, but really an attempt to reverse ignorance and an opportunity to work together”. They claim that clubs and bars have failed to create an environment where everyone can have fun without the fear of having their drinks drugged. The campaign aims to raise awareness of the fact that spiking is now widespread across the UK and to push clubs and bars to rethink their existing safety measures, as they do not seem to be effective in preventing these incidents.
Statistically assessing how much drink spiking incidents have actually surged in the recent past is nearly impossible, as there is still much stigma around reporting such cases and victims often fear being dismissed by the authorities. Trust in police has also declined since the case of Sarah Everard, where a young woman was abducted and murdered by a police officer in March. Moreover, blood or urine tests need to be taken 12-72 hours after the attack to definitively prove if someone has been drugged, and many victims feel too unwell to get tested in time. However, anecdotal evidence and the increasingly high number of cases that have gotten reported all suggest a significant surge in the number of incidents over the past weeks. Many of the attacks are tied to university campuses, as gender-based violence is most common among 18-24 year olds.
In reaction to the worrying social media stories and the nationwide boycott, a petition has been published and widely shared, which demands to make it a legal requirement for nightclubs to search guests on entry for weapons, ‘date rape’ drugs, and other harmful items. It has gained more than 150,000 signatures (at the time of writing), but has also divided the Girls Night In groups and other supporters of the boycott. Many of them, including Protect Warwick Women (a group created originally in response to reports of sexual assault cases on campus in March), released statements explaining why they do not think increased surveillance is an adequate solution. They claim, citing a report by the American Civil Liberties Union and a Guardian article, that more surveillance leads to racial profiling, abuse, and voyeurism.
Instead, Protect Warwick Women has reached out to the most popular clubs and bars on campus, Leamington, and Coventry to discuss their existing safety measures and put forward possible solutions. According to their recent Instagram story, so far only the Warwick SU has responded to them, with whom they are going to have a meeting this week. Although neither Protect Warwick Women, nor Girls Night In Warwick have released their alternative solutions yet, they might be similar to those of the Edinburgh group; free drink protection devices, on-site medical centres in clubs and bars, and implementing strategies of getting victims of spiking safely home or to the hospital. Although the groups have not yet spoken out about their long-term plans, it seems likely that they will continue to advocate for increased safety measures once the initial boycott is over.
As for the clubs, so far only Kasbah has spoken out about the boycott. They announced in a Facebook post that on top of their existing measures, they will now introduce full body and bag searches on entry, as well as drink covers that will be offered at the bar. Additionally, Access has cancelled their event on the 28th and offered ticket holders the option to donate their ticket fee to Coventry Rape And Sexual Abuse Centre (CRASAC).
Once again, universities find themselves in a situation where students are looking to them to ensure their safety. Drink spiking is a very serious criminal offence, which, even if not followed by assault, can result in a ten-year prison sentence. The fact that such attacks can happen on university campuses is horrifying. Universities must take a very strong zero-tolerance approach and take all reports of spiking seriously. Moreover, they should encourage people who believe they have been a victim of spiking in any form to report the incident as soon as possible. Universities and the authorities should also emphasise that being attacked is not the victim’s fault and reinforce that the burden should not be on students to protect themselves from having their drinks spiked.
The University of St Andrews has already announced a number of new measures to be introduced in their student venues. These include random bag searches, training for staff on spiking, sourcing test strips for common spiking drugs to use on drinks or urine, and signs that explain what to do if you think you or someone else has been drugged. A number of other universities have also pledged to take action.
Everyone deserves to feel safe and be able to enjoy a night out.
Image: Unsplash (Louis Hansel)