Ruby Dixon shares an update on spiking incidents and considers that more needs to be done
Content warning: Spiking
When I came back to university and started my second year in September I, like most others, was so excited to finally be able to go clubbing in Bristol. However, this excitement soon became anxiety after reports of spiking increased massively, especially spiking via injection. I spoke to some first and second year students in Bristol and Nottingham about this issue, how they have been affected by it, and what they believe needs to change.
Between September to October this year, there were 200 spiking incidents reported to the police and for the majority of these cases, a young woman was the victim. However, these statistics do not show the full extent of the problem; drugs leave the body within 12 hours, meaning that there is an extremely limited window in which someone who has been spiked can get tested in order for a prosecution to be made. Spiking often leaves victims with feelings of confusion, with lower inhibitions and unconsciousness, so by the time they realise they have been spiked it is often unfortunately too late. Additionally, spiking at house parties has become a new concern, these are locations with no CCTV and no security guards, all someone has to say is ‘I know them, I’ll take them home’, which begs the question where can women truly feel safe?
In response to this crisis, a Girls Night In campaign was set up. All over the country boycotts of nightclubs took place to protest and highlight spiking in addition to women’s safety, with Bristol’s own Girls Night In happening on 27th October. The boycott aimed to put pressure on clubs to address spiking and put preventative measures in place: there needed to be greater wellbeing accessibility, more accessible help points, and anti-spiking products stocked and available to the public. All over Bristol, clubs were just about empty, and they seemed to have listened: Motion introduced lids available on all drinks, and Lizard Lounge said that they were introducing drinks covers and staff training that was dedicated to anti-spiking, to name a few examples.
Despite all of this, a lot of the clubs’ new dedication to these new policies seemed like empty promises. One second-year student who I spoke to said, ‘It seemed that clubs cracked down on it for a few weeks, and then pretty much gave up once it wasn’t as relevant on social media’, whilst another second-year student recalled an experience at Old Crown Courts in which she asked for a lid and the bartenders laughed at her, then proceeded to give her one which clearly would not fit. Strikingly, one of the largest responses from clubs was increased security, for both searching on the door and observing in the club, with Motion even adding undercover security throughout their club.
But is increased security really the best solution? Some students that I talked to were in support of increased security and searches, and a petition that called for more thorough searches when entering clubs gained 130,000 signatures. This soon garnered criticism when people highlighted how these measures would most likely have a negative and discriminatory impact for certain groups, such as people of colour who risk being targeted more than their white peers. And increased security in the club itself comes with many issues: one first-year student who I spoke to told me about when she was spiked in a club and, instead of helping her, the security and medical staff in the medical tent proceeded to take a selfie on her phone with them all smiling and then posted it to her Snapchat story.
Likewise, trust in the police is also low; 4 in 10 women say they believe that police officers would take them seriously if they reported an incident of spiking, and women who have reported an incident have said that they have felt gaslit by the police, with them being accusatory towards them and judgemental of their drinking, rather than helping them in a time of need. Even though drink spiking carries up to 10 years in prison, rarely anyone is ever convicted for it. A Freedom of Information act appeared to show that, since 2016, Avon and Somerset police had received reports of almost 500 drink spiking incidents without any convictions. With no action ever focusing on the perpetrators of this crime, women often feel dismissed, and their experiences minimised.
As the discourse around spiking really took off towards the end of October, a lot of positive changes seemed to be taking place in clubs. However, much more needs to be done and much more needs to be learned. Changes made by clubs need to be systemic, and the way in which the police and security act needs to be altered massively. Spiking shows us how, in society, women’s bodies are seen as something that others are entitled to without consent; it is not an isolated incident, it is a wider symptom of covert violence against women which is enabled by the inadequacy of the way in which security and the police protect us and respond to spiking.
Artwork by Amelia Elson.