No safety, no show

No safety, no show

The Girls Night In campaign is encouraging people to boycott nightclubs in response to an alarming rise in drink spiking incidents

‘Girls Night In’ groups across the country are encouraging people to boycott nightclubs until they take the problem of drink spiking more seriously. Photo by Rob Browne for WalesOnline.

Tara Weatherston

With the worst of the COVID crisis in the past, there is talk of a new epidemic sweeping across the UK. In the past two months, almost 200 drink spiking incidents have been reported to authorities. Now, there are even reports of spiking by injection.

Spiking means putting alcohol or drugs into someone’s drink without their knowledge or permission. Loss of memory and consciousness are two of the many symptoms that victims can face. Spiking can also cause lower inhibitions, difficulty concentrating, speaking or seeing, disorientation, paranoia, hallucinations, nausea and vomiting. There is unlikely to be a noticeable change in taste or colour, making it hard to know if drinks have been tampered with. Once consumed, most ‘spikes’ take effect in 15 to 30 minutes and may last several hours. The effect of the drugs leaves victims incredibly vulnerable, and they are often administered with the intention of sexual assault, theft, or similar.

The attackers seem to be preying on university students, knowing that they are often still finding their feet in a new, unknown city and not having the support network of friends they would usually have. The issue has raised widespread alarm, but will this be the next issue disproportionately affecting women to quickly fade from headline news without being resolved? Groups like Girls Night In are trying to ensure that this does not happen. 

Girls Night In groups are now active in around thirty UK cities. The campaign has manifested from a concern among students that clubs fall short on their responsibilities to keep women safe. They demand action, encouraging measures such as increased surveillance in clubs and bars, training staff members on appropriate responses, providing drink covers and spiking tests, and offering a safe place for those who have been spiked.

As a way to affect the relevant clubs and force them to pay attention, the groups are planning a nation-wide boycott of nightclubs. The Edinburgh group were the first to call for a boycott, which will take place on Thursday 28th. Many have joined since, including a group in Cardiff who have agreed Friday 29th. 

Despite the female-focused name of the campaign, local groups have emphasised that they welcome everyone’s participation – regardless of gender or identity. This is, after all, an issue that affects everyone. For this reason, the Cardiff campaign has changed its name to Big Night In Cardiff with the hope of being more inclusive to male and non-binary victims. 

Whilst precautionary measures taken by clubs and club-goers are not the solution, nor what anybody wants to be doing, they are much needed in the meantime. So, here are some ways you can reduce your risk of being spiked:

What you can do:

  • Never leave drinks unattended.
  • Try to cover your drink throughout the night. There are drink covers to get online, or provided by some bars, to help with this. 
  • Don’t accept drinks from strangers. 
  • Avoid punchbowls and stick to bottled drinks. 
  • Don’t wander off on your own. 
  • Know the symptoms. This important for everyone to know, not only because anyone can be a victim but because you could use this knowledge to help others. Check the NHS website for the full list of symptoms. If you can sense the symptoms in yourself or others, call the ambulance immediately and if it is happening to someone else, you must look after them and keep an eye on them at all times. 

I want to reiterate that a victim is NEVER at fault, whether they take these measures or not. It is the actions of the perpetrator’s only. 

Nightclubs and bars across the country have released statements on how they are going to increase the safety of their customers, including the Cardiff Students’ Union, who have promised the availability of drink and bottle toppers, free to collect from behind SU bars upon request, as well as testing kits if you suspect you or someone else has been spiked. This may be a sign of progress, but there are still many questions and concerns to be had. How does this protect us from spiking by injection? What steps will be taken to discover the identity of the perpetrators? Have staff received appropriate training? Where have these measures been in the past? Spiking by injection specifically may be a new issue, but drink spiking is an old one.

Should people be searched on entry to clubs? It’s certainly a popular opinion, with a petition for this to become a legal requirement currently holding over 167,000 signatures. This does raise questions about discrimination and practicality, with not every club possessing the means to thoroughly search every club-goer. It’s a sad reflection on society that on nights where people – mostly young – are supposed to enjoy freedom, they may have to be subjected to pocket checks and body scanners.