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by Louise Wilson
01 November 2021
Comment: Girls Night In to end spiking

Comment: Girls Night In to end spiking

Fifteen years ago, a group of kids at my school won a regional enterprise competition for creating an anti-spiking device.  The ‘Proper Stopper’ was a reusable foam bottle stopper, carried on a keyring, that would prevent anyone surreptitiously slipping something into your drink.

One of the students at the time told the BBC: “We realise that drinks being spiked on nights out is a major worry for young people like ourselves and our parents.”

I am reminded of this now amid a recent spate of drink spiking and the admirable efforts of Girls Night In, a campaign started in Edinburgh, but which quickly spread across the country, urging nightclubs to take greater responsibility.

Sadly, the uptick in drink spiking reports is an annual event. It coincides with Freshers Week each year as a new batch of young people start enjoying the new-found freedom of university.

Campaigners have long been calling for more to be done about the problem, ranging from free lids and bottle stoppers to be handed out at venues through to more serious penalties for those guilty of spiking.

While reports of ‘spiking by injection’ require further investigation – there’s a great deal of misinformation circulating online and Exeter police recently confirmed three women who feared they had been victims of it had not been drugged – the national conversation around drug spiking more generally is welcome.

Figures from Police Scotland pre-Covid indicated incidents were on the rise and fresh figures show there have been 200 reports of spiking across the UK in the last two months alone.

It has led to several MPs and MSPs raising the issue with local police, over 150,000 people have signed a petition calling for venues to be legally required to search guests on entry, and women across the country boycotted nightclubs last week as part of the Girls Night In campaign.

It’s part of the recognition that ending violence against women and girls requires cultural change.

As with many violent behaviours predominantly targeting women, the burden of preventing spiking has largely fallen on the victims. We’re all familiar with the usual instructions for a night out: don’t wear revealing clothes, don’t get too drunk, don’t get spiked.

But advice like ‘never leave drinks unattended’ or ‘don’t accept drinks from strangers’ are not enough, particularly when many spiking incidents actually take place at private parties rather than by strangers in nightclubs. And while efforts to promote knowledge of the symptoms of spiking or how to help someone who may have been spiked are well intentioned, it does nothing to tackle the problem.

Change must start with real action from those on the ground, from better training for bar staff and bouncers (as requested by Girls Night In) to ensuring police officers take any reports seriously rather than dismissing symptoms as those of excessive drinking, as appears to have been the case a few times.

These small changes could make a big difference in bringing down the number of people harmed by drink spiking in bars each year, as well as changing the narrative around it, which will help tackle spiking at parties.

And maybe, some point soon, we can get to a place where a ‘Proper Stopper’ doesn’t need to be invented by a group of innovative teenagers who were already fearful of spiking before they could even legally drink.

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