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By Maddy Gowers – Contributor
C/W: spiking, sexual assault
In recent weeks, there seems to have been an increase in reported cases of spiking – both in drinks and, horrifyingly, through injections. While the reports have certainly gained traction in the media, particularly with the recent development of spiking via needle, women being spiked is, by no means, a new phenomenon. Not in the UK, not even in York.
In my first year at the University of York, I was spiked. I went to the Fibbers club night (when that still existed). I had only had two drinks at home, then I bought some jaeger bombs at the bar. This is when it must’ve happened. I turned around to pass the drinks to my friends, then turned back to the bar, to take my own shot. That’s my last clear memory of the evening. I have vague recollections of collapsing in the club. I have a blurry memory of how sick I was. But the next clear memory I have is waking up in the hospital. I remember asking what happened. My flatmate, who had brought me there, said they thought I’d been spiked, and the doctors agreed. Apparently, I was so unwell, I had gone into a state of physical shock at the hospital. I don’t actually know what I was spiked with. The doctors didn’t test me. Why? Apparently, there was no point in reporting it, as the police “won’t follow it up”.
For all intents and purposes, of course, I was fine. My flatmate got me to the hospital. I was safe, nobody hurt me. I was one of the lucky ones. There isn’t much research on drink spiking on its own, due to the lack of reporting. But in terms of what could’ve happened to me, had I not gotten to the hospital, one need not look far to find out. In 2017 alone, 510,000 women aged 16 to 59 reported experiencing sexual assault. In 2021, meanwhile, it was reported that almost a quarter of British women had experienced sexual assault at some point in their lives. So, I did get lucky. I got to the hospital, I got help, I got home, I was safe.
But what if my friends hadn’t known something was wrong and phoned an ambulance? What if they hadn’t even found me when they did? I would’ve been kicked out by the bouncer, left on the street, on my own, and whoever spiked me could’ve easily found me themselves. I appreciate statements by Kuda explaining their actions to protect women. I appreciate statements by the North Yorkshire Police, encouraging women to report their experiences. I’m glad women are finally coming forward and being taken seriously. I truly hope that these recent events ensure that women continue to be listened to. I truly hope that action begins to take place to protect women.
I think a good place to start is with the boycott on Wednesday 27th October, 2021. Women and men alike are boycotting clubs in York and across the UK, with the hope that they take decisive action to protect their female clients. The problem is happening, materially at least, at the venues themselves, after all. And these venues could certainly do more to ensure that these things do not happen in their walls, such as increasing security, or putting help in place for women who have been spiked.
However, beyond that, we need a cultural reimagining of how we frame this issue and how we talk about women. Because while I am glad to see men’s sport societies at York supporting the boycott, ultimately, the responsibility has been placed on women to address this issue. It’s a #GirlsNightIn, not a #GuysNightIn. Indeed, despite being overwhelmingly the victims of spiking, we are the ones who have to police our own behaviour. We have to stay inside, we have to watch our drinks, we have to protect our friends and ourselves, we have to ‘stay safe’. But why are women doing all the leg work? Why aren’t men policing each other? Why aren’t they stopping their friends when they make inappropriate jokes? Why aren’t they speaking up more for women? Because while it obviously is not all men spiking women or even only men spiking women, men do have a duty to speak up now. Make this unacceptable. Keep it in the news. Talk about it with your male friends. Ask your female friends how they’re feeling. Make women feel safe to report. Better yet, make women feel safe to go and enjoy a night out with their friends.
It is not fair to ask women to disrupt their own social lives and their own activities because of a threat that, predominantly, comes from men. It is not fair to make women become the eyes of the state because our own institutions cannot protect us. It is not fair to scapegoat our safety on our shoulders, when we are not the ones who are making it unsafe. We should support the boycott, and I will happily do so, but it’s just one night. When are women going to see long-term justice for the constant violence we are facing?
Spiking is not a new phenomenon, and I understand that it won’t disappear overnight either. But let’s take the small actions we feasibly can to ensure that we can start to feel safe again. And let’s not put all the onus on women to do that.