An “epidemic” of spiking via drinks and needles has sparked a UK-wide campaign to boycott nightlife venues until they are made safer for women.
Girls Night In groups, now active in around 30 cities, want immediate action to prevent spiking through measures ranging from the provision of covers that can be placed over drinks to increased surveillance in clubs and bars.
The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) has confirmed that reports of drink spiking cases are increasing across the country and has called on the Home Office to launch an inquiry into the problem.
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“It goes without saying that everyone should be able to enjoy a night out without fearing for their own safety,” said the trade association’s CEO Michael Kill.
Spiking someone’s drink with drugs or alcohol leaves them vulnerable to attacks ranging from sexual assault to theft. According to Drinkaware, an independent UK-wide alcohol education charity, drugs used for drink spiking, such as Rohypnol (also known as roofie) and gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB), are generally “odourless, colourless and tasteless”, making them easy to disguise in a drink.
And these drugs don’t stay in the body for very long, which means they can be hard to detect.
As well as drink spiking, an increasing number of women are reportedly being spiked in nightclubs via needle injection. Nottinghamshire Police is investigating 12 suspected cases of needle spiking, with the victims claiming to have experienced effects that were “consistent with a substance being administered”.
In a statement, the force said it had received 44 spiking reports since 4 September, with 12 alleging “spiking by something sharp as opposed to a traditional method of contaminated alcoholic drinks”.
The majority of the victims have been young women, however some young men reported potential spiking too.
Zara Owens, a 19-year-old university student, wrote on Instagram that after a night out at the Pryzm club in Nottingham, she woke up to a “sharp, agonising pain” in her leg and “zero recollection” of the previous evening.
“I touched the part [of my leg] where I was in the most pain and I found a pinprick. I had been spiked,” she wrote. Owens added that she had been wearing jeans and “a needle went through thick denim straight into my leg”.
Nineteen-year-old Sarah Buckle had a similar experience. She told BBC Radio Nottingham she had to have a hepatitis test after a pinprick wound was found on her hand. “I’ve had numerous people reach out to me essentially saying ‘this happened to me the week [before], but I thought I was going crazy because I hadn’t heard of it’,” she said.
A 20-year-old man has been arrested as part of a wider investigation into spiking and the force has deployed more officers to the city centre. “A dedicated team of detectives are investigating these allegations,” said Nottingham Police in a statement.
Needle attacks are sadly not a new problem. According to Stylist magazine, the crime dates back to the 1980s, in the heart of the Aids epidemic, when so-called “pinprick attacks” – where perpetrators injected people with syringes in public places – caused widespread panic.
A similarly horrifying spate of attacks made the news in 2013, when police reported that up to five women had been attacked with hypodermic needles in Birmingham city centre over a period of 18 months.
As well as forming Girls Night In groups, young women are taking action to prevent more people from being attacked when out clubbing.
Hannah Thomson, a former student from Glasgow, created a petition to make it a legal requirement for nightclubs to thoroughly search guests on entry to “prevent harmful weapons and other items entering the establishment”.
It has since received more than 150,000 signatures, meaning that Parliament will now consider the topic as a debate.
But the Alcohol Education Trust has warned that spiking can happen in more private spaces, like house parties, and that the perpetrator of spiking is as likely to be someone in a wider friendship group as a complete stranger.
The trust has also said that there is often a surge in spiking during freshers’ week or the first term of university, so around the same time as these recent reports.
Writing on Twitter, Vice journalist Sophia Smith Galer said that it was “worth remembering that the autumn spate is sadly not unusual nationwide, and also that it’d be wrong to assume it’s a uniquely ‘stranger danger’ issue”.
The Manchester branch of Girls Night In has urged people not to not sign Thomson’s petition, explaining that increasing the powers of security “would have a negative impact on multiple sections of our community, particularly Black people”.
Instead, the organisation said it was “working on lists of demands from local government and club owners”, as well as working with other Girls Night In groups “on demands from national government”.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has requested an urgent update from the police following the spate of spiking cases, according to a Politico source.
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