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  • March 10, 2022
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  • 6 minutes read

Spiking: The Conversation That Shouldn’t End

Trigger warning: spiking, sexual assault, assault.

Late last year, everyone was talking about spiking and sexual assault. When it came to light that some were taking it one step further, sneaking needles into clubs and injecting people, universities nationwide united to boycott clubs on their busiest student nights. Educational resources flooded social media, and victims were inspired to share their stories to contribute to the conversation. Despite the fear that so many of us felt when we realised how at risk we were, it was comforting to bring communities closer together, looking out for one another in ways some people had never considered before.

Months on, there are two things we need to ask ourselves. First, has any worthwhile change been made, or are we still in as much danger on a night out? And second, are we still talking about women’s safety enough, or have our voices become quieter over time?

Some University of Reading students were willing to open up about their experiences with spiking and share their thoughts.

One was with a friend in town in the midst of the social media storm. “Some men became very aggressive towards us, trying to grab us”, they explained. “I noticed the ice in my drink had sunk and my drink was really foggy compared to my friend’s identical drink.”

It was because of a post they’d seen on social media that they knew this was a sign of spiking. Thankfully, they had also seen adverts for the ‘Ask for Angela’ initiative. In a lot of bars, if you feel in danger or uncomfortable, you can go to staff and ask to see ‘Angela’. It’s a discrete way to signal that you need help, whether this is to have a taxi called, the police or security informed of a situation, or to help you be reunited with a friend.

Fortunately, the bar team were alert and helped remove the pair before things became even more sinister. In this case, the social media campaign ensured both customers and staff knew how to react. It shows the power of talking and spreading as much awareness as possible.

Another student experienced spiking on a weekend away prior to the mass media campaign last autumn. “The reason I was able to know I was spiked was because I knew how many drinks I had,” she explained. “Four drinks of the same alcohol should’ve made me barely tipsy.”

She explained how she felt at the time, sharing her symptoms. “I was with four other friends that night, so I’ve been able to piece together some idea of what happened from them. I lost the majority of my own memories.”

Alongside the memory loss, she was also violently vomiting and unable to stand and support herself. “I couldn’t see, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t remember it. If my friend hadn’t been with me, anything could have happened to me, and I wouldn’t have known.”

“I remember waking up [the next morning] and feeling like I was hungover and like I had the flu all rolled into one,” she says. When she tried to continue drinking the next day, the flu-like symptoms returned.

Reflecting on the spiking crisis from this point in the future, the students shared their views on how the protests and social media campaign changed the conversation.

The interviewee who Asked for Angela before drinking the tampered drink says there’s still a way to go for women’s safety on a night out. “I haven’t actually seen any practical changes put in place that have made me or my friends feel any safer,” she says. She believes clubs should, as standard policy, provide test strips or drink covers to customers. “It’s a shame it has come to this, and we shouldn’t have to put these measures in place to feel safe – but it’s a reasonable response to the current issue.”

The second student agrees that not enough has been done and feels that even after the conversation hit the mainstream, councils, and organizations bigger than clubs alone need to listen.

She recalls a time when security was able to help her and a friend to a safe spot on a night out in Birmingham. “They took her to this safe space under a car park. And there were trained professionals there to help. It was literally in walking distance of the main clubs in Birmingham, and I had no idea it was there,” she says.

The Arcadian car park in Birmingham serves as a safe space for those in need on Friday and Saturday nights between midnight and 5:30am.

She believes Reading and cities with a main localised clubbing area could benefit from a space like this– somewhere that people could go to receive help in an emergency, not too far away and easier than trying to make it home.

Other policy ideas she suggests include making security as standard wear body cams.

If you’re out and think you have been spiked, seek help from staff immediately. Symptoms to watch out for include dizziness or instability, breathlessness, nausea, and sickness. You may start to feel these symptoms around 15 minutes after you consume the tampered drink, although this varies depending on the substance.

If your drink has been spiked, it may have a foggy appearance, excessive bubbles, ice may sink, or it may appear a different colour.

A lot of establishments do now offer drink covers, so don’t be afraid to ask for one.

In the long-term aftermath of a spiking, you luckily shouldn’t face any effects, but in the short term, it’s best to seek attention and stay somewhere you feel safe. A medical professional might decide to take an ECG or some blood tests, but this is often just observational – it’s quite rare that you’d need serious treatment afterwards.

Psychologically, though, long-term aftercare is important. Be kind to yourself and remember it’s not your fault.

To see further change, we can’t stop talking about the issue or let the topic die. Keep campaigning and sharing stories, and eventually decision makers will have to listen.

 

By Faye Minton

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Victim Support – 08 08 16 89 111

Rape Crisis – 0808 802 9999

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