While students hailed the reopening of clubs, as university terms started across the country, the darker side of nightlife has also re-emerged. Coronavirus is not the only epidemic stalking our country at the moment. Drink and drug spiking has sky-rocketted in recent weeks.
Drugs are being slipped into drinks in bars and nightclubs across the country, while needles, posing the risk of infections such as HIV, are being used to assault partying students. While spiking has always been a concern when visiting a party or drinking in public, the recent rise in cases begs several questions. Why has this form of assault been increasing recently? And what can we do to curb this abuse?
An investigation run by the BBC between 2015 and 2019 found that there were 2,650 cases of drink spiking in England and Wales. 72% of spiking victims were female and almost 10% were even under the age of 18. Recently, these figures have risen exponentially, with over 140 reports of spiking in the last two months alone. The concerning appearance of spiking by injections has also been noted.
It is difficult to determine why such a shocking increase in spiking has occurred. One theory is that the return of the student population to nightclubs, after 18 months of their absence, has provided circumstances vulnerable to such abuses. Especially as much of the younger student population hasn’t previously had experience in nightclubs, they are likely to be more vulnerable to these types of attacks.
That said, there seems to be a great deal of victim blaming occurring amongst university populations. Any potential vulnerability on students’ behalf should never be portrayed as their fault nor as a consequence of their deeds. Much of the media surrounding spiking cases urges students to be more careful or to act in certain ways, rather than preventing spiking criminals from acting in the first place.
Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, has called for an update from the police as a result of these spikings, especially alerted by the injection spikings which are more likely to cause permanent damage. Superintendent Kathryn Craner, of Nottinghamshire Police, reported that police officers are carrying out CCTV checks at a number of reported nightclubs to find the source of the problem.
Simultaneously, many students are taking it upon themselves to bring attention to the issue. Several campaigns have been established to boycott nightclubs until the issue is resolved. One of the first, named ‘Girls Night In’ was set up in Edinburgh. It now has more than 25 groups following its example in other university towns.
But while these actions will raise awareness of the issue, they are yet to tackle it head on. The hope is that educating those trying to protect themselves against spiking will be of greater use than urging criminals to refrain from committing such heinous acts. And while this makes sense in a practical manner, it establishes the idea that it is the responsibility of students to not get spiked, rather than the responsibility of the government and police force to prevent criminals from carrying out crimes. When the method of prevention sends the wrong message to victims, how else can we prevent a further rise in attacks?
The initial answer is a greater police presence. Either CCTV footage, checks on the door, or metal detectors could aid the prevention of criminals into nightclubs. An easier method of reporting suspected crimes, one that doesn’t demonise or criticise the victim, is also needed. And finally, we need to address the issue head on. Why is there such a desire to spike vulnerable students? Evidently, this area of research is sparse.
We can only improve the wellbeing of students if we can understand why they are being targeted. And for this journalist at least – that is the first step to safety.