When I started clubbing, I was told to always cover my drink. Too lazy for this, I started downing my drink at the bar as soon as I got it, as if I was a fresher being bullied on a rugby social. Sadly, despite all the consistent practice, my pint time is not much better for it.
It’s 2021, however, and spikers have levelled up. Apparently to avoid being spiked now you must not only cover your drink, but do so while also wearing very thick layers of dark clothing so no one can see you or touch you, let alone stick a needle into your skin. Covering a drink? Easy enough. Trying to avoid getting syringed in the middle of a busy club? Good luck.
The recent spate of reports of injection spiking certainly need greater investigation. Spiking clearly remains an issue, especially at a time when the start of university terms is coinciding with clubs reopening after a very long period of being closed.
I’ve seen a lot of discussion among students like me over the past week about a petition to make it a legal requirement for clubs to thoroughly search guests on entry. Many of my friends are divided over this – and so am I.
On the one hand, I can see why lots are keen for more security and it would probably make me feel safer, too. Surely something is better than nothing, even if it is a “plaster” solution that won’t fix everything. When action is needed quickly, there is simply no time to wait around for long-term academic research and educational campaigns to take place (although they should).
However, no one wants to feel scrutinised at the door. A lot of friends have had very negative experiences with violent, racist and misogynistic bouncers. They feel that giving them extra power would lead to further abuses and could even exacerbate problems for women and racial minorities.
What’s more, some argue, increasing security does not tackle the root cause of the problem. And as some have pointed out on social media, what is more searching going to do anyway? It may even push those carrying drugs into concealing them in riskier ways.
So, if more security won’t make people feel safer going to nightclubs, what will?
I’ve thought about this question and have had conversations with friends and family. I love problem solving, and I love going to clubs – but depressingly I have to admit that I don’t have an answer to this one. Like any good puzzle, there isn’t a quick or easy solution.
My initial reaction was that more security does not necessarily need to involve more bouncers. Just as well really, considering that headlines this week say there is a shortage of them. Although, if we are going to increase bouncers then perhaps encouraging nightclubs and bars to employ more female door staff might be a way to make women feel safer. Or, instead of bouncers, metal detectors or trained detection dogs could be used as a form of security – free from human error or bias.
Regardless of which security measures are introduced (if any), they need to be for every person who walks in, not just those at the bouncers’ discretion. If people are being assaulted by bouncers, then more surveillance at the doors of nightclubs is necessary.
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Of course, security and surveillance without the corresponding retribution is ineffective. A friend who was spiked recently at a club in London told me when he approached police they were “unbelievably useless”. If people don’t feel safe or confident enough to depend on fast police action after reporting a crime, then nothing will change.
There have been suggestions of plainclothes police officers in nightclubs, but due to the nature of spiking it is extremely hard to identify and catch perpetrators. Therefore, it might be more effective to simply have better training for nightclub staff so that they know what to do if someone thinks they have been spiked. No one should be prevented from asking for help for fear of not being believed or accused of just having one too many.
A girl from my old college was partying last week at a club in Durham where I also spent my fair share of nights out. She woke to an aching arm and a small puncture mark, with no memory of the evening whatsoever. The reason she stayed safe was not because of the bouncers – in fact she said they threw her out and left her on the street – but because of a friend who walked her home. And even if bouncers do step in, what about when spiking happens at a house party where there are no bouncers or security?
I’ve come to the conclusion that the only completely failproof thing that women can do to protect themselves is something we were already doing – looking out for each other.