If you’ve been on social media in recent days, you may have seen a flurry of stories about ‘spiking by injection’.
Instagram graphics warning young women to stay vigilant due to a ‘spiking epidemic’ in nightclubs emphasise a new risk: being injected with sedative drugs with a needle.
Some posts even make the unsubstantiated claim that women have become HIV positive as a result.
As a feminist who is passionate about ending violence against women, I am disturbed by these reports.
Sadly, it isn’t news to me that nightclubs can be dangerous places for women. I’ve been lucky; rarely have I felt seriously threatened by a male stranger on a night out. But go around any group of young British women and you’re guaranteed to hear horror stories.
It should go without saying that suspected cases of spiking need to be taken seriously.
However, I am concerned that fears around spiking are being used to persuade women to support a counterproductive ‘tough on crime’ approach to the problem.
One petition shared widely among those warning of a spate of ‘spiking injections’ calls for mandatory pat-downs. It has over 162,000 signatures. While surely well-intentioned, this proposed solution feels like a knee-jerk response rather than a well-thought out plan to tackle violence against women in nightclubs.
Aside from the fact that a determined rapist will likely find a way to smuggle sedatives into a club regardless of whether ‘thorough’ searches are conducted, giving more powers to bouncers could actually endanger women.
If I were to propose a legal remedy to gendered violence in clubs, it’d be to stop violent offenders from being able to work as bouncers.
But since when has this country prioritised actual solutions to violence against women?
The outcry over Sarah Everard’s murder by a serving police officer was met with the government pledging to put more officers on the street. And public attitudes actually support this approach of throwing more police at the issue.
Priti Patel, who has played a major role in pushing for authoritarian responses to violence against women, has already called for a police briefing on ‘spiking injections’. It seems like a matter of time before a war is declared on drink spiking, ultimately resulting in tougher prison sentences for those found in possession of drugs that might be used to assist rape (which includes drugs used recreationally by clubbers).
I’m not convinced that women will be any safer as a result. Instead of being told to panic on the basis of unverified stories about spiking injections, women starting university would be better off being taught about the warning signs of an abusive relationship. The reality is that women are much more likely to be harmed by boyfriends than by strangers.
Clubs can be scary places to be a woman, but they’re also places where I’ve had fantastic nights I’ll remember forever.
Frightening us into staying home and missing out on formative social experiences isn’t feminism, it’s scaremongering.