In light of numerous allegations of spiking making headlines recently, it's time for nightclubs to step up and implement more rigorous and effective measures and make the safety of clubbers their priority. Regardless of whether it is through alleged needles or through drinks - the issue of spiking is a very dangerous one, and something that needs to be tackled in order to make our nights out safe.
It’s recently been revealed by The Independent that A&E departments are not obligated to test anyone who believes that they have been spiked. This combined with a perceived lack of action by clubs and venues creates an atmosphere of uncertainty and worry amongst clubbers - who fear that they are being left both unprotected and disbelieved.
One clubber, who has claimed to have been spiked through her drink in a venue in East London last month, said to Mixmag that the lack of measures to clarify whether there has been an incident of spiking or not is “mentally exhausting” for people such as herself. She was convinced that when she reported her experience to the bouncer to the club that they dubbed her as hysterical and thought she was overreacting. She was advised to simply “go home and rest”, with no further guidance or action being taken. The experience has knocked her confidence, leaving her debating whether she can feel safe in a nightclub.
To put it simply, this type of situation is not acceptable. Clubs should maintain a responsibility to protect every person that walks through their doors, and rather than demonising women and blaming the victim for “overreacting,” it should be standard practice to listen to the experiences of those who claim they’ve been spiked or harassed. It is in the best interest of clubs to keep adequate health and safety measures in mind, including safety measures regarding spiking, because on top of being the obvious moral thing to do - it also will reaffirm their status as trustworthy cultural institutions which serve the needs of the people. Complacency puts everyone in danger.
It’s also crucial that we widen our understanding of spiking to include all targeted uses of drink and drugs to intoxicate a person beyond being in control of their actions and take advantage of them. This can include purposefully buying someone one too many drinks, giving them one too many bumps, or passing them a pill with questionable contents, and then taking advantage of their intoxicated state rather than helping. This most commonly occurs between people known to each other, and not just from shadowy strangers on the prowl. We need to start taking these actions as seriously as spiking from strangers, and unlearn these actions as just being a normal part of a night out.
There are several ways in which clubs can take action. The first and foremost is believing victims. Venues and their staff should never dismiss the experiences of those who have claimed to have been spiked and should introduce a standardised procedure where a formal complaint can be made, CCTV footage can be viewed and adequate medical and mental support can be given to the victim. All staff members, from bar staff, bouncers, to managers should receive standardised training and know the steps needed to help people who may be in danger.
Staff should also be trained to understand that facilitating an unhealthily intoxicated state with malicious intentions, through buying more drinks or offering out party drugs, is also a form of manipulation and be watchful of potential cases of this. It's difficult to intervene in apparently friendly interactions, but measures such as providing chill out rooms or medical areas to take people who are overly intoxicated to sober up could stop them being pressured into situations they might regret.
Alongside standardised procedures - there are several more actual, concrete and easy actions that venues can take. All bouncers can be trained to spot the signs of drink spiking and know what to look out for, all while operating a strict zero-tolerance policy for spiking - evicting and banning anyone who is caught spiking. This sets a much-needed example that this type of behaviour is not acceptable. Security can also watch taxi ranks outside the venue and can also be there to actually assist people who believe they’ve been spiked when getting home. When Mixmag spoke to some women who have been spiked on a night out, a few of them recalled only being advised to go home to “sleep it off”, without actually being assisted to a taxi or promised any concrete safety.
Venues themselves can even offer urine tests - The Warehouse Project in Manchester has just started to offer free test kits for people who believe they have been spiked at any of their events. This is a move that can be followed easily by other big venues; it would ease a lot of stress from people who believe they have been spiked as there would be confirmation as to whether there was a substance in their system. If they find substances, this can then guide the medical team to giving people appropriate support.
Alternatively, several venues have now been trialling drink testing kits, whereby a sample of a drink can be tested on a test strip to see if it has been tampered with. Drink spiking test kits are set to be introduced across police stations and several night-time venues in Bristol as part of a trial. These kits do not stop the problem, of course, but they can prevent people from being taken advantage of or harmed.
At the absolute minimum, venues should have readily available posters or pamphlets at bars that depict signs to look out for to know whether your drink has been spiked. They should also describe some common symptoms of being spiked and have clear instructions on how to alert a member of staff. Having these types of visual signs can reassure clubbers that their safety is the top priority.
As previously explored by Mixmag, a lot of people have distrust toward the police force when it comes to their own safety. By nightclubs taking the safety of attendees into their own hands and having in-house solutions to the problems that occur on their own premises, it can restore some faith in the clubbing landscape.
While the topic of spiking also opens up a whole other debate about how we need to tackle misogyny and male dominance and superiority as a whole - nightclubs taking preventive and precautionary measures such as this will alleviate a lot of the stress and can also help create the culture shift that is needed to end spiking. As institutions of arts and culture, it is their responsibility to use their status within society to set the right precedent.
If you have been impacted by any of the themes covered in this article, visit Victim Support.
The Association For Electronic Music has created a Code of Conduct against sexual harassment and gender discrimination for the music industry. Find out about it here.
Aneesa Ahmed is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow her on Twitter