Durham’s spiking epidemic: where do we go from here?

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It’s a Friday and you’re on a night out, the music is subpar, but the vibes are good. You haven’t left your Jägerbomb unattended, and you’ve been vigilant about who approaches your circle. An hour or so later you feel dizzy and incapacitated, a wave of nausea washes over you and your friends escort you home. The next morning you wake up only to be told “don’t get spiked” by the University. 

The campaign has since been cancelled, but its slogan has shown a disregard to victims of drink spiking, particularly following the increase in relevant incidents across Durham during freshers’ week. It fed into the twisted ideology that victims, usually women, are to be blamed for such incidents. It’s true that we should be taught preventive measures, but there’s an equal, or even greater, need for education on respect and consent. 

Clubs are meant to be a temporary escape, they’re a space free of judgment from others. Spiking removes all of that, adding labels like “danger” or “fear” to clubs in the minds of those who have been victims or are repelled from clubs due to recent reports.

It’s never your fault if you fall victim to spiking

I personally have since felt unsafe within the community, especially about the notion of clubbing. If I am out for a big social, I try to have my boyfriend with me to watch my back. We went to a club event a week prior to freshers’ and I became very disoriented after a single drink. If he hadn’t been there to accompany me home, I would’ve been left in a very vulnerable position. I’ve also learnt from others’ accounts that perpetrators attack regardless of who you’re with — you could be surrounded by a whole football team and still be targeted. It’s a sad reality but having someone there by your side in case you need support is extremely crucial to your safety. 

In the wake of this, a number of student-led campaigns and groups have been set up to protect people from drink spiking. Urban Angels Durham is a Facebook community for women and non-binary people to share safety tips and experiences with each other. There’s also a Durham Anti-Spiking Forum which allows people to give live reports of incidents around the area to increase general awareness. More recently, the Durham Night In movement is calling for a boycott of all Durham nightclubs, as a response to the lack of action being taken by clubs to curb spiking. 

I’m really happy with the push for conversation about this issue and the safety of women in Durham, but the fact that all of the above are student-led directly spotlights how little the decision-making parties are doing. 

With blood tests being time-sensitive, making them accessible in Durham should be a top priority

According to PalatinateTV’s report on the issue, a victim was directed to the hospital by the police, only to be informed that blood tests for drink spiking were not available there, having waited three hours. Victims sometimes decline reporting as they believe that nothing will be done regarding the case, or that the toxic substances have long left their bloodstream. With blood tests being time-sensitive, making these more accessible in Durham should be a top priority to ensure the victim’s protection and re-establish faith in the system.

Remember it’s never your fault, if you fall victim to spiking. Society holds the archaic view of victim-blaming: women are catcalled because of the way they dress, women are attacked because they haven’t taken the well-lit route, and now women are spiked because they don’t look at their drinks 24/7. That is not to say men are never victims, however, women are statistically shown to be more prone to such incidences. 

I hope that the Durham Night In movement can further increase awareness of the issue and amplify the students’ voices so that they can be heard by nightclubs operating in the area. Clubs should conduct more thorough security checks on any personnel that enter the location and be able to produce working CCTV footage in case they’re needed as evidence. With Durham being a university city, a lot of these club’s traffic comes from Durham students, so it doesn’t make sense for clubs to put us at risk. 

I know there’s a community among Durham students dedicated to increasing awareness. It’s going to be a long road. However, I hope that the efforts right now to prevent further spiking incidences won’t go to waste. 

Image: Yoshimai via Creative Commons.

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