Editorial: Students band together as institutions stay inert

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Over 160 cases of drink spiking to college JCRs in just the first two weeks of term, students spiked at a ticketed college event, and horrific stories nationally and now here of women spiked by injection.

That anyone goes through the conscious effort of sourcing illegal drugs, bringing them into a Durham club, and deliberately targeting a woman, out of pure maliciousness or sickening intent, is beyond disgusting. That some perpetrators have been shown to be Durham students should shake us to the core.

The reaction to the epidemic of such incidents has been telling. First on the scene, the brilliant freps, student volunteers with little to no spiking training, treated victims and took them safely home.

It has taken until now, finally, for the police, hospital, University and colleges to confront the issue together

Institutional failure kicked in. JCRs told us that at this point, bouncers kicked victims out of clubs assuming they were drunk. The only University contact they had was by running back to grab a porter. The next morning, some shocked students spoke to the police, who told them to get a toxicology report from the hospital. At the hospital, one student waited nine hours and then went home. Many were told A&E just couldn’t help. The police said they could not investigate without the test.

While this inertia raged on for over a week, the University sat on its hands and shot itself in the foot. One JCR asked directly for drink covers, and were told to wait two weeks. The #dontgetspiked tweet by a Durham University Welfare account — “spiking is dangerous and something you can prevent happening to you and your friends” — was eyebrow-raising and victim-blaming, as the cartoon above demonstrates.

It has taken until now, finally, for the police, hospital, University and colleges to confront the issue together.

That some perpetrators have been shown to be Durham students should shake us to the core

But while institutions with paid professionals, communications departments and social media managers held meetings to figure out what was going on, the students instantly recognised the issues and moved to fill the void left by authorities.

The fantastic Durham Night In campaign helped students unite in action in a matter of days. Where stereotypes suggest students resort to thankless petitions and underattended demonstrations, the reality was thousands seemingly instantly telling clubs they need to change and organising a hugely successful mass boycott of nightclubs.

Students should be proud of this unity and what it has done. As this newspaper reports today, the student action has changed the landscape of Durham nightlife for years to come. Proper checks on the door across Durham, CCTV monitoring, drink covers, and drug testing kits — a wave of measures which will undoubtedly stick.

This has been a horrible period for students, especially women, who after a year or two of fear over Covid faced a new epidemic. But if we are to take something from this, we should know something that has been forgotten in Durham for too long — mass student power and action will force the institutions to do something for the people they should protect.

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