Uproar as Durham tells students “don’t get spiked”

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A Durham University Student Wellbeing anti-spiking campaign has sparked uproar. Durham Students’ Union President Seun Twins described the campaign as “victim blaming”.

In a tweet that has now been deleted, Durham University Student Wellbeing said: “Drink Spiking is dangerous and something that you can prevent from happening to you and your friends. #dontgetspiked Contact the police as soon as possible in a suspected case so an investigation can be conducted and others protected.”

The tweet was posted in response to increased incidents of drink spiking across Durham city as a whole during freshers week. 

There have been at least five cases affecting students from University College, and five from Hild Bede College, as well as numerous from across the wider student body. Incidents are reported to have taken place at multiple locations in Durham.

Durham University Student Wellbeing said they take concerns about drink spiking “very seriously” and that they will take this opportunity to “learn and improve” its messages on the topic. 

Commenting on the tweet, which received over 900 responses, Durham Students’ Union President Seun Twins said: “This victim blaming messaging is extremely dangerous. What was this supposed to achieve other than to divert attention away from predators and predatory behaviour?? Disappointed for the umpteenth time.”

Durham SU Welfare and Liberation Officer described the tweet as “disappointing”. He said: “Spiking is assault so this hashtag is widely inappropriate”. He suggested that the University should help students to stay safe by providing drink covers and “report incidents without insensitively blaming victims. All guilt lies with perpetrators – the primary focus must be on them”.

Durham University Student Wellbeing responded to accusations of victim blaming on their Instagram account, in a post which has also now been deleted, saying: “I’m very sorry you feel this way in response to this message. Our aim was to raise awareness of how students can keep themselves safe from harm. We certainly do not want to give the message that we blame those for getting spiked.”

Posters displaying the #dontgetspiked message have also been displayed around colleges.

One student tweeted: “whilst it’s good to be aware of what to do if you have been spiked, there’s no reassurance of consequences for those who do spike nor info on preventative measures!”.

Spiking is legally considered a form of assault, and is a crime under the 2003 Sexual Offences Act, with charging resulting in up to ten years imprisonment.

“This victim blaming messaging is extremely dangerous”

Seun Twins

Durham University alumni, including Deputy Leader of the Women’s Equality Party Dr Hannah Barham-Brown also expressed disappointment at the tweet, saying: “As a normally pretty proud Alumni, I’m really frustrated and disappointed by this. I’m genuinely very willing to come and explain why this is a terrible and pretty dangerous take.“

General Secretary of the University and College Union (UCU) Jo Grady called the advice given in the tweet “absurdly offensive, victim blaming advice”.

Commenting on the tweet, Durham SU Welfare and Liberation Officer said: “Having worked with the University on sexual violence I know there are members of staff who deeply care about gendered violence and have a high level of expertise on this issue. However, this care and experience is absent within this tweet. 

“It is important for students to know how to avoid spiking – but a hashtag is not the way to do it. Spiking is a form of an assault, so the hashtag trivialises a criminal issue by insensitively placing pressure on victims instead of perpetrators. The tweet does not even give any information about how to avoid being spiked – such as watching drinks and using covers that University is beginning to provide. 

“Ultimately, this tweet has let students down. Helping students avoid being spiked does not tackle the root cause of spiking. Instead, the University needs to be proactive in combating the misogyny and toxicity that underpins gendered and sexual violence. The University’s incoming respect workshops must cover such behaviour because it is clear the consent matters course is not enough.”

In a statement posted on their Twitter account, Durham University Student Wellbeing said: “We appreciate the feedback on our recent post about drink safety. Students have reported concerns to us about drink spiking on nights out. We take this very seriously, & work with the police & others on guidance to help people be safe & report incidents.

“We always aim to support our students & will take this opportunity to learn & improve our messages on this important topic. It is our duty to listen to you & address these difficult issues, including training staff & student reps on drug & alcohol awareness.”

Image: Durham University Student Wellbeing via Twitter

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