Tonight, large numbers of women across the UK will be staying at home to boycott nightclubs on what is typically the biggest student night out of the week.
Others will come together in protest, with many joining in Manchester’s St Peter’s Square at 7 pm as part of an End Spiking Now demo.
Called for by local groups under the initiative ‘Girls Night In‘, the boycott is a part of wider protests against drink spiking in clubs and bars. It also follows a worrying increase in needle spikings, with a new epidemic seeming to sweep across the UK in recent weeks.
Needle spikings have recently been reported in areas close to Manchester including Liverpool, Nottingham, and Preston, with women injected without their knowledge or consent in what The New York Times termed a “horrifying variation of dropping pills into drinks.”
Whilst violence against women is not a new phenomenon, a number of high-profile violent murders and assaults of women including Sarah Everard, Blessing Olusegun, and Sabina Nessa has put the need for better safeguarding firmly back on the front page this year.
However, with Prime Minister Johnson already having blocked Home Office plans to make public sexual harassment a crime this month, it’s clear that more pressure still needs to be added in order for those with the power to enact real change.
By way of response to the increase in needle spiking reports, this week – as well as organising the boycott – women have launched a petition calling on the government to make it a legal requirement for nightclubs to thoroughly search guests on entry.
Protestors in Manchester have also penned an open letter to Andy Burnham and other leaders at Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), setting out demands including that GMCA provides bars and nightclubs with anti-spiking devices, enforce more staff training, and create a toolkit for women detailing measures venues should have in place in order to be licensed.
The group would also like to see designated employees on hand to deal with problems of spiking and harassment, as well as for venues to produce their own clear procedures on how to deal with such incidents.
The key focus is for women’s safety to be made more of a priority and for this to be clear to both staff and customers who are visiting any venue in Manchester.
There are already some organisations in Manchester doing work in this direction, including Jamina Wittke’s safeguarding group Safety Always For Everyone – set up this year following the tragic murder of Sarah Everard by Met policeman Wayne Couzens.
Working alongside Manchester club night HIT&RUN for its events at Hidden and Mint Lounge, SAFE team members are identifiable by a pink Hi-vis jacket.
If you are feeling vulnerable or unsafe for whatever reason, you can approach them for a chat or ask to be taken to a safe place. SAFE also has posters up at the venues with a mobile you can text if you find yourself in a particularly tricky situation.
Initially set up by Jamina to help safeguard people when leaving the club and make sure that everyone has a safe way to get home, SAFE volunteers do their best to ensure that clubbers aren’t “leaving with people they don’t know, or stumbling off into the darkness alone.”
“I feel that if people know we are around, they may think twice before spiking someone, or preying on somebody who is too intoxicated to make their own choices or give consent,” she tells us.
“Employing people inside the clubs solely for the purpose of safeguarding would be very effective, this is our goal eventually,” Jamina adds.
Asked what more can be done to increase safety in venues, she said: “I believe scanning IDs is a very effective way to monitor who is coming in and out the club, and if someone is a threat, they can be barred much more effectively.”
She also tells us, “There’s a cool company called nightcapit, which makes scrunchies that also double as a spiking preventative you put over your drinks, this is such a good idea and I do believe is a good investment.
“It’s [just] a shame the responsibility is on women to safeguard themselves rather than those doing the spiking.”
Another female-led initiative that has rallied in the wake of increasing reports of violence against women is Right to Walk MCR, set up by marketeers Emily Sutton and Rebekah Spratt earlier this year.
The pair, who both work closely with hospitality venues, agree that more needs to be done – adding that both bars and nightclubs need to be working with the GMP to ensure correct and thorough measures are in place.
“Spiking has always been a historical problem and one we are all far too aware of, however, the recent development of spiking with needles is incredibly disturbing and shows that so much more needs to be done to keep people safe on a night out,” said Emily.
“It’s been amazing to see several Manchester venues using their voice to show their outrage […] Overall though we need to see more venues speaking up.”
“Considering Manchester has some big venues such as the WHP, this really should be at the forefront of their minds – what are they going to do to keep people safe? More needs to be said and action needs to be taken.”
“Prevention is key, not looking to stop a problem that is already spiraling out of control. Victims who do come forward have also historically been disbelieved and it’s led to the perpetrator continuing their devious work. This simply MUST stop, all victims should be listened to.”
On the subject of improving safety, Rebekah also tells us about how she is working with an intelligent app called Help Me Angela, which she describes as “a sort of ‘guardian angel'” that is “connected to its own collection of safety call-centres (much like 999), safety hubs (for example, if you find yourself being stalked or in danger) and other information points.”
“Unlike the ‘Ask For Angela’ poster campaign, HMA as a company will ensure that all venues who work with the app are fully trained. From front of house to doorstaff. ‘Ask For Angela’ fell into shortcomings around this.
Both founders advocate for rapid testing, which has already been adopted by a couple of Manchester bars since the boycott was announced last week
First Street bar Bunny Jacksons (which also has another site on Oldham Street) shared today that they have already ordered their testing kits and are organising extra training for staff and door staff
“You’ll see some posters going up with advice and hopefully reassurance,” the bar’s Facebook post added.
However, these are just the beginnings of small steps starting to be made in the right direction.
Whichever way you look at it, it’s clear from speaking to numerous women that this disturbing spate of incidents has left many women in the country feeling less safe than ever – and more needs to be done.
Following the horrific murder of marketing executive Everard by Met police officer Wayne Couzens, who today lodged an appeal in court attempting to contest the whole-life sentence he was handed for abusing his position in order to commit the crime, trust in police is also at an all-time low and desperately needs to be repaired.
“There are countless stories of girls who have been spiked – but not believed – which is incredibly dangerous, as it creates missed opportunities into learning how or who is committing the act in the first place. It also means many cases go unreported,” says Rebekah.
“Once the cases are taken more seriously by all, I think we’ll start to see the change so desperately needed.”
Feature image – Impossible