Wearing denim will not solve the problem of injection spiking in nightclubs

Women are still being told to amend their behaviour to ‘avoid’ and ‘prevent’ assaults. It’s time for a radical cultural overhaul

Katie Edwards
Wednesday 20 October 2021 15:10
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As if women don’t already have enough to worry about on nights out. Now there’s an added dimension: spiking by injection. We shouldn’t be surprised.

Spiking drinks is so common that it’s become normalised, and women take every precaution for self-protection, including, in some places, putting plastic wrap over their drinks. I mean, seriously, there is literally nothing more that we can do. Except perhaps to wear head-to-toe industrial-standard protective clothing to avoid being jabbed.

My drink was spiked on my seventeenth birthday. A male friend bought my first drink of the evening. We hadn’t even been out fifteen minutes but my night was already over – I couldn’t speak, my limbs wouldn’t work, and I was violently sick. My final memory of the evening is vomiting and thinking “that drink was spiked” but the rest of the night is a blank.

What I do know is that I was found on the pavement outside my house in the early hours of the morning and had to be carried inside. That was 25 years ago. I knew I’d been spiked and it seems obvious who’d done it but I also knew that I’d be blamed for not looking after myself properly and for being where I shouldn’t; for doing what I shouldn’t. After all, it was illegal for me to be drinking alcohol in a nightclub at 17. I assumed that the spiking would be considered just desserts for my transgressions; a lesson in what happens to women who don’t behave.

At the time, spiking was a troublingly frequent occurrence. So much so, that “getting roofied” and Rohypnol, the brand name for the date rape drug, entered into popular parlance and was joked about regularly. “Don’t worry, I haven’t got any Rohypnol!” said one bloke who offered me a drink in a bar one evening. What larks! There’s nothing like a reassuring little rape joke to make a woman feel safe in your company.

Have things changed much in the last quarter of a century? I don’t think so. Women are still being told to amend their behaviour to “avoid” and “prevent” assaults as if it’s our fault for not being vigilant enough, not being assertive enough, not being sensible enough, not being sober enough, not covering our bodies enough.

Some of the responses to news of the spiking injections include those asking why young women still go out. It’s unsurprising, but deeply depressing nevertheless. As if women’s freedom isn’t already curtailed enough. The responses suggesting that women stop going to bars and nightclubs, and, if they do, to wear denim or other hardy fabrics to cover their bodies, reflects a broader puritanical and profoundly misogynistic attitude to young women.

Like every other woman I know, since my teens I’ve taken the now standard precautions of collecting my own drinks from the bar, never leaving my glass unattended, covering my drink with my hand and all the other myriad techniques of self-protection that have to become second nature.

We’re told to protect ourselves – that it’s our responsibility to make sure we don’t “fall victim” to the spikers prowling bars and nightclubs – monsters chillingly masquerading as normal men.

But, of course, despite the bellowing from the #NotAllMen crowd and the claims that just a few vile men are responsible for spiking, it’s dangerous to suggest that just a handful of predators are the cause of so many assaults. That’s not only an attempt to undermine the scale of gender-based violence but it’s also wishful thinking. There are lots of “men: be better” social media replies to the news of the spiking injection cases and that’s a laudable sentiment, but what are men supposed to do with that? What if they don’t realise they’re at fault in the first place? What if they think they’re one of the good guys? What if the dastardly strangers in the shadows are less of a threat than a bloke we’d known and felt safe with?

I’m not saying that there are thousands of men thinking it’s perfectly fine to go about jabbing women with date rape drugs. Of course not. What I am saying is that we live in a broader cultural context in which spiking and violence against women are normalised – it’s how things are. If we only blame the perverts and the deviants for assaults on women then it means we can sidestep any meaningful social change and we can avoid taking individual responsibility for our role in upholding society-wide misogyny.

We can’t keep expecting women to cover their own backs along with their drinks and their bodies. It’s time for a radical cultural overhaul – nothing else will shift the ingrained misogyny women have to deal with on a daily basis. It’s time to take the education of all boys and men seriously and stop blaming the evil stranger lurking in the shadows.

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