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Is the anti-spiking campaign enough to prevent violence against women?

With posters, a video and anti-spiking bottle stoppers and drinks toppers, Sheffield’s Anti-Spiking Partnership aims to make change.

Drink spiking is illegal

In response to an increase in awareness of drink spiking last autumn, Sheffield City Council, both universities and students’ unions, Sheffield BID and South Yorkshire Police got together to set up the Anti-Spiking Partnership. While it is unclear how many spiking incidents there are, due to both the difficulty in proving these attacks and wariness of reporting, as well as some people not being aware that they have been spiked, action did need to be taken to prevent and deal with this kind of assault.

As part of their campaign, the Anti-Spiking Partnership has provided 40,000 drinks toppers and 15,000 anti-spiking bottle stoppers to over 50 licensed premises in Sheffield, and has created two posters: one telling people what to do if their friend is spiked, the other telling people why they should not spike others’ drinks.

Drink Spiking Is Illegal poster aimed at friends of victims

Councillor Angela Argenzio, Co-Chair of the Adult Social Care Committee, told Now Then that there was no indication that Sheffield has a particularly big problem with drink spiking, but that they wanted to be proactive.

I think it’s one of those things, like all kinds of violence – in particular against women – it’s hugely underreported. So I think that’s what’s happening. And I think the stance that the Partnership is taking is to actually do something before it becomes an issue, rather than wait until we have a problem in the city.

Aware of the risk of blaming victims, the campaign’s video is clear that the responsibility for drink spiking is always on the perpetrator.

Councillor Argenzio reinforces this when she tells me, “It’s an educational campaign in terms of helping people to be aware when they’re out and about, especially if they’ve had a few drinks, and to be more vigilant.

But it’s more about informing potential perpetrators that this is a crime, and it brings with it up to a 10-year prison sentence. So it’s a serious crime.


And that’s what the campaign wants to do. So it’s about having that awareness out there, both for potential perpetrators, to say this is not a joke, this is not something that you can get out of, it’s a very serious offence. But also, it’s about making people aware that there is a danger out there.

Drink Spiking Is Illegal poster aimed at perpetrators

Women are speaking out more and more about being sick of being the ones who have to take precautions and take responsibility, rather than attackers taking responsibility for not drugging us or not hurting us. Asked whether it could be seen that campaigns like this are part of that – where the onus is still on us to cover our drinks – Angela says,

I think the campaign is very much about educating perpetrators, and the public in general, that this is a very serious offence. But I think the visual of the [bottle] stoppers is also for the perpetrators.


The council, the police, the university, the student unions, and the businesses are not wanting to send a message to women and girls that they have to somehow behave differently, because there are some really horrible people out there trying to drug them to molest them.


And the campaign wants to support women and tell the perpetrators, you’re not going to get away with this. And you could be sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The risk of this being an incomplete solution remains, however. If somebody has gone as far as buying drugs to spike somebody’s drink, I can’t help but wonder whether a poster would be sufficient to stop them. Plus, the warning to perpetrators is predominantly that they should not drug somebody because they might go to prison, rather than because it is a profound violation of a woman’s trust, could feel dehumanising to women. And only intervening in this way at the very last minute – rather than with preventative work from school onwards – could continue to dismiss the importance and impact of this work.

Posters and bottle stoppers are great, but only as part of a wider solution that addresses the misogyny and entitlement that allow abusers to believe they can do whatever they want.


One of the campaign's posters says:

DRINK SPIKING IS ILLEGAL

WHAT DO I DO IF MY FRIEND GETS SPIKED?

1. Stay with them and keep talking to them

2. Seek medical assistance and call an ambulance if their condition worsens.

3. Inform a member of the venue sta­ff and report to police by calling 101 or 999 in an emergency, or report online.

4. Don’t let them go home on their own or let them leave with someone you don’t trust.

5. Let them know about their options for receiving support, such as Report and Support at both Universities.

Spiking is taken seriously. Report­ing it could help to stop it. Support­ is available.

The other poster says:

DRINK SPIKING IS ILLEGAL

This includes slipping alcohol or drugs into someone’s drink as a joke. It’s never ok, it can cause serious harm.

Spiking is a crime and is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

It is always the person doing the spiking that is solely responsible.

Learn more

Check out the hashtag #spikeaware, where organisations are sharing information, advice, and best practice, as well as providing support for victims of drink spiking.

To help with awareness raising, anti-spiking posters are available for venues by contacting DACT@sheffield.gov.uk.

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