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“A shocking example of misogyny”: Sheffield’s response to drink spiking

While clubs and bars are starting to take notice, many women still feel unsafe on nights out, with one local campaign group saying women are “being pushed out of public spaces” by spiking.

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Alexander Popov (Unsplash)

With the murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa fresh in the minds of the public, the issue of drink spiking has quickly formed a key part of a wider conversation about gendered violence in recent weeks, with many people taking to social media to share their own experiences.

Men can of course be victims of spikings, but the majority of cases involve women. In fact, data from 22 out of 43 police forces in the UK, as well as the British Transport Police, shows that in 2019, 72% of incidents involved a female victim.

Nationally, there were almost 200 drink spiking incidents reported to various police forces across the UK in September and October, and a further 24 reports of spiking by some form of injection.

A freedom of information request submitted to South Yorkshire Police by Now Then reveals that between 1 May and 31 August 2021, there were nine recorded incidents of drink spikings in Sheffield. In the wider South Yorkshire region, there were 24.

In over half of these cases (54%) the case was closed with no suspect identified. In Sheffield, spikings increased between 2017 and 2019, with one incident being recorded by the police in 2017 compared with 23 incidents in 2019. Of course, it’s likely many more incidents of spiking are not reported to police.

Over the Halloween weekend (30 and 31 October), South Yorkshire Police confirmed there were three young women in Sheffield who reported being victims of injection spikings.

The immediate effects of being spiked are often nausea, drowsiness, and loss of consciousness, but the trauma can be much more profound. Two women who were spiked in Sheffield, whose names we are not publishing, shared their experiences with Now Then.

“Before it happened I didn’t feel very drunk at all; I was just tipsy,” said one. “Over the course of about five minutes I felt like my whole body had been sedated so I couldn’t move my arms or legs.

“I had total memory loss of about eight hours, where apparently I was sick and talking in my sleep… The day after I felt really weak and tired.

“It’s really put me and my friends off going out again for at least a few months until this all blows over or new measures are brought in.”

“I’m definitely more aware of covering my drink and watching my friends covering their drinks,” another said. “I haven’t been out since the reports of spiking injections but it definitely makes me so nervous because there is less I can do to protect myself and others.”

In line with the national picture, alongside incidents at house parties there have been reports of several bars and clubs around Sheffield’s city centre where people have been spiked.

Tiger Works, located on West Street, is one such bar. In response to reported incidents it was one of the first in the city to provide preventive measures in the form of providing bottle stoppers at the start of September. Tiger Works told Now Then they plan to introduce new measures to make their customers feel safer.

“As soon as we realised that people were reporting problems of spiking in several venues in the city, we decided we had to take immediate action,” the bar told Now Then.

“We had extra CCTV cameras installed to make sure we could see every part of the venue. We have put on extra staff whose job it is to patrol the venue, making sure there is no suspicious activity and people are looking after their drinks.”

Other bars which have put similar measures in place include The Foundry, West Street Live and The Leadmill, which has offered people cling film to cover their drinks.

On the back of a rise in spiking, a national campaign was launched called Night In, which has seen many people boycotting clubs and bars until the problem is properly addressed. The Sheffield Night In took place on 27 October.

The campaign’s aim is to combat spiking through up-to-date staff training, prevention and treatment policies, greater CCTV coverage, bottle stoppers and cup covers, and greater repercussions for perpetrators.

Intersectional feminist campaign group Our Bodies Our Streets, who campaign for safer public spaces free from sexual harassment, told Now Then that spiking was “an epidemic” and that “women are still being pushed out of public spaces” because of it.

“The victim blaming narrative that still exists is a shocking example of the misogyny that exists in this country”.

The group are creating a spiking map which will go live for victims in the near future, so that they can share their experiences whilst also building up more of a picture of the extent and nature of spikings in Sheffield.

“Through our experience we have found that the police and council do not take issues seriously without numerical evidence to back up women, so we are creating this to take to those organisations.

“We are also continuing the battle to tackle misogyny by holding monthly vigils and educating on our social media platform. We are also fighting to change the narrative – the onus of spiking should always be on the perpetrator and never the victim.”

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