By Molly Gorman
TW: discussion of sexual assault/harrassment/date rape drugs
After over a year of being deprived of a good night out, I was really looking forward to the August bank holiday weekend. On Sunday night I went out in Brixton with two of my friends, to one of my favourite venues. I was having an amazing night, dancing and singing my heart out to Chaka Khan being played by a brass band - what’s not to love? Little did I know that in just a few hours I would be unconscious, strapped into an ambulance after violently vomiting uncontrollably. I woke up in A&E at 4am with my best friend slumped in a chair by my bedside, a cannula inserted into my arm and a nurse measuring my blood pressure and heart rate every 30 minutes.
Panic came over me before a blurry image hazily entered my mind - I was slouched on the side of the road, unable to stand or even lift my head. I had a security guard holding my hair back on one side and one of my friends supporting my posture on the other, whilst my other friend desperately tried to flail down an Uber driver that would actually let me into their car. Everything after that is a huge blank.
How could I have been dancing carefree one minute and feeling utterly dehumanised the next, as my best friend had to change me out of my jeans? My drink had been spiked with an untraceable drug, and only six hours later did the doctor feel comfortable enough to send me home. The trauma I feel from that night is potent - the vulnerability, the sheer anxiety of not knowing what happened to me, the fact that I was in severe physical pain - my body felt as though it had been pummelled to a pulp and flung across London. I’m just grateful that my friends were there to look after me and ensure that I wasn’t violated further.
Between 2015 and 2019, there were 2,650 reports of drink spiking. 72% of those victims were women - the word victim being crucial. We’re not just too drunk - we’re victims. When I told my obviously very concerned family and friends what had happened, they couldn’t help but ask - ‘Did you leave your drink unattended?’ I didn’t, and we all know that it takes a millisecond for someone to drop a substance into a clear glass. Our initial reaction to situations like this is that, as women, we should be keeping ourselves safe. It’s up to us as autonomous beings to take the necessary protective measures. What did I do wrong? Was I not careful enough? Was I just being stupid? It’s yet another safety measure to add to the list of all the other things we have to be worried about - covering our drinks so we don’t get taken advantage of. I go out to have fun and unwind, not to feel anxious that I might end up in hospital, or have my health put at risk.
"Between 2015 and 2019, there were 2,650 reports of drink spiking. 72% of those victims were women"
Even when the doctor was asking me questions about the night, I felt tears streaming down my face, worried that he wouldn’t believe me. All I had was mine and my friends' words as evidence. If you research drink spiking, most of the articles that appear contain protective measures about how to stay safe (which are of course very important), but they lack messaging about the essential need to change the pervasive culture behind - and conversations around - drink spiking, a culture rooted in violence against women’s bodies.
Rather than merely telling women to take extra precautions, we should make venues safer for women by implementing preventative measures, identifying and reporting offenders, and demanding that those offenders are held accountable for their actions. The charge for spiking someone’s drink carries a maximum ten-year prison sentence, however this clearly isn’t enough to stop someone from doing it as the chance of getting caught is so slim. I was so nervous to ring the venue and report what had happened to me, but I knew that it was necessary to try to protect other women from being spiked there or to help identify whether they have a historic and existing problem with spiking. Most venues have CCTV and records of entrants, so although there’s a small window that they could identify a predator, it’s a chance worth taking.
"The charge for spiking someone’s drink carries a maximum ten-year prison sentence, however this clearly isn’t enough to stop someone from doing it as the chance of getting caught is so slim."
We need to drive conversations around drink spiking, as there is a new wave of young women who are starting to go clubbing for the first time after the pandemic. For those 18, 19 and 20-year-olds who haven’t been exposed to this environment before or who might not be aware of the risks, it’s important that they know that this is a real and threatening issue for women across most cities in the UK. Sarah Green, co-director at the End Violence Against Women Coalition, told the Independent: “Fundamentally, we have to tackle from a young age those who develop ideas and behaviours that they are entitled to treat women this way. The best way to do this is by updating sex education guidelines and making drink spiking part of the conversation as soon as possible.”
The risk of having our drink spiked and our bodies violated isn’t something that women should have to accept if we want to go on a night out. When I was out of the hospital and on the first train I could get back to my family to recover, I posted an Instagram story asking my friends to be careful with their drinks. Sadly, I had over five women reply, exclaiming that they’d had a similar experience in recent weeks. Only two weeks prior a friend of mine’s drink was spiked in a bar in Shoreditch and paramedics were called to stabilise her. Sadly cases of drink spiking are becoming more frequent, with women now reporting incidences of spiking via injection - it’s nothing short of horrifying.
Bars, nightclubs and quite frankly the government are not doing enough to protect women from date rape drugs and drink spiking. Nothing ever seems to be enough to make our safety a priority. Nightclubs and bars should offer protective lids for glasses and even bottle toppers as a compulsory measure. Their security teams and bouncers should be actively implementing a zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy, policing predatory men and actually taking action when we disclose harassment to them, alongside crawling spaces with CCTV cameras. Incidences like mine can be traumatising and enough to put someone off going out or buying drinks. And why should we not be allowed to have fun in the same way as men?