Jess Plunkett investigates the impact of the increase in spiking, particularly by injection, on all aspects of women’s lives. She accompanies her piece with a striking photographic series.
Across the UK, we have witnessed a surge in cases of spiking over the past few years, with a rise in record cases of drink spiking according to a 2019 study by the BBC. And with attention being drawn to the increase of spiking via injection (with a disproportionate amount of female victims), it’s clear to see why there is such outrage; change is well overdue.
Following ‘Girls Night In’, the campaign to boycott all bars and clubs to demonstrate the need for change, we saw clubs dish out promises: increased security on doors; investment in drink stoppers and test kits; and systems for women to get home safe (i.e. ‘Ask for Angela). So why is it that I, as a woman, am still so scared to go out?
The truth is, for women, we’re STILL not safe. When I stop to consider it, my girl-friends and I have an outstanding amount of extra safety precautions we take, almost routinely, compared to that of the men I know. For us, precautions such as paying for an uber rather than walking alone, avoiding dark alleys, NEVER being alone after dark (which happens at around 5pm now thanks to the winter months), covering our hand over our drink, covering up our bodies, and many many more, are commonplace on a day-to-day basis, particularly on a night out. These precautions are necessary for us to feel safe, and that’s the issue.
Every inch of our lives is impacted by the fear of male violence. Even our outfits are constrained by oppression. If I wear too much, I’m a prude. Too little, I’m a slag… and I’m ‘asking for it’.
If I want to wear the extra-short Oh Polly dress I just spent £50 on, that is NEVER an open invitation for someone to harass me. The argument, “Did you see what she was wearing?! She was asking for it” infuriates me. The idea that a woman warrants harassment for wearing a low-cut top is both disgusting and flawed. If I wear a bikini to work does that mean that I am therefore entitled to jet off to France, there and then? This way of thinking is simply excusing the disgusting actions of men.
Unfortunately, though, fashion is still impacted by male violence. I have seen many of my friends decide to take an extra couple of layers with them to protect themselves when walking alone, even on the hottest of days. Phrases such as, “I don’t want to wear a jumper tonight, but I should, just to protect myself” are not uncommon amongst women. And it’s a shame! Why should we be the ones that are punished for the actions of others?! I have seen endless TikToks about girls wearing puffy coats in the club to protect themselves against spiking. Although a joke, they touch on the very real concerns of many girls. Revealing my arm in a strappy top is not an invitation saying, “inject here” and it never has been.
To find out if these were universal concerns, I anonymously asked a group of women questions about this issue and how their style has been impacted by the recent spikings.
Did you think that Girl's Night In was a good idea? Do you feel it was successful in what it was intended to do?
“For me, the night was an opportunity for clubs and bars to realise the importance of women’s safety within their establishments. If my needs as not only a woman but a human being are not at the forefront of their mind, they do not deserve my custom.”
Another said, “Although I wholeheartedly agree with the intention of the night, my fear is that one night might not be enough. A lot of clubs may be able to cover the damage of one night without any consequences. We should keep naming, shaming, and boycotting all places that do not make changes to protect women.”
As a woman, do you ever feel safe on a night out?
“Not unless I’m with my boyfriend.”
“There are times I forget about the dangers, but I am always conscious not to be ‘too drunk’ in order to protect myself against harassers.”
“Since the increase of spiking by injection, I can’t help but always be cautious of my surroundings and I’m always so scared to be spiked.”
Has the recent increase in spiking affected the way you choose to dress on a night out?
“100%. I now feel like I shouldn’t show any skin and give any opportunity for someone to inject me.”
“I’m not sure. I love to dress up for a night out. If I’m ever by myself or in the dark, I’ll always regret not having a jumper or something on me. It makes me feel vulnerable. Like a target.”
And no matter our best efforts, we simply cannot wear a suit of armour. The “what were you wearing?” exhibition created by Wyandt-Hiebe and Brockman in 2013 showed that no matter what women wear, they can still be subject to sexual assault. And when women are being injected, the blame is in nobody but the harassers themselves.
So, what can we do to help?
Continue to promote and look for safe spaces for women (and other minority groups who feel at risk; we all understand that fear of feeling unsafe and we should be promoting that security for everyone).
Continue to challenge and call out clubs or bars that aren’t doing enough for women’s safety!
Listen to women and their concerns. Ask them what you can do to help them feel safe.
The harassment and spiking of women is still, unfortunately, a prevalent issue in our society. But our choices of what to wear, at the very least, should be something we do without fear. My heels are not an excuse for your unwarranted advances, much like how your converse aren’t an invitation for attack.
What I chose to wear on my body does not concern you, and it never will.
Some resources for women looking for support and safety:
Strut safe (@strutsafe on Instagram) - A phone number to call whenever you feel unsafe when walking alone. (In Edinburgh, Strut Safe even accompany your walk home so you can get back safely). Call them on 0333 335 0026, or email them firstname.lastname@example.org
Spike Aware UK - a support group for the victims of drink spiking. Helpline: 07368 191124
Words and Photos/Artwork by Jess Plunkett