From Sarah Everard to Sabina Nessa, every day we hear more and more examples of violence against women in all forms. To us women and feminine-presenting people, it’s unfortunately not a shock. With the UK government and police issuing useless advice, another issue is on the rise—date rape drugs. This worrying surge is not the first sign that something is endemically wrong with our patriarchal and violent society. Such a malicious tactic is done so much that it is commonly referred to not only as a noun but as a verb. It’s called ‘getting roofied’.
Getting roofied (for example, ‘she got roofied at that party’, or ‘someone slipped a roofie into her drink’) was coined around 1999 as a slangy rendition of the substance rohypnol—the most rampantly used ‘date rape drug’ at the time. Although certain drugs (like rohypnol) are no longer in frequent use as they once were, ‘drink spiking’ in general is reportedly on the rise. Not only involving drugs, ‘drink spiking’ can also entail adding alcohol to an individual’s non-alcoholic drink (without their consent) or even slipping additional alcohol to an already alcoholic drink (again, without their consent). Drink spiking often occurs with the commonly known intention of sexual assault.
In an investigation conducted by the BBC, it found that between the years of 2015 to 2019 there were 2,650 drink spiking victims in England and Wales—71.6 per cent of whom were women, with 255 of the victims being under the age of 18. In a public Freedom of Information (FOI) document released by the West Yorkshire Police in May 2021, the number of offences relating to drink spiking (recorded from 1 January 2020 to 31 December 2020) was 52. Now that clubs are open again, can we unfortunately expect this number to shoot up once again?
It must be noted, however, that these (or any) statistics on the crime are not accurate enough to assess the real scale of the issue. What’s clear as day is that the number of people sharing their stories online shows how terrifyingly endemic this is and, of course, the police are fucking it up as usual.
One 23-year-old university student told the Norwich Evening News in September 2021 that she and four of her friends had all experienced this vile tactic, “It was a shock the morning after to realise I’d been drugged… I know my limits and what I can handle, and the way I reacted was completely abnormal.” She continued, stating that the clubs have done very little to rectify the problem, “I don’t know why so many of us are getting spiked now when we never have been in the past… All the awful people out there who enjoy doing this obviously haven’t been able to get their fix for 18 months [and] are making up for lost time.”
More recently, just last week, two 18-year-old men were arrested after a video clip that went viral on social media showed them spiking a young woman’s drink; the footage, which was reportedly taken in the nightclub Pryzm in Bristol, has since been removed from Twitter and the men released on bail with a ban of entry to all nightclubs. The clip shows one of the men slipping a tablet into a woman’s drink while reaching behind her to grab his own drink. Following their arrest, the police issued one of their super-helpful statements, “If you believe your drink has been tampered with on a night out, we’d recommend alerting bar or security staff at the venue, reporting the incident to police by calling 101 and seeking immediate medical advice.”
Another victim called Shauna, speaking to The Tab, details the events of her first night on the town after lockdown. Feeling incredibly drunk after just one drink, Shauna disappeared from her group of friends for about 45 minutes. “I’m not the sort of person to walk off alone, so I’m sure someone would have pulled me or asked me to walk away with them… Apparently I was texting my friend, saying that I needed help and I was scared.”
Much of the advice on how to protect yourself from such attacks is stuff we have heard time and time again. I don’t even need to list them anymore. Products have even surfaced, like the NightCap, a “drink spiking prevention scrunchie,” over the years to ‘help’ us protect our drinks from being spiked. The real issue is men. Don’t ‘AllLivesMatter’ me with a #NotAllMen statement, because it really is #AllWomen who are at risk. The ‘advice’ and aid being given out by the UK government and police in recent weeks has been abysmal to put it lightly, and only continues to highlight the systemic roots of violence against women and its subsequent failings in protecting us.
To say that the last week has been difficult and triggering for women in the UK, and across the world, would be an understatement. What started off with International Women’s Day, a day supposed to celebrate progress and the strive towards gender equality, quickly turned into tragedy. And men, I’m looking at you. We need to have a serious talk.
The devastating disappearance and murder of Sarah Everard, in which a serving Met Police officer has been charged, has sparked global outrage, and understandably so. Last week was also the first time many of us heard about Blessing Olusegon—a black woman whose body was discovered on a beach last year. The case, which still hasn’t been resolved, received a noticeably smaller amount of coverage than Everard’s, interest in it only resurfacing after her death.
In a response to Sarah Everard’s case, Met Commissioner Cressida Dick said that what happened “is thankfully incredibly rare.” Yet, Jess Phillips, the shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, reportedly told BBC Radio 4’s Today that “since when Sarah first went missing, six women and a little girl have been reported as being killed at the hands of men.” This comes at the same week as the World Health Organization revealed that one in three women globally have been subjected to physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. One in three—making it around 736 million women globally. Let that sink in.
Thousands of women have shared their own experiences of assault, harassment, being followed home, or abused. And on Saturday 13 March, images of police officers pinning women down to the ground resurfaced all over social media, following a vigil that was held in London’s Clapham Common to honour Sarah Everard and all other victims of gender-based violence. If we learned anything from the past week, it’s that in 2021, women are still not being taken seriously. Our concerns, our safety, and our wellbeing are not seen as a priority.
These events have sparked a huge discourse online around the safety of women worldwide, and the role that men play in it. As women started sharing their concerns, fears, and personal experiences, my social media was flooded with an array of responses from men. Some were reposting infographics about how they can be ‘better’, while others, who are normally very vocal about social issues online, stayed silent. Ironically enough, to my knowledge, some of the men in both categories mentioned had previously displayed questionable behaviour towards women. Either they are completely unaware of this fact, or chose to blissfully ignore it.
Outside of my own echo chambers, #NotAllMen started trending on Twitter as men quickly jumped to defend themselves (and so did some women too). Many who used the hashtag accused those speaking up of misandry, and trying to spread a politicised ‘agenda’.
Here is the thing though—you don’t need to go to the extremes of abducting someone or murdering them to be complicit in the violence towards women. I can sit here and list countless stories about me or my female friends being followed home, grabbed by strangers, tackled to the ground, harassed or assaulted. So many women can. But I can also share experiences I know many will not take seriously, or consider to be a ‘big deal’, that contribute to this culture of violence and abuse. Like being coerced by men I’ve previously dated, whom I’ve trusted. I did it, so you would count it as consent, right? Or how many times have you heard other men say that speaking about consent ‘mid-action’ ruins the mood? Because I have lost count, and I am tired of it.
Just last week, my best friend was on a work Zoom call with a male client who thought it was appropriate to compliment her smile in a follow-up email. This may seem like a harmless comment, but it’s not—predatory behaviour begins somewhere. She ignored the comment and responded saying that if he has any more concerns or questions over the work matter, they can discuss via call. “Don’t tempt me with your number,” he answered back.
In this case, this man knew exactly what he was doing—he is double her age, has a more senior position, and he is her client on top of that. But he made the decision not to back down after his initial comment was ignored. Every single time that a person gets away from something without any accountability, it snowballs. Locker room talk, objectifying women as a ‘joke’, your friend mistreating his girlfriend, or speaking about women with a general lack of respect. Yes, in the grand scheme of things, these are minor—but it always starts small, and then it escalates, until it’s too late.
There have been alleged reports that prior to Sarah Everard’s disappearance, the officer charged with her murder had already been accused of indecent exposure. Of course, that does not even begin to compare to the horrific experience Everard had to go through, but this person allegedly previously displayed predatory behaviour, and got away with it. Whether it was not acted upon fast enough, or completely overlooked, it led to a catastrophic, irreversible consequence.
Everyone knows someone who has been harassed, assaulted, or raped. Yet it seems that nobody knows an assaulter. But these people are around you; they are in your circles, at your workplace, they might even be your friend or family member. And until you start having these conversations, you won’t know. If you don’t believe me, just look at the recent statistics published by The Guardian last week: 97 per cent of women aged between 18 and 24 have been sexually harassed or assaulted.
Yes, men suffer from sexual assault, harassment, and violence too—no one is denying this. While the numbers of women reporting their sexual assault experiences are significantly higher, it is crucial to mention that many men do not report theirs, due to factors like people not taking their experiences seriously, downplaying the severity, or simply telling them to ‘man up’. It is truly a huge issue, and as a society, we all need to do better.
But what you seem to forget is that all of these factors that are in place are only there because of the patriarchal system we live in—the one that men created in the first place. And it’s up to you to dismantle it. Until you do, none of us are truly safe. Not men, not women, not transgender, queer, or non-binary people.
When women call out these negative experiences, the goal is not to create some kind of ‘man-hating’ agenda—we are not your enemy here. We ask that you truly listen and take all of our concerns, allegations, and reports seriously. Because until you do, we are not safe from abuse.