On Wednesday 27th October Manchester’s students took to the streets in a protest against spiking.
In the past few weeks, spiking in nightclubs has become something of an epidemic in student cities. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have been awash with distressing reports of students, primarily women, having their drinks spiked and, in some cases, even injected with drugs designed to cause unconsciousness.
The protest was organised by the groups ‘Girls Night in Manchester’ and ‘End Spiking Now’. It began at 5.30pm with a banner making event in the Students Union building. Students took the opportunity to make a range of creative and colourful banners, with placards ranging from puns to pop culture references – both hallmarks of any successful protest.
Banner-making was not just attended by students. Councillors Jade Mary Doswell and Ekua Bayunu came to show their support for the movement alongside multiple media outlets, including the likes of Sky and ITV.
The Mancunion, in collaboration with Fuse FM and Fuse TV spoke to some of those present at the event. One student told us that “It’s 2021 and women should not have to feel unsafe at a nightclub, at a bar, or at a restaurant. No one should have to feel unsafe, anywhere.”
Another attendee told The Mancunion that “We should not be scared to go out and have a good time”.
The Manchester Student’s Union Activities and Development Officer Camila Florencia touched upon what can be done about spiking and the SU’s response. “We just thought if we are doing this on our ground we should also be pushing for change in Greater Manchester venues as well”. She emphasised that “It’s complicated because there are so many layers, it’s not just about the response, it’s about the prevention, the conversations”.
A common feeling amongst all we spoke to wasn’t just anger and fear at what was happening, but also determination. Every person in attendance was there with a purpose. There was a collective determination to stand up and say something, to demonstrate to the authorities that this should not be taken lightly and that the onus is on them, not women, to do something about it.
Following the banner making event, the group took the streets to make their feelings clear. At 7pm protestors assembled at St Peters Square to hold a rally in support of victims of spiking. One speaker declared that “people aren’t being supported, people aren’t being believed, and it needs to change” whilst another called for “more education and more advertising focused on the perpetrators, rather than the victims”.
Once the speakers had concluded, Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, was presented with a list of demands. Amongst those demands were calls for ‘Venues with repeated instances of spiking to lose their license’, and making ‘clubs responsible for … [ensuring] … victims of spiking get home safe, and are not to eject them from the premises under any circumstances’. Alongside these measures were more general nightlife concerns like ‘regular, free night buses’ and a ‘24-hour dedicated helpline for spiking victims.’ A final demand was for the ‘Council to publish monthly reports on spiking, and where reported cases have taken place’.
After the demands had been presented, The Mancunion spoke to Andy Burnham. He said that one of the main answers to combat spiking is by “challenging the individuals who are responsible for this behavior” and that people need to start “changing that and challenging … [misogynistic] behaviour” if they see their friends engaging in sexist or misogynistic practices.
When asked whether education is the biggest way to combat spiking Burnham responded: “It is about an education campaign. I think that in the end is the most important part of this.”
Finally, he said “I think as a male Mayor of Greater Manchester, I think there is something I can do to lead from the front and that’s why I’m here tonight. … It’s not okay. None of it is okay. It’s got to stop.”
Next, the organisers led protestors in a march through Deansgate to First Street shouting “What do we want? A safe night out” – “say it louder so the clubs can hear you … say it louder so the government can hear you … say it louder so the perpetrators can hear you”! The crowd continued to repeat chants like “Whose streets? Our Streets!” and “2-4-6-8 we just want to dance safe!”.
Finally, the protest culminated in another rally outside HOME. Protestors heard from more speakers with many drawing attention to the issue with spiking and the way the response from the authorities have, put simply, been completely and wholly inadequate.
Some speakers were victims of spiking, they read out their powerful testimonies as an example of the effects spiking can have on an individual and the way it impacts their life. However, due to the distressing nature of the speeches, the SU hosted a successful, alternative event in the form of a film night to provide a safe space for those who wished to participate without hearing the speeches.
The film night was part of a wider, nationwide movement called ‘#GirlsNightIn’. This was a boycott of all clubs and bars by students on Wednesday night in an attempt to send a message to the nightlife industry that change must come for girls, and other marginalised groups, to feel safe in venues. Interestingly, prolific Manchester clubs including famed indie club 42s and Venue chose to voluntarily close on Wednesday night ‘in support’ of the boycott (staff were still paid). These moves attracted both praise and criticism because many felt that, whilst it was good the clubs recognised the gravity of the spiking epidemic, closing actually undermined the boycott.
Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence shows that the boycott was successful with thousands of students across the country opting to stay in on the night of Wednesday 27th October.
The message from the protest appeared to be that as long as the onus is on patrons, not parliament, to protect themselves, then the spiking issue will never be resolved.