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Reports of ‘needle spiking’ in Britain drive young women, students to boycott bars

Boycotters have demanded more searches on entry and training for staff at nightclubs. (Rob Pinney/Getty Images)
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LONDON — Women are boycotting bars and clubs this week in cities across Britain, where college students have grown alarmed at reports of peers getting spiked with needles on nights out.

The students leading the Night In protest want better training for nightlife staff to help keep people safe from “needle spiking,” where someone is injected with drugs without their knowledge, often in a nightclub or party, as well as the more common crime of contaminating drinks.

“We want to show solidarity with each other,” said Sarah Buckle, who was told by medics they suspected she was pricked by a needle at a club last month but worries evidence gathering started too late to confirm whether she was injected, or had her drink spiked.

“I hadn’t even heard of this before,” said the 19-year-old student in Nottingham. “I remember almost nothing until the next morning in hospital,” she added. Her friends told her she had screamed and passed out before they called an ambulance. “They said I couldn’t stand up.”

New data from U.K. police showed 56 reports of spiking by injection over the past two months — mostly young women, though men also fell victim — along with 198 reports of spiked drinks.

The rise in such testimonies has added to anger about gender violence in Britain, where two murders of women on the streets stunned the country this year.

Rise in ‘needle spiking’ puts women in Britain on high alert

The murders of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old killed by a London police officer, and Sabina Nessa, a 28-year-old teacher killed while walking to meet a friend, ignited a national debate. Police also faced backlash for their response, including when they advised women to shout or wave down a bus if they encountered a lone officer they did not trust.

Officers investigating the injection incidents have not linked them to crimes such as rape or theft so far, while a government drug advice website has published new guidance on spiking by drink or needle. “You should try to report it to police as quickly as possible to help officers carry out tests and gather the best evidence,” the National Police Chiefs Council said in a statement.

Students have called on clubs, where they can be a major customer base particularly in college towns, to take steps from covers for drinks to searching people on entry. Yet student network Not On My Campus UK, which backed the boycott, warned that demands for more surveillance would lead “to more bias against marginalized communities” such as ethnic minorities.

Protesters hit the streets of Manchester on Wednesday night, as clubs in Oxford and Nottingham closed in support of the campaign. In Scotland, some student bodies took action themselves, with one at the University of St Andrews introducing bag searches, safety patrols and testing of unattended drinks at its venues.

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