In Great Britain, the “pricking of needles” of the women sows the alarm in the face of a new type of aggression

NOTTINGHAM, England – Lizzie Wilson was standing at a crowded nightclub with three friends on Monday night when she felt a pinch in her back, as if she had been pricked by a needle. Ten minutes later, she was having trouble standing.

Ms Wilson, 18, said she heard of young women being injected with syringes at crowded clubs and immediately feared she was another victim. Her friends rushed her to the hospital, where she spent hours disoriented and without feeling in her legs.

“No one should ever go through this,” said Ms Wilson, a first year college student in Nottingham, central England. “The most upsetting thing is that I couldn’t control anything.”

For more than a year, Britain has witnessed a disturbing wave of violence against women. High-profile kidnappings and killings sparked a national conversation, inspired vigils and protests, intensified police scrutiny, and prompted a deeper exploration of the misogynist culture often at the root of such violence.

Now come alarming reports, albeit still relatively few, of women having needles injected into crowded pubs and nightclubs, in a variation of ‘spiking’, in which drugs are thrown into someone’s drink, a crime that often targets women. A number of police forces in England are investigating reports of “needle points”, including 12 incidents in Nottinghamshire. Scottish Police are examining similar reports.

Some who said they were doped had effects “consistent with a substance administered,” police said in a statement, much like Wilson’s account.

Female students made the majority of the reports, but some young men say they have also been victimized. Nottinghamshire Police say no other offenses, including sexual assault, have been linked to the injection reports, and that there have been no known arrests for injecting someone; Regardless, authorities say they are stepping up patrols and working with local universities and hospitals to investigate.

After pandemic restrictions shut off campuses and nightlife for months, this school year was meant to be a fresh start, with boisterous evenings that many students see as a rite of passage.

But as these stories – and the fears surrounding them – spread, young women have called for a boycott of clubs and also started a petition calling for clubs to be required to search people upon entry. . For many women, the idea that they could be victimized by someone wielding a syringe in a nightclub is horrific.

“If I didn’t think I could be shocked anymore, if I didn’t think behavior could subside, that’s a new depth,” said Sue Fish, the former Nottinghamshire Police Chief, who has long been an outspoken. defend the rights of women.

Concerns about drinks being secretly mixed with drugs have long been a problem. A 2019 BBC investigation revealed more than 2,600 cases of drink doping in England and Wales since 2015.

Fiona Measham, professor and president of criminology at the University of Liverpool and director of The Loop, a charity that monitors drug use in nightlife, said there were a few hundred doping cases each year nationally, and described the risk as “fairly low. “

About the needle sticks in particular, she said: “It’s not impossible but it’s really unlikely.” But she said every allegation had to be investigated and taken seriously. “I think the anxieties are very real, the anger towards nightclubs is real,” she said.

In recent days, speculative social media posts about dirty needles and criminal gangs have heightened fears. (Ms Wilson’s doctor said she may have been given an injection of ketamine, an anesthetic drug, and she started a series of hepatitis vaccines and blood tests to make sure she didn’t has not contracted any illness.)

In a recent parliamentary hearing, Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, called on the police to examine reports of drug attempts and compile a comprehensive national assessment to better understand what is going on.

“There is no proactive assessment of the extent of the problem,” she said, adding: “It is always seen as the victim’s responsibility to protect themselves.”

But many young people are unwilling to wait for assessments. Local groups under an initiative called “Girls Night In” have emerged across the country calling for a boycott of clubs next week to raise awareness and demand better protections.

Ally Valero, 20, one of the students who implemented the local boycott of Nottingham, said the aim was not to signal that women should stay at home. It is meant to send a message to club owners that they need to do a better job of keeping customers safe.

“We want to go out again,” Ms. Valero said. “But we want to come out in a safer environment.”

Primrose Sparkes, 20, who helped launch a similar boycott at Durham University, said in the past the main factor she considered before deciding to go out was whether she had an early class. morning.

“Now it’s: do I feel safe? ” she said. “There’s an element of fear that wasn’t there before.”

On Wednesday, crowds of students, some dressed in costumes for themed parties, flocked to Nottingham. Several young women said they were always careful about someone adding their drink, but the perspective of the needles was different.

“It was always’ Look at your drink, cover your drink,” said Jocie Mears, 18, who was out with two friends. “You can’t cover your whole body. It’s not our responsibility, it’s the people who bite us.

Luis Danton, 20, a student and president of Nottingham Trent University football society, called the situation “crazy” and said the team planned to join the boycott.

“And a lot of people are scared, if I’m being honest,” he said.

Outside the sprawling Pryzm nightclub, the students took off their jackets and emptied their pockets before walking through a metal detector. The club says it has stepped up research to reassure customers.

Some 150 miles north of Durham, hundreds of students flocked to the cold cobblestone streets. With increased concerns, the women said they felt safer drinking at bars accessible only to students with campus cards.

“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t know someone who has been doped, which is shocking,” said Tillie Drapper, 20, who started a Facebook forum for people to informally report suspected drug abuse incidents. .

Students here criticized the response to their concerns after the university told them to avoid having spiked in a now deleted post on Twitter, calling him blame the victim. The university said it took the concerns “very seriously”.

Some women said they were considering wearing sturdier clothes to protect themselves. Ms Drapper said women shouldn’t have to cover up and watch their backs to go out at night. Still, she has largely avoided nightclubs this school year, as she said her friends wore sturdier clothes to protect themselves. “It is not worth the trouble.”

At Jimmy Allens, a Durham nightclub, the wait was unusually long on Wednesday as bouncers searched students and checked their luggage – a policy introduced this week. Staff members also began to wear body cameras.

“It takes people longer to get in, but it’s worth it,” said Darryl Watson, a manager.

Durham Police said in a statement that although they are aware of online posts about injection doping incidents, they have not received any reports.

Regardless of the magnitude of the needle injection, at the root of the fears expressed by many young women is awareness of the disproportionate risks they face.

“Women have always done all of these kinds of things to protect themselves when in reality it is men’s behavior that needs to change,” said Ms Fish, the former police chief.

Making women responsible for fending off an abuser doesn’t solve the problem, she said, adding, “What should women wear at a party, armor?

Megan Specia reported from Nottingham, England, and Isabelle Kwai reported from Durham, England.

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