Lucy Saddler speaks to Milly Seaford and Martha Williams about their boycott and its aims.
With social distancing restrictions eased and nightclubs reopened, students in Edinburgh have been rediscovering the city’s nightlife. Yet an increase in reports of alleged incidents of spiking has caused widespread concern to ripple through the student community and wider.
Instagram accounts such as @edi_anonymous, which publishes anonymous submissions of sexual violence reports within the Edinburgh student community, have reported being inundated with messages regarding alleged incidents of spiking in Edinburgh bars and night clubs.
On 14 October, the @edi_anonymous instagram account published a press statement alleging that at least ten students in Edinburgh had come forward with reports of being spiked by injection.
Police Scotland are now investigating reported incidents of spiking by injection in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee.
In Nottingham, two men were arrested on 22 October as part of an ongoing investigation into spiking incidents, with Nottinghamshire police having received reports of at least 15 incidents of spiking by injection and 32 reports of people spiked by having their drinks contaminated.
It was in the context of this post-pandemic increase in reports of spiking and these new reports of spiking by injection that Martha Williams and Milly Seaford – two University of Edinburgh students – decided to act.
“With this rise of alleged spiking incidences and alleged spiking by injection, we really believe that clubs could be taking more action to provide a safe environment and prevent people from being spiked” they told The Student.
In order to pressure nightclubs and bars in Edinburgh into taking more action, the girls came up with the idea of a boycott, a ‘Girls Night In’ and started an instagram account to spread the message on Sunday 17 October.
The message behind their ‘Girls Night In’ boycott is clear – they want everyone to abstain from attending night clubs or bars in Edinburgh on Thursday 28 October.
The simple idea has proved popular and effective. Since Sunday the @girlsnightinedinburgh instagram account has amassed over 6,000 followers.
There are now similar boycotts planned in cities across the UK, including in Leeds, Durham, Stirling, Bath and Cardiff.
With the hope that the boycott will pressurise clubs into taking affirmative action to prevent spiking, Milly and Martha are clear about precisely what policies night clubs and bars need to implement.
“We have written an open letter which we have posted on our instagram account and sent to clubs in Edinburgh.
“We are asking clubs and bars to work with organisations that can provide training for staff to reduce drug related harm, including education on spiking and basic first aid skills.
“We also want clubs to train bouncers to deal with these situations seriously and sensitively in a way that ensures the support of vulnerable victims
“This might include the introduction of code words and an increase in CCTV cameras in clubs.
“Lids should also be provided with drinks; background checks should be carried out on new members of staff and there should be lifelong bans for those carrying out spiking.
“Clubs and bars should also be providing a location on site, devoted to the care and assistance of the victims
“Finally, all clubs and bars should have a zero-tolerance policy towards unattended drinks.”
Martha and Milly say that so far, they have received responses to their open letter from Edinburgh’s Subway Cowgate night club and Rascals, a popular student night at Bourbon.
“These two clubs had overwhelmingly positive responses and both clubs wanted to work with us to create safe environments” they say.
In a statement released online, Subway Cowgate have committed to providing lids for every drink, extra floor-staff to increase surveillance and the implementation of a zero-tolerance policy towards unattended drinks.
“However, we need more responses from clubs across the city, and we have been putting more pressure on those clubs that have still not responded” Milly and Martha added.
Martha and Milly told The Student that their instagram inbox has “received an overwhelming number of DMs [direct messages] about alleged spiking by both drink contamination and injection.”
They say that these reports have been from “people of all genders”.
“This is a dire situation which is why we have decided to take action. We really have no idea why the incidents have increased.
“We just know action needs to be taken and taken quickly to prevent these attacks” they say.
In an example of just how widespread the issue is becoming, one third year University of Edinburgh student explained to The Student that out of her friendship group, she knows of at least ten girls that have been spiked since the beginning of October.
“We are scared to go out to clubs now and even if we do decide to go out, we certainly won’t buy drinks anymore.
One of my friends ended up in hospital after being spiked and another was stumbling around in the Meadows without a clue where she was and where she had been.”
The student went on to say that she had been spiked herself in Garibaldi’s nightclub on Hanover Street. She said that she went from being completely sober to being so drunk that she couldn’t stand or speak coherently, having drank only one alcoholic drink.
She added that it had been difficult to report this incident to the bouncers or even the police because she had no recollection of the event even happening. She had to piece it together from what her friends told her when she woke up the next day.
This particular story reflects the reasons why Martha and Milly think the police and nightclubs have been struggling to get a grip of the situation with regards to spiking.
“People are in fear of not being believed or have no one to turn to in these situations.
After people have been spiked, they are in a very vulnerable situation and are therefore normally not able to report the incident straight away as their memory is often fragmented, relying on information from those around them.”
Nevertheless they are keen to acknowledge the action that the authorities and individual nightclubs are now taking.
“Police and clubs seem to now be taking more action when someone claims to have been spiked which is very positive.”
With only a few days left until the ‘Girls Night In’, both Martha and Milly are confident that many people will boycott nightclubs and bars in Edinburgh.
But what happens after the boycott on 28 October?
“We are going to continue to pressure clubs to implement changes.
“We have reached out to local organisations and contacted local MPs to ensure these are permanent changes” they explain.
Indeed the widespread attention and support that the boycott has received, has taken both Martha and Milly by surprise.
“We really did not expect the level of support our campaign has received.
“The sheer scale at which the campaign has grown shows how dire the situation is and how action needs to be taken immediately.
“We are proud and thankful for everyone who has got involved with our campaign, shared the posts and set up club boycotts in their own cities.”
Finally, what do Martha and Milly believe they can achieve with their ‘Girls Night In’ boycott?
Image: Time Out