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‘Stopping Male Violence Must Focus on Men: Why the Government’s New Spiking Measures Continue to Fail Women’

Despite more than 6,700 reports of spiking in England and Wales, the Government’s new initiatives fall short of meaningful action, writes Reclaim These Streets co-founder Jamie Klingler

Photo: Yui Mok/PA/Alamy

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In the 12 months to April 2023, police had 6,732 reports of spiking in England and Wales, and charged four people. Not 4%. Four people. 

The new spiking initiatives that the Government announced this week are paltry.

The measures – which include “research into self-testing kits, more training for door staff and better education for young people, to raise awareness about the threat” – will not help increase charging and arrests of perpetrators. 

A club having a test kit to see if you were spiked doesn’t identify the predator. It’s not even preventative. Ministers aren’t making spiking a specific crime that police can charge.

What we will see is a low-level roll-out to pubs, clubs and restaurants to give them some spiking kits. A couple of hundred venues will be dodged by perpetrators, when there are thousands potentially affected. 

When the Government’s strategies addressing male violence against women aren’t directed at men they are part of the problem. Predators aren’t afraid to spike women, because they are almost guaranteed not to get caught – that’s what needs fixing, not women testing their drinks.

Our safety should be a priority to the Government and police but, once again, they are starkly demonstrating that our lives are not worth prioritising. 

All of these half measures make no demonstrable difference to women’s safety but allow politicians to pretend they care about women’s safety.

So often, when we talk about spiking, we only talk about consequences and how to protect ourselves – not about the men that are drugging and raping us. This is on them to stop, not me. 

If our standing on a soap box solved the violence against us, it would have been solved a long time ago. 


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Seeing is Not Believing

None of these measures matter when police do not believe us when we report our attackers. 

There is a 1.7% conviction rate for rape. On a collective level, checking to see if our drink was drugged is not going to make us substantively safer or more believed by authorities.

The former Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police reportedly told women at the helm of Operation Soteria – in a meeting about why the rape conviction rate is so low – that the “bulk” of rape is “regretful sex”. 

Is a kit proving you were drugged going to make police speak to us like we are human?  That’s how low the bar is.

In the largest study of its kind of rape and sexual assault victims with experience of reporting their attacks, the women said they wanted to be treated like they are human. That simply isn’t happening.

We aren’t believed. We are told we would make bad witnesses. That it is our word against theirs. That we have to give the police our phones. That our therapy sessions could be used against us. 

Part of the amazing work of Operation Soteria – a research and change programme that aims to transform the way police forces investigate rape and serious sexual offences – is shifting the focus of rape prosecutions from the victim to the man responsible. How this is a new and novel approach is infuriating, but it is desperately needed.  

Missing the Point

Three years ago, I gave my first lecture to the UK Centre for Events Management Students at Leeds Beckett University.  As a result, the students did a major piece of work around women’s impact on the night-time economy in Leeds and what needed to be done to address their safety concerns.

The students I spoke to talked about it as a horrible rite of passage – about using hair scrunchies to cover their drinks, of only drinking out of bottles to keep their thumbs over the tops, and mostly about being on watch for each other. 

None spoke about RSE lessons talking about why men think they are entitled to our attention and consent. 

We know that misogyny in the police makes us hesitant to report. As women, we are just grateful for getting home in one piece. But we often don’t consider why drugs to spike us are so readily available on college campuses. Or how we go after the men doing the drugging and raping.  

Is the distribution of testing kits just there to create a sense of vindication when we testify about being spiked? Half the student bars in Leeds are run by students or recent graduates. Are we really making them responsible for a woman if she is spiked? Are they meant to get her home? 

A big part of being spiked is also not being conscious or able to take care of yourself. How are you meant to go and ask for a manager who then is digging around in a back office for a kit while you are passed out in a puddle in the ladies’ room? 


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Half Measures

During one of my lectures I brought up the example of Ask Angela: posters on the back of pub doors informing women that if they are on a date and feel unsafe “ask for Angela” at the bar and the team will swoop into action to make sure you are protected.  

Any cursory ask-around will show you it is not part of any meaningful training and most of the people behind the bar, although well-meaning, would not have the first clue how to help a distressed woman in front of them asking for Angela.  

One of the students asked for Angela in a number of Leeds pubs and exactly no staff responded in the way we are told they are meant to. Us getting home alive and safe isn’t on the barmaid. 

These new measures don’t actually make it clear that spiking is illegal or set out the custodial penalties for spiking. I am tired of measures that put the onus of responsibility ‘not to get drugged’ back on to the victims – instead of dealing with the men we aren’t safe around. 

A reminder: four people are charged a year for spiking. Yet, every young woman at Leeds Beckett I spoke to said they had been spiked, some multiple times.  

Women will continue to employ strategies to keep ourselves safe and alive, and look out for our friends. And we will continue to live with a pervasive fear, knowing that we have to try to keep ourselves alive because the police and government certainly aren’t going to do it for us.

Men need to stop drugging, raping and killing us. Any strategies around stopping male violence against women need to focus on men. Not me.

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