Cops off clubs: an abolitionist take on anti-spiking activism

Calls for increased security to tackle incidents of spiking are misguided, ineffective, and could have serious repercussions on some students, argues Neha

Neha is a doctoral candidate at the University of Bristol

The last year saw an increase in anti-spiking movements across universities – with student groups and unions staging protests against what they rightfully perceive to be a lax attitude to spiking.

The term traditionally refers to drugs being slipped into drinks at party venues, but can also involve administration via syringe, pills, or smokables. A predominant thread across this activism, however, calls for student party venues and students unions to work closely with the police and intensify the punitive powers of private security (bouncers).

As such, a push to enforce a correctional presence across campuses, with some groups adding a caveat that the police could be given EDI training in order to prevent discrimination. Be that as it may, increasing state surveillance and security does not benefit victims nor does it punish any perpetrator, instead serving as a liability clause for both party venues and higher education institutions.

This is because policing and surveillance culture as it currently stands in the UK is not merely complicit in violence, but rather structurally enables, partakes in, and thrives off it.

Consent matters

Spiking is the non-consensual administration of drugs or alcohol: involving substances of varying legality, from LSD to vodka. Possession of these items neither proves an intent to “spike”, nor does it carry very much of a penalty in itself – door “searches” and other monitoring techniques are already utilised by party venues to look out for illegal drugs. Clubs almost always have full CCTV coverage across the board. Yet historically, these substances have always been taken recreationally in nightclubs despite criminalisation, hostile policing, and surveillance.

It stands to reason that the majority of party venues and universities simply do not have the resources to body-search and X-ray every attendant. As such, discriminative tactics abound – already seen across the last year as campuses increased police presence under the guise of Covid-enforcement. The police are framed as necessary interventions into the student environment: but all this does is intertwine the profit motivated ‘rules’ of a university or private party venue, with the hostile arm of the police. The goal is not to prevent harm, it is to prevent being perceived as harmful.

The language of necessity, equality-and-diversity training, “protecting women”, and “feeling safe and secure” obscures what is, at the heart of it, an irreducibly political manouevre – the beatings will continue until morale improves. It is paramount to recall that only a rigidly narrow and privileged group feel “secure” amidst a heavy police presence, and it is those voices that are the loudest both in representation and financially, and thus those catered for.

EDI training as a perfunctory caveat is almost insulting – discriminatory policing has always deliberately existed despite this, the police are not exactly deprived of diversity training – this has been the case for decades. You cannot ignore race and class regardless of how strongly you may feel about spiking – calling for heavier policing makes it clear who is to be protected, and who is to be targeted.

Providing private security companies with increased powers of enforcement is, once again, a dubious tactic. The very nature of private security implies a commitment to protect the interests of the hiring company. Hence, a bouncer or security personnel exists to reduce the liability of the venue, leading to the prevalence of victims of spiking being kicked out of party venues instead of being helped and supported – since if an intoxicated victim experiences violence outside the club, the club is neither financially nor legally responsible.

As with the police, increasing their punitive power does not affect their protection of private capital.

Prevention

This is not to say that the onus of prevention is on the victims – quite the contrary. The financial and legal incentive needs to be pushed off the victim onto the venues – to invest in anti spiking technology and harm reduction. This is not exactly rocket science, but rather very simplistic investments in drink covers and colour-changing straws or cups. A chemical test proves spiking far more accurately than a bouncer’s biased arbitration of who looks criminal and who doesn’t.

Avoid awareness centred campaigns and “big brother bobby is watching you posters” – the vast majority of people are already aware that spiking (or at least aspects of what it leads to) is a crime under the eyes of the law. Instead, venues should advertise the safety measures they have invested in, focus on harm reduction, and describe their immediate victim centred response. Complaints procedures should be less hostile – the traumatising nature of current complaints systems makes it difficult for victims to take a stand. It implies that the responses of venues and institutions are inherently correct, when this is clearly not the case.

We should monitor the damaging ways existing police and private security handle incidents of spiking, and enforce a structural and behavioural change on their end, rather than a blanket expansion of public surveillance. It shouldn’t need saying that harm reduction involves listening to and looking after victims of spiking, or even self-administered intoxication, instead of kicking them out to save legal trouble. It involves directly investing in ways to make venues and events safer, including an immediate and victim-centred response to accusations of non-consensual behaviour, rather than outsourcing it to external parties that exert control based on strict legal definitions. Less finger pointing, and more accountability.

To conclude, boosting up the police and private security are not preventative measures but rather walking, talking risk assessment forms that protect capital interests and profiteering. Acknowledging this is the first step to organising towards a safer student experience.

One response to “Cops off clubs: an abolitionist take on anti-spiking activism

  1. A big YES in agreement with this.
    One of the things we did at the SOAS SU venue was employ welfare contacts for some of our bigger events. They were students paid & trained to spot any concerns, offer support to students who might have been struggling, be active bystanders and work with the security team to help ease the impact of security (which was a mandatory requirement for us to use). They can be like your pal who asks if you’re sure about going outside with that person, and is sober enough to spot someone handling other people’s drinks.
    Because they were students & part of the community it was about looking out for ourselves. And intervention was based on care not spying & policing.
    I think it was a fantastic initiative as long as it’s properly supported and the students are trained always backed up with help when they needed it. I’d love to see more of this investment in making spaces better for everyone.

Leave a Reply