The scourge of spiking: the students fighting for a safe night out


Warning: this episode includes discussion of sexual assault.

Going for a night out with your friends is meant to be one of the most carefree, joyous experiences of youth: the chance to dance in a roomful of people who, like you, are only there to have fun. Hangovers should never be more than a minor downside.

But for many young women, that experience is now shot through with anxiety. The phenomenon of “spiking” – where a stranger drugs your drink, leaving you incapacitated and unable to remember what happened to you – has been known for many years, frequently as a grim prelude to sexual assault.

But a recent spate of reports in university towns has left a new generation of students worried for their safety and angry that more is not done to ensure they are protected. There have been reports of spiking by injection, and while some experts say that these cases should be viewed with caution, in part because of the level of expertise required to carry out such an attack, they add that shortcomings in security make the resulting fears only too understandable.

Now a campaign is seeking to force change in the way women who may be in danger are treated on a night out – and to challenge the culture that enables such acts of violence. The Girls Night In movement is asking students to boycott nightclubs to highlight their demands.

In this episode, Hannah Moore speaks to Libby Brooks, the Guardian’s Scotland correspondent, who has been covering the spiking reports and the response to them. She explains how the recent reports are part of a threat that has existed for years, talks about the difficulty in pinpointing the extent of the problem, and reveals steps being taken that may give reason for hope. And we hear from Martha Williams, a student and founder of the Girls Night In campaign, who explains what she loves about clubbing and what needs to change so that she and her peers will feel safe again.

  • In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or by emailing or In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at
  • Information and support for anyone affected by rape or sexual abuse issues is available from the following organisations. In the UK, Rape Crisis offers support on 0808 802 9999. In the US, Rainn offers support on 800-656-4673. In Australia, support is available at 1800Respect (1800 737 732). Other international helplines can be found at

Crowd at a nightclub

Photograph: PYMCA/UIG via Getty Images

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