Spiked drinks and victim-blaming

In September 2018, Cara Tevens, a student from Glasgow University launched the campaign Girls Against Spiking. As it happens with so many other social issues, the trigger for the campaign was a viral post on social media sharing the story of Alix Taylor, a young student who jumped out of her window due to a spiked drink.

Tevens was inspired by Taylor’s story to launch the campaign, stating:

“It is one of those things where people are too scared to come forward and with it being mixed with alcohol there is connotations with the victim being reckless and embarrassed about it. Hopefully, the campaign will change that and make people come forward.”

Indeed, spiking or predatory drugging is very much associated with victim-blaming, because it is supposedly connected with female sexual liberation and the freedom to have fun – at a bar, a club, a restaurant, a party, or any other social event where drinks are served. 

As such, initiatives against predatory drugging have mainly focused on how the victim can better protect herself, instead of looking at the perpetrators and the context in which such predatory behavior takes place. After the campaign was launched, for example, the student union of Glasgow University started to offer lids to keep drinks from being spiked. Although it is clearly a good protection measure, it fails to examine the conditions that perpetuate the use of “date rape drugs”. 

Recently, tech companies and start-ups have started to propose innovative solutions to keep potential victims from taking spiked drinks. Drinksavvy, for example, is investing in products such as straws, glasses and cups which change colours whenever the drinks are spiked, and this nail polish acts as a drug detector . In Germany, a wristband called Xenus will also change colour if it comes into contact with date rape drugs. 

In the case of the Xenus wristband, its creator Kim Eisenmann says it makes young women feel empowered:

“We donated some to a group of girls and they told me that they really like the wristbands. It makes them feel more aware and more safe. I also gave a girl a wristband and afterwards she was in conversation with a boy at a party and he asked her what it was. She told him ‘it’s a wristband that protects me from date rape drugs’ and he was like ‘wow’ and he stepped back. She said it made her feel very strong.”

Although these kinds of inventions might have a positive impact on women’s lives, not everyone is convinced of its real effectiveness. It still seems to shift the burden unto potential victims and the science behind some of these innovations might not be as robust as we’d like to think. In general, victim’s rights advocates and women’s organizations have restrained from supporting these kinds of novelties. As Katie Russell from Rape Crisis England & Wales puts it:

“Rape Crisis does not endorse or promote such a product or anything similar. This is for three reasons: it implies that it’s the woman’s fault and assumes responsibility on her behalf, and detracts from the real issues that arise from sexual violence. (…) The emphasis must be placed 100% on the perpetrator.”

Although the social media of Girls Against Spiking reiterates that drink spiking can happen to anyone, regardless of behavior or clothing, there are no posts about how drink spiking is related to a culture of sexual violence (or “rape culture”) and how fostering conversations about consent or the inability of consent are critical to effectively advocate for victims. 

Spiked drinks have particular health risks, but in the context of sexual violence they are no worse than alcohol or any other kind of drugs. A woman who is raped while intoxicated is no less of a victim than a woman whose drink was spiked. And considering how much young people indulge in binge drinking, some argue alcohol should be viewed as the main “date rape drug”.

This should force us to acknowledge that lids, super wristbands or magic straws are only band-aids in the combat against rape and our main focus as activists should be on the structural social conditions that perpetuate and reinforce rape culture.

Author: Margarida Costa Da Silva Catela Teixeira

Margarida is a feminist activist working with both grassroots feminist groups and established women’s organizations in Portugal and Europe. With a background in Cinema, Philosophy and Human Rights, she is particularly interested in ending sexual exploitation of women and girls in all its forms and seizing upon innovative and gender sensitive ways of communication to do so.

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