It’s a Wednesday night and I’m feeling good. I’ve been pre-drinking with friends, and now we’re out on the town. Into a club we go, dancing and drinking some more. One of my friends shouts “Toilet!” to me over the music. I nod, even though I don’t have to go, and the two of us push through the crowd and make it upstairs.
My friend steps into one of the stalls, while I stay near the sinks to check my reflection. One young woman is sat in a chair nearby almost asleep. Another woman is talking to her loudly and it draws my attention:
“‘Scuse me? Excuse me, you alright?”
The woman talking notices my glance and asks if I know the one on the chair. I don’t. I’m a bit tipsy but my instincts say that something isn’t right. My friend comes out of the toilet, asking what’s happening, and suddenly there is a committee of slightly drunk women trying to help the half-passed out girl sitting on the chair.
Everyone’s asking if someone knows her, we’re asking her what her name is, trying to get into her phone to call a friend. She’s not very responsive; it seems like she’s trying to talk but can’t get the words out. Eventually she starts crying, saying through slurred lips what we’ve all realised: she’s been spiked. Once we realise we can’t find anyone she knows, I go get a bouncer and they take it from there.
It’s a scary reality of going out and a scary reality of sexual assault — it can happen anywhere and to anyone. The young woman that night was taken care of by the strangers around her, but I realised that once you’ve been spiked, you’re in a very helpless situation where people can take advantage of you.
When it comes to sexual assault, 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped every year in England and Wales according to the Office for National Statistics. This equals roughly 11 rapes every hour. According to that same report, one in five women have experienced some form of sexual violence since age 16. In the Northumbria area, 764 rapes were reported in the 2016/2017 fiscal year — 171 of these occurred in Sunderland.
How do we prevent this? The first step, of course, is teaching people that it is not okay to rape people and that consent is a fundamental part of sex. It has proved difficult to spread this word, so when we go out we must take additional steps to prevent sexual assault happening to ourselves and the others around us.
The Northumbria police recommend avoiding danger spots, listening to your instincts and remaining alert, even in familiar areas.
“It’s natural to feel more relaxed and comfortable in your own neighbourhood than when you’re in an unfamiliar area but it’s important not to get complacent about your personal safety even when close to home.”
Other precautions include keeping an eye on your drink, using a buddy system, and keeping an eye out for one another.
In the situation I experienced that night in the club, I believe we followed protocol to a productive end. It’s difficult to always monitor your drink in a chaotic place like a club; that’s why predators target places like that. This isn’t the only safeguard, though. More than anything else, our best safeguard is each other.
There is power in numbers. That’s part of the instinctive reason why I went to the toilet with my friend that night. Even in a place I’d consider safe, there is still hesitation about someone going off on their own. Your group that you go out with should be looking out for you and you should be looking out for your group.
Sometimes, that doesn’t work. It’s easy to slip away from a large group, and if everyone has been drinking, it’s hard to keep track of each person. That seems to be what happened to the young woman in the bathroom. But she was still alright.
As soon as someone noticed something was wrong, the women in the bathroom banded together to make sure our sister got home safe. It made me feel safer about going out because it showed me that even strangers will take care of me if I find myself in that position.
We should be trying to make an effort as a culture to make this less common. In a perfect world, I shouldn’t have to always go to the bathroom with a buddy, always be watching my drink, always be micro-managing my squad.
That is why we should be intolerant towards acts that make this necessary, creating a dialogue about consent and teaching people not to spike drinks or take advantage of drunk people. While it seems common sense, the data shows that rapists and sexual assaulters exist. They’re usually people we know. We as a society need to make this unacceptable. We also must support the victims of these crimes by listening to them and never blaming them for the actions of their rapists.
Until that day comes, stay safe and keep an eye out for each other. It is up to us to come together as a community to stop sexual assault.