LONDON - Young women across the U.K. are boycotting nightclubs and pubs Wednesday as university towns and cities join in a national "girls night in" protest after increasing reports of drink spiking and students being drugged by needle injections.
The online campaign, which has gained momentum in university cities including Bristol, Brighton and Nottingham, wants to raise awareness about women's safety and demand more urgent action by the government and nightclubs to prevent "date rape" drugs from being brought into clubs. "Girls Night In" accounts organizing boycotts in British cities this week have gathered thousands of followers on social media.
The protests came after a sharp rise in recent months of reports of drink spiking and needle "spiking" -- where women report being injected with drugs in the back or in the leg at nightclubs -- as students return to campuses after a long spell away due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council said there have been 198 confirmed reports of drink spiking in September and October across the U.K., and 24 reports of people being injected while on nights out.
Police in Nottingham, central England, said last week that extra officers were being put on patrol on the weekends to ensure people could enjoy a safe night out. The force said that since Oct. 2, 14 women and a man have alleged being spiked "by something sharp, as opposed to a traditional method of contaminated alcoholic drinks."
Student Zara Owen, 19, told the BBC that she blacked out soon after arriving with friends at a nightclub in the city earlier this month. She said she had no recollection of what happened that night, but woke up with a pain in her leg before she discovered a pin prick.
In Brighton, the southern England seaside city, detectives said they were investigating six reports of women being injected during the past week.
Police were carrying out unannounced checks through the night, and all reports were being taken "incredibly seriously," said Chief Superintendent Justin Burtenshaw, commander for Brighton and Hove. Anyone who believed they may have been a victim of spiking should let police or bar staff know immediately so they could be tested for potential drugs before their effects wane, he added.
Organizers of the boycott said on Instagram that "spiking has become an epidemic."
"Never before have we heard of so many students waking up with no memory of what had happened the night before," read the message. "This is not getting ‘black-out drunk,’ this is getting drugged and is something that can be changed."
On Wednesday, a 29-year-old man appeared in court in the city of Manchester charged with rape after a woman reported that her drink had been spiked during a night out in September.
An online petition calling for nightclubs to be required to thoroughly search people on entry has garnered almost 170,000 signatures.