Alexandra is a member of the Student Solidarity Group in Sheffield. She talked with Solidarity about the Girls Night In protests in Sheffield and when one was attacked by angry men.
Freshers’ week started, and a lot of reports of spiking started to trickle in. People were talking about it online. Then you started to see stories about injections too. I started to hear about things happening in Sheffield. The next thing I know, Sheffield Night In is set up and I see them on Instagram. I discover that this is a nationwide thing, planning a boycott of nightclubs.
We started thinking about this at a meeting of the Student Solidarity Group. Bar staff from the Students’ Union came and talked to us about what was happening and shortcomings in terms of training to combat spiking. They had only been given a small number of anti-spiking devices, and they were angry that nothing was being done. So they came to us and raised about things that could be done to support the boycott.
We decided to have a protest outside the SU club night ROAR, which is the sports teams night out. We knew that the cheerleading team in Sheffield had been badly affected by these recent spikings. We made a banner that said “End spiking: join the boycott”. But the night before, the SU cancelled the club night, and replaced it with a discussion between students at the Students’ Union, which wasn’t very well advertised or explained.
We decided to go and do a rally outside another student club, which also shut down its club night on that evening. So three of us went with the banner down West Street, and came to Molly Malone’s, a big student venue. Then as we were just preparing to get a picture taken with the banner there, we saw this big group of people marching up the road, and we thought, who’s this?
And they were chanting anti-spiking slogans! So we unfurled the banner and they were really positive about it, and we all gathered around that banner, and we led this rally around West Street a few times. We were talking about who we were and why we’d made the banner, and this larger group, it turned out, had all been organised by this one woman who had just joined a load of group chats and posted about it – which I thought was really cool.
So we pitched up outside some clubs where people were still going in, we had a few speeches over the megaphone and a few chants: “No more silence, no more lies: we will not be victimised!” and “When I say no, you say spiking”. It went well, there was a lot of energy, and a lot of the people there had never taken part in any kind of protest or rally before. People had written speeches, wanting to tell their story. People had made their own signs, they were eager to get to the front with the banner.
Some people on the street were clenching their fists in support or beeping their horns supportively. But things started to take a turn.
It started with some teenagers in a pizza shop shouting at us. They were just shouting nonsense really, nothing about what we were there for. Then you got men coming up and saying things like “It’s an easy lay” or shouting “Rohypnol!” at us, or saying that it was acceptable, or calling us lesbians or calling the boys gay for being there, and childish insults about people’s hair or glasses.
Then outside one club there were guys on dirt bikes in balaclavas who were coming right up near us on the pavement, and they were followed by a group of men in a car who parked up really close to us and stared angrily. That was a bit unnerving but we got our confidence back when they drove off. Another older man in his 60s came and started really yelling at us; and then he was pulling girls by their T-shirts out of the group, getting in people’s faces. He was really angry, offended that we were out there.
I couldn’t figure out what his problem was: with students, or demonstrations, or leftist vibes, or women speaking out against the violence that they experience. A lot of the people there weren’t so experienced with protests, so they didn’t know so well how to de-escalate confrontations.
But all these confrontations happened in such quick succession, as if one person yelling at us brought everyone else who opposed us out of the woodwork. So after a while we called it a night.
Sheffield Night In, after the last boycott, have decided to take a bit of time off, so they are not planning more action. A rally is planned outside the nightclub CODE on Thursday 4 November at 10pm. That’s good because they quietly cancelled last week’s event in order to cover their own back.
I do think that the boycott on the 27th and the rallies that happened alongside it were really good and they got people out of the clubs and onto the streets. It caught people’s attention. What I want to see is our SU at UoS to actually keep their word on the things they have agreed now to do about spiking.
I do think the boycotts should continue regularly, not to let this issue die. I think that people being more aware of the issue might reduce the problem until we can get some more structural changes in place.
I hope this movement teaches people how to hold others accountable – whether it’s a club you go to, or your students’ union, or if you’re a bar worker, your employer. I want this movement to fuel people’s desire for change, so people don’t just think, oh I just work here, there’s nothing I can do.