Jane Nellist, Coventry Socialist Party
Many young people feel that the lockdown has ‘stolen’ what should have been the most fun time in their life. The impact of lengthy isolation has caused huge issues around mental health and wellbeing, as well as detrimentally affecting their education and earnings.
With the relaxation of Covid rules and the re-opening of night clubs and bars, along with the greater ability to mix, life should have started to feel more normal. However, the joy of going out with your friends for a night out comes with the risks of the darker side of life in our society, including the threat of sexual harassment and violence.
The increasing concerns of the spiking of drinks in clubs, with ‘date-rape’ drugs and the more sinister attacks of spiking by injection in a number of cities across the UK, has triggered huge anger and fear. Especially on university campuses.
Any act of ‘spiking’ is an illegal act, but the rate of prosecution and conviction is extremely low, even where evidence has been provided to police. The acute underfunding of the police and criminal justice system, as well as a culture of sexism and violence in the police exposed by the murder of Sarah Everard and the killings of Bibbaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, mean that many victims fail to get any type of justice or support, even if harassment is reported. In the case of spiking, many don’t report it, and many don’t even know it has happened!
More resources need to be urgently provided to protect victims, identify crimes and properly investigate and prosecute. There also needs to be democratic community control of the police to root out sexism and decide on policing priorities.
The patience and tolerance of young women is wearing thin. The recent murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa have heightened the real fears of walking the streets in safety. Now women fear for their safety in crowded clubs and bars.
The #Girl’sNightIn campaign, which called for a one-night boycott of nightclubs, has been taken up across the country on university campuses. Some clubs are allowing female staff to stay at home as well in solidarity. It’s great to highlight the anger and concerns of women, but what is needed is a programme for safety and action to achieve it.
It has now been over a decade since the first National Union of Students report into sexual violence on UK university campuses and, if anything, the problem is getting worse. Safety on campus cannot be left to university vice-chancellors within the market-dominated university system.
Ideas such as more thorough searches and undercover cops in clubs may be seen as a solution by some, but given the record of the police it is clear that these can backfire and be used against young people, especially those most discriminated against.
What is urgently needed is a campaign for real solutions to stop these attacks which should include:
- Universities investing in social spaces for students and more on-campus support services for students and staff experiencing harassment and abuse. Build democratic student unions to oversee this
- All venues implementing more safety measures – such as more training for staff to identify and support those at risk, as well as providing free covers for drinks. Staffing levels must ensure that they have time to give support effectively
- Joint elected and democratically accountable committees of trade unions, local authorities, students and young workers to oversee safety measures in clubs and bars in their area
- With clubs and bars opening much later, there should be more investment in public transport and street lighting to ensure that young people can get home safely
- Democratic trade union and community control of the police
- Fight for a socialist alternative to the sexism, inequality and crisis of capitalism