Bottling up for the party season
A new stopper to protect against drink-spiking mixes 'awareness raising' with product promotion.
Just as the Christmas decorations get earlier each year, so it seems do Christmas panics.
A new device to protect against drink spiking was launched on 11 November at the Groucho Club in Soho, London, with the slogan ‘Don’t get SPIKED this Christmas’. ‘Spikey’ (no relation) is a glow-in-the-dark stopper that fits into the tops of bottles, with a hole that is big enough for a straw, but not for a pill. It is the invention of Ray Lockett of R&G Products, whose daughter Marilyn believes that she was spiked on her birthday last year.
Assembled journalists and cameramen were told about the hidden threat in Britain’s clubs. MP Sandra Gidley said that the government was ‘in denial’ about the issue, refusing to recognise its seriousness. The Roofie Foundation, named after the so-called date-rape drug Rohypnol, claims that 6650 people have reported incidents of drug rape to its helpline or website. Graham Rhodes, head of the Roofie Foundation, told me that ‘people are being drug raped all over the place’, but that it is being ‘kept under cover’.
The message was that everybody should take precautions. ‘If you leave your bottle unattended, you will be spiked’, warned Rhodes. His foundation advises people: ‘do not share or exchange drinks with others’; ‘appoint a nominated drinks watcher to keep an eye on all your drinks’; and if you do accept a drink off somebody, ‘make sure…that the bottle is opened in front of you. Better still open it yourself’ (1).
It’s not just clubs - apparently pubs and private parties are danger zones too. Gidley told me that while clubbers had become ‘canny’, people think they are on ‘safer territory in pubs, with people they know’. But you might not know your friends so well: ‘perpetrators can be quite manipulative, building up your trust.’ R&G Products is lobbying pubs and bars to fit Spikey on all their bottles, although Lockett complains that drinks companies aren’t too keen to pay the 2.5p per Spikey.
All this is likely to put something of a downer on a night out. For a start, there’s the assumption that you should only be drinking alcopops or Bud. And rather than letting go, you’re supposed to scrutinise the barman opening your bottle, be careful about accepting drinks, and be wary of your friends. The image is of a dancefloor of jiving young people, their glowing stoppers sending the signal that they are protected from one another.
Spikey isn’t supposed to be uptight though; it’s supposed to be cool. As Marilyn says, it comes in ‘fun colours’, is small enough to ‘fit in a girly bag’ and could ‘even be a fashion item’. This was the message of the Groucho Club launch, with stoppers pilled up in tall glasses on the swish bar.
Drink spiking does happen. But should it be on the minds of every pub- and club-goer?
Drug rape is a constant media feature, but there is little evidence about the extent of the problem. In response to the publicity, five police forces recently began a trial, carrying out drugs and alcohol tests on women who claimed to have been raped or assaulted. Detective Chief Superintendent Dave Gee of Derbyshire police wasn’t holding his breath: ‘The myth of Rohypnol has been generated by people talking about it all the time, not by any evidence. There hasn’t been a single case successfully taken to court in the UK.’ He also noted that Rohypnol was ‘notoriously difficult to get hold of’ (2).
The Roofie Foundation’s statistic of 6650 drug rapes goes back to the 1940s, including women who say they were spiked with amphetamines by American airmen, and 1960s victims of LSD. But this figure has to be put in the context of the tens of millions of women who have frequented clubs and bars over the past 40 years. In any case, these are incidents reported to a victim helpline, rather than the result of impartial research. Rhodes said that some women had had ‘flashbacks’ to events that occurred decades ago, after seeing recent publicity. I asked him whether he had tried to verify the accuracy of their statements. ‘Do you want me to interrogate victims?’, he replied.
Victim advocacy, ‘research’, and product promotion are all blurred into one. The campaign both raises ‘awareness’ about a problem, and sells you the remedy. The maker of Spikey is a concerned dad, using his daughter’s tale to promote his product. ‘I can leave my drink on the side with my Spikey; I know I’m safe’, Marilyn told the launch. Calls to a victim advocacy group are quoted as objective fact. And the PR company promoting Spikey is putting Roofie Foundation leaflets in clubs and bars over the next few months, before rolling out the stopper in supermarkets next year. Raising awareness, or softening up consumers?
Drink spiking has to fight for its place in the marketplace of scares. At the launch, a man who worked on drugs policy in London accused Rhodes of encouraging people to drink irresponsibly - apparently drinking through straws ‘gets people drunk more quickly’. A 10-minute row ensued about which was worse, drug rape or binge drinking. Rhodes said drug rape by a mile, because you’re responsible for your own binge drinking; the drugs policy man demurred.
The aim is to get drug rape on the government agenda, and to make a certain colourful stopper a familiar feature in clubs and bars. Of course, popping in a Spikey does nobody any harm - if that is what lights up your night, that’s up to you. But if you’re looking for an antidote to the scaremongering, get spiked this Christmas instead.
spiked-issue: Drink and drugs
(1) ‘Drink spiking: how to avoid it’, The Roofie Foundation
(2) Sunday Times, 14 March 2004