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Society Presidents demand KCL intervention on gendered violence in open letter

drink spiking letter kcl
Provided courtesy of Claudia Eeles

25 society presidents have drafted an open letter to King’s College London (KCL) President Professor Shitij Kapur demanding systemic interventions to quell the recent rise in drink spiking on campus. The letter was released to Roar on October 26.

It comes after six people’s drinks were spiked in a single night on October 1 at Dover Castle Bar (DC), Great Dover Street, with nine more reporting the same in the three weeks prior.

This is a snapshot of a rise in spiking on university campuses nationwide – both through drinks and by intravenous injection – to which students have responded by boycotting clubs in a “Girl’s Night In.”

The letter reads: “As presidents of KCL societies we cannot continue to support our members using the KCL and KCLSU [King’s College London Students’ Union] spaces where our members don’t feel safe and have been harassed or assaulted by other KCL students and KCL/KCLSU staff….

“Reactionary measures, which often feel performative, such as posters, provision of spikeys and supposed increase in bag-checks do very little to deter perpetrators of this violence….

“We understand the many obstacles that stand in the way of solutions – notably structures which make reporting difficult and legislation which requires evidence that can be difficult to collect. However, due to the relentless nature of sexual harassment, sexual violence and in particular, these spiking incidents, we believe that now is the time for more decisive action.”

What are the demands?

The measures demanded are split between interventions in education and in social spaces and are followed by student testimonies of the spiking and sexual violence they have suffered in KCSLU-affiliated spaces.

For social spaces, the signatories demanded compulsory staff training on anti-harassment procedures like the Ask for Angela scheme, more rigorous bag-checking procedures for entry to KCLSU-related events, and to survey students on how safe they feel at KCLSU events before March 2022.

In this section, the presidents also demanded a review of the disciplinary actions and procedures currently in place for reporting sexism, misogyny and harassment, as well as a review of measures to protect KCLSU staff from sexism, misogyny and harassment when working.

These procedures have come under repeated scrutiny, to which King’s responded by opening an oversight committee earlier this year.

The signatories also criticised the language used in the KCLSU guide to “Staying Safe When Out”, requesting that “emphasis is placed on harassment and assault never being the fault of the victim, no matter what ‘precautionary’ actions they take.”

Regarding education, the signatories argue for compulsory education to be provided to Freshers regarding consent, sexual harassment, gender-based violence and the cultures and attitudes that lead to it, the university’s reporting procedures, and on which internal and external organisations they can access for support.

The King’s Tab reported last year that, out of the 500 students that responded to their survey, 88% were unaware of how sexual harassment could be reported at King’s.

Finally, the signatories demand that all KCLSU sports society members undertake compulsory, SU-funded training before March 2022 to “start tackling toxic cultures that pervade sports society communities at KCL.”

King’s Sport have sought to take this measure in the past, participating in the Work Out research project run by artist, Phoebe Davies; sex educator, Gareth Esson; and sports medicine specialist Dr Alex Bowmer between February and March 2020. However, the project came to an early end during the first Covid-19 lockdown the following summer.

SU response:

KCLSU President Zahra Syed told Roar that the SU is seeking to “build awareness within our community on the subject and risks of drink spiking and the importance of taking preventative measures, to ensure the safety of our student body.”

As president, she says she has written to Southwark council to express her concerns and demand “more measures to be set in place to ensure student safety.” She said she also aims to “create culture change at Kings to properly tackle harassment in our student spaces.”

“This problem is a citywide and sadly can spread into university spaces or events. King’s College London has been working on support and report services and I will continue to work to ensure the student voice is represented properly,” she finished.

The Student Officer team’s official statement says: “We want to assure our student body that we are following this issue closely and speaking to any relevant parties to ensure we remain aware and take action.”

“The Student Officer team stands in solidarity and in support with any of our students and victims impacted by this.”

Student voices:

One anonymous student expressed concern that the recent posts from KCLSU about spiking on campus has not sufficiently communicated the measures the union are taking to tackle it. This student reported being spiked at Guys Bar and sexually assaulted in their first year, after discussing the incident with police and friends.

Since then, they have continued to attend Guys Bar, but say that “the so called ‘action’ being taken to protect students is difficult to see.

“The bag checks are close to useless, and students are being spiked more often now than ever before… I think it’s far beyond time some real effort was put in from the venues facilitating these nights out to protect us.”

The student recited some of the demands made by the society presidents, arguing that “we need more thorough bag checks” and that “If the KCLSU need advice on what they can do to up their game they could send out a forum asking for suggestions from students.”

In addition, they added the further suggestions that “KCLSU could provide drink testing bands to students. We need Drinkaware crew on site throughout the night.” They also criticised the Ask for Angela scheme, arguing that overcrowding in the bars makes it difficult to ask a staff member for help.

“Asking for Angela isn’t exactly helpful when you’re shoved behind a sea of students trying to fight for a space at the bar and a simple post telling us to let someone know after being spiked is poor effort.

“If all this is too much for the KCLSU to provide, then they shouldn’t be facilitating nights out where the rate of being spiked is so high”, they added.

A member of KCL Lions, the university cheerleading team, told Roar that two girls were spiked at Bar Salsa on 14 October, with one needing to be hospitalised. They also said that an American footballer was spiked on the same night after taking an unwanted drink from a member of the cheerleading team.

“Everyone is really worried and although the Vault is doing everything they can, KCL isn’t recognising the issue”, they said.

The student hoped that media coverage will help push systemic change to stop the spiking uptick. “Formal complaints have been made but they don’t do much”, they finished.

King’s College London has been contacted with request for comment.

Additional reporting provided by Marino Unger-Verna and Justine Noble.

News Editor at Roar News

News Editor; BA Liberal Arts, majoring in Politics

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