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‘We want to set an example for the rest of the country’: An Interview with Stop the Music Campaign

Stop the Music Campaign Logo
TW: Contains mentions of spiking and sexual violence

Deputy Editor-in-Chief Imogen Dixon speaks to Stop the Music Campaign members Luke Matthews, Sude Inan, and Rio Harada-Parr about the campaign’s aims, what it has achieved so far and what they hope to do next.

Roar: We last spoke to the Stop the Music Campaign in February; what has the Campaign been up to since then?

Luke: So, I think our main thing has been really sorting out a fully substantiated policy and agenda. Really getting everything sorted out. You know, does this work? Is it doable? What would be the known barriers?

And the biggest thing we’ve been doing in some ways, there’s obviously other stuff going on, is a lot of talks with the KCLSU itself. It was very much apparent: can we be cooperative on this? Us giving them all these ideas, substantiating them, presenting them to the table, coming up with evidence of what the student body is saying, you know, “these are the kind of issues we’ve got”.

We’d have thought that, I mean, what we thought going into it, was because it was that serious, and it’s happening in their venues, and you know, we’ve been doing stakeouts as well which is another thing we’ve been doing on the side, just going round, and checking out what’s happening. There’s a lot of bad stuff there, a lot of the student body and the people we talked to there were saying: “yeah, this is a lot worse than other nightclubs”. There’s a lot of issues there, and we’ve told this to KCLSU, even specifics, and it’s still a very much lukewarm response. We’re waiting for them to get back to us on the reason why, in all these months, they’ve not provided for us a reason, a substantiated reason with evidence as to why they don’t want to do this.

Right now, we’re basically, you know, and we’ve told them this, we wanted to do this opportunity and work together and stuff like that. And while a lot of people in KCLSU have been quite helpful, I think in terms of how it works as a bureaucracy, there’s quite a structural issue here. And obviously there’s some who we can’t interest in it either way. So, we’re going to take it into our own hands now, really, start working with the student body. But we also appreciate, you know, students are busy people. But, getting involved outside [of King’s], the general public. Hopefully endorsements, a week of talks.

And our main, big, big campaigning – because we did our initial little Instagram endorsement drive, we got 88 endorsements – but we’ve planned a lot more. And so, that’s what you really want to look out for in the next year before Christmas, in that kind of semester time when we’re really going to be going for it. Working with many other societies and stuff like that.

Sude: We are wanting student body support because I think that if there isn’t enough force from students demanding change, [KCLSU] won’t do anything. So we’re trying to figure out how we can [gain student support].

Roar: With regards to KCLSU, there’s a new incoming student officer team. Have you engaged in talks with the new student officers?

L: Yeah, so we’ve talked with Martina [Chen], the new VP Welfare and Community Officer. They’ve been really helpful. I think we’re going to work with them quite closely because our goals very much align. Especially regarding democracy at KCLSU. You can have a situation in KCLSU where every single member, every single student, votes for something and it’s still just advisory. You know? It’s a bit weird. Referenda are just advisory. So, things just don’t get done. There’s a big problem happening right now just in terms of getting anything done.

And we see the effects of that, that it’s actually got serious consequences when people are getting spiked, potentially sexually assaulted in their venues – to the point of notoriety. Guy’s Bar is on the front page of one of [Roar’s] editions. And that just shows there is a culture and fear around this. And we told them this, but still we’ve not seen much response that matches what is necessary.

A lot of it is, you know, ‘how do we look like we’re doing something without sorting out the problem?’ There’s a basic moral and operational duty to make sure that your spaces are safe for students. Saying there’s just all these other things about payment for security guards and all that kind of stuff. You need to be providing that basic service and if you can’t then you shouldn’t really be operating. We don’t think they need to shut down, but they need to change something.

There was a recent parliamentary committee report that came out about [spiking]. It said the vast majority of targets of spiking are young women at university. A lot of what we’ve heard from KCLSU is that this isn’t tied to sexual violence against women and stuff like that. But, for example the National Police Chiefs’ Council reported that 88% of needle spiking victims were female, 73% were aged 18-21, and where the occupation of the victim was identified, 81% were students. So, there’s a clear base here that is hardly a surprise to many people.

Rio: We believe there needs to be a big shift around [King’s] approach in safeguarding, especially in a nightclub setting.

L: Yeah, so a proper zero-tolerance policy, even us ourselves worry if this is enough, they ask themselves ‘how do we look like we’ve just about done enough’ so you can see a bit of a clash in how we want things to be done.

So, basic stuff, like if someone’s been spiked: stop the music, turn on the lights and everybody at that event should really be informed. Because there’s a high change that someone is spiking drinks or even injecting people with needles at that event, so they can take precautions.

Employing certified first aid professionals like St John’s Ambulance, who have done a lot of this kind of work in Manchester. The mayor has led this initiative against spiking, so they go to spiking hotspots in the night-time economy and provide that care for people. We want to see that at the KCLSU’s events as well with a safe space where people can be cared for in a safe, calm environment in privacy as well.

Because of issues with how the security guards have been treating students, there should also be someone who is on the ground, looking over things – a welfare manager. Someone very professional but empathetic, who can actually be approached. So, for example, if someone gets groped or if something like that happens. Someone who is just advertised really well, they’re good at their job, you know, it’s not some joke, and you can go to them, and they can sort that out. That’s someone we’d like to see because there’s obviously the whole sexual assault stuff going on.

And a logout system, so you take someone who is incapacitated out of the place – I mean, this is to avoid the worst-case scenario, which does happen, which is someone gets spiked and is then taken out and sexually assaulted. So, to kind of at least have some kind of deterrent there. Because we’ve seen people get spiked and get dragged out of Guy’s Bar, and security just doesn’t do anything. You know, security can just chuck people out, you know, like ‘this girl looks really drunk’ and you kick her out and leave her on the street. So, we don’t really want to see that kind of behaviour from KCLSU.

We’ve told them all this kind of stuff and they don’t seem to want to implement that, so we are just going to have to look for something quite big. A lot of people are quite upset by this, and a lot of people are pretty ready to finally do something because it just keeps getting worse. We have needle spiking, far more harmful ways of how this happens, so we’re really just organising something and we’ll be working through the summer to really get the word out. So, everyone will be hearing from us again.

R: I mean it speaks to, as well, the KCLSU bureaucracy and their disconnect with the actual situation on the ground, and the situation for students. It’s quite telling that even the government have put forward a select committee to look into this serious thing after the sort-of end of Covid. They’ve said, ‘we need to come up with some ideas as to how to tackle this on a national level’, but it seems that KCLSU doesn’t take it seriously. Which is really worrying, considering how many spiking cases we do get, and thinking about how many spiking cases aren’t reported. It’s probably a much higher number than the one they’ve already published.

L: Yeah, I mean the report says about 75% of cases aren’t reported. It’s this vicious cycle, and this is kind of what the parliamentary report are getting stuck in, and what the police are getting stuck in. They need evidence, statistics, and data to do anything, but at the same time people aren’t going to report things if nothing is going to be done. You just end up going round in a circle. So, we’re trying to break that with more of a civil society approach led by the Students’ Union. At the end of the day, they are meant to represent the wishes of the students and to protect student safety is just a basic part of its function.

We’re hoping that these kinds of policies don’t require this whole log of evidence, they don’t require someone who is spiked, who probably isn’t going to remember much, to fill out all these forms, to go through the whole process for there then to be no prosecution. We’re looking to avoid that, targeting certain people. We’re much more interested in structures, basically. And I think hopefully we can break that circle, then.

So, we’ll be sending a lot of our stuff off to other university societies and those involved in the parliamentary stuff as well, because they acknowledge that there’s so much more appetite in the public body for the practical measures. From one of their surveys, 175,000 people signed a petition for mandatory searches on entry. 2000 people signed three petitions about making a specific law against spiking. Both could be done, but clearly people want the practical measures and that could make a real difference. So that’s what we’re looking for. But we don’t see a lot of these practical measures going round.

A lot of people try to implement these across the country. For example, test kits, but there are issues with that. A forensic expert from the Met said that they don’t really hold up and they are not that accurate. So, the evidence that you’ve been spiked is a bit shaky, it does leave you in a bit of a bind.

So, what we need to do is challenge the offenders. So, you know, turning on the lights and having that announcement is quite a deterrent in itself. It allows CCTV to be doing its thing. Automatically, you have a window for collecting evidence, to be walking around and seeing if there is anybody else who has been spiked, is there any suspicious behaviour? And, during that entire time, you can look back on that CCTV footage and you have a clear view of everything. But we want to see what the CCTV is like in Guy’s Bar as well.

And it is mainly Guy’s Bar, because the Vault isn’t having any problems. Guy’s has a reputation of, frankly, being a spiking “friendly” atmosphere, where it is very, very easy to spike and get away with it. It’s just going to attract more and more people. It’s just a shame that first-years aren’t going to know about this. That’s another thing we’re going to be looking to do, partnering up with publications like Roar, Science Mind, to get the King’s student media to do quite a lot on this. So, at least when we have a whole new cohort of first-years, they can be aware of the dangers in Guys’ Bar that KCLSU is not going to advertise. They could be walking into a really dangerous space and have no idea.

R: Yeah, I think that one of our main differences is that we really want to focus on being preventative, whereas it seems to me that KCLSU have a certain obsession with punitive measures, trying to really find ways of punishing the people i.e., how can we get them? How can we get people to report them to us? And the issue with that approach is, while you can understand the impulse – it’s important to apprehend predators – the very sad reality is it doesn’t tend to work. It’s so difficult to get the evidence, it’s so difficult to even get people to come forward in the first place. Ultimately, it’s not a very sustainable solution to the problem, because most predators get away with it. Ultimately, we’re looking at a preventative response, and that’s one in line [with what the general public want].

L: Yeah, I mean at least the logout system: the danger that someone gets spiked, they black out, someone could just pop them on their shoulder, walk them out, say ‘oh, that’s my girlfriend’ and, you know, you’re free to go. There’s a big problem with that. That’s heavily unacceptable. That’s one of the biggest policies.

If you’re taking a person out, you need to sign this form, so does the security person that lets them go, so does the first-aid professional. So, you’d have on that form witnesses, as well as a time, where CCTV can pick up, as well as the actual person who took them out, their student numbers and things like that.

At the very least, and there’s always GDPR stuff, people are entitled to access GDPR information that relates to them, so they should be able to do that. At the very least, if they didn’t want to press charges, they could know who took them out. At the very least. And we think that that’s another big thing we want to change.

But this is going to take pressure, it’s going to take us to do a lot of the driving, all students that are interested. It is an ambitious campaign, but we want to set an example for the rest of the country. But we see a lot of hope in it, we believe in it.

As to your first question, what we’ve been doing, a lot of it has been getting to know KCLSU. Giving them a chance, but at the same time doing a lot of research ourselves. You know, we have to go through stakeouts: just how bad is this issue? Turning up there on Wednesdays, looking into all the national statistics, getting all our advice on policies organised so we can start campaigning with a very clear line of action that we can run with. So, the enthusiasm and sparking people’s hopes don’t just fizzle out. But we feel pretty ready.

Roar: You’ve mentioned Wednesdays, which is Sports Night. Is this a Sports Night specific issue with regards to spiking?

L: I mean, it’s certainly the most notorious. That, and Dover Castle Bar, which isn’t a part of King’s. I mean, I know cases that have gone unreported or under reported and they’re all at Guy’s Bar. It’s no surprise, if you go to Guy’s Bar it’s not a surprise that this stuff happens. Go to a normal nightclub and it’s pretty bad, but Guy’s Bar particularly… It’s pretty horrible.

R: You talk to people in the queue outside Guy’s and most people are like, ‘you’re going to Guy’s Bar. You’ve just got to roll with it. Spiking happens here. Being assaulted happens here. It’s just a part of the culture.’ And sometimes that also feeds into the view that it’s okay to be complacent about these issues. It’s most shocking when, this is an area where something very clearly can be done, and I think we’ve outlined those steps to change. 

Roar: In November, King’s published information on spiking and the current steps they are taking, in which they state they have employed medics and established quiet zones, which is similar to your manifesto. Is this not sufficient?

L: So, these are actually student medics. We want people with proper training, who have experience. People who have been involved in this stuff. We want to see a lot more professionalism.

Another thing they’ve done recently is this ‘welfare monitor’ role, but that’s also a paid student role and the way they advertised it was sort of, like, turning around and doing jazz hands. Like, that’s the person you’re going to go to if you’re sexually harassed or assaulted? Probably not. You actually want someone who looks like they’re going to take it quite seriously. Also, that welfare officer does not have the power to reprimand security guards. members of staff or anything like that. We want a very clear line of command on that. People aren’t reporting because they don’t think there’s going to be action [taken], so we need someone who can bring that action instead of giving us jazz hands.

And then the quiet zones – you don’t know where they are, if you go there, there’s no signs, you’re not informed about them. They don’t seem like they’re attended at all, which is why they call them the ‘quiet’ zones rather than ‘safe’ zones, since there should be someone there supervising. It’s a very different thing, and we’d actually want one of the first aid professionals in that safe zone as well, to care for people.

R: It’s very important as well to have safe zones visible, that are clearly marked, that there is privacy. They’re somewhere you can go and be aware of and feel safe and protected in. Rather than just somewhere out of the way that if you come across the right security guard, that they might take you somewhere and sit you down and give you a glass of water. That’s really not good enough.

L: I mean, someone could suffer from an overdose, they’re going to need a place to go to be cared for, without all the noise, without anybody passing by, with their privacy respected. I mean, these are just very basic things. But it seems like everything [KCLSU] do is like a half step, getting nowhere where they need to be.

They talk about having door checks – I haven’t seen a single one on a stakeout. They’re not checking people at the doors. I understand it’s a lot easier to hide substances anyway, but all of these measures they say they’re implementing, they’re not going and checking up. If you have all these reports of these spikings, both formally – they’ve got formal complaints – and all these other students – we weren’t the first people they’d heard from. There was all the campaigning in the November time. It should be taken a lot more seriously, but unfortunately it isn’t taken very seriously.

Roar: Why do you think there is this hesitancy to take action against spiking?

S: I think, what I’ve seen from meetings with KCLSU, they aren’t angry. They don’t seem passionate, or angry, or anything. Whenever we talk, we give them this emotional testimony and they’re always like, ‘oh, we’re sorry that you’re going through this. We hope you have a better time next time’. It’s like a wall. I think it’s because, obviously they would have to work harder and do extra things, and that ties into it, but also, it’s the accountability that is a problem. Admitting that in that club they have a problem would do personal damage. Every single time that we talk, it feels like they want to make the situation seem not that big of a deal, even though it is.

R: It’s like really bad customer support. They act like they’ve already done everything necessary. In some of our earlier meetings they tried to talk us into the idea that they’d done sufficient amounts and that we just weren’t looking in the right places. It’s an incredibly passive approach to all these issues and not taking any responsibility to the running of these situations and the incidents that are happening. But they also want students to trust them and come to them at every conceivable opportunity, an organisation which isn’t already putting its neck on the line to protect those students is really one that can’t be trusted by those students to look after them when something happens. It’s a ludicrous idea.

It’s this reputational thing. The policy we’ve had most resistance to is our first one, stopping the music. And I don’t want to say this for sure, but it does feel a lot like they don’t like that policy, not because of crowd control, and not because of things like trauma for the individual, but rather, the thing they don’t want is the idea that all the students are aware on the night that spiking has happened in one of their venues. They don’t want that out there, because if that happens three times in one night, that speaks volumes about how that place is run and that it needs to change pretty darn quickly.

If that policy is to be enacted, there’s a very clear route to accountability that is incredibly public, and everyone will be aware. I think that’s ultimately, in many ways the bringer of all the resistance. Frankly, they want to be passive in these situations and not take accountability, and they want a quick resolution. And it’s very unfortunate that we’ve come to the point where we don’t know what to do with them anymore.

Roar: Do you have anything planned for freshers specifically?

L: One thing that we’re looking at a lot is the Fresher’s Fair, and also going stand to stand to different societies to get their endorsement. Getting in touch with them, things like that. We thought that would be a really good chance to get the word out.

Roar reached out to KCLSU for comment but has not received a response.



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