This article was first carried in Socialist Alternative’s monthly paper on 1 December.
In just two months this autumn there were reports to the police of 198 cases of drink spiking and 56 cases of spiking by injection, a horrifying new method of attack. That’s not to mention those who have not made reports because they are too scared or understandably don’t feel confident it would be worthwhile to do so; nor those who may be unaware that they were spiked. These figures have invoked outrage and led to thousands protesting in towns and cities around the country, and many more carrying out a ‘boycott’ of hospitality venues.
Socialist Alternative fully supports all protest actions bringing attention and discussion to the issue of gender violence. Spiking is an urgent issue that needs urgent solutions – but what does that mean? Understandably, most women and LGBTQ+ people have no faith in the police or private security firms to keep us safe – in many cases they have been perpetrators themselves! Suggestions that the answer lies in the police are particularly tone deaf given the recent revelations about the detail of the murder of Sarah Everard by serving police officer Wayne Couzens, as well as the fact that his prior behaviour made it so clear he was a dangerous misogynist and yet no action was taken.
Change has only ever been won by the mass action of ordinary people – so we have to continue to build the movement against gender violence. The early Reclaim the Night movement put forward radical ideas about mass action to make the streets safe – we stand in the best of those traditions, and should be clear that the need for that movement and action extends beyond the street and into bars, clubs, and of course homes. Trade unions, women’s groups, student unions and others should continue to mobilise for protests and organise political discussions about the misogyny behind spiking.
We call for democratic, working class inquiries into incidents of spiking. These should involve elected representatives from hospitality trade unions, victims, campaign groups and communities and make recommendations for action from government, local councils and venues. Ultimately, no bar owner or company has a given right to operate when women don’t feel safe in their venues – working class people should have democratic control over the issuing and conditions on alcohol licenses.
It is essential that this movement is linked to the struggles of hospitality workers, who see – and experience – harassment and assault first hand on a daily basis. Socialist Alternative calls for sufficient staff numbers, training to recognise the signs of harassment and other dangerous situations, a £15 an hour minimum wage and permanent contracts with guaranteed hours. Decent wages and conditions in the industry would make it more likely that those workers could play any kind of positive role in tackling abuse. But it’s also essential to link up these demands so that we can begin a discussion between working class people, workers in the industry and local communities about what type of hospitality and entertainment culture we want.
At the same time, any and all measures that may help women and gender non-conforming people to feel more safe should be introduced. That means those organising against gender violence need to link up with anti-austerity and community struggles. Many local communities have had their street lights turned off or limited by local councils’ austerity drives in the last decade – this must be reversed!
Night time public transport – especially in smaller towns and suburbs, is woeful, expensive and run by private companies whose only concern is maximising their profit. There have been big cuts to station staff on trains since 2010, for example, especially at night. We demand free, fully-staffed, integrated public transport systems to meet need at all times – and in the meantime that employers cough up to ensure their workers can get home safely. For example, Unite Hospitality in Glasgow has been leading the Safe Home campaign, demanding that bars and hotels pay for taxis home for their staff finishing late.
But while these demands and campaigns are important, we know that they won’t solve the problem. They can make us feel a bit less scared in certain situations, and that increased confidence can have an important impact. But they won’t actually stop violent acts being committed. Because – no matter what politicians or the police may imply! – the problem is not women walking alone at night. The problem is that there are men who are determined to brutally harm women, and when that is the case they will find a way to do so, street lights or not.
So all of these demands also have to be combined with fighting to change the culture that exists throughout society propagating misogyny and abuse. That means demanding sex and relationships education that is LGBTQ+ inclusive and in which consent is a central theme from early on. It is very positive that there is increasing discussion on this issue. But unfortunately we cannot educate away misogyny. Formal education isn’t the main place that most people learn about relationships. Inequality in everything from jobs, to housing, to welfare; the media, advertising, language, sexist laws, the sex industry, gendered toys for children, and a million other things contribute to presenting women as second class citizens. This generalised exploitation and subjugation of women is what provides the basis for individuals to develop reactionary ideas and abusive or violent behaviours. Capitalism breeds and needs gender violence.
So ultimately we need a totally different type of society. Misogynistic culture, attitudes and behaviours can only be eradicated when capitalism is eradicated. In a socialist society – where the majority would democratically own and control the resources and ways of producing wealth in society, and plan that to meet the needs and wants of all rather than to produce obscene profits for the tiny few – it would be possible to begin to really erode all forms of oppression, violence and prejudice and for people to live genuinely safely and freely.