Photo courtesy of Zoli Juhasz / Flickr

Boston Drink Spiking Ignites Fear Among Bar-goers

TW: Sexual assault

Most college students look forward to their twenty-first birthdays more than any other birthday—21 years marks the golden ticket out of off-campus parties (for the most part) and into Boston’s bars.

Recently, reports have circulated of people’s drinks being spiked at bars across Massachusetts. Both Boston Police and social media users are warning people to be careful while going out, following incidents in which bar-goers have unknowingly had GBH, Rohypnol, and Ketamine slipped into their drinks. 

Although getting roofied can happen to people of any gender, this has particularly frustrated many women, who already feel as if they must be hypervigilant when going out to avoid verbal or sexual harassment (or worse). 

Meegan Minahan, MCAS ‘22, tends to prefer smaller bars and always goes out with a group of girl friends, creating an environment in which she feels safe and comfortable. However, even with these preparations, it’s difficult to keep the possibility of the worst happening out of her mind. “We can’t go out and just enjoy ourselves,” she said. “There’s always an edge, like a flight instinct that you have to have when you’re at a bar.”

Melanie Hubbard, a Boston resident, noticed an influx of stories in a Facebook group she was part of from Bostonians who had experienced being roofied at a bar or restaurant. She was shocked at the lack of wider conversation about this seeming explosion of date rape drug incidents, so she posted a video on her TikTok account about it in mid-May. She started a separate Facebook group, "Booze in Boston", for people to share their stories, and within one month the group had over 3,500 members. 

“We need a place to discuss this,” Hubbard said. “People need a place to feel safe coming forward and saying ‘this happened to me at this restaurant.’”

While this large online forum is intended to provide a space for everyone to share their stories, maintaining members’ safety is one of the group’s top priorities. Hubbard and a couple of other women who moderate the group made the group private, instituted rules of no victim blaming, bullying, or hate speech, and immediately delete any posts or comments that do not abide by those rules. While the number and the content of these stories is saddening, these stories also provided a place for people to feel validated and supported.

“There's a lot of shame attached to [being drugged or assaulted],” Hubbard said. “There's a lot of guilt. There's a lot of fear of being judged. And I think knowing that it's happening on such a widespread level has allowed people to support each other and has allowed people to say, ‘You know what, I'm not the only one in the world this has happened to. This is happening to everybody. I'm not crazy because I accepted a drink from a guy at a bar.’”

It is unclear to everyone, from customers to bar managers to doctors, why there is an increase in spiked drinks. Some on social media have speculated that bartenders are responsible, but Mackenzie Dame, general manager at Lulu’s in Allston, finds that theory unlikely. “What motive could they possibly have?” she said in an email to The Gavel. “So long as you're drinking, they are making money so it seems silly for them to want to mess with their potential tips for the night.”

Hubbard thinks that eventually, it’s possible that people may want to go out to bars less often or drink minimally when they do go out. “I truly, truly think that the conscientious, aware consumer or patron that's going to bars is spending less money,” she said. “I think that it's truly going to begin to impact the business that these bars feel and see on the weekends.”

Minahan echoed this sentiment. “I might as well drink at home with my friends, where I know I’m safe,” she said. However, she thinks a wide-scale boycott is never going to happen. “People will always go out to bars in a college town.”

It seems that an alternative to swearing off bars, restaurants, and other venues is sticking to places that you feel comfortable and familiar with. “Support the places that you know genuinely care about your business at their establishments,” said Dame, “not the places that are here to make a quick buck off of your night out.

With a problem like spiked drinks, something that is difficult to recognize until it’s too late, a solid solution seems elusive. Some establishments are offering plastic lids for cups and other products to prevent drink spiking, while others are being hypervigilant in advising patrons to monitor their drinks. Tips from police largely include watching out for yourself and others and always keeping your drink in your hand, including when going to the bathroom. However, these quick-fix solutions place the brunt of the responsibility on the consumer—disregarding the greater need for law enforcement and bar managers to crack down on incidents of drink spiking.  

Amidst all the talk of what customers, bartenders and staff, businesses, and restaurant groups can do to remedy this increase in spiked drinks, Hubbard was reminded of why a solution is so necessary. “I would say that people aren't paying attention to the stories that are a lot harder to tell,” she said, “which are the stories of ‘I was drugged, I was raped, I was kidnapped.’” 

Many stories in the Facebook group start or end with something like ‘thank God my friend was there to help me,’ but some people who this has happened to were not so lucky. “That's, like, the sinister aspect that is unfortunately uncomfortable to address and to talk about but has to be addressed and talked about.” 

While the issue of drink-spiking is unlikely to go away any time soon, increased dialogue and advocacy can help generate attention to this growing problem. If you are interested in learning more about bar safety and how to tell if your drink has been manipulated, check out the resources below. 

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English and communication major. WZBC 90.3 FM DJ. Lover of the Midwest, reading, and attempting to be outdoorsy.