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Students to 'reclaim the night'.

Byline: By Robin Turner Western Mail

The fear of drink spiking and being attacked on a night out has become a major issue for female students in Wales.

And two young women vying to become Student Union Women's Officer at the University of Wales, Swansea both chose drink spiking and attacks on women to lead their election campaigns.

Earlier this month, thousands of female students from Newport to Bangor walked the streets as part of a 'Reclaim the Night' campaign.

The NUS-backed campaign calls for better lighting, more police and a crackdown on drink spiking.

Last year, Swansea was named as a hot spot for drinks being spiked with so-called date rape drugs such as the amnesiac sedative Rohypnol and GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate).

Mike McCabe, consultant in A&E at Swansea's Morriston Hospital said his staff were seeing as many as 10 victims of date rape drugs every weekend.

South Wales Police have been running a campaign targeting the practice including plain clothes officers backed up by warning posters, beer mats and leaflets.

At the University of Wales, Swansea this week, where elections of Student Union officials are taking place, the problem was put into stark focus.

Third year geography student Kelly McQueen and fellow undergraduate Bethan Thomas, already on the Student Union executive committee, cited drink spiking and attacks on women as major cause for concern.

Ms McQueen, who has her own university radio show, said, 'I am running for the position of Women's Officer because I am fed up with feeling unsafe as I walk home from university at night through Singleton Park.

'I think it unnecessary we should have to pay for a late night taxi home from town when a bus should be cheaper and safer.'

Ms McQueen is campaigning for greater awareness about the threat of drink spiking that young women face on a night out in Swansea.

She wants to establish a drop-in centre where any attacks can be discussed and she is also calling for a late night bus to transport students from the centre of Swansea back to halls of residence at the university.

Bethan Thomas is also campaigning on the problem of drink spiking and personal safety.

She said in her manifesto, 'I am campaigning against violence towards women and would like to provide information and support to those experiencing it.'

She also wants to challenge what she calls unrealistic body image stereotypes by establishing an 'all shapes and sizes campaign'.

From the two women's election campaign it is clear personal safety is a major issue on the seaside campus.

Last year, an unemployed Swansea man who pretended to be a professional soccer star was jailed for raping a woman after slipping a sedative into her drink at a club in the city centre.

He was cleared of carrying out a second very similar attack on another local woman.

Police in Swansea and Cardiff have carried out drug testing outside clubs specifically to look for substances such as GHB and Rohypnol.

But the Roofie Foundation, which offers a telephone counselling service for date rape victims, says the calls it receives from South Wales show the area has a major problem with drink spiking.

In 2002, Roofie Foundation chairman Graham Rhodes said 22 to 25 cases a week were being reported in the Swansea and Cardiff areas.

The foundation has praised South Wales Police for getting convictions in what is a difficult area for the CPS and for highlighting the problem with high-profile publicity campaigns.

Bethan Jenkins, campaigns officer at University of Wales, Aberystwyth, where a large Reclaim the Night march was held this month, said better lighting was definitely needed to improve safety.

She said, 'Areas around the Old College, Queen's Road, North Road and Laura Place really need it.'

Inspector Rob Mason who has responsibility for policing Aberystwyth's town centre said he is working with the local authority to improve lighting.

He said he welcomed the Reclaim the Night campaign as highlighting the need for better lighting.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 12, 2004
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