The number of chemsex-linked sexual assaults in London has doubled in three years, GSN can exclusively reveal today.
Our investigation can also reveal sex offenders are deliberately targeting vulnerable gay men at chillouts.
Chemsex is using drugs for sex in ‘high and horny’ scenarios and often in ‘party and play’ group sex.
We also know:
- Many victims of sexual assault in chemsex environments are not reporting the incidents
- Chemsex parties are opening up a new vehicle for targetted sexual assault and grooming on a ‘naive gay male community’
- Live streams of chemsex parties are sexualizing and allowing people to ‘get off’ on sexual crimes
- Imagery of child abuse is being played in some chemsex environments
Writing for Gay Star News as part of our series of articles looking at LGBTI communities’ relationship between sex and drugs, Stephen Morris, the lead for chemsex-related sexual crime in London’s Prison and Probation Service made these comments:
‘The statistics across London indicate a significant year-on-year increase over a period of three years. It shows no sign of diminishing.’
Morris’ figures show 29 people reported sex assault in a chemsex environment in 2013-2014. This went up to 41 the following year. And in 2015-2016, 65 people reported they had been victims.
The average victim age was 31, with the majority falling in between the 25-34 age bracket. However, they ranged in total from between 16 and 61.
These statistics show a more than two-fold rise in just three years.
Men are being raped while unconscious
Alarmingly, Morris says this rise is just the tip of the iceberg.
‘Worried about their drug use, people are not going to the police. But they will speak to Galop.’
Galop is the LGBT+ anti-violence charity helping victims of hate crime, sexual violence or domestic abuse.
‘What [the victims] are telling Galop is really worrying accounts of sexual assault, nasty ones – including rape. Often where the victims are unconscious.’
Morris told GSN he expects the number of sexual assaults in chemsex to keep rising as we start to understand more about a community of mostly gay and bi men using drugs for sex.
‘All the sexual health clinics I consulted with, without fail, said they had people disclosing sexual assaults. But people will not report them to the police.
‘So we know it is happening to a greater degree than is being reported… We’re at the beginning of the process and that all not forgetting the complicated relationship gay men have with the law anyway.’
Galop told GSN, ‘We have been working with gay bi and trans men who experience sexual assault in a chemsex context for a number of years.
‘Whatever has happened to you, it helps to get independent specialist support to think through options and make informed choices, especially where there is a chemsex context.’
See more support from Galop’s Chemsex support sheet.
Credit: 5 Guys Chillin’
Sex offenders are getting more organized
Another alarming trend Morris highlights is how some sex offenders are now beginning to target chemsex chillouts and venues.
Morris tells GSN: ‘Chemsex parties are opening up a new vehicle and route for sexual assault on a naive gay male community.’
He says that sex offenders do all sorts of creative things to ‘commission’ and hide their sexual crimes: ‘So if they get off on sexual assaults or have a fantasy of shagging someone who is unconscious. And then they hear about chemsex – they will go there. It’s set up for them – which is really scary.
‘Whether it’s people who are already involved in chemsex that are seeing it as a green light. Or people who would already commit a sexual offense anyway; they are seeing this as a great opportunity. There is an element which shows targeted and planned grooming is taking place now.’
This marks a shift in the accounts Morris was previously hearing. Until now, people involved in chemsex sexual assaults – both perpetrator and victim – were likely to be high. This blurred the concept of consent. Increasingly, Morris says those committing offenses are more aware and organized.
Chemsex environments are creating blurred lines of consent
‘Initially, I recognized that [the gay men appearing in the system] didn’t fit the typical profile of your generic person that commits a sexual offense. It appears they didn’t target or groom their victim. In other words, it was situational: “We were all off our face together” or “someone did this to me last week so I can do this to them now.” There was no thinking or recognition that what they were doing was a sexual offense.’
But beyond that Morris was particularly worries about the lack of recognition or acknowledgment of what consent even is from the gay men he sees in the prison and probation system.
‘They’d say things like “I couldn’t say no, that’s what we were all there for.”’
In the UK, consent is defined by section 74 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. It states that consent (vaginal, anal or oral) is penetration only when someone agrees to it. However, it crucially stipulates this is only true when the person giving consent has ‘freedom and capacity to make that choice.’
This gives those investigating chemsex assaults a difficult job. As with many high profile rape cases where alcohol is a factor, this becomes more complex when you introduce chems to the situation.
Alexander Morgan, Chief Executive of the charity Stay Brave UK tells GSN:
‘Sexual assault during these gatherings is more common than people think and there’s a toxic belief by those who witness it that it’s okay. There is nothing wrong with attending a chillout and having harmless fun. But not when rape is happening.
‘As a survivor of sexual assault myself, I can say first hand how almost life ruining assault can be’
Sexual assault to order
As well as these assaults taking place in person, the rise of live streaming has created yet another challenge.
Morris says: ‘Another worrying element that we’re only just hearing about is live streaming’s impact. You will get guys who will voluntarily set up live streams. But equally, you will get guys brought into situations where the live streaming will be happening and people may not be told.
‘Those viewing can request what they want to see. If someone starts on a low dosage of chems and that increases to a point where they become unconscious? That’s when very extreme things are being filmed.
‘That certainly wasn’t being seen or known about 12 months ago.’
Morris says this means people are sexualizing, and getting off on, sexual crimes.
He adds: ‘You can have people requesting sexual crimes to order, paying for it and watching it. That’s the picture at the moment.’
Images of child abuse are being shown at chillouts
Porn is often playing on screens in a chemsex environments. And Morris says he knows of cases where images of child abuse have been shown at chillouts.
‘Something we do occasionally get reports of is images of child abuse being screened at private parties.
‘We have a lot of sexual offenders in prison where their means of offending is through the internet, downloading or trading illegal images (making images). That is a very prominent part of chemsex crimes.
However, it’s unclear how widespread this is. Morris highlights how easily people can criminalize themselves with actions relating to indecent images of children when drugs are part of the story.
‘There have be been instances of when people use other peoples computers at parties, to download illegal images. This puts the computer owner at risk of prosecution.
‘It’s very difficult to prove that wasn’t you who downloaded the child abuse images.’
Credit: 5 Guys Chillin’
Why are so few men reporting sexual assault?
The reason for the underreporting of these kinds of serious sexual assaults, many of which include rape, are complex.
A big deterrent for victims is the worry they may be criminalized themselves for the drug use.
Since the arrest and conviction of ‘Grindr serial killer’ Stephen Port in 2016, Morris says the Met Police have been ‘incredibly proactive’ in training officers to recognize chemsex situations.
They have begun to use London’s network of safe houses for victims of sexual assault in chemsex crimes. These are un-institutionalized and less threatening settings in which to talk to the authorities. They allow non-uniformed forensic health practitioners to gather evidence.
‘If you are a victim of chemsex crime, the police are now trying to take you to one of these suites. The disclosure rate since then has gone up.’
However, the police remain in a difficult position. They can ignore the drug use and just focus on the sexual assault, but in practice, this is not always the case.
‘Some [police] would ignore the [sex assault] victim aspect and go for the criminal [drugs] aspect,’ Morris says.
The Crown Prosecution Service has the same dilemma. Morris says some victims of sexual crime may find themselves as a witness against the abuser. But also on trial themselves, in a separate drugs case.
Chemsex assaults are going to keep rising
Morris’ new role at the Prison and Probation service was created in the wake of high profile chemsex cases. Both ‘Grindr serial killer’ Stephen Port and ‘Breaking Bad’ murderer Stefano Brizzi were cases he consulted directly on.
They sparked an investigation into how many cases on Morris’s books might too be linked to chemsex use.
He’s only been in this new post for a few months but has been working to combat sexual offenses for the last few years.
During this time, he’s seen a rapid rise in the number of gay and bi men coming to groups for sexual offenders. New members join these groups monthly. He sees more and more gay and bi men are among them.
‘When I look back 21 years ago to when I started, it was rare to have a gay man in prison or probation, they were few and far between. So to suddenly see a more prominent number was surprising, and speaking to colleagues across the country. They too are seeing a similar anecdotal rise.’
And chemsex appears to be spreading beyond gay and bi men.
Morris says: ‘The police I speak to are also picking up early evidence that it has spread into the heterosexual scene. There are also cases in the pan fetish community too.’
Again, this appears to be a new development in the last couple of years.
The London Prison and Probation service is now gathering evidence to identify how widespread chemsex is within its caseloads.
Read Stephen Morris’s opinion piece on Gay Star News:
This article is part of the Gay Star News Chemsex Series. Read more stories, support and see the videos on our chemsex section.