We tragically have become very familiar over recent decades of the need to consider fellow gay men as victims of various crimes.
So regular are these occurrences that we have developed a whole range of resources to enable us to respond with both compassion and intelligence.
One way or another, despite our shortcomings, we are able to be there for each other when faced with the suffering of our own.
In recent times, my work in the criminal justice system as confronted me with something new and troubling to the extent of it being deeply disturbing.
The number of gay men committing sexual crime appears to be increasing.
‘Each weekend gay and bisexual men are being sexually assaulted, raped and injured’
But these cases do not stand alone. There are many others that are not coming to the attention of the press. But my work within the probation and prison service tells a different story. Each weekend gay and bisexual men are being sexually assaulted, raped and injured.
The statistics across London indicate a significant year on year increase over a period of three years and it shows no sign of diminishing.
They 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 said they had been victims.
These crimes are being committed in saunas, chillouts, private parties and online with livestreams.
Other reported crimes being associated with the chemsex scene include; indecent exposure, blackmail, domestic violence and a whole range of violent offences. Occasionally we also see the downloading images of child abuse as part of chemsex cases too.
Victims of chemsex related crime, if able to come forward, are responded to by a number of agencies with compassion and professional expertise. But what about those that commit the offences? What is the response to those men? What should it be? And how do we begin to understand why they have behaved in such a way?
‘I do not condone any form of sexual crime’
Let me be clear: I do not condone any form of sexual crime.
Those that commit such crimes need to face the full consequences of justice. However, it is crucial to recognize that as well as punishment justice is also required to ensure treatment.
Without the latter there is every chance that an individual will offend again and continue to create more victims.
Punitive responses to men who commit sexual offences have proved time and time again that they only result in repeating the very dynamics that so often inform the development of sexually abusive behavior.
The sex crime element of sexual crime, when considering the perpetrator, is almost a red herring. It is a symptom of many other things that are the real causal factors including: powerlessness, distorted thinking, poor self-esteem, identity issues, unaddressed trauma, guilt, shame, loneliness and poor attachments.
Having worked with many hundreds of men who have committed sexual offences it is these factors that I hear repeatedly in their stories. These are the issues that have informed their criminal behavior and these are the issues that we need focus on in treatment.
‘They look like our friends and sometimes they are our friends’
In the coming months, you will hear case of case of chemsex-related sexual crime. You are bound to: it is happening and the indications are that it is increasing.
At some point, it is likely that you will know someone who has endured a victim experience and you may well hear of someone you know who has been arrested, investigated or convicted of committing a sexual crime.
It is essential that we start to recognize that those found guilty do not look like monsters. They do not look like ‘dirty old men’. They look like our friends and sometimes they are our friends. This issue provides for us a powerful opportunity: an opportunity to respond to these fellow gay and bi-sexual men in a different way.
Their behavior will make us angry and they need to know that. Equally, if they are not to be to held in a cycle of repeated abusive behavior, they need to know that concern, compassion and opportunities for healing is available to them as much as it is to their victims.
Unless we dig deep and accept that this is only way to stop the cycle of abuse, then we too will be part of maintaining the horrendous cycle of abuse and its further victims.
Sexual crime requires us all to take responsibility and sometimes responsibility feels very uncomfortable indeed.
Steve Morris is Lead for Chemsex Related Sexual Crime, London Division – Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service
This article is part of the Gay Star News Chemsex Series. Read more stories, support and see the videos on our chemsex section.