A year ago this week ‘Grindr serial killer’ Stephen Port was found guilty of four cruel murders.
Now, London’s Metropolitan Police’s Detective Chief Inspector in charge all sexual offense cases admits the force has ‘made mistakes’ with victims in chemsex rape attacks, Gay Star News can reveal.
The police’s historically difficult legacy with the LGBTI community was brought to the forefront again during the Port case.
The London LGBTI community felt opportunities to prevent the murder of the young vulnerable gay victims were missed.
The court trying Port heard how he used ‘G’ or GHB, one of the so-called ‘holy trinity’ of chemsex drugs, on his young, vulnerable victims.
He would lure them in, drug, rape and murder them.
The Met Police has had to move fast to learn from the Port case. And now they are attempting to repair confidence in the LGBTI community.
Gay Star News sat down for an extensive conversation with senior Met officers following our two-week Chemsex series. The series explores in detail how gay and bi men all over the world are using drugs as a part of their sex lives.
We spoke with Detective Chief Inspector Jim Foley and the sexual offenses officer Richard Unwin, himself gay. During the interview, they admit the force has made mistakes when it comes to gay chemsex rape victims.
They admit the Met knew little about chemsex. But in a sign the force has come a long way, Foley also elaborates on cases where he believes the supplying of drugs, should not be criminalized.
‘We’ve made mistakes’
As the Detective Chief Inspector for the Met Police’s Sexual Offences, Exploitation and Child Abuse Command, Foley says his primary focus is to put the victims of sexual assault first.
But despite working with rape victims for over five years, he only came across the word chemsex after the Stephen Port murders.
‘I remember being asked, “what do you know about chemsex?” And I said, “Not very much.”‘
And as for what the organization knew about chemsex? ‘Probably less than me.’
Eventually GALOP, the LGBT+ anti-violence charity, defined chemsex for him. As soon as that happened, he describes himself as having an eye-opening moment, realising just how many chemsex cases he had already dealt with.
And that’s when the Met’s investigation into how they should be dealing with chemsex cases began.
Throughout the interview, Foley is very clear he is unable to talk directly about the ‘tragic’ Port case. But, he does follow each of my questions about the serial killer with a clear answer about what the Met has been doing since.
Following the murders, the Met began by working out how they were already responding to chemsex incidents.
‘There is anecdotal evidence of people turning up at police stations, saying they are a victim of rape in a chemsex scenario. Then because they have said about drugs the officer threatens them with arrest if they continue to make the allegation. At which point the victims left.’
Foley is very clear this is all anecdotal. However, we know from our own investigations that this does happen – gay rape victims leave police stations fearing arrest for drugs offenses.
When we put this to Foley, he accepts:
‘Clearly, we’ve made mistakes.’
Can the Met Police pass the ‘2am test?’
After these mistakes became clear, a force-wide training scheme was put in place.
LGBTI organizations including GALOP and drug service Antidote led the training. Foley says all officers should now be able to pass what he calls the ‘2am test.’
‘It all boils down to this. If someone comes to a police station at 2am in the morning saying, “I’ve been raped” – does that officer know what to do?’
In the interview, we are also joined by the gay sexual offenses investigative techniques (SOIT) officer, Richard Unwin.
He explains that if you go to a police station to report a rape in London, the counter staff should now only ask ‘the basics, the who, what, when and where.’
Because that should be enough to determine if it’s either a chemsex or sexual assault-related case. At that point, you should be referred to an officer like him – a SOIT officer.
They created this policy precisely to avoid vulnerable rape and sexual assault victims from being turned away, fearing arrest for drug consumption or supply.
Throughout the interview, the officers describe the process of what might happen if you did report a rape that happened when you were high at the time. The process has numerous complications. And for many, there are barriers to even reporting in the first place.
‘Don’t criminalize rape victims who were high at the time’
Currently, though you can report a rape if you were high at the time, you can get arrested for the drug supply involved.
I put to the officers, what the many chemsex experts I have been speaking to over the last three months say. If Foley and Unwin want victims to come forward, isn’t the risk of arrest just too much of a barrier?
They agree. Indeed Foley goes one step further. He tells us how working with partners he hopes to change ‘what that looks like.’
He stresses he can’t give details. But he does give an example. What if a rapist was targeting people who were also supplying him with drugs on a ‘small-scale’, ‘party’ or ‘social’ basis?
‘If I have someone who has been a victim of rape, and as part of their disclosure they admit to giving a small amount of G to their partner. Is it in the public interest to criminalize that rape victim and effectively let a predator go?’
In his opinion, he does not think that victim should be criminalized.
‘If we’re talking about running the risk of losing that victim and the opportunity to get the perpetrator of rape? Compared to cautioning someone for small-scale social supply? That is not in the public interest.’
However, that is just one officer’s view. And he does say that he would still want to arrest someone involved with more serious drugs. So though Foley tells us to ‘watch this space’, a huge barrier still remains to drug users reporting sexual assault.
What has the Met learned about gay and bi men using drugs for sex?
Alongside Gay Star News, Met police have been speaking with others about chemsex and sexual assaults since Port.
They’ve been reaching out to community partners to learn and grow their understanding. Because as Foley says: ‘What I learned, is that there is a lot going on, that we are not aware of.’
Every officer should now, at a minimum, have easy access to a chemsex fact sheet. It helps frontline police understand issues about consent, early evidence gathering and even the drugs used in chemsex environments.
They also understand that chemsex cases go beyond sexual assaults.
Unwin talks about his awareness of robbery, blackmail, and grooming too.
The GSN chemsex series reported that targeted attacks, child pornography and sexual assaults have doubled in chemsex environments the last three years. Reflecting on this, Foley only expects the figures to get worse before it gets better.
‘A rise in the chemsex related offenses being identified is a good thing. Because then we might start to get a true indication of what’s going on.’
In the last two months, the Met has begun flagging cases as ‘chemsex’ related. This means we’ll soon start to get a feel of just how many the force is having to deal with.
Scotland Yard has come a long way. London’s police are starting to have a basic understanding of gay and bi men’s use of drugs for sex. But they still have much further to go.
Just as LGBTI community needs to reconcile how we support gay and bi men who are using drugs as part of their sex lives, the Met Police has to work out how they can continue to grow their response to the expanding world of chemsex.
Looking for support?
If you want more information about rape, sexual assault or any of the issues in this article; you may want to try some of these organizations:
- Galop – LGBT anti-violence charity
- Survivors UK
- Survivors Manchester
- Antidote – LGBT health and wellbeing
Globally we have also compiled a list of LGBTI friendly organizations you may wish to seek help from.