GMFA Consent: the unspoken problem on the chemsex scene Words by Justin Mahboubian-Jones |@Assassinstweed | ALSO READ: CONSENT AND THE GAY COMMUNITY “It’s hard because you totally blame yourself, you totally think that it’s your fault. You think that you shouldn’t have gone home with this guy, you shouldn’t have been in that club, you shouldn’t have taken something. It all seems valid in your own head but at the end of the day, it’s not your fault.” Simon, 33. According to the Office for National Statistics, around half a million people in England and Wales become survivors of sexual assault each year. Of this number, an estimated 12,000 are men who survive a rape or attempted rape. Stats that reveal the demographics of individual survivors are sparing, but it stands to reason that a significant proportion of this number are gay men. Our own survey seems to confirm this, with 30% of the 1,000+ respondents stating they have been a victim of sexual violence. It’s clear that the sexual abuse of gay men in the gay community is a very real problem, and yet survivors are all-too-often find it difficult or impossible to share their stories. Stigma surrounding assaults where gay men are the survivors is still common, but also the particular circumstances produced by gay culture and chemsex in 2017 can make coming forward even harder. It’s telling that no report has been commissioned into the exact amount of sexual violence suffered by gay men or LGBT+ people in the UK. We can’t know the full extent of violence that occurs, but according to London-based statistics, sexual assault on the chemsex scene in London is on the rise. Reports of sexual assault in a chemsex environment have doubled within the capital in three years from 29 in 2013/2014 to 65 in 2015/2016. This is a conversation that needs to be had, so we met up with several survivors so they could tell their stories publicly. Names and ages have been changed to protect the identity of our interviewees. Chems Chemsex and sex parties are one such place where the stigma surrounding sexual violence is most immediately obvious. We often go to spaces which are explicitly sex-focused to take drugs, have sex with multiple partners, and often meet an assortment of men as they come and go. 5% of our survey respondents said that consent does not apply in such an environment: once you’re in the door, you’re fair game. But everyone, no matter the amount of alcohol, G, mephedrone or tina they’ve taken, always retains the right to say no, change their mind, or simply leave. There is no way to waive your right to consent, and you don’t have to be screaming “stop”, for sex to quickly become sexual violence. Simon became a survivor after meeting a guy in a South London a few years ago. “He seemed really nice,” he told us. “and we went back to his flat after about 20 minutes of meeting each other. “He gave me crystal meth, he gave me a shit-tonne of what I later discovered was GHB, and I started going under. For about a day after that it’s hazy for me. I was in and out of consciousness the entire time but I know that we had sex at least twice and I know that there were other people invited into the room who also had sex with me while I wasn’t aware; I was out of it.” “He filmed the whole thing, so there’s a video of me out there somewhere. Then, two days later, I’m in a hospital bed in King’s Hospital, having to be resuscitated.” For Simon, one of the hardest parts in the aftermath was realising that he hadn’t consented to any of this, but hadn’t actually said no. “I remember being so scared,” he told us, “but never saying no. But of course it’s rape, this is a man who’s gone out of his way to take me back to his house and drug me, and bring his friends. This was an organised.” Clearly Simon was the target of a crime that was pre-meditated in some form, but passing out on G is an occurrence that some of us are familiar with, whether it’s happened to us, or happened to others while we watch. These people are no longer able to consent to sexual activity, full stop. As Simon rediscovered in another assault that occurred years later, there are those for whom barriers such as a partner passing out are not a problem. “In another incident,” he told us, “I went to a sex party about a year ago and went under on G. I woke up with a guy inside me, and everybody was just laughing.” Emotional effects David also experienced an assault in a chemsex scenario. “It started off as a basic Grindr hook-up: I invited someone over, he told us. “Then he said “do you want to get something to make it a little more interesting?” I said yes and we got some alcohol, some G and some MCAT.” “It all started off consensual, but I stupidly let him do the measuring of the G, which is something I’ve never done before and I’d certainly never do again. It got to the point where I was far more drugged up than I had wanted to be and I blacked out completely.” “When the ambulance came I sort of snapped to, so the ambulance drivers left and the guy wanted to carry on. I said to him “no, this has gone too far” and at that point he refused to leave and was dragging me back onto the bed and trying to fuck me even though I was saying “no, please stop.” “I’ve been to saunas tonnes of times, so I’m used to people being quite forward in their advances, but this was a most definite “no, no, stop”. I was being physically ignored and just dragged back into bed again. It was terrifying.” No one asks to become a survivor of sexual violence, nor is it their fault, but feelings of guilt, and shame, can ensue, and chemsex can add fuel to that fire. “Whenever I see ambulance drivers, I go straight back to it and it’s horrible, and what I’m really frightened of is that I will see the ambulance drivers that were there that night and that they’ll recognise me, and that they’ll know the state that I was in that night and what happened,” David told us. Simon was diagnosed with PTSD after his first assault, but was also left feeling like it was somehow his fault. “There was lots of guilt, you feel really guilty about it, which is weird because nobody ever says that. You feel guilty like you’ve fucked up, like you’ve done something wrong. I didn’t feel that angry.” “I refused to make friends, I refused to get close to people because I didn’t trust anyone. I didn’t have that many friends to begin with and the friends that I did have after that I pretty much just pushed away, so I was very much on my own in the city.” Talking about it Talking about experiences of sexual violence is never easy for the survivor, and when the assault involved chemsex, people can be more hesitant to talk. Our nocturnal lives are often clandestine, with the hook-ups and parties of the weekend remaining secret from other people in our lives, especially our straight friends and family. When an assault happens, this added secret can further compel survivors to remain silent and not talk about with their closest circle, even though talking about their experience can be a powerful tool for anyone who has been assaulted to begin moving forward. David’s experience of telling his partner of the time wasn’t easy. “When I talked to the person who I was actually dating at the time, he kind of made me feel very much like I got what I deserved, because I put myself in that dangerous situation. It was horrible to hear it from people I cared about as well.” James had a similar experience when telling one of the people who was at the club with him that night. “I told my friend”, he said. “She was one of the people who was at the club with me and she left early. She said “well it’s kind of your fault though ain’t it?” However, both Simon and David have also had positive experiences telling others as well. The day after his assault, David told his line manager at work, who was supportive and helped him seek assistance in the immediate aftermath. Simon, who continues to talk about his experiences openly with others, has some very clear advice: “I’m not blaming anybody for not knowing what to say, but I have a problem with silencing somebody who clearly wants to talk about it. If somebody wants to talk about it, and you’re their friend then you need to just shut up and listen.” Police Telling friends and family is just the first stage: for many, talking to the police is also filled with potential pitfalls. Only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence choose to report it to the police (Rape Crisis England and Wales). The figure for LGBT+ or chemsex-related assaults is unknown. A message which clearly shines through from our respondents, as well as our interviewees, is that survivors feel they can’t make reports to the police, particularly in situations where chems are involved. Simon chose not to report his ordeal because he believed they wouldn’t take his case seriously. “You can’t go to the police because you’re off your face”, he told us. “And depending on what you’ve taken - crystal meth for example - you can be high for fucking days. Then you feel like the police are going to blame you.” David also felt that the police would fail to take his assault seriously because he was taking chems at the time. “You see things like Stephen Port, the guy who was drugging and killing guys in London, and think “well, that was a dead body and they barely took it seriously”, If I go along and say this guy wouldn’t stop when I said no, after we’d been having sex for three hours, I don’t feel like they would have taken it seriously.” Survivors also express worried about what may happen after they have involved the authorities. “I was really frightened that if I reported it to police that if it ever got to the point that there was any kind of court case my work would find out that I’d been doing drugs and I would lose my job,” David told us. The relationship between the police and the gay community has often been tumultuous, but the police are making attempts to drive it’s relationship with the gay community forward. There are now dozens of Lesbian and Gay Liason Officers, across the country, as will as more comprehensive victim support. But there is still clearly a long way to go before survivors across the board, as well as those who have been experienced chemsex-related assaults, feel they can come forward. Help and support “If you go home with a man that you really fancy you can have been getting off with him all night and you decide that you don’t want to have sex with him, it’s your right to say no, you don’t have to,” advises Simon. Which is echoed by David: “If you’ve withdrawn consent, and they carry on, then that’s wrong and it doesn’t matter whether you said yes at the beginning or said yes during. If you’ve said no and they haven’t stopped and they’re not listening, then that’s wrong.” If you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, then there are people out there who can help. GALOP, the LGBT+ anti-violence charity, will listen to you, offer counselling, and can even help you report any crime against you, as well as advocate on your behalf. You can reach them on 0207 704 2040. You may also find it helpful to read the LGBT Foundation’s guidance for gay and bisexual men who have been affected by sexual assault, available as a PDF at https://lgbt.foundation/downloads/153 through their website at www.lgbt.foundation. Survivors UK can talk to you via their website at www.survivorsuk.org, by SMS on 020 33221860, or via Whatsapp on 07491816064. They can even provide assistance through an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor if you so choose.