by Ben Kaye, YP and families recovery worker, Chemsex and LGBTQ+ lead for We Are With You - Bournemouth

This blog focusses on Chemsex and Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence, helping to hopefully lift the lid on the once taboo subject...'

A sexual assault is any sexual act that a person did not consent to, or is forced into against their will - this means they didn't agree to it. It is a form of sexual violence and includes rape (an assault involving penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth), or other sexual offences, such as groping, forced kissing, child sexual abuse, or the torture of a person in a sexual manner.

… and this can affect anyone, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender or how a person identifies.

OVERVIEW

  • You cannot freely consent if you feel pressured or threatened.
  • You cannot freely consent if you are asleep or ‘too’ drunk or high to understand the consequences—a common Chemsex scenario.
  • Consent can be verbal and implied. Your body language can say ‘no’ just as clearly as saying the word ‘no’. If the person is unsure of your wishes, they should ask.
  • Consent can be withdrawn, as soon as you say stop, all sexual acts should stop. So in a Chemsex or other setting, anyone can change their mind at any time and this needs to be adhered to immediately.
  • You cannot give consent if you are under the age of 16 (regardless of gender, sexual orientation or relationship to the perpetrator), and sexual activity under the age of 13 is illegal under any circumstances. Gay dating apps are seeing an increase in under age males pretending to be older to attract older men, and in some cases offering sex in exchange for cash.

CONDITIONAL CONSENT

If a condition of your consent was not met, e.g. you consented to sex with a condom and the condom was removed or unused without your knowledge, this can also be considered sexual assault. This is sometimes referred to as ‘stealthing’ and can be a prosecutable offence regardless of sexual identity or orientation.

Rape is a type of sexual assault that is defined as a person putting their penis in someone else’s mouth, anus or vagina without their consent. Sexual assault and rape are serious crimes. The maximum prison sentence for rape and sexual assault is life imprisonment. Crimes often go unreported within the LGBTQ+ community, including Chemsex scenarios due to shame, guilt and embarrassment. Many blame themselves for ending up in a dangerous situation but a survivor is never to blame, regardless of the circumstances. Sexual violence is a crime that can affect all sections of society; women, girls, boys and men as well as people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer or intersex (LGBTQ+) and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.

On average, one in four women and one in ten men are sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Perpetrators of sexual assault can be family members, friends, partners, acquaintances or a stranger, the latter isn’t uncommon within a Chemsex setting. Again, the responsibility of sexual assault always lies with the perpetrator and  is never the fault of a survivor.

MALE SURVIVORS

There are some misconceptions about sexual assault of men that can make it more difficult for male survivors—and become an obstacle to accessing support. Any man can be abused or assaulted regardless of physical attributions such as size, strength or appearance, including his sexual orientation. A perpetrator can be of any sexual identity of orientation. Sexual assault is about violence, anger, power and control over another person and can never be justified or excused by lust, desire or sexual attraction. In addition, having an erection and or ejaculation during a sexual assault is involuntary and does not equate to enjoyment or consent. 

LGBTQ+ SURVIVORS

Sexual assault affects all communities, including LGBTQ+ people. Research suggests that people who are lesbian, gay,  bisexual or trans are exposed to sexual violence at a higher rate than other groups. However, homophobia can prevent people who are LGBTQ+ from speaking about a sexual assault as they can be faced with  judgemental or prejudiced responses when they, for instance, try to report an offense.

Remember, it’s within your right to request to speak with a professional LGBTQ+ lead when reporting a crime or visiting a support service.

CHEMSEX

Chemsex is a term used to describe the use of any combination of drugs that include Crystal Methamphetamine, Mephedrone as well as GHB or GBL by men when engaging in sexually ‘adventurous’ sex, including changing partners throughout the session. GHB and GBL is taken orally, whilst Mephedrone and Crystal Methamphetamine can be taken orally, anally, snorted or intravenously. Given the substances involved, Chemsex situations can be problematic regarding issues like consent—especially considering the ability to give consent whilst under the influence. It is important to remember, if someone is asleep, unconscious, or so ‘out of it’ that they cannot make a decision for themselves, then they cannot consent. If someone has sex with you while you’re unable to consent, this can be a prosecutable offence and you should report it. As mentioned previously, sexual abuse survivors involved in Chemsex might fear a judgemental response if they talk about what happened or may be worried that they will be charged with possession, which is why many crimes go unreported.  Remember, it’s unlikely that the police will press charges for drug use when you are reporting a sexual crime.

Sexual violence affects survivors in different ways. It depends on what happened, when and where it happened, actions taken after the incident and, importantly, the reactions and understanding of people around you, including law enforcement and other professionals. It can, understandably, have an extremely serious impact on a person’s health and well being but, with the right support, many survivors can fully recover from the experience. The short and long-term effects can be physical and emotional, such as physical pain and injury as well as feelings of fear, anger, sadness, shame, embarrassment and mistrust. Mental health conditions and other symptoms of trauma are also normal. Rape and sexual assault might also result in STIs.

Anyone can be raped, sexually assaulted or sexually abused—and it’s more common amongst males than you might think:

  • Around three per cent to 13 per cent of boys have experienced sexual abuse as children
  • Recent crime statistics estimate that around a quarter of survivors of ‘other sexual crimes’ (such as indecent exposure, making someone watch images and online sexual abuse) are male and these situations can take place in a Chemsex setting when inhibitions are lowered and participants are under the influence.
  • Around six per cent of victims of rape and attempted rape, and around 13 per cent of victims of sexual assault are male. Two per cent of men in Scotland have been raped many men never report what has happened to the police (fewer than one in five)  so recorded crimes are only a small percentage of actual occurrence rates.

The vast majority (90-95 per cent) of perpetrators (regardless of the gender of the survivor) identify as male and as straight.

If you are a survivor of sexual violence, it has happened because of the abuser—you are never to blame. It is an act of sexual violence and it’s not your fault. 

HOW SEXUAL VIOLENCE CAN AFFECT MEN

If you experience sexual violence, it can challenge your whole world view: decades of believing the world works in a certain way, just to find out it doesn’t. As a result, you may feel anxious, frightened, angry, exhausted, confused, ashamed, isolated, depressed—or even suicidal. These feelings can be made worse by trying to hide what’s happening from others; believing you are to blame, not accessing professional help and support, or thinking you are powerless. Feelings like these are normal and you are not alone in experiencing them. You may have been powerless because of their control over you, for example if you were a child at the time; or if they were threatening you in some way, for example to ‘out’ you. 

Men often speak about experiencing different emotions and/or behaving differently after the abuse such as:

  • Damaging things or causing harm to themselves
  • Taking their anger out on others
  • Increased substance misuse, including high-risk use such as using alone
  • How they think other people view them
  • Concerns about their sexual orientation (that the abuse ‘made’ them gay or that it happened because they are gay) 

Don’t forget, your reaction is a natural response to the trauma of sexual violence. There are other ways of coping such as trauma therapy with STARS, which in time can help you come to terms, in your own way, with what happened and help you move beyond it.

For anyone involved in Chemsex looking for advice on how to stay safe, this information from With You may help;

https://www.wearewithyou.org.uk/help-and-advice/advice-you/chemsex/

https://www.wearewithyou.org.uk/help-and-advice/advice-you/chemsex-how-stay-safer/

For those who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community and would like free online, confidential substance use and alcohol support, please book yourself in to speak with an LGBTQ+ specialist here: https://calendly.com/webchat/specialist-session?month=2022-02