By Stephen Morris, London Division lead for ChemSex related crime, Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been in prison and probation over the last thirty years. I’ve also lost count of the number of times my gay brothers have asked me if I’ve ever seen guy’s having sex in prison? The look of disappointment when I answer ‘no’ always make me feel I’ve destroyed their hottest fantasy. I guess the reason I have never seen anyone having sex in prison is because it’s the place where I work… sorry! and the guys have far too much dignity and need for privacy to include me in any action they have. I gave up on that fantasy years ago. I don’t think much sex goes on in UK prisons actually, but there is a load of sex going on that ends up with guys being sent to prison and it’s these guys that I get to work with most days.
Working with guys who have committed sex crimes is not something I usually tell people, and certainly not Uber drivers. The reactions tend to be extreme; either I get viewed as something of a saintly hero or more often, I get looks that imply I must be as pervy as those I work with, neither judgement is true! But that’s what happens when we hear about sexual offending, it touches on some of our deepest and most strongly held opinions. For many years, I was protected from my own feelings of disgust and anger as I used me being gay to distance myself. For decades, the highest percentage of sex offenders in prison were almost exclusively straight and I arrogantly used that to justify my view that this was a ‘straights’ problem. But in recent years that has all changed and its changed in a way that is deeply disturbing, very messy and overwhelmingly tragic.
I started recognising an increase of gay guys coming into prison and probation about six years ago. Their offences included; blackmail, domestic violence, GBH, ABH, robbery, public disorder, possession and supply. At first I didn’t notice that they had anything in common apart from being gay, but clearly something different was happening. Then, about a year ago, I noticed a similar increase of gay men coming into the criminal justice system having committed a range of different offences, this time all sexual including; sexual assault, rape, outraging public decency (flashing), viewing images of child abuse and of cases of manslaughter and sexual murder. Clearly all serious offences with serious consequences. You would be aware of some of these cases yourself, they are what we call ‘high profile cases’ i.e. they hit the front page of the press, but many cases are not deemed dramatic enough to hit the front pages. The drama for the media is of course fleeting but for those involved be it a non-sexual or sexual offence, the drama continues to be played out over years with many lives being wrecked.
The cases you may remember are the now infamous Stephen Port murders and the case of Stefano Brizzi. It was these very sad cases that opened my eyes to the common feature linking all these other crimes, that link being chemsex. Could it be that despite those awesome rushes, hours of intensity, head like a 48-hour non-stop porno, edging as good as cumming and that feeling of life being more than fucking great, something very different was happening? It didn’t take me long to confirm that this was indeed the case.
We are, right now, seeing the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of chemsex related sexual crime and it’s a very dark picture. Each weekend and throughout each week, people are reporting things being done to them against their will. They are telling us that things have been done to them and that they did not feel able to say ‘No’ and, that things are being done to them and they were unable to say ‘No’ because they were unconscious. Some are also telling us that they have continued to do things to another guy even when he said ‘No’ simply because they were there and that really means they must want it. Some guys are also telling us that it must be ok for them to do it because someone previously did to them despite them saying ‘No’. It is in this context where chillouts, private parTy’s and saunas all become scenes of serious crime, with all the devastating consequences we all witness on a regular basis when we tune into: CSI, Twin Peaks Line of Duty, Unforgotten.
But it is the facts, not the TV drama’s, that start to reveal the extent of the issue. Over the last three years there has been a year on year increase of chemsex related sexual crime being reported to the Police. The Met alone have investigated almost 300 cases, given the relatively small number of guys engaged in chemsex this is a very high number. It is also without doubt an under reported issue. Very few guys are willing to report their experiences due to the fear of being prosecuted themselves for drug related offences. I know from listening to victim and perpetrators that at the heart of all sexual crime is silence, sexual crime thrives on the silence of victims. Silence buys crucial time for those committing the crime to get the hell out of the situation or to gain further control of their victim via blackmail. The approach of the Police is crucial in changing this dynamic and change is much needed.
I have spoken to hundreds of guys serving time for sexual crimes that they have intentionally set out to commit. They have targeted, groomed and when the time was right carried out their plan and at some point, its resulted in them getting nicked. An experienced sex offender knows only too well that moment will come and they expect it. The gay guys I am now meeting who have been nicked and are doing time as a consequence of chemsex are not your seasoned sex offender and appear to be very different. Many of them are hot, highly intelligent, friendly and now sober, are totally traumatised by what they have done. At the time of offending many of them did not even realise that what they were doing was considered to be a serious sexual offence and they certainly were unaware of the consequences. Their thinking at the time was as simple as; ‘we are all here, we are all flying and we can all do what we want to do’. Consent, responsibility, care, concern and awareness of the consequences are not part of that thinking in that moment. By the time I meet them, their suspended intelligent thinking has returned. They are haunted by images and memories of what they have done. Banged up for almost 24 hours each day they have plenty of time to remember.
It’s equally scary also to recognise that there are also a growing number of guys who are purposely seeking out chemsex settings in order to abuse and to commit sexual crimes. Some of those crimes are being cammed on Zoom and other sites. Profiles on apps and hook-up sites are increasingly indicating that individuals are up for sexual crime. If a profile is using terms such as; twisted, perv, taboo – be scared, be very scared.
There are those that also need to be scared of the consequences of their behaviour and some may be reading this, so let me be totally in your face on this one. If you, without being invited to, touch a tasty butt in a club or, if you rape someone whose unconscious, in the eyes of the Court, exactly the same outcome can and will apply. The outcome can include: a prison sentence, a community sentence, being on the sex offender register for many years, having the likes of me monitoring your phone and laptop, telling your friends, lovers, family and employers about your offence or leaving it to me to tell them, not being able to leave the UK without permission, only living at an address approved by the likes of me, attending weekly appointments with me, being in a weekly treatment group for up to two years with me, having to comply to curfew hours, not being able to go within a mile of exclusion zones which may include Vauxhall and Soho, being allocated your very own personal Police officer who will visit you regularly and without asking you first… I think that’s about all. I’m a great guy and I would be lovely to you, but believe me you would not want to see me so often.
At the heart of chemsex sexual crime are three issues that we all can struggle with. One is vulnerability, one is responsibility and one is compassion. These issues have the ability to fuck with our heads as each in their own way are powerful and can be disturbing. They take us out of our comfort zone and we are all hard wired to seek comfort no matter what. I was motivated to speak out about this issue as I am seeing increasing numbers of my gay brothers hurting, being broken and their lovers and families being torn apart. All I ask is that, right now, as a community we start to recognise that this is happening. We start to be courageous in being able to name our own vulnerabilities and speak out about them. That individually we start to think about our responsibility to each other and crucially we start of develop a massive amount of compassion firstly for ourselves, then for each other and… even for those that are committing these crimes. That is a fucking big ask, but it is the only way both victims and perpetrators can heal and not repeat experiences of vulnerability, abuse or exploitation.
Steve Morris works within SOTU at Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service and is the London Division lead for chemsex related crime.