OPINION: The LGBT+ community needs to question chemsex culture in light of the Sinaga trial

Monday, 13 January 2020 14:21 GMT

A combination of still images used in evidence in convicting Reynhard Sinaga, (L to R) CCTV image, alcohol bottles in Sinaga's flat, sleeping area in Sinaga's flat, are seen in this undated handout photo released on January 6, 2020. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) via REUTERS

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The trial of Reynhard Sinaga has thrown up uncomfortable questions for the LGBT community about just how common sexual abuse is at gay chemsex parties

Ash Kotak is a playwright and film-maker and leads the #AIDSMemoryUK Campaign to establish a national tribute to HIV and AIDS in Britain

To most people, the story of serial rapist Reynhard Sinaga, the worst case in British history, will be shocking.

He was convicted, over four separate trials, for 159 sex offences including 136 rapes against 48 men. But what is equally shocking for many gay men, is that GHB – known as the date rape drug – is once again international news.

British gay serial rapist and murderer Stephen Port, aka The Grindr Killer, used the same drug to murder four young men in London before he was caught and imprisoned in 2016.

The vast majority of 36-year-old, Indonesian-born Sinaga’s victims, who number more than 190 over a 10-year period, were predominantly straight and the GHB – also known as G on the gay party scene – was administered without their knowledge and the attacks were often filmed on his mobile phone.

Most of Sinaga’s victims, under the influence of G had no idea that they had been raped or sexually assaulted until contacted by the police. Yet the sheer number of victims, and the fact that Sinaga’s behaviour raised no suspicions amongst his LGBT+ friends, poses a question about whether sexual abuse has almost become normalised within gay culture, particularly at Chemsex parties. According to Survivors UK, “an estimated 12,000 men are raped in the UK every year, and more than 70,000 are sexually abused or assaulted”.

Chemsex – or groups of gay or bisexual men meeting for sex whilst under the influence of specific drugs – has become an accepted part of gay culture. Often it is consensual but the abuse that some experience whilst high or by some men who are high is rarely spoken of. There is something very disturbing about just how common this experience has become.

As an out gay man living in London, I am no longer surprised when a friend or a stranger tells me they have been raped. I have heard similar stories in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Paris, Berlin, Madrid and Mumbai. What shocks me each time is how casually it is spoken about. Few report it, saying they do not think there is any point: they were drunk, they were high; the police will only cause trouble.

I myself had a similar experience. I was raped at a time when I had severe mental health issues and had been diagnosed with severe complex depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. I was deliberately drugged unconscious or to a point where I had no awareness of being present and raped by a gang of men.

It was not until I received counselling and reported the rape to the police, five years later, that I felt I was able to move forward. 

In Britain, a number of cases of rape and murder by gay men on gay men when high are due in court in 2020. Chemsex culture is finally going on trial.

As gay men, we need to be more aware of our own actions and of how people around us are being treated. Of course, drugs, drink, loneliness, mental health all play their part, but they do not excuse serious crime.

In my own case, there is little chance of any conviction, but I am channelling my experiences into my work as a playwright, hoping to raise more awareness of these very pressing issues, something the probation service and the police both agree is desperately needed.