Lee Suckling: Lifting the lid on sexual abuse in the gay community

Today we highlight an area of abuse that garners little attention, even in the gay community itself.
Photo / Thinkstock
Today we highlight an area of abuse that garners little attention, even in the gay community itself. Photo / Thinkstock

Just before Christmas 2010, I nabbed a media invite to the launch party of ParliOUT, the UK's first support group for LGBT people working in Parliament.

Bottles popped and Westminster's gay elite celebrated the workplace equality network that allowed the 22 gay MPs and dozens of other staffers to make themselves more visible within parliamentary walls.

Nigel Evans, MP, then deputy speaker, had come out as gay just days prior and was held in high regard amongst ParliOUT supporters. After the official engagement finished, several young gay men (myself included) ended up in Evans' private apartment within Parliament, and champagne flowed to no end. I left around 1AM, and have no idea how the party continued.

Two years later, Evans was arrested; accused of one count of rape, five sexual assaults, one attempted sexual assault, and two indecent assaults - all against younger men. One of the sexual assaults was alleged to have taken place between 2010 and 2011 - inclusive of the period in which ParliOUT was launched.

I spent much of the next year wondering if anything happened to those I left behind that night in Parliament. Earlier this month, however, Evans was acquitted for all charges, putting an end to the scandal in the eyes of the law.

On the political scene, Nigel Evans' case echoed here in New Zealand in 2011. Labour MP Darren Hughes resigned after police investigated a complaint "of a sexual nature" laid by an 18-year old male student - purportedly a Youth MP with political ambitions. Hughes was not charged with any offence.

Whether charges are upheld or not, such scandals bring to light an often unspoken, yet prevalent, issue in the gay community. Older gay men are able to abuse positions of power when they have something to offer younger men - whether that be career advancement, access to other people in high places, or even simply money and gifts. Indeed, the 16-24 year old age group is four times more likely to be sexually assaulted than any other age group, according to HELP, an Auckland-based sexual abuse support provider.

Alleged sexual abuse upon young gay men by older gay men doesn't just occur in parliamentary circles. Nor does this kind of abuse only happen to gay men; sexual abuse by those in powerful positions happens throughout our communities to women, men, and children. However, today we highlight an area of abuse that garners little attention, even in the gay community itself.

Confirmed by several sources, existent is a well-known gay New Zealander who invites young men - all of whom seek funding for projects, grants, or introductions to influential people - into his home, ply them with booze, and unapologetically makes sexual advances. Some of these young men, according to a source, are not even gay - they fall prey because of the "reward". Whether his guests take up the offer (or not) is up to them, but an individual's intoxication level will certainly blur the line between consensual, and non-consensual.

Even when consensual, such is undoubtedly an abuse of power. Throughout history, though, this has been an accepted factor of gay life. Gay men are supposed to help other gay men - just as, according to Madeleine Albright, women are supposed to help other women. Unfortunately, within the often hyper-sexualised environment that is the gay community, sexual advance is coupled with such "help", and can be seen as playful - often of a teasing or "boysie" nature, even when unwanted.

This, according to male sexual abuse specialist Dr Richard Gartner, is a key difference in the male perception of sexual abuse (as opposed to the female perception). "Unfortunately, in our society, victimhood is seen as the province of women and for men to acknowledge that they've been victimised to them is saying they aren't really 'men,'" he says. "And this is a very unfortunate part of masculine socialisation."

Moreover, young men often convince themselves, after the event, that they initiated the sexual situation with older men. "This is one way of feeling that they were in charge in an exploitative situation," Dr Gartner adds.

Domestic abuse charity Shine recognises sexual abuse against LGBT people as a silent problem. Those abused by someone of the same-sex "may worry that others will not take the abuse seriously", Shine explains, and a common feature unique to abuse within these scenarios is "saying that abuse is a heterosexual problem, so what is happening... couldn't possibly be abuse".

Two weeks ago, director Bryan Singer, of X-Men fame, was accused of the rape of a then-17-year-old actor who was, in 1999 when the alleged rape is said to have taken place, trying to break into the acting scene. Subsequently, a further three men have since been accused of participating, allegedly alongside Singer, in a supposed "Hollywood sex-abuse ring". Singer vehemently denies the allegations; and they seem suspiciously timely, given Singer's latest film, X-Men: Days of Future Past, premieres next month.

No matter Singer's outcome, the progression of this lawsuit should inspire young gay men who've otherwise been silent about sexual abuse to reconsider the times in which the consensual/non-consensual boundary hasn't been clear with an older man.
Only in opening this conversation in the gay community, can we begin to talk about a part of our culture that is frankly unacceptable - yet somehow, even in egalitarian 2014, is still permissible.

If you, or someone you know, is a victim of sexual abuse, help is readily available. Contact Shine (www.2shine.org.nz) on 09 815 4601 or HELP (http://helpauckland.org.nz) on 09 623 1700.

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