Sexual violence in GBT relationships

Men in GBT relationships may experience sexual abuse, sometimes linked to power dynamics and substance misuse. Consultant Luke Martin shines a light on issues and responses.

Figures from the Men’s Advice Line show that men in same sex relationships are more likely to disclose experiences of sexual violence and abuse within intimate relationships. It is unclear as to whether this is because men in same sex relationships are more likely to experience sexual abuse, or because they feel more comfortable talking about it.

To some extent we see men in same sex relationships experiencing sexual abuse in a similar way to that experienced by heterosexual women. Men might experience unwanted touching, sexual assault or rape within their intimate relationships. What we might also see is more experimental or risky behaviour. Whilst working as an Idva and Isva I supported men whose partners encouraged them to access a sex scene that they did not feel comfortable with. This may have been sex at saunas, chemsex parties or encouraging or initiating threesomes or group sex. As with much abusive behaviour, victims often engaged with the request to appease the perpetrator and manage the risk of harm to themselves.

Gay and bisexual victims might be encouraged to use party drugs, or may have chosen to use substances of their own volition. This may have also formed part of a grooming process that we might see with an older perpetrator and often younger, more vulnerable victim. Drugs such as ketamine, G (GHB), mephedrone and crystal meth are being used, inducing a euphoria and reducing inhibitions to such an extent that the user might have little idea who they are having sex with, let alone if it were safe. Perpetrators might introduce the use of these substances in the intimacy of their own homes, on a one on one basis with their partner then might encourage the victim to access these substances for free through chemsex parties.

Of concern is that when substances are used, a sexual assault or rape may take place and the victim not know. Substance use might also stop victims feeling able to disclose sexual assault or rape; there are many societal myths and victim blaming attitudes associated with victims being under the influence of drink or drugs. This is only compounded when the assailant was an intimate partner as it doesn’t fit the ‘image’ of who perpetrates sexual offences.

Historically HIV status has been used as a form of abuse, including disclosing someone’s HIV status. In 2017 the case of R v Rowe saw a young man purposely infecting other gay men with HIV, some of whom identified as being in a relationship with Rowe. However, with the increase in access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) we are progressing in managing the transmission of HIV – although we might see withholding medication as a form of abuse.

We might see the use of experiential power in same sex relationships. This might be more prevalent in first relationships but could be used at any point. Experiential power is the use of experience to dictate how something should be. Somebody who has been out as a gay or bisexual man has more involvement within the LGBT scene or a wider network of LGBT friends, and might use that experience to set the rules of the relationship. When we explore this in the context of sexual abuse this might include introducing third parties in to the relationship, encouraging unprotected sex  or introducing sexual practices that the victim might not feel comfortable with.

Across the board our education system is failing young people in teaching them what healthy relationships look like. For those areas that are doing this well, it predominantly focuses on heterosexual relationships. Young LGBT people, as with all young people, are increasingly looking to porn to educate themselves on what their relationships should look like, and we know that this is not healthy. Gay porn often shows sex taking place between several people, modelled on a dominant and subservient relationship which impacts on young G, B and T people’s experiences of healthy sexual relationships.

As well as education on healthy and unhealthy relationships, it is vital that we increase routine questioning around domestic and sexual abuse. More and more sexual health clinics are carrying out routine questioning as are many health departments. However, professionals can feel ill-equipped in dealing with these kinds of disclosures. It is at this point that additional training might be required. Local authorities as well as local domestic and sexual abuse services might offer training in up-skilling workers to support such disclosures.

About Luke

Luke Martin is a consultant primarily focusing on working with male and LGBT victims of domestic abuse. Luke worked as an Independent Domestic and Sexual Violence Advisor (Idsva) for eight years. He has also worked extensively for and with Respect, including on the national helpline for male victims of abuse, The Men’s Advice Line. Luke currently trains on SafeLives’ Idva accreditation course, DA Matters (a change programme for police responders) and Respect’s ‘Working with Male Victims’ training programme. Luke has consulted for organisations such as SurvivorsUK, the national male rape and sexual violence service and worked on campaigns such as the Home Office’s ‘This is Abuse’ campaign.

If you’re a man experiencing domestic abuse, you can call the Men’s Advice Line on 0808 081 0327.

Galop run the national helpline for LGBT+ people experiencing domestic abuse: 0800 999 5428

You may also be interested in

A group of four boys walking away down a street

Men and boys

Research on young men and boys’ experiences of abuse, views on masculinity and understanding of healthy relationships.