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Artist: Roshan Nausad Petch, Melbourne

How & Where It Occurs

We know that sexual violence happens in a range of different settings, ways, and times in the lives of those within our community. We know that sexual violence is vastly underreported – generally speaking and within LGBTQ+ community groups – and that those who perpetrate sexual assault can be anyone from anywhere.

There is no commonality across offender groups, aside from a lack of empathy for the victim. There is no commonality across offender’s culture, age, socio-economic status, location, religion, group, profession, or employment status. Mainstream society talks a lot about “gender-based violence”, and this framework may not look like it applies to us because of how we identify and with whom we have relationships.

Sexual violence can happen at both public and private gatherings, at the victim’s house or the perpetrator’s house, in institutions, workplaces, cars, or on the street. It can also happen within families or groups of friends and other social circles. 96% of victims are known to the offender and stranger rape is the most uncommon sexual assault scenario, occurring in just 4% of rape reports (CASA Forum, 2018).

Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) Use

It is very well researched that there is a correlation between drug and alcohol use and sexual assault. Using drugs and alcohol may mean that a perpetrator’s violence can escalate and become more violent. We also know that when someone is intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, or when they are dependent on alcohol and/or drugs, they are more vulnerable to violence.

This can be because:

  • They are more likely to be targeted
  • Drugs and alcohol may be used to further silence them
  • They will be less likely to seek help if they have a drug or alcohol dependency
  • Their evidence or ability to recall details may be jeopardised

The use of drugs and alcohol can form a significant barrier to disclosing sexual assault or seeking help for the impacts of sexual violence. In all jurisdictions in Australia, the law recognises that consent cannot be given in circumstances where sexual violence is “caused by the effect of intoxicating liquor, a drug or an anaesthetic”.

The law recognises that intoxication through drugs and alcohol diminishes a person’s capacity to give consent freely. For this reason, the law aims to protect the victim, recognising uneven power relations in circumstances where sexual violence has occurred and drugs and/or alcohol are present.

Despite many myths about drugs used within date rape crimes, alcohol remains the most common drug used to facilitate ‘date rape.’ Sexual assault services have long recognised that drugs and alcohol are a weapon used to render the victim powerless to resist sexual assault. Due to high levels of deliberate intoxication, victims are powerless to legally consent to sexual activity.

Part of the impact for the victim is the confusion about who, when, and where. If they do not remember, the powerlessness already resulting from being sexually assaulted can be compounded, and the lingering impact remains within the unknown of what has occurred. In order for any person to recover from any type of trauma, we need to be able to make sense of it first. This can be very tough on the victim if they do not know the detail of what they are attempting to make sense of, or who the offender or offenders were. People impacted by this type of sexual assault can feel very confused as they are unsure of the details around what happened.

Accessing support from sexual assault services can help navigate this confusion. Despite the difficulties in drug testing, medical support is still encouraged.

It’s important to note that regardless of circumstance, all professionals assisting victims of sexual violence practice non-judgment and should never make someone feel shameful or at risk for the situation surrounding the abuse. They will not report you to the police for drug use and are experienced in working with people who have taken all variety of substances.

Rohypnol (“roofy” or a “rohy”) is a commonly used drug in drugged and assaulted reports, as both alcohol and Rohypnol metabolise very quickly in people’s bodies. Reports of rape where drugs and/or alcohol are involved remains a difficult subject for the criminal justice system. This is partially because the use of drugs and alcohol to facilitate rape can render the victim with confusion and patchy memories that relate to the assault, meaning the detail around facts are very difficult to prosecute within the current system.

“Party and Play” (PnP)

This is sex between men (predominantly) that occurs under the influence of drugs (usually Crystal Meth and GHB/GBL) taken immediately before or during sex. It usually occurs in private homes, is associated with group sex, sexual longevity and high partner turnover, and can commonly involve sex in exchange for drugs. “Party and Play”, also known as “PnP” or “Chemsex” is associated with more intense sexual activities, often group sex, usually organised through sexual networking apps.

Although sex in these environments are, for the most part, consensual and non-violent, these are still circumstances where sexual assault and rape can occur, due to the anonymity of participants, the use of stimulants and the fact that some participants use the sexual nature as an excuse not to respect consent.

People who are assaulted during PnP often won’t report it to police or seek help due to a fear of legal repercussions for the drug use and a fear that professionals will blame or shame them for where and how the assault happened.

Sex in Public and Semi-Public Places

Sex on Premise Venues (SOPVs) are commercial operations where men specifically go to have sex with each other. Negotiating sex at an SOPV is predominantly a silent interaction, with ‘small talk’ often discouraged. This can make negotiating consent difficult. There is a code of conduct in most SOPVs and often consent is listed, but how this is enforced is uncertain and may vary from business to business.

Other forms of semi-public sex venues are ‘swingers clubs,’ ‘play parties’ or ‘sex parties’ which are frequented across all genders and sexualities and are either held in private homes or commercial premises like clubs and bars that may run regular or semi-regular sex nights.

A “beat” is a term used to refer to a known designated particular public location where men go to have sex with each other. Beats are most commonly in parks, beaches, car parks and public toilets.  Some research has shown that a considerable proportion of men who frequent beats do not identify as gay. Historically there has been many instances of violence and even murders occurring at these sites. Again, the anonymity of sexual activity at beats can mean that people are vulnerable to assault, and due to the location of the assault many men are reluctant to come forward about the abuse they have suffered.

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Parties, clubs and “the scene”

These are places where LGBTQ+ communities pride themselves on a culture of sex positivity, which has been a reaction to wider societies shaming of their sexual practices. This notion of “sex positivity” sometimes get blurred with an idea that people can do what they want to others sexually. The Sorting It Out Research showed that the use of alcohol and other drugs emerged as a risk factor for abusive relationships, and some men seemed conflicted about whether alcohol and drugs excused violence. In addition, many men reported witnessing violence at bars and clubs. Reporting abuse in these spaces may be more difficult due to the potential use of drugs and because these spaces are thought of as safe spaces for our communities. Many people are hesitant to risk reporting abuse in case these places get investigated or closed down by law enforcement.

Kink/BDSM

Although the BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism) scenes pride themselves on consent as a number one practice, very occasionally people have been known to abuse their role as a sadist and have taken negotiated acts of abuse too far, causing harm to someone else. On established kink scenes, these acts of abuse are usually dealt with by the community, some abusers  use the excuse of “I thought this was what we agreed on/part of our role play” or by saying that consent in these spaces is unclear and/or confusing. For more information on consent in BDSM read this blog.

Smartphone/hook-up/dating apps

These apps are now the most popular way for LGBTQ+ people to find both sexual and romantic partners. While texting allows people the space and ability to negotiate sex before they meet, the anonymity that can come with apps poses a greater threat. There have been reports of men in particular inviting other men over sex, and then being raped, robbed and beaten.

Identity-Based Abuse

Identity-based abuse is the use of someone’s identity and personal characteristics against them as an excuse and a weapon to humiliate, degrade, manipulate and control them. For our community, this can often be homo/trans/bi phobias (both internal and external) being enacted through sexual violence. Some examples of this include:

  • Forcing a trans or gender diverse person into sexual acts with parts of their body that don’t align with their gender.
  • Sexually humiliating someone, saying they have to prove they are a “real” man or woman.
  • Threatening to share or actually publicly sharing naked pictures of a trans person to shame them about their body or to ‘out’ them.
  • Using someone’s online profile without their knowledge to share explicit photos or arranging for a stranger to show up at their house for casual sex without them knowing.
  • Forcing a bisexual person into sex to “prove” or “fix” their sexuality.
  • Forcing a gay man to have anal sex or group sex saying “all gay men have sex like this”.
  • Forcing sex toys or objects into someone saying “this is how queer people have sex”.

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Child Sexual Assault

It needs to be made clear that child sexual assault is not causal and does not explain someone’s gender identity or sexuality (e.g., ‘they are only gay because they were abused as a child”). However,  LGBTQ+ children are more likely to be vulnerable to abuse, confused about sexuality and sex, already socially isolated or have complicated relationships with their family than non-LGBTQ+ children, which leads them to be targeted by perpetrators. Additionally, perpetrators may be able to tap into the shame that LGBTQ+ children could already be facing by telling their victims that they “wanted” or “enjoyed” the abuse or that they were just showing them how to have gay sex.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey (ABS, 2016), one in six women (16% or 1.5 million) and one in ten men (11% or 991,600) aged 18 years and over experienced abuse before the age of 15 (please note that the ABS only collects data through binary gender indicators ‘men’ and ‘women’). In total, the ABS estimates that approximately 1,410,100 people living in Australia experienced sexual abuse before the age of 15. Greater than half of these respondents (58%) report being sexually abused for the first time before the age of 10 years.

Child sexual assault includes many acts of a sexual nature against children, as children are not legally able to consent to sex in Australia. Child sexual assault/abuse includes child pornography, trafficking of children, children being forced to “marry” adults, sibling sexual assault and sexual assault by family members or those in other positions of power. This includes teachers, coaches, health professionals and other trusted adults.

Most child sexual assault is perpetrated by someone known or trusted by the victim and/or the family. Child sexual assault often happens within families, schools, community groups or institutions.

On average, women/girls speak up about their abuse about 12 years from when it stopped. For men/boys who were abused, the average is 30 years.

Child Pornography and Child Abuse Material Laws

The laws across Australia address the issue of non-consensual distribution of naked images through the internet, social media, apps and text messages. Many laws, including child pornography laws, are now known as Child Exploitation or Child Abuse Material Law, where young people are involved. For more information go to the Australian Institute of Criminology website.

Corrective Rape

“Corrective rape” is a term used to describe the situation in which someone, usually a woman, is raped because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or gender expression.

The intended consequence of the rape is that the person will be “turned” heterosexual or cisgender through the act of rape. Sometimes the rape is considered more of a punishment for being sexuality or gender non-conforming as opposed to a belief that they will be “cured” – which of course is not true! Often the rapist is a family member or family friend recruited by the family.

Forced Marriage

Forced marriage is where one or both people do not consent to the marriage, or when agree due to threats or pressure. An LGBTQ+ person may be forced into marriage in order to “fix” them, or so that they do not bring shame and dishonour to their family. As sex is often considered to be an inevitable part of marriage, the sex that occurs within this marriage is often forced as well.

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Intimate Partner Sexual Violence

Sexual assault can and does occur in intimate relationships. Sexual assault can occur in the context of broader domestic violence within a relationship where physical, financial, and/or emotional abuse occurs.

Sexual violence can also occur without other forms of violence, except for emotional abuse. We do not believe that sexual violence can occur without emotional abuse because sexual assault is the abuse of power and is likely to cause emotional and psychological suffering.

Tech-Facilitated Sexual Abuse

Social media, dating apps and online dating sites are all places where many diverse community members meet each other, including ours. For the most part, people meet for sex, dates, friendships, conversation and relationships.

Part of our sex positive culture is that we exercise these freedoms to seek out others wanting the same type of encounters, sex, or relationships. The most important aspect of this is the ability for us to seek each other out freely and with consent.

Since we know sexual assault is an abuse of power, it is important to remain focused on the issue of consent. In our current time of the electronic age, navigating safety in this context remains an enormous challenge.

Sexual assault is never the fault of the victim, and it is difficult to talk about how people can protect themselves against sexual assault, as we risk victim blaming in the event safety planning does not prevent assault or abuse.

Whilst we know that the responsibility for sexual violence is on the perpetrator and never the survivor, we have created a list of things you can do to feel safer and/or more confident navigating sex in online spaces, especially those you have not tried before.

Things to think about when navigating sex and dating via technology:

  • Let friends/housemates know where you are going.
  • Make sure your phone is charged and you have enough money or a way to get yourself home.
  • Chat for a while so you can get to know the person a bit before meeting up with them
  • Meet in a safe public space first.
  • Talk about what you are planning to do with the person you meet BEFORE you meet them.
  • If you are trans or gender diverse, think about how and when you might want to disclose what your body looks like, if this is going to be a part of the sex or dating you want to have, and when it might be safe to do so.
  • Trust your gut – if something doesn’t feel right, go with that! Our gut feelings are our inbuilt warning systems designed to try and tell us something is wrong. You may feel that way because you have had a bad experience in the past, you are just not sure, the person reminds you of someone else, or you just can’t tell. Regardless, you can tell is that something doesn’t feel quite right. It is okay to trust this feeling and remove yourself from the situation. You may never know exactly why you felt it, but it is always better to be safe than sorry.

The rapid increase in the use of social media and technology in our lives has made great improvements in how we manage our day-to-day activities. There is no doubt many things are improved and made more efficient by our constant access to apps and media on our mobile phones and other devices. With the rapid evolution of technology, there is also opportunity for abuse to occur. This means we have to consider safety of our devices and our personal safety relating to the use of these devices.

There have been many reports of technology used to threaten, coerce and intimidate people. Whether this occurs through text, social media sites or the internet more broadly, when it relates to sexual violence it is against the law.

The law specifically states in all jurisdictions that consent is not able to be given in situations where sexual violence is caused by:

  • A threat to inflict violence or force on the person, or on a third party who is present or close to the victim
  • The use of extortion against the person or another person
  • A threat to publicly humiliate, disgrace, or to mentally harass the person or another person
  • A mistaken belief as to the identity of the other person
  • A fraudulent misrepresentation of any fact made by the other person, or by a third person to the knowledge of the other person

The factors listed above mean that many aspects of how abuse occurs through the use of technology are addressed. This includes threatening to distribute naked or erotic pictures without consent.

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