Alex Face-Brice was 18 years old when he was raped by a stranger at a party.
He had recently turned gay and moved from his small town to Manchester to study.
“I think that was the second time I went to a gay bar or pub. A friend and I ran into people who invited us to a house party. I was desperately naive and wanted to make friends and be open with people. I said yes, but at the last minute my friend changed his mind.”
Alex was taken to a house where he believed he had been drugged.
“The man who owned the house poured me a drink and I started feeling sleepy. He took me into the bedroom and shortly thereafter went up there and raped me. I felt like I was pinned to the bed.”
The next day, “the survival instinct kicked in.” Alex agreed to give him a ride to the university and tried to hide what had happened.
“I actually thought rape wasn’t something that happened to men, so maybe that’s not what happened to me. I was programmed to think it happens to women, and because of that it was much harder for me to deal with what happened or report it to the police because I didn’t think they would believe me,” he says.
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Alex is now the executive director of Survivors UK, a charity that supports men, boys and non-binary people who have been raped, sexually assaulted or abused.
Although women are the most common victims of sexual assault, according to the Crime Survey of England and Wales, in the year to March 2020, one in 100 men experienced some form of sexual assault or attempted assault.
Last year, Reinhard Sinaga, “the most prolific rapist in British legal history,” was found guilty of luring 48 men from clubs in Manchester to his apartment near the bar where Alex was approached. Sinaga drugged and assaulted the men, videotaping the attacks.
Survivors UK research suggests that gay and bisexual men are more likely to be sexually assaulted than men in general.
In a survey of 505 gay and bisexual men, 47 percent said they had experienced sexual assault, with more than a third saying they could not talk to anyone about what happened.
It’s important to recognize that most sexual assault “happens within our sex lives,” Alex says.
“We don’t want to feed the homophobic stereotype that gays and bisexuals are more promiscuous or predatory, but we want to be mindful of gay spaces where people have consensual sex but where boundaries are pushed – gay bars, saunas, chemsex. It’s a difficult but important part of the study to [capture this] without stigmatizing specific sexual practices.”
Only one in seven respondents to last August’s survey reported incidents of sexual violence to police. Of those who reported, about a quarter did not believe or felt their report was not taken seriously.
“It’s about consent. Chemical sex, for example, or any sex that is not heteronormative or accepted – like sex with more than one partner – can be extremely stigmatizing,” Alex says. “So if someone is sexually assaulted in these circumstances, they are less likely to go to the police.”
Galop, a charity dedicated to fighting LGBT+ hate, also supports survivors of sexual violence or abuse.
“Gay and bi men often don’t see themselves and their experiences in the way sexual violence is talked about, and there are very few appropriate support services to help them,” says executive director Leni Morris.
“We know from our research that many people never go to the police at all, leaving them to deal with what happened to them without professional support. We need to make sure that the public perception of sexual violence reaches all victims, and that every victim of sexual violence can get the support they need.”
Lee [not his real name] was 15 years old when he was admitted to the hospital after self-harming while trying to accept his sexuality.
There, he was sexually abused by a male counselor for more than a year, an experience he said led to years of trauma.
“For ten years that experience crept into other levels of my functioning. Sexual assault or abuse was considered the norm, and I didn’t take very good care of myself.
“I needed to get away from myself, but the cure was chaos, and I created another problem for myself by abusing drugs and sex to deal with deep-seated discomfort and anxiety to deal with what I was feeling.”
When he eventually sought support, he, too, didn’t know whether to consider what had happened to him to be sexual abuse.
“I may have mistakenly viewed his actions as non-violent – he didn’t hit me or kick me, he didn’t rape me, and it implied some kind of permission on my part to continue.”