While those offences took place before the lockdown, trials are also being “lined up” for chemsex-related cases that occurred since then, according to Morris. “Some cases have been referred to court over the last three weeks,” he said.
Chemsex usually refers to gay/bi men who have sex under the influence of key drugs such as crystal meth, mephedrone, and GHB or GBL, but can include other drugs and people from different genders and sexual orientations.
While most involved do not commit offences other than possession of proscribed substances, a minority have been associated with a wide range of crimes from rape, murder, assault, and drugging to theft, dealing and organised crime.
Davis and Unwin, from the Rape and Harmful Practices Partnership Team, are now working alongside a range of criminal justice, health, victims services, and LGBT organisations under the banner of Project Sagamore — a new operation, reported by BuzzFeed News earlier this year, to manage harm caused by chemsex. They said they want to initiate a “sensible conversation” about risk reduction because since lockdown, the landscape has changed.
The driving forces behind it have, too. According to Morris, who established the prison and probation service’s guidelines for working with chemsex offenders, “the motivating factors for people to get involved in chemsex — things like loneliness, isolation, boredom, sexual needs, risk-taking — all those things in the current context are really heightened”.
As a result, the probation officers who work with existing offenders of chemsex-related crimes were immediately on alert. “Almost overnight we were very aware that the men we work with — either who had done really well or who were ongoing cause for concern — were vulnerable to reoffending; that the risk was heightened very quickly.”
Even in normal times, he said, some people have an urge to take risks. “For many people crime is a need for excitement, people will get off on the risk-taking involved; and in relation to chemsex the use of extremes, which can be sexualised and can be made more powerful as a form of escapism — that all comes together.”
Add lockdown to that, where no one is supposed to leave their house, and “that’s a very potent mix. If there’s a need for risk-taking and extreme behaviours, what that can lead to is offending”.