By Hugo Greenhalgh
LONDON, Sept 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A popular party drug is being used to rape comatose gay and bisexual men at "chemsex" parties, their assaults then streamed online, according to a British documentary that airs on Sunday.
A joint investigation by BuzzFeed News and Channel 4 Dispatches found that GHB, a drug used to heighten sexual pleasure, is regularly used to "sexually assault gay men" with footage of the rape broadcast live on the dark web.
The documentary was partly based on a survey of 2,700 gay and bisexual men in Britain conducted earlier this year.
It said more than one in four of the men surveyed reported being sexually assaulted after taking the drug, which rose in popularity on the gay club scene at the turn of the century.
"The scale of drugging and sexual assault and rape in our survey cannot be ignored," said Patrick Strudwick, LGBT editor at BuzzFeed News, who reported the findings for the documentary, "Sex, Drugs and Murder: Channel 4 Dispatches".
"The fact that is being weaponised by rapists and murders should be of high alarm to the police and the government," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
The show shines a spotlight on chemsex parties, where gay and bisexual men gather to take drugs and have sex.
Fuelled by drugs, including GHB and crystal meth, parties can last for days, with lessened inhibitions leading to concerns over the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Gatherings proliferated as GHB and crystal meth became more available; possession of either is illegal under British law.
"Chemsex is a lifestyle choice and the Met does not condone the taking of illegal drugs," a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police said in an emailed statement.
"Nevertheless, we are aware that people do take part in these activities and urge them to follow sensible personal safety advice ... such as being aware of what you are consuming and how much, especially with new partners or groups."
Strudwick said he first investigated GHB and sexual assault during the trial of Stephen Port, a serial killer convicted in 2016 of the rape and murder of four gay men.
Port was sentenced to a whole life order – meaning he will never be released – for the crimes, as well as administering GHB with the intent to commit a sexual assault.
Of the 2,700 men who responded to the documentary survey, half said they had passed out after taking GHB; 93% said they knew of someone who had done so.
Adrian Hyyrylainen-Trett, a member of the LGBT advisory group to Britain's Metropolitan Police, said that he had become comatose "10-12 times" after taking the drug.
He said he was "pretty sure" he had been sexually assaulted under the influence of GHB, but had no proof.
"That is why Stephen Port got away with what he did for so long," Hyyrylainen-Trett said.
According to data collected for the documentary through Freedom of Information requests, four British hospitals alone saw almost 700 cases involving GHB in the year to November 2018.
If the figures were replicated across Britain, this could mean as many as 17,000 people are admitted to hospital a year as a result of taking the drug, the programme said.
According to the Office for National Statistics, about 20 people a year in England and Wales die from drug-related deaths involving GHB, most male.
"That is probably a very large under-estimate and the reason for that is when there's a death, there's not always the toxicology done," said Owen Boden-Jones, founder of London-based Club Drug Clinic, which helps people with addiction issues. (Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)