Alex Feis-Bryce was 18 when he was raped by a stranger at a party.
He had recently come out as gay, and moved from his small town to Manchester to study.
“I think it was the second time I ever went to a gay bar or pub. My friend and I bumped into some people who invited us to a house party. I was desperately naïve and wanted to make friends and be open with people. I agreed but my friend changed his mind at the last minute.”
Alex was driven to the property where he believes he was drugged.
“The person who owned the house poured me a drink and I started to feel drowsy. He took me to a bedroom and not long after that he came up there and raped me. I felt like I was pinned to the bed.”
The next day “survival instinct kicked in”. Alex accepted a lift back to university from the man and tried to bury what had happened.
“I actually thought rape isn’t something which happens to men, so maybe it wasn’t something that happened to me. I was programmed to think that it happens to women, and that made it much more difficult to process or report to police because I didn’t think I’d be believed,” he says.
Alex is now chief executive of Survivors UK, a charity offering support to men, boys and non-binary people who have been raped, sexually assaulted or abused.
While victims of sexual violence are far more likely to be female, the Crime Survey for England and Wales estimates that one in 100 men experienced some form of sexual assault or attempted assault, in the year to March 2020.
Last year, Reynhard Sinaga – “the most prolific rapist in British legal history” – was found guilty of luring 48 men from outside Manchester clubs to his flat, not far from the bar where Alex was approached. Sinaga drugged and assaulted the men – filming the attacks.
Survivors UK’s research suggests that gay and bisexual men may be more likely to experience sexual assault than the male population as a whole.
In their poll of 505 gay and bisexual men, 47% said they had experienced sexual assault, with over a third of those saying they felt they could not speak to anyone about what had happened.
It’s important to acknowledge that most sexual assault “happens within the sex lives we have,” Alex says.
“We don’t want to feed into the homophobic stereotype that gay and bisexual men are more promiscuous or are predatory, but we want to be mindful of queer spaces where people have consensual sex, but where boundaries are pushed – gay bars, saunas, chemsex. That’s the challenging but important part of the research, [to record that] without stigmatising specific sexual practices.”
Only one in seven respondents in their survey, carried out last August, had reported an incident of sexual assault to the police. Of those who did, about a quarter felt disbelieved or felt that their complaint was not taken seriously.
“It’s about consent. Chemsex, for example, or any sex that isn’t heteronormative or mainstream – sex with more than one partner [for example] can be extremely stigmatised,” Alex says. “So if someone experiences sexual violence in circumstances like that they will be less likely to speak to police.”
LGBT+ anti-abuse charity Galop also supports people who have experienced sexual abuse or violence
“Gay and bi men often don’t see themselves or their experiences represented in the way sexual violence is talked about, and there are very few appropriate support services available to help them,” chief cxecutive Leni Morris says.
“From our research we know that many will never come forward at all, leaving them to deal with what’s happened to them without professional support. We must make sure the public narrative around sexual assault includes all victims, and that every survivor of sexual violence is able to access the support they need.”
Lee [not his real name] was 15 when he was admitted to hospital after self-harming while struggling to accept his sexuality.
There he was sexually abused by a male counsellor for more than a year – an experience he says led to many years of trauma.
“For a good decade that experience permeated other levels of my functioning. Sexual assault or violence felt normalised and I didn’t take care of myself very well.
“I needed to escape my head but the cure became chaos and I created another problem for myself, misusing drugs and sex to deal with deep-rooted discomfort and unease to deal with the way I felt.”
When he eventually asked for support, he too did not know if what had happened to him constituted sexual assault.
“I maybe wrongly saw what he did to me as non-violent – he didn’t punch me or kick me, he didn’t rape me and that inferred some permission from me to continue.”