This is Part 4 of a BuzzFeed News investigation.
Gay men are being drugged without their knowledge using GHB put into lubricant in order to rape and sexually assault them, BuzzFeed News and Channel 4’s Dispatches can reveal.
In a documentary to be broadcast on Sunday night, Stephen Morris, who runs the only specialist unit in the Prison and Probation Service for offenders who commit crimes amid chemsex situations, warns: “One of the most recent developments is that GHB can be administered within lubricant.”
The criminal technique involves drugging victims by injecting the mixture anally, causing the chemical to be absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream, therefore triggering a more immediate or heightened effect.
Morris’s warning comes in a BuzzFeed News–Dispatches documentary called Sex, Drugs and Murder, which reveals how GHB is being weaponised by rapists and murderers, and maps the abuse, addiction, and deaths it has caused among gay men.
One victim, who responded to a survey conducted for the documentary, said he had been unknowingly overdosed on the drug through lubricant and later was sent photographs of the two men raping him. His account was one of dozens of survey respondents’ who also reported being drugged with GHB through lubricant.
The method is particularly being used on gay and bisexual men and often in chemsex situations — where crystal meth, GHB, and mephedrone might already be present — and has prompted LGBT health charities to highlight the serious health risks it poses as well as the numerous crimes it can enable.
The unique danger of GHB and GBL, which turns into GHB in the body, is how easy they are to overdose on: Just half a millilitre too much can cause death, and when mixed with alcohol, the danger is even higher.
From his knowledge of recent cases in the London area, Morris explained that the lubricant–GHB mixture can be “easily disguised and hidden, and people may not know” either that they are being given the drug or in what amount. That mixture could then be put into a syringe and injected anally or “would be used in the body in the way that you would use lubricant to facilitate sexual behaviour in penetration”.
GHB is often referred to in the media as a “date rape” drug, but in reference to it being slipped into people’s drinks, and usually relating to female victims.
Morris’s warning, however, coincided with the results of the largest-ever survey of gay and bisexual men’s experiences of GHB and GBL, the two almost identical drugs usually referred to simply as “G”.
The effect of this drug, like crystal meth, can increase the chances of an offence, said Morris. “One of the key elements of these substances is that it encourages really disinhibited behaviour. So behaviour that perhaps you would not do if you weren’t under the influence [of] these substances.”
However, he said, other perpetrators commit crimes purposefully, with premeditation. “You then have a group of men … that are seeking out the context of the chemsex situation, in order to commission a serious offence, and they will take time in planning, and grooming, and commissioning their offence.”
The method of applying GHB anally, or through lubricant, first emerged in the case of serial killer Stephen Port, who was convicted in 2016 of raping and killing four young gay men with GHB. But the technique also featured in the trial earlier this year of Port’s drug dealer, Gerald Matovu, and Matovu's accomplice, Brandon Dunbar.
Court papers revealed that one of their 12 victims, Eric Michels, who later died from GHB intoxication, had “drugs injected into his anus without his consent”. Police collected an empty 3-mL syringe with a nozzle rather than a needle on the floor by the bed where Michels’ body was found.
Another of their victims, who did not die, heard Matovu instruct Dunbar to inject him without his consent while he was lying face down, after which he “recalls a burning sensation as the liquid entered his anus, following which he became confused and his vision blurred”. He then lost consciousness.
One respondent to the anonymous survey, whom we will call Zack, described his initial introduction to GHB and how it was later used to commit sexual violence against him.
“I used to work in one of London’s big LGBT nightclubs,” he said. “I started to use it with friends while clubbing, and then one night I was invited to a house party.” He now realises that he was lured there “primarily to be used sexually”.
But this proved to be just the beginning, he said. “On more than one occasion, I have been sexually abused on G. I thought that was the thing that happened when you put yourself in that position. I took it as just the negative side effect of getting high, and thought that if I said anything about it, no one would believe me because I’d taken the drug either voluntarily or openly.”
However, he explained, this was not always the case. “The times I know it was introduced into my system via lube was because I went under [unconscious] without having taken anything and still felt those effects. I was then sent photos on a gay dating app of me being fucked by two men I didn’t know.”
He has kept it secret since then. “This is the first time I’ve ever admitted this because I’m too ashamed of letting myself get in that situation … I would never dream of letting people know.”
The impact of the crimes has been profound and long-term, he said. “Now I don’t trust many people. I have a major problem when I’ve dated new people because I feel like trash. Sex doesn’t have the same appeal as it once did. And if I do have sex, I have to get blind drunk to be able to have it happen. I cannot face being naked and sober with someone.”
This has left him contemplating using drugs such as GHB again in order to overcome this.
“Sometimes I think maybe if I do drugs again, sex will again be ‘exciting’ because I know that’s what a lot of twentysomethings are doing,” he said. “Even though I know people who have died [from GHB], I still think about doing it because I feel like that’s probably the only way I can enjoy sex again.”
The practice of administering drugs anally is itself not new. Both medication and prohibited substances have for decades been taken as suppositories. In the context of chemsex, however, it is chiefly crystal meth (also known as T or Tina) that has been known to be sometimes taken anally — mixed with water and dispensed through needleless syringes — and referred to as “booty bumps”.
The practice of mixing G with lubricant, however, has prompted surprise and concern among sexual health organisations, in part because of the localised damage it could do to the rectal area because GBL, in particular, is an industrial cleaner for alloy wheels and so is highly toxic and abrasive.
“GHB/GBL can irritate the skin or the mucous membrane which lines the anus and rectum, so application in lube could increase the risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted infection,” said Monty Moncrieff, the CEO of London Friend, an LGBT health charity. Hepatitis C infection, for example, is a particular risk if syringes are being used anally by more than one person.
Worse, said Moncrieff, was that “The effects of the drug could cause the person to become unconscious, meaning they may not feel pain if any damage is caused by someone continuing to have sex with them.”
The law is clear, however. “If somebody has administered a substance with the intention to overpower you in order to have sex without your consent, then that is a criminal offence for which they can be prosecuted,” he said.
There are certain measures that might be helpful if meeting people for sex, said Moncrieff, such as “always having your own supply of lube in individual sachets or maybe pop some into travel-size liquid bottles that are easy to keep with you, and making sure you only use your own”.
If you witness someone unconscious on G, “Don’t let other people carry on having sex with them – this would be classed as rape as they are not legally able to give consent; make sure they can breathe, and call an ambulance if you are worried about them.”
And if you have been assaulted, he said: “You can report it to the police, who can refer you to a specialist sexual assault centre, like the Havens in London. They can help gather forensic evidence and provide you with emotional support, even if you then decide not to press charges. They also take self-referrals.”
Although difficult, it is vital that such things be discussed publicly, said Moncrieff. “As gay men, we know what it’s like for our sexuality to be criminalised and stigmatised, and we’ve fought hard for the right to have consensual and adventurous sex without shame. But we also need to be able to address the unacceptable aspects of sex within our communities and call out this predatory and nonconsensual behaviour that we’ve sadly become aware is happening for what it is — assault and rape.”
Indeed, the method of applying G through lubricant is just one cause for concern amid a wider landscape of crime committed in chemsex settings. Stephen Morris also identified several other instances of offences manifesting in such situations.
“Livestreaming has been a very concerning feature now, for a number of years,” he said. Victims who have been drugged with GHB will be “in various states of functioning, so some people would be unconscious, and crimes committed against them”. The rape being committed is then “filmed, shared, and viewed live” on the dark web, he revealed in the documentary.
Streaming it on the internet “may enhance the risk, or the sense of excitement” he explained. “But there would be motivational factors, or they may be able to gain financial rewards, for doing that, and selling those images.” The profiting from GHB-induced sexual violence can also be part of organised crime, he said, involving “networks of people” all operating outside of the World Wide Web.
Due to the secretive manner in which such crimes are committed and the ways in which the drug can be administered, with victims often not knowing what has taken place, the authorities are only beginning to grasp the scale of what is happening.
“We still have a lot of work to do on case identification,” said Morris. “This is an area of crime, and behaviour, that can be hidden, and it may not emerge at all. I think we will certainly be identifying more cases.”