He’s attractive, he’s of an age and he’s gagging for it. A few furtive signals and you’re in.

But what happens next? What happens if the next grip on your shoulders belongs to a uniformed cop and not the sex-god who so tempted you moments before? And what happens if you find yourself in a potentially dangerous gay-bashing situation?

It’s a sticky issue. And yet, there are whole websites devoted to finding that perfect beat, the place to come to and cum at, the place where no-one (hopefully) will remember your name. Just because Mardi Gras has been and gone doesn’t mean you should be complacent. All of us -“ whether gay, straight, lesbian, transgender or bisexual -“ are under the threat of homophobic violence. And we should be taking care of ourselves and each other.

First, let’s get one thing clear -“ it is illegal to have sex at a beat. However, according to Anti-Violence Project coordinator Brad Gray, you can be at a beat if you’re not having sex; and unless you’re caught having sex at a beat, you cannot be charged. You must also keep in mind any other rules that exist in the area you’re in, explains Gray. For example, if the beat is in parkland and there are notices saying not to walk in certain areas like bush regeneration areas, there may be some local by-laws and related punishment, so look out for signs. And remember, police and other officials like park rangers cannot entice or lure you into having sex and then charge you.

Sergeant Matt O’Neil, gay and lesbian liaison officer at Surry Hills police, says that, perhaps more frighteningly, a serial offender has been approaching men at public toilets and beats, and when the victim nears the offender and a compromising situation develops, he produces a false police identification and announces himself as a police officer. The offender then arrests the victim and subsequently refers to bail, asking for a sum of money for this purpose. The victim will be either asked to hand over what cash they have on them or take the offender to an ATM and hand over a sum of cash.

Those who have been the victim of this particular offender can be assured that this is not the operating procedure for the NSW Police Service. Any activity by police at a known beat is governed by internal procedures and police will never extract cash bail from people at the time of arrest.

This MO [modus operandi] works because these [the victims] are vulnerable men who believe they are dealing with a legitimate police officer and therefore do everything asked of them, says O’Neil. No matter what you are doing, you must be told why you are under arrest. Normally you’ll be given a caution or -˜read your rights’, which will be followed by a series of personal questions, including a demand for personal ID [driver’s licence, for example].

But don’t just hand over your wallet, O’Neil warns. Take out your ID and give that to the officer questioning you. Under normal circumstances, you will then be taken to a police station. If this doesn’t happen, then ask to be taken.

O’Neil said that typical of the offender’s next step is to ask about bail money. This should absolutely not happen, O’Neil stressed. A genuine police officer will not ask for bail money at the scene of the arrest, so this should tip you off. The only person who can ask you about bail is the bail officer down at the police station.

Most importantly, O’Neil said you should remain calm. Try to look for an avenue of escape, by all means, and remain in control of the situation if you can, he advised. He [this offender] is preying on your vulnerability and your fear, so just assert your rights.

O’Neil adds that in sensitive areas like this, police officers generally work in pairs. Legitimate police officers will tell you who they are, he said. Whether they’re in plain clothes or not, they should show you their ID, they will tell you why you have been arrested and they will read you your rights. They may [pat] search you, but because of a citizen’s -˜right to silence’, you’re not obliged to say anything.

Gray adds that you should be very alert for guys who don’t look like they are cruising for sex. Also, if a group of guys is moving around the beat together, then leave immediately, he warns. If you see someone being bashed or harassed, do something to help them. Call the police and make a noise to let the attackers know they are being seen. Try to get the attention of others in the area, but don’t get physically involved unless you are a skilled fighter.

So the final word is: think about your personal safety at all times. When people are within an environment that is gay- and lesbian-friendly, they tend to let their guard down, and while Newtown and Darlinghurst are perceived to be safe, people should definitely have their wits about them.

 

Anyone who is concerned about their rights, or has information about these types of crime should contact their local police or gay and lesbian liaison officer on 9281 0000 and the Lesbian and Gay Anti-Violence Project on 9206 2066.

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