A “pick-up” case is one in which the survivor had just met one or more of the perpetrators prior to the assault, usually at a gay bar or club or a sexual cruising area. It is not necessary that the survivor have a sexual or romantic interest in the perpetrator to qualify the incident as a pick-up. Although the initial meeting occurs in a gay-identified location, the assaults are often committed elsewhere, such as in the survivor’s apartment. 36% (36 of 101) of the gay male survivors were sexually assaulted by a pick-up.
The percentage of pick-up cases in AVP’s caseload has increased each year since we started tracking pick-up cases as their own category in 1993, due to the volume of the incidents and the need to recognize the patterns of serial perpetrators. In these cases, we record the relationship of the perpetrator to the client as “pick-up.” Other categorizations are misleading and obscure the nature of the incident: “stranger” implies no knowledge of the perpetrator prior to the assault, while “acquaintance” implies at least one previous contact with the perpetrator prior to the assault.
If you can walk into a 7-11 and rob a 7-11 for 15, 20 bucks, get your face on videotape, have somebody that’s gonna call the police; or if you can go into a park, rob somebody that’s out in the dark, come away with a hell of a lot more – because of the fact that they’re homosexual and they don’t want people to know it, they’re not gonna go report it to the police. Who you gonna go rob? Where you’re gonna get in the least amount of trouble. Donald Aldrich, on death row in Texas for the murder of Nicholas West. In November, 1993 Aldrich and two accomplices abducted West from a gay male cruising area in Tyler, Texas, took him to a gravel pit outside of town, harassed him, beat him, and shot him nine times.
Offenders target gay establishments and locations because they perceive gay men to be easier victims. They also believe they can count on their victims’ reluctance to report the crime to the police. These are not “opportunistic,” unplanned assaults; the perpetrators go to these locations with the intent of finding victims.
Most pick-up crimes are perpetrated by serial offenders. Of all pick-up cases opened by AVP from 1993 through 1995, 55% are known to have been or suspected of being committed by serial offenders. This is a minimum percentage. An additional 11% of the pick-up cases might have been committed by serial offenders, but insufficient information about the offenders in these cases prevents us from recognizing or ruling out connections with other cases. The remaining 34% were determined not to be serial because the facts of the case didn’t match the perpetrator’s description or modus operandus of other incidents. Even the perpetrators of these incidents could have committed other offenses that have not been reported to us, preventing us from making the association.
Misunderstanding of the nature of pick-up crimes can lead to such statements as the following:
Several of the men reported that they were sexually assaulted in parks that were known to be gay cruising areas. These were not homophobic assaults, however. Both victim and perpetrator were gay and initially consented to a casual pickup ... Stranger assaults in this sample were not suggestive of antigay violence. Few clear markers of antigay assaults were reported by victims ... Despite the prevalence of multiple assailants in a number of cases, and the fact that a number of assaults did occur in or near gay-identified locations, the relationship between victims and perpetrators and the sexual orientation of both men mitigates identifying these assaults as antigay violence. [emphasis added] - Stermac, et al, “Sexual Assault of Males”, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, March 1996
It is the depth of homophobia to conclude that the gang-rape of a man in a known gay cruising area is not an anti-gay incident, not to mention to imply that gay men choose to be gang-raped in public parks. Initial consent and sexual orientation of the survivor or perpetrator are irrelevant. In any case, we can know of only the survivors’ perceptions and expectations of the situation. We can assume neither the perpetrators’ sexual orientation nor his “relationship” with the survivor from the location or context.
Even in the absence of specific homophobic epithets that would cause us to also classify the incident as a bias crime, the abuse of heterosexist power is inherent in a pick-up crime. Regardless of the site or apparent nature of the meeting, the perpetrator’s sexuality can neither be inferred from the context, regardless of “initial consent,” nor is it important to identifying the nature of the incident.
“Robert” reported to the police that a man had forced his way in at the front door of the apartment building, threatening him with a knife. Once in his apartment, the man tied Robert up and removed money and other valuables from the apartment. After the man left, Robert was able to free himself. When Robert reported the incident to AVP, he revealed that he had actually met the man at a cruising area in a park and brought him back to his apartment. The man pulled a knife on Robert shortly after they entered the apartment, told him to give him his money, and tied him up on the floor. For the next few hours the man ransacked the apartment and continued to threaten Robert with the knife. In counseling, Robert disclosed that the man had also fondled and groped him while he was still tied up.
Robert’s story demonstrates a progression of trust and disclosure that’s possible when appropriate resources are known and available to a survivor. It also alerts us to the possibility and likelihood that, unless and until such resources are provided, much of the sexual violence against men will continue to occur unreported.