Police Warn LGBT Community After People Are Drugged, Robbed

Officers are investigating incidents that allegedly stemmed from hookup apps and websites.

Smartphone photo via Shutterstock.com

Smartphone photo via Shutterstock.com

Boston Police are looking into a series of robberies that have left some members of the gay community unsettled.

In recent weeks, officers have received multiple reports from gay men who say they met strangers through “hook-up” websites and social media apps, and were then allegedly drugged and robbed.

On May 29, Bay Windows, which describes itself as New England’s largest publication for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender readers, reported that Boston Police alerted the LGBT community about the robberies after several reports were filed. The publication said on its website that the victims were allegedly targeted by a suspect or suspects at bars and through online outlets commonly used by gay men. After the victims met with the suspect, they were allegedly drugged and then their apartments were cleaned out. No sexual assaults were reported, however.

Gay rights groups responded to the reports on Monday and expressed their concern in the community. “We are saddened by the recent robberies targeting men in the LGBTQ community in the Boston area, and thank the Boston Police for making an effort to alert our community to the potential threat. Our hearts go out to the victims of these incidents here in Boston,” said Carly Burton, deputy director of MassEquality.

Burton said although gay rights are advancing all over the country, the events in Boston and recently in New York illustrate “just how much work remains before all people can truly be equal safe and free.”

While the reports are alarming, Rob Wilson, who runs BosGuy.com, a Boston-based blog covering the city’s gay community, says he wasn’t surprised by the crimes and that instances like these have long been a problem. “In the gay community in general, it predates [social media and phone] apps—even the Internet. Quite often, and maybe guys of a certain age are more sensitive to this, but even something like leaving the bar, you had to always be careful. There were certain bars in Boston that you knew you had to leave with friends,” says Wilson.

According to Wilson, safety concerns like this have always existed, but they manifest in different ways. At one time, he recalled, people using AOL chat rooms also fell victim to similar robberies and alleged druggings. “I have a friend that had a problem…the guy must have given him a date rape drug, and he woke up hours later and his apartment was basically cleaned out,” says Wilson.

Grindr, a popular location-based app that uses GPS coordinates to let men meet and chat almost instantly, has led to similar scenarios in the past, according to LGBTWeekly.com. While Grindr—or other apps and websites—was not implicated in the Boston police report, it’s one of the more popular apps and has 130,000 registered Boston users, according to a Grindr spokesman. But the company’s founder and CEO, Joel Simkhai, says they take the safety of their users very seriously. “Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today. We always encourage our members to look at our safety tips—which can be found on our website—and use common sense when meeting with someone new. Just like when you meet someone at the bar, you need to be careful, keep your eye on your drink and make sure your friends or loved ones know where you are. Be responsible, be safe, protect your belongings and don’t believe everything you hear,” he said in a statement Monday.

Police are urging other victims that have been targeted to come forward, according to Bay Windows, but Wilson said in some circumstances they may hold back for fear of embarrassment or retribution if they are currently in a relationship. “If it does happen, it probably would not be reported because there is a factor of shame that is often involved,” he says. According to Wilson, a lot of men in the gay community may be in relationships, but still use the app. “How do they explain that to a partner, or a boyfriend. I’m sure some would, but I could picture scenarios where would it be like ‘oh crap,’” he says.

If someone has been a victim of  one of a similar crime, or knows of someone who has been, contact the Boston Police Department.