Criminal gangs in Russia, operating through gay dating sites, are targeting homosexual men for blackmail.
The gay rights group Vykhod, or Coming Out, say that they have registered 12 such blackmail complaints in St. Petersburg in 2015 and at least six more gay men have come to them so far this year. Gay activists believe the real number is far higher and say the attacks have increased in the past two years.
Alexander Loza, a legal adviser at Positive Dialogue, an organization that provides consulting services for gays, particularly those living with the HIV virus, has heard similar stories.
“Many gay people in Russia lead a double life, unwilling to disclose their sexual orientation to their family or at work,” Loza said. “In the case of such setup dates, they are afraid to disclose their status, to be accused of pedophilia, and therefore they are afraid to appeal to the police.”
The activists said Russian criminals have been emboldened by a 2013 law that made it a crime to expose children to gay “propaganda,” part of a Kremlin-backed effort to defend traditional family values and counter the influence of what it considers a decadent West.
The latest victim a prominent St. Petersburg economist, said several men burst into the apartment where he was meeting his date. Claiming that his date was under age, they threatened to call the police and to release a video they had secretly filmed unless he paid up.
The St. Petersburg economist, however, did go to the police. He spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity out of fear that his attackers, who know where he lives, would seek retribution if they learned that he had reported them.
The economist, who gave his age as “about 30,” said he thought they were lying about his date being a minor. But he said the attackers beat and threatened him – and suggested they had friends in the police force who they said would lock him up on fabricated charges.
He said they demanded more than 100,000 rubles ($1,500). One of them took his bank card and cleaned out his account, and they released him only after he agreed to transfer the balance the next day, he said.
St. Petersburg police spokesman Vyacheslav Stepchenko of course said he had not heard about these blackmail cases and said he wasn’t aware of any anti-gay attacks being registered in the city in recent years.
In both America and Great Britain in the 1950’s and 60’s when homosexuality was illegal many gay men were also blackmailed, although only a fraction came to the attention of the police. The film Victim of 1961 brought these issues to a mainstream audience. It starred Dirk Bogarde as a repressed, married homosexual taking on the blackmailers who drove his partner to suicide.