By David Fawcett PhD, LCSW
Most of the world only recently heard about Ed Buck, a California man in whose home three men overdosed, including two African American men who died. But for those of us who work with stimulant addiction, and for those affected by it, particularly young Black and Latino men-who-have-sex-with men (MSM) advocates, the story of Ed Buck, his first victim Gemmel Moore, and the victims who’ve followed has been an urgent topic of discussion.
On September 11 of this year, Mr. Buck is alleged to have injected an African American man with methamphetamine and other drugs. The man overdosed but thankfully survived. This latest incident was the third time such an overdose had occurred in Mr. Buck’s home. The first was in July 2017, when Gemmel Moore, a 26-year-old black man overdosed and died after using meth in the latter’s home. At the time, police reported they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Buck had injected Mr. Moore or even had drugs of his own in the house. Ultimately Ed Buck faced no legal consequences in that case. Then, in January of this year, a second black man, Timothy Dean, overdosed and died in Mr. Buck’s home.
Families of both men who died have accused Ed Buck of preying on black men, documenting in a lawsuit his alleged history of isolating black men for predatory sexual encounters. Finally, in connection with this third incident, Mr. Buck was arrested. He has been indicted on charges of battery, administering methamphetamine, and running a drug house. He is currently in custody.
When drug use, especially amphetamine use, is paired with sex, the resulting behavior can result in disturbing patterns of sexual interaction. With ongoing use and the development of tolerance, individuals typically need more stimulation for arousal (or in some cases to feel normal). They seek ever-increasing intensity by escalating their acting-out behavior, adding drugs to their ritual or moving into rougher or more taboo sexual practices. This escalation is emblematic of addiction.
Such patterns of behavior must be distinguished from sexual predation in which someone pursues sex with others in a predatory or abusive manner. Sexual and other physical violence, devastating psychological consequences, and even death can occur. Recent high-profile cases like Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein have revealed the extent to which powerful individuals, mostly men, sometimes exploit their position to sexually prey on others. Equally significant has been the exposure of the extensive networks utilized to enable these powerful men and silence their victims.
A key distinction between addiction and predation is whether or not the behavior is consensual. Sexual activities between adults who mutually agree to engage in certain behaviors, even though they may be addictive, is consensual and not illegal. On the other hand, predators who stalk, manipulate, and otherwise use differentials of power and status for unwanted sexual advances are exploiting others and breaking the law.
Some have noted that sexual encounters among men who have sex with men have often been transactional, especially across racial, socioeconomic, and generational lines. Drugs are provided and sex is exchanged, along with temporary access to elite social circles and parties. While the men with power consider these to be equivalent exchanges, those offering their bodies are often poor, engaging in survival sex work, or otherwise vulnerable to exploitation. Their willingness to engage in such sex may be a matter of necessity rather than a choice.
Mr. Buck’s alleged behavior moves far beyond consensual behavior between adults; it is predatory. He repeatedly invited vulnerable black men to his home for sex and drugs. Victims reported ingesting not only methamphetamine but also being injected with drugs that incapacitated them for hours.
By courageously speaking up, women have created the #MeToo movement, initiating a societal awakening about the extent to which sexual abuse and predation occur, along with the broad networks of individuals who defend, cover for, and otherwise enable them. It is instructive for the gay community to realize that such predators are not just heterosexual men who prey on women (and men); they are among us, often with high-profile, community-minded reputations.
The story of Ed Buck is a tale of power, privilege, race, and sexual predation. He escaped serious scrutiny and consequences for far too long, with devastating consequences. Yet this case is certainly not unique and can serve as a wake-up call for the gay community, not only to bring accountability to predators but to better understand the impact of power and privilege on sexual interactions with vulnerable minorities.