Exclusive: I was sexually assaulted by my mental health nurse. Now I want to help other male abuse victims

The blue plaque remembering Derek Jarman on the 25th anniversary of his death from HIV.

Dave Graham was already at a funeral when he found out his sister had died.

Left with the option of running out on his friend in their hour of need or remaining rooted to the spot, he chose to sit down and listen to the service, frozen inside his own head.

It was a feeling, he says, that was similar to when he was sexually assaulted.

“In December [2016], my sister was found dead in her house. I got the call before I was about to go into the chapel, and then had to sit through that funeral. I couldn’t just leave because I felt this need to support my friend,” he explains to PinkNews.

“To this day, I don’t know how I managed to do it, sit through that service knowing that my sister had just passed away. It was like when the assault happened – it was an out-of-body experience.”

After receiving the news Dave found it hard to carry on. He turned to his local GP in Leeds and asked for help dealing with his depression – and the doctors were keen on finding him some help to suit his needs.

“I’m agoraphobic, which means that I struggle to go outside on my own, and can only really do so with the help of my friends,” he explained.

“The doctors then scheduled me in to have an assessment with this nurse, who would visit my house.

“That was the man who assaulted me,” Dave says.

On January 7, 2017, mental health nurse Luke Smith arrived on Dave’s doorstep. He might have been 20 minutes late, but Dave imagined that he had got caught up with another patient. It was right from the get-go that Dave had to ignore his instincts to tell him exactly what he had been going through.

“As soon as he sat down to hear what I had to say, he started groping his crotch area,” he says.

“I thought to myself at first: ‘I just don’t want to jump to conclusions. Maybe he just needs to go to the toilet. Maybe he’s been running late and he’s just come from another patient and that’s why he’s doing this. Maybe he doesn’t want to go to toilet straight away as it might appear rude.’ After about half-an-hour, he went to toilet.”

Dave says that after Luke returned, he continued to grope his crotch area.

“I’m a gay man myself – I know what things look like. I noticed he had an erection in his pants, and it made me feel uncomfortable,” he says.

When Luke sat down, things became distinctly more uncomfortable as Dave noticed the wet patch on his pants. He says Luke remained fixed to the sofa for an hour longer than their appointment.

“He kept on asking again and again what I would do when he left. I wasn’t sure what he was getting at. He’s been there for an hour and 40 minutes. I said, ‘Oh, I don’t want to keep you,’ but he told me I was the last appointment of his day so there was no rush,” says Dave.

As Luke finally made his excuses and left, Dave noticed that he had an erection again.

“He went into the kitchen to put his shoes on. When he is facing me, he’s fixated on my crotch, and is looking at me. He stands up, and I notice he has an erection again. He leaves, at last, so I went to sit back down,” he said.

Before Dave had even gotten chance to acknowledge exactly what had happened, Luke started knocking on the door.

“He said, Oh, have I left my pen there?’ and I said ‘I don’t think so, I’ll go and have a look,'” says Dave.

Luke re-entered the house in search of the pen. Dave describes Luke crouching down in front of a sofa on his hands and knees, apparently looking for his pen. “While he’s down on his hands and knees, I’m stood at the side of him, and he brushes his hand against my crotch,” says Dave. “I froze. This guy I’d just been telling my innermost feelings has done this. I just can’t believe what he’s just done. I stood there, frozen. He then grabbed hold of my penis through my trousers. I didn’t say anything, because I froze, completely shocked.”

Before he knew it, the man who was meant to be his mental health nurse had pulled down his trousers.

“I don’t say anything and then he pulls down the front of my pants and starts performing an oral act on me. After a few minutes he says, ‘Are you alright?’ and I kind of nervously go, ‘Yeah,’ and then he says, ‘Shall we just leave it?’ and then he gets up, he puts his shoes back on and leaves. It was the longest eight minutes of my life,” says Dave.

Dave decided to report what had happened to him to the police. After a lengthy court trial in which Luke Smith, 30, attempted to defend himself by stating the act was consensual, he was found guilty and sentenced to eight months in prison in February.

It’s clear that it’s not easy for Dave to tell the story of what happened to him, but he does it with conviction, clarity and purpose – he’s doing it because he wants to let people know that they are not alone in their struggles, despite the lack of facilities for sexual assault victims in the UK.

Dave has decided to waive his legal right to anonymity as a sexual abuse survivor to speak out.

“I’ve been through 14 months of absolute hell and there’s no support groups in Leeds whatsoever,” says Dave.

“They only have five people who work for a sexual assault call centre in the city across, and half the time you can’t get through to them.

“No-one has the funding to provide support for sexual assault. There literally isn’t anything in Leeds at all.”

“The thing is, the amount of times I have felt suicidal, even yesterday, even today – I have felt like that myself. You do feel like there’s nowhere to go, you feel dirty and ashamed, so that’s why I decided to waiver my anonymity and do this in the hope of being able to help other people,” he explains.

And Dave has decided to help other people in both action and word. In a bid to help not only himself, but other people, he created Voice Out Leeds, a survivor’s support network for victims of sexual assault.

The group, which has been set up to help male victims, is flourishing.

“I’ve got a telephone service now. I’m covering all of the costs myself, but I feel that it’s so important,” said Dave.

“I’m getting a lot of support and backing, even if the funding isn’t there.”

(David Silverman/Getty Images)

When asked about why he had set up an exclusively male group, Dave explained that he has helped female victims who have wanted to talk about their experiences – but is aware that there’s a pernicious double standard when it comes to male mental health and sexual abuse victims.

“Men face such a huge stigma, and it’s completely wrong. It’s no less of a crime whether you’re male or female. Men have this egotistical masculinity thing going on,” he says.

“If it happens to a woman, people seem to support and be a bit more understanding, I think, but if it happens to a man – men find it difficult to understand. They generally struggle with their emotions and like to be this masculine person and [think] they’re not going to feel like a man ever again.

“I think it’s difficult to access services as a man. Being a man, you are penalised. I asked myself the same question – why I [didn’t fight it] off a thousand times – I will beat myself up forever, probably. But the reality is I know that I just froze,” says Dave.

“On social media, people say things about masculinity and being gay – and these sexual offences happening to straight men. But I’m a gay man. Does it mean that because I like men that I wanted it to happen? Does a straight woman want it to happen because she likes men? It’s absolutely ridiculous what people say,” he counters.

“84 men are committing suicide a week. No-one is making up those figures.

“It’s not a local issue. It’s not limited to Leeds. This is happening all around. The NHS is not limited to Leeds. Community mental health is not limited to Leeds.”

Folders containing patient records are pictured in a General Practitioners surgery in London, December 4, 2014 (Carl Court/Getty)

Although Dave has filed an official complaint with the NHS regarding the treatment he faced at the hands of his nurse, he said that they’re dealing with it like “a bad stay in a hotel.”

“It’s not a bad steak in a restaurant. It’s not appropriate to send me a questionnaire to ‘deal’ with my complaint – it’s lackadaisical at best,” Dave says. “He abused me when I was at my most vulnerable.”

“I’ve had people come forward and say so many things. I’ve had women inboxing me as well. It just reminds me how important this is. And as I’ve said before, I’m not a professional, but what I am is an insider. Talking to somebody else makes you feel so much better – you do feel a lot less alone. I wish some guy in Leeds had listened to me when this happened – I still do.”

Voice Out Leeds can be found here. A range of other sexual assault support outlets can be found here.