“I used to walk around with a pouch full of ecstasy tablets, ketamine, G [liquid ecstasy] and of course Viagra,” says Alon, who’s all of 25. “You’re so high, but you still want to function. That’s basic, the standard package. You load up on everything and set out on the road to getting lost.”
We were sitting on a bench with a view of a boulevard where palm trees festooned with all the colors of the rainbow grow. The Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv was coming up, and Alon was recalling fragments of the destructive life he was addicted to in his youth.
“You get high four times a week, and every weekend there’s an orgy. I don’t know whether I didn’t feel the downs or just kept them at bay. I couldn’t not feel good. You’re hooked on highs and horniness, so you’re always sustaining that experience, that lifestyle. You’re fast-tracking downhill, but the feeling is that you’re racing forward. Forget racing – flying. You’re loved, you get the embrace you always wanted. That freedom, the absolute shedding of inhibitions, becomes the essence of everything. You just let go of yourself, bail out, become someone else. Wave after wave of self-destruction. Your friends keep their distance from you, family ties are damaged, you can’t hold on to a job, school is not even an option.
“Everything is bad and screwed up, but you’re convinced that it’s the reality outside that’s battering you,” he continues. “So you blame those around you. Everyone around is dumb, no one understands me. That lasted three-four years, which in many senses just went down the tubes. I was a boy who had dreamed of big things, self-fulfillment. That sharp turn, that crash, wasn’t part of the plan, and I’m still coping with the consequences today.”
Discussions about LGBT youth and young adults focus largely on their process of coming out. But the end of that phase doesn’t mean that the difficulties disappear. Some discover that integrating into the gay community entails adoption of a new way of life, which can be exciting and thrilling but also bewildering and potentially devastating. Many feel pressure to affirm their sexual orientation through experiences for which they are not ready (how do you know you’re gay if you have never slept with a man or a woman?). That path sometimes runs through bold apps, clubs and saunas where there’s no one to protect them. In those dark, intense spaces, hesitant young men will usually get injections of encouragement involving consciousness-altering substances, quite often “courtesy” of people who are older than they are.
Two years ago, Haaretz Hebrew Edition published an article about “chemsex” – the use of banned drugs to enhance sex – a phenomenon that reflects the increasing use by many gays of drugs in their sex life. Crystal meth, aka “Tina,” had only just appeared on the Tel Aviv scene, after sowing destruction in several other gay capitals worldwide. Two years later, the LGBT community condemns Tina in public forums, but its use is increasing apace. Earlier this month, in a move that generated widespread criticism in the gay community, the police raided the Sauna Club in Tel Aviv in search of large quantities of the drug. The earlier article asked, in passing, how the spread of this subculture, in which drugs were increasingly of the hard variety and ever more available, would affect young men who are prone to be dazzled by the powerful experience it offers. Today it can be said without a doubt that more and more young men are so caught up in this lifestyle that it’s become the center of their existence.
The parties and events taking place in this context are in large measure the gay community’s melting pot; many characterize them as obligatory stations that every young gay person passes through. Tel Aviv is one of the only cities in the world where a mass party for gays takes place every Friday. Actually, the options are more diverse than that, with three or four parties having a gay-friendly orientation, although only one club draws those party-goers known in the community as “pros,” those who go out regularly. As with parties aimed at other crowds, in Tel Aviv and elsewhere, the main substances taken at these events are ecstasy, MDMA (the active ingredient in ecstasy) and, some would add, ketamine. However, the party’s main contribution to the chemsex scene is its function as a funnel, or corridor, for “chill” encounters that take place in homes immediately afterward. These are multiple-participant sex events that happen after the party and sometimes last deep into Saturday.
In these situations GHB – a transparent psychoactive liquid that hides under nicknames like “Gina” or just “G” – whose immediate effect is to is relax the muscles, generate a desire for contact and augment horniness, is also sometimes used. Its metallic flavor indicates to people who don’t use it by choice that someone has added something to their drink. It’s also known as the “date rape” drug, because when mixed with alcohol, it causes a blurring of the senses and ultimately a loss of consciousness. In recent years, G has found its way into clubs, and its use – generally by choice – begins at the very outset of the party. The more responsible users set an alarm clock that goes off every two hours to signal that the time has come to take the next dose of G – not earlier, because an excessive dose leads to a blackout, or worse.
Most of the LGBT community here is no different from the general population, leading a totally bourgeois way of life interspersed with measured routine-breaking experiences. Many are predisposed to be turned off by the chemsex-fueled nightlife, or lose interest after tasting it momentarily. Beside them, there is also a small though dominant group of men aged 30-plus who maintain a more intense nightlife routine, but one that allows them to pursue a full, creative life.
The real danger lurks mainly for the young generation, with ages ranging from adolescence until the late 20s, who are swept up into the potent nightlife experience at a sensitive, unstable time of their development. It’s almost impossible to avoid exposure to the chemsex scene, for example, given its presence on many of the gay community’s dating apps. The messages cover the ground between explicit offers by users and comments attached to their profiles, which are completely unfiltered, such as “Turned-on looking for group” or “Who’s got G?”
“I grew up in central of Tel Aviv and was in the closet until after my army service,” Alon relates. “In around the seventh-eighth grades, I began wandering the streets, looking for trouble. I had a regular route coming back from school. I would go back home and not go back home, pass by the sauna as though by mistake, until I found what I wanted. I didn’t even have stubble on my face yet, but the men in this city know no limits. It started with making eyes, and the sexual interaction came very fast. Blow jobs, penetrations, things completely unsuited to that age. I didn’t understand a thing about it, I wasn’t ready for it. I was looking for contact, closeness, to kiss with someone. Those men, certainly if they were in the 30-40 age range, offered me drinks. I drank a lot of alcohol to let go, and everything was always very mechanical.
“At high-school age I met a couple, “ he continues. “I slept with them regularly and they gave me G. At the time, I didn’t know what it was. Only in retrospect, when I was asked in therapy when I did G for the first time, did I remember the whole dialogue about doses and the usage – 1.5 ml. mixed with juice, etc. I had dreamy sex with them and completely lost myself. Still, life in the closet made me really sad. After my army service I started getting into the nightlife – finishing my shift as a waiter and doing MDMA with the other staff. We would get turned on and at some stage I would disappear, go into Grindr and go to someone’s house for wildly intense sex and drugs.
“Gradually I moved away from my safe zones. I came out of the closet, but it wasn’t by way of a process of readiness and maturity – it was from a place of disconnect. I pushed aside the bad, hurtful experiences and immediately went on to the next experience. That’s the way the mechanism works. You take on the norms of everyone being with everyone and that everything goes. I remember my first orgy. I felt that everything was so uncomfortable and confused and aggressive, but obviously I functioned. I was the star of the event.
“Today it seems to me insane and twisted to be in the same room, naked, with a large crowd of people you don’t know and to some of whom, at least, you’re not in the least attracted. From the distance of time, I look at the people in the gay community who run the orgies scene, and I’d like to ask them: I was a kid of 20 then, how come no one had the instinct to protect me?
“At first, the people you do these sessions with give you the drugs, but at some stage you don’t want to depend on others. I wasted all the money I had and I also took out a loan of 50,000 shekels [about $13,000]. A period of blacking out in clubs started, blowups with the family and a gradual disconnect from friends. Even from the ones who did drugs with me. Because it’s impossible to be with someone who’s in that state. You’re an egoist and insufferable, people don’t have the strength for that. At one stage I started to do G the way other people smoke. And not only in sexual situations – during work in the restaurant. G is known as a drug that blurs you or gets you horny, but it’s also the perfect counter-anxiety substance.
“The red line for me was Tina [crystal methamphetamine]. That seemed to me the scariest thing in the world. But you’re already so deep into the scene, and it has such a cute name – ‘Tina’ – that it sounds like fun, so why not? A period started when I didn’t care about anything. I lost weight, I had sores on my face and blisters on my feet, because they’re not built to walk four days in a row. My body still hasn’t got back to its old self. There are things that only I see in front of the mirror. The stretch marks from that extreme thinness, the aging of the facial skin.
“When someone suggested that we shoot up [the drug], I told him instinctively that he was a wacko and there was no way. But then he explains that he’s a doctor, that to smoke is less healthy and that the Tina gets into the bloodstream anyway, so what difference does it make how we take the substance into the body? Suddenly it sounds logical. So he shows me how, and it really works great and doesn’t leave marks. Obviously, I felt as though I’d gone too far, but the feeling is that it doesn’t really matter, that I’m on the edge anyway. At that stage I already hated myself so much that I didn’t care. I’d given up normal life, being part of the game. I had no aspirations to get ahead, no ambition. Because there’s no value to your actions, they’re only a slow death of the previous self.
“There was one moment, though it’s hard to explain what made it possible, that made me say: Enough. I went to my big sister with an empty bottle of G and told her that I wanted to go into rehab. I had a privilege that few have: to be in a private institution at a cost of 100,000 shekels [about $28,000]. I spent almost a year there. Slowly I started to heal, I learned how to lower the thrill threshold. I left there a year and a half ago and I’ve been clean since.
“I see 20-year-old kids around me who are lowering themselves into the same depths I was in. Today, when I look at it from the side, it seems to me like self-flagellation. The problem isn’t drugs. Or sex. Or orgies. It’s all fun and legitimate, as long as you choose to be there. But these kids don’t really have a choice. The whole concept of what sex is and what intimacy is, is still messy with them. Even when they say that they’re alright and they want it, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they made a choice. Maybe it’s defensiveness or disconnect or because they want to be cool. That’s why the approach has to be to the 30- to 40-year-olds who manage those situations. They’re the ones who are responsible.”
This is the place to enter another factor. The occasional use of drugs at parties or to amplify sexual pleasure doesn’t usually end in rehab. But as the case of Nadav, 27, from the country’s south, shows, even a non-intensive use of drugs, certainly of the hardest of them, can have acute consequences.
“I came to Tel Aviv four years ago. Parties were never my thing,” he says. “The drugs I did were only in situations of sex, and even then not very much, maybe G once in a while. There was a guy a few years older than me that I slept with, with a character of gold but a little lost, you know, not calibrated. He lived in a horrible apartment and was only looking for the next big high. He suggested that we do Tina together. I didn’t know it was a code name for something, it was only afterward that I realized it was crystal meth.
“We smoked it in a pipe, and the first and second times it didn’t do anything to me. The third time was awful. Well, it started off amazing. I was sharp, very high, a feeling of euphoria, never-ending horniness and lots of sex with lots of people into the weekend. At some point it turned bad. A kind of weird experience started, when I seemed to be looking at myself from the outside. The longer it went on, the more I felt I was losing it. Maybe I imagined all sorts of scenarios, but what’s certain is that after that day I wasn’t the same person. My life is divided into before and after that weekend.
“Since then I’ve had a constant feeling of confusion and lack of confidence. You could say I want a little off the rails. I dropped out of everything. I stopped working and afterward also left school. Slowly I collapsed into myself. There was a period when I was totally on the street. Not in the sense of being homeless, but just wandering, totally out. For four months I went back to my parents. Only to sleep, to eat, the basic things. I didn’t tell them everything, but they saw that I was barely functioning and needed help. I’m not sure that everything happened because of Tina, I have other baggage in life. Tina was only a guest. But it’s true that she visits unstable people with some sort of self-destruct mechanism. In south Tel Aviv I see around me a lot of people who are totally out of it, into Grindr.
“I went to the Israel AIDS Task Force for meetings with a woman who specialized in chemsex. She put me back on my feet and helped me ask for outside help. I went for psychiatric treatment to Shalvata [mental health center in Hod Hasharon]. Gradually I started to get my act together. It took about half a year until I could tell myself, ‘Okay, let’s try to get a steady job.’ I started work small-time and afterward I also went back to school. I’d lost two semesters altogether, but now I’m close to getting the degree. Not everything went back to being the way it was, I’m not the same person I used to be, but there’s no comparison between where I am today and where I was a year and a half ago. I’ll never touch drugs again. I’m also not going back to Tel Aviv – that really scares me.”
For 24-year-old Tom Shinitzky from Tel Aviv, originally from the affluent village of Kfar Shmaryahu, it wasn’t a one-time experience. “By the age of 21, my developing and still not fully formed brain had absorbed dozens, if not hundreds, of pills – ecstasy, GHB, cocaine, MDMA, LSD, speed and a few I’m sure I forgot,” he says. “I had disconnects, short circuits, a lack of brain connections of logical contexts.” Shinitsky, who wrote a column for the “Mako Pride” website about his rehab, adds that when he was a student at Beit Zvi School for the Performing Arts, people referred to him as the “autist.”
Drugs, then, are moving from the arenas with which they’re associated – parties, sex, weekends – into everyday use as well: to increase work output, abate anxiety or just for a day at the beach. According to data of the LGBTQ Medical Association, as presented in a discussion in the Knesset in February 2018, gay men are 3.5 times more at risk for use of psychoactive drugs such as crystal meth, and 10 times more for heroin use.
The gay community is well aware of the problem. Next month, the Tel Aviv Municipality, in association with the Aguda: The Israeli National LGBT Task Force, will inaugurate a first dedicated center of its kind for drug users in the gay community. According to Yoav Ben-Artzi, manager of the substance abuse unit in the municipality, “The center is intended to allow users to speak freely about their sexual orientation, and its association with the use of psychoactive substances and sexual practices combined. It’s being established based on the premise that the scale of the phenomenon and the modes of use require a distinctive response for this population.”
Tel Aviv city councilman Etai Pinkas Arad, who holds the gay community portfolio, is convinced that the community needs to take responsibility for the issue and also address subjects that are less pleasant. “The problem of drug use is especially critical among young LGBTs, who are likely to be more exposed both to addiction – because of their young age, inexperience and less developed judgment – and to manifestations of sexual exploitation that sometimes accompany this.”
In the meantime, therapists and experts who work with the gay community are coping every day with young people who get swept up and lost in the intensive nightlife. “These are people who live with a very deep division in their mental life, in which the weekend is a wild high and the everyday is empty, boring and meaningless,” says Dafna Greiner, a clinical social worker and psychotherapist, who is counseling and therapy director at the Gay Center in Tel Aviv. “Their constant feeling is that life is aimless. If I’m only waiting for a long weekend, and by the time I recover from that, the expectation for the next weekend is starting, it’s almost self-evident that I’m going to have a hard time finding meaning and interest in other things.”
For young people “who don’t yet possess a sufficiently wide base, every little fall is the prelude to a crash,” observes Dr. Roy Zucker, a family physician from the Gay Center clinic and Ichilov Hospital. “A 21-year-old doesn’t know what he’s losing, so they’re the easiest population to destabilize and also to exploit. From a fragile place like that, no one tells himself, ‘Okay, that didn’t work out, let’s change direction and go for academia.’ The consequences of this way of life will become apparent all too soon.”
‘Spiral of deterioration’
The primary reason that substance abuse takes a higher toll among young people is physiological. The brain’s frontal lobes, which are responsible for personality control, only reach full maturity at the end of adolescence, which stretches into the twenties, explains Prof. Shaul Lev-Ran, a psychiatrist and the president of the Israel Medical Association’s Society for Addiction Medicine. “Accordingly,” he adds, “a high correlation exists between the age when use starts, especially intense use, and the likelihood of developing an addiction or a mental health disorder. Once-a-week use is also in the category of regular use.”
Does such use result in irreversible damage?
Lev-Ran: “With the aid of suitable treatment, the brain has the ability to rehabilitate itself, at least in part. Even so, the question is what other damage has occurred in the person’s life in the meantime, and what the prospects are of undoing it. I’m referring, for example, to psychological damage to a person’s self-esteem and the traumas he undergoes, alongside a dysfunctional performance in school and at work. In neurobiological terms, the more I persist in a particular addictive activity, the more my attention becomes biased in the direction of that activity, at the expense of other activities that are less able to stimulate my pleasure system. And then ‘small’ things, such as standing in front of the class and delivering a successful lecture, don’t do anything for me. I reduce activities that bear a potential for enjoyment and are considered healthy, and live more from peak to peak, from one event of drug abuse to the next.”
And after every peak comes a down.
“Definitely. And when do I experience the down? On the day after, when I need to go back to work and to life. Leisure under the influence of drugs is identified as something good; going back to work and routine, the day after the end of the drug fest, when I’m down, is identified as something bad. Hence the inner labeling of ‘I had a terrific Friday-Saturday with drugs’ and ‘I had a lousy Sunday-Monday-Tuesday without drugs.’ Most of us tend to avoid things that we find bad, and that avoidance can take two forms: use of addictive substances into the middle of the week, or reduction of everyday activity and instead recovering at home under a blanket. That can set in motion a spiral of deterioration.”
Which will be harder for young people to break out of.
“That’s right, and that’s why it’s critical to prevent intensive use, or at least to postpone the start of use. ‘Just say no’ campaigns have not been proven effective, and in a non-puritanical society, certainly in the gay community, that’s not a realistic message. A campaign has to center around building social capability, self-confidence and finding one’s place in the world. And in connection with the drugs themselves, in addition to the recommendation to avoid them, certainly to avoid intensive use, it’s important to hammer home the message of delaying, delaying, delaying the start of usage.”
The story of Ronen, 40, from Tel Aviv, is a good illustration of the difference between the residues left when these worlds are entered at the age of 20, and the effects of delaying it until the following decade of life. Ronen became a regular drug user when he was 30, with academic studies already behind him, a rich job resume and several successful business ventures to his credit. He terms the years in which he immersed himself in that routine “my lost decade,” but his luxurious apartment in a residential tower overlooking the sea, suggests that in his case the loss was recoverable.
“I didn’t come out of the closet until I was 27, and straight into a long-term relationship that was open from the first minute,” he relates. “Parties almost every weekend, drugs almost every weekend – everything except the really heavy ones: heroin and crystal meth. You look to the side, at the people you went to high school with, who are buried in matters of family and children, and you’re certain that you’re living the good life. After we separated it actually became more extreme. You find yourself doing more drugs, more screwing. At some point I started to ask myself questions. Does the fact that these sessions happen ‘only’ on weekends really mean that I am in control? Why are there people in my bed who would never have been here if I hadn’t been wiped out?
“I see the young generation now,” Ronen continues. “They don’t have the money for that lifestyle. They have bland jobs, in the service industry and like that, and their quality of life is inferior, because the only thing that interests them is maintaining the routine of the drugs and the parties. That blocks any chance of being able to develop at the personal level.”
Roy Zucker, from the Gay Center clinic, says he’s encountering increasing numbers of cases whose first drug episode is mediated by men who are far older and far more experienced. “A week ago, a kid of 19, a student, the nerdiest guy ever, came to see me,” he says. “He’d found himself in a sexual situation with a couple of 30-plus-year-old men. He was so enthusiastic about the interaction with them, about being noticed at all, that when they suggested that he try Tina, he thought it was the coolest thing in the world. This isn’t someone who’d had plenty of experience with drugs earlier and for whom this would have been [only] an escalation,” Zucker emphasizes. “This was the first thing he’d done, and he had no idea what ‘Tina’ was. As far as he was concerned, it could just as well be Tina, Gina or Rina. Naivete plays a very significant role here, and before you know it, he’s shooting up with them.”
Zucker maintains adamantly that cases of this sort obligate a thorough examination of the question of consent. Was that boy really in control of his actions? After all, the situation is being led by people whose age alone means they exercise a modicum of authority over him. They’re the grownups, and if they say it’s alright, they must know. It’s very easy to be swept up in these places of parties and chemsex, certainly for young people. We need to rethink the definitions of sexual exploitation.”
Tom Shinitzky also discovered these worlds in a similar way – at high-school age and during a sexual session with a Tel Aviv couple in their 30s, who gave him drugs. “If it wasn’t them, it would have been someone else,” he says. “I don’t hold it against them, because it’s a cultural thing. When an older man gives drugs to a kid who wants to investigate and try it out, no one thinks he was dragged into it or exploited.”
Indeed, young people who were interviewed for this article and talked about how they were drawn into the vortex of parties, drugs and random sex, noted that the sex itself was often a painful or emotionally traumatic experience, even if at the time they could not have labeled it as harmful, still less resisted it.
“I don’t think there’s a single gay person who can honestly say that he has never found himself in a sexual situation that he didn’t want to be in,” Shinitsky says. “It’s such a fluid world and the boundaries are so flexible, so it’s clear that there are cases of exploitation. Not rape, but very unpleasant events. In the clubs, when I was high, a lot of people tried to touch me. You’re dancing and someone sticks his hand in your underpants. There were also cases of exploitation of the social situation. One reason you’re weak is that you’re just a kid and you’re high, and people take advantage of the opportunity.”
Alon, who went through plenty of similar situations, adds another layer. “For example, when someone films you in a sex clip, you’re woozy and you have no idea what’s going on. I have this fear that I’ll be in some sort of key job, maybe a public figure, and a clip like that will suddenly appear. I’m not talking to you now about one specific clip making the rounds. There are tons of them.”
Even Ronen, a physicall imposing man who was caught up in this spiral deep into his 30s, experienced sexual abuse. “It was in the sauna, the approximately one time that I had a fall from K [ketamine]. I couldn’t function, certainly I couldn’t resist, so that was unequivocally coercion. When I sobered up and understood what was going on, I pushed him away from me.”
These situations are rarely talked about. The conspiracy of silence about sexual injuries between men is not the result of systematic whitewashing by the culprits; it stems from a deep, collective internalization of unwritten codes of behavior. “Confusion exists between a permissive sexual culture and the normalization of sexual abusiveness,” says Dafna Greiner from the Gay Center. She notes that initiatives over the years to open groups for victims of sexual assault in the gay community were shelved for lack of interest.
Repression of the subject is caused partly by fear of public criticism, Greiner says. “We’re constantly busy proving how we’re alright, hence the very dominant dialogue about families and children. To admit that there is sickness and that there is sexual abuse among us, too, is perceived as confirmation of the stigmas about us. It’s like sticking a spoke in the wheels of the struggle for equality.” Eran Han, coordinator of the men’s assistance line at the Rape Crisis Center, adds that “a gay community that is still struggling against the homophobic enemy from the outside finds it very difficult to turn its gaze on the enemies within.”
Even so, Han has recently identified positive shifts in this regard on the part of activists in the community. Recently, for example, the Gay Center organized a kind of “patrol” of volunteers who would scatter through the Pride Parade and the other mass events of Pride Week in order to provide young people with a safe space. Israel Gay Youth, an NGO, also recently got into the act, by offering training for its leaders via the Rape Crisis Center. In closed but highly subscribed Facebook groups, many young gays describe in detail injurious experiences related to intimate relations, whether because of an element of coercion, or because they were left with an uncomfortable feeling – and in doing so they bring to the surface issues of principle concerning consent and mutuality.
A recent post by a man in his early 20s described a sexual situation that took place in a sauna. He was with a man, he wrote, “and at first it was with consent, but at some stage it was by force. He grabbed me, I got scared and I asked him to stop.” It took the other man “a few seconds” to stop, the writer noted, and wondered “whether that’s called rape,” or possibly “I myself am to blame for putting myself in that situation.”
It’s only natural that young people from socially disadvantaged groups are at higher risk of being hurt in quid pro quo situations. “Youngsters say it explicitly – if I don’t have somewhere to sleep I’ll go into Grindr or go nuts,” notes Shani Werner, director of the Pink Roof, a Tel Aviv shelter for young LGBT people, which is run by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and by Otot, a nonprofit organization. “It’s only rarely that young people experience these situations as loss of control and crossing their own boundaries. From their point of view, sexual injury is something prolonged that’s related to the lifestyle, to the first encounters with the gay community. Young people come here and say what a fun weekend they had, how many parties they were taken to, how many drugs they took and how many men they had sex with. But from the distance of time they say other things, that reflect alienation from the body, repulsion from the gay community, a lack of desire to belong to it. It’s expressed in comments like, ‘I have no chance of finding love,’ or ‘Everyone only wants to take advantage of me.’”
According to Eran Han, from the Rape Crisis Center, even events that are totally not in the gray area are sometimes played down. “We see cases of penetration that the victim didn’t want, he even said no and resisted, but he won’t call it rape. Some take it a step further and say things like, ‘I was so sexual that he couldn’t resist the temptation.’ They assume the burden of guilt so that they’ll feel capable of trusting someone the next time.”
Werner suggests avoiding use of the word “consent.” “In places where there are drugs and alcohol, awareness is blurry and there’s no ability to say no, just as there’s no ability to say yes. It’s the same with ‘consent’ as a result of pressure being applied, or ‘consent’ that exploits the distress of a youngster who has no place to sleep. It’s a lot more correct to talk about desire or choice.” Werner also notes the importance of creating environments that are disconnected from the night life scene for young members of the LGBT community. “Israel Gay Youth is fomenting a tremendous revolution in that context,” she says.
Ziv Schwartz, 24, a group leader in a National Service commune connected to Israel Gay Youth in Be’er Sheva, was 16 when a man 12 years his senior assaulted him sexually. “I found myself alone in a very tough experience and with a severe feeling of guilt,” he says. Today Schwartz is working with young people who also underwent abusive sexual experiences. “Sometimes all a kid needs is empathy, an eye that will truly see him.”