Reynhard Sinaga: The Story Of The PhD Student Who Drugged And Raped Many Male Students
TheGuardian UK has told the story of Reynhard Sinaga, the PhD student who raped many male students for years.
There is no such thing as a typical rapist. But both Reynhard Sinaga’s friends and victims agree there was nothing about his friendly and unthreatening appearance to suggest he was capable of any kind of violence, let alone a two-and-a-half year campaign of rape and degradation.
Barely 5ft 7in (170cm) tall, with a soft voice, ready smile and thick-rimmed glasses, he cut an unassuming figure. “He’s just nice, meek and inoffensive,” said one friend from the Gay Village in Manchester. “I can’t imagine him getting a parking ticket or telling off. He’s such a square.”
Born in 1983 to a Catholic family in Jambi in the Indonesian island of Sumatra, Sinaga came to the UK in 2007 on a student visa when he was 24. For the next 10 years, up until his arrest on 2 June 2017, he lived off money wired from Indonesia by his father, a banker. As well as paying tens of thousands of pounds in tuition fees, his father financed Sinaga’s flat in Montana House, a few doors down from Factory nightclub, which became his favourite place to look for men.
Sinaga, known as Rey, rarely talked about his family or life back home, where he had two siblings. His mother came to the first pre-trial hearing, but was not present for any of the four trials her son insisted on putting his victims through, with the defence claiming the men he drugged and filmed himself raping were only pretending to be asleep.
He never hid his sexuality in Manchester, where he was a regular on Canal Street and in the Gay Village. Giving evidence in the fourth trial, Sinaga told of using gay dating apps including Grindr and Hornet.
His friends say they had no knowledge of his crimes. Some had heard him describe “turning” heterosexual men as a sport. He would boast to certain friends of his sexual misadventures, often with the heterosexual men he was later accused of raping.
In July 2015, in a WhatsApp exchange read to the jury, he told a friend that his flatmate was moving out. “You can get in lots of straight boys darling,” said his friend. Sinaga responded with a photograph of his latest victim, passed out: “Hahaha. You mean like this one?”
“There’s always a new one,” said his friend, adding: “Fucking hell darling u get a dif straight every week.”
Friends said he was secretive about his bedroom. In January 2015, after raping a 19-year-old man, Sinaga told a WhatsApp group that he had picked up a man the previous night who had argued with his girlfriend in Factory. “SuperRey saves straight boys from their monstrous girlfriend,” he boasted, sending a photograph of the victim. One friend replied: “Finally I can see the inside of Rey’s room, I was always forbidden to go behind the magic door hahaha. “You were always screaming ‘nooo it’s too messy!’ Then we were joking male dead body were piling under the bed haha.”
Sinaga had a few short-term relationships. One female friend recalled a boyfriend who worked at the Ibis hotel opposite his flat on Princess Street. He did not cope well with rejection, she said, recalling how he threatened to drink bleach when a boyfriend broke up with him.
Another friend said it was a mystery where Sinaga got his money from – he once had seasonal work in Next and was briefly an exam invigilator, but he could not hold down a job and yet never seemed short of cash. “He was always out, always going on holiday. We wondered where he got his money because he never seemed to work,” they said. “He was always in the Village. He was one of those people who were always out. He would never be with anyone. He would cling to you and just be with you for the rest of the night.”
When word started to spread in the Gay Village that Sinaga had been arrested, many friends thought there must have been a mistake – until they learned Sinaga had filmed his attacks, cataloguing them alongside photos he took of his victims’ ID or bank cards. That he had spiked their drinks was a further shock. Friends from the Village said he was never into drugs when they knew him, in the early 2010s, and had never spoken of chemsex parties or GHB, sticking to alcohol on his many nights out.
One close friend, who collaborated with Sinaga on a photography project, said he was “a sweet, happy guy, always smiling and laughing”, liked by all. He attended St Chrysostom’s church, which prides itself on welcoming “all people regardless of ethnicity, age, relationship status, disability or sexual orientation, and regardless of how much or how little faith people have”.
Until recently, Sinaga was still pictured on a church blogpost from 2012, when he helped with a children’s Easter project and talked about the children having a “fabulous time”.
The church provided a character reference for Sinaga, with the judge, Suzanne Gooddard QC, remarking during the sentencing of the second trial: “It is almost beyond belief that someone who could profess some Christian faith could at the same time have been committing such wicked and evil crimes.”
The other two references came from his mother and sister, based in Indonesia, neither of whom, said the judge, know of “the cold, cunning and calculated rapist that you are”.
His barrister struggled to find anything to say in his favour, accepting the “obvious aggravating factors in the case” and the assessment of psychiatrists and prison staff that he was highly dangerous and at great risk of reoffending.
Another friend remembered how someone from the church was helping Sinaga try to apply for refugee status “on the grounds he couldn’t be gay in Indonesia”. Whether he ever submitted an asylum claim is unclear, but Sinaga managed to keep extending his stay in the UK by eking out his PhD. “He was trying to avoid returning to Indonesia and one way to avoid that was to stay a student for ever,” said his photography friend.
Sinaga studied at Manchester University from August 2007 for an MA in sociology, and then in August 2012 began studying at Leeds University for a PhD in human geography, which he never finished. He submitted his thesis, entitled “Sexuality and everyday transnationalism among South Asian gay and bisexual men in Manchester”, in August 2016, but it failed and he was given time to make corrections.
Sinaga flitted between various groups of friends. One woman who knew him well until 2013 said he thought of himself as “a bit of a Peter Pan”. He looked younger than his age and acted it, being “narcissistic and somewhat naive to everything”. He loved taking selfies and lived his life online, posting daily photographs. The final shot was taken on 1 June 2017, the day before he was arrested, using a filter that gave him pink ears and sunglasses.