Wednesday, September 21, 2011

ABC's of Kink and Abuse

Some of the Things We Could Do, or Do Better
and the Elephant in the Room

Part One: Abuse and Consent
Part Two: Personal Responsibility and Community Obligation

First things first. We need to admit that we simply cannot make abuse and consent issues go away. As in the "vanilla world"- abuse and consent issues will always exist. There will always be people who hurt and get hurt. We can't change the minds of others. We can't FORCE people to behave correctly or how "we" think they should. But we can change how we talk about this issue and perhaps add a more realistic note to all of the fun, kinky, sexy stuff that we do.

It's never easy to figure out what to do in this situation. For many, it will simply be "do nothing". And if that's what they did, that'd be the lesser of all of the evils. Unfortunately, too often, people just don't "do nothing". Instead, they focus on telling others that they also shouldn't get involved, that they can't understand why anyone else would get involved, or even that the people who are involved are "drama queens" intent on destroying civilization as we know it. That may be an overstatement, but this thread outlines some of the more common reactions: Leadership Forum

If you want to "do nothing, then Do. Nothing. Don't speak out against those who are trying to find a way to deal with the issues; don't choose sides; and don't tell others that they only way to deal with this is to stay out of it. If you want to do nothing. Then do us all a favor and DO THAT.

But for the rest of us who don't want to sit idly by watching people get hurt because they actually BELIEVE all the malarky we spout about how bdsm and abuse shouldn't even be used in the same sentence together, here's some things that I think we could do better. We could incorporate these ideas into our own groups, munches, events, classroom materials and PERSONAL interactions with others.

It still won't make a difference to someone with a different agenda, but we're not talking to those kinds of people anyway. We just want to provide barriers to the ease in which they find their targets among our groups.

Talk more about personal responsibility, recognizing that underneath any relationship, D/s, M/s, playpartners or friendship, that each of us is ultimately responsible for ourselves. Don’t let people get into the mindframe that “whatever a dom says, is gospel” or that “submissives can’t ever say no and still be a submissive”. There is a time and place for learning about someone else, trusting someone else, and negotiating around yes and no, but the first hundred conversations you have with someone about kink, meeting kinky people or playing should not ever include “you must obey from the get go” or “you must be obeyed from the get go”. Trust is earned through repeated actions and we need to do everything we can to discourage the newbies to our scene from thinking that everyone who calls him/herself by any title is actually that or that they live by some ephemeral epitome of whatever they've got in their head about how someone else should act.

Within your groups of friends, your munch groups, your party groups, start a peer mentorship program. A REAL mentorship program...not a dom mentoring or training a young submissive, not grooming or trolling play partners. There ARE people who can make mentorship work and have no expectation of ever becoming anything more to the person than just a friend or sounding board. You know who they are. Every single group of people I’ve ever met has those people who sincerely and only want to help someone find their way without getting hurt. Encourage submissives to talk with other submissives- especially ones outside of their own peer group. Dominants need to be mentored in the same way. Many need to recognize that they are fully capable of being a dominant and still hearing and understanding the simple word “no”; or- if you're on the other side of the slash- that one's submissive "track record" isn't going to be tarnished by saying and STICKING to no, either.

Have a plan in place for when things do get fucked up and reported to you. This is the hardest one of all and the one that I think that people are the most afraid of. Ask the person harmed “what would they like to see happen?" Ask "how you can help”. And then do it. Have a list of support groups, rape counselors, trauma and abuse hotlines at the ready. Most of all, figure out if you’re willing to be the person others can come to for help and support, and if you’re not - then don’t put yourself into a position of perceived authority. If it turns out that there was in fact some sort of "malicious intent" by the person complaining, THAT also needs to be dealt with. Figure out how you would handle this situation if someone came to you. Figure out how you'd deal with it if it were between a "known person" in the community and an "unknown one". Figure out how you'd deal with it if it happened to a friend; a stranger; or someone you thought least likely to be on either side of this issue. If you are a group leader, make sure that people coming into your groups KNOW that this will be how these matters are dealt with.

If you're not going to "get involved in personal problems" then tell people that up front. Let them decide for themselves whether they truly have a "community" within your group, or if they should look elsewhere. Being open and sex positive doesn't necessarily mean being all-inclusive. We all have friends that we can rely upon for support- who have your back. Decide whether yours is strong enough to deal with these issues when they're happening to friends of friends, strangers or people who have stumbled across our subculture through reading material and Fetlife. Decide how you would deal with it.

Be willing to step up for someone. Sometimes all a person needs is a buffer to stop a very bad situation from ever happening. Step up to the plate and be willing to be that person. Competent caring members of YOUR community should be publicly available to advocate for people who have trouble speaking out. If something happens at a munch or party and a person is too intimidated to go to an organizer by themselves, they should know that they have someone who will go with them and make the case. The point isn’t actually whether they receive justice … the point is telling the story, over and over and over until the shift happens. After all if victims of child sexual abuse didn’t start to speak up 30 years ago, we still wouldn’t believe it happens much would we? ~KinkInMotion

Don’t lend your credibility or reputation lightly. Reputations and credibility are very difficult to keep when you continue inviting people to your events who are known to have issues with consent. Unfair as it is, if you keep inviting these sorts of people into your midst, or if you choose to ignore multiple reports about the same person and constantly side with them despite those reports because "you've never had issues with them personally"- then you are lending your reputation and credibility to them.

There ARE issues that we can incorporate into our pre-existing educational programs. Mostly it has a lot to do with teaching people that the kinky “community” is just a smaller subculture of the world’s population. Sometimes, they’ll be really wonderful and play by the rules and sometimes they’ll also be complete and utter jackasses. We also need to be clear that we don't really know who they are until after they've done a lot of damage; that we don't know most of the people we're "friends" with enough to either vouch for them or preach against them; and that we don't have things in place YET to deal with these issues.

There's a lot going on here and only a small portion is about consent alone. You can preach consent until you're blue in the face, but the real issue is in how we deal with what happens when someone doesn't give a flying fuck whether or not his or her partner gives it.

We need to have a fundamental attitude shift in that we've got to stop believing everything we say is heard and understood AND practiced by everyone. We need to make sure people understand that there's no way to know who is walking the walk and who is just talking the talk.

The Elephant in the Room

I presented on these issues recently. I made several mistakes - mostly that I really didn't know what to expect from the attendees. I'd had hundreds of messages about what was going on in my local community and thought I'd known what people needed to hear. My first mistake was that I didn't realize that I wasn't speaking to a group of people who knew me and that my brand of "pit bull humor" didn't go over well when speaking about such a serious topic. My second mistake was not realizing the extent of the "bad things" that people wanted to talk about.

I had a lot of information that I wanted to impart, but ended up getting through less than 1/10th of my material. While I think that education is a vital element in combating these issues- I also think that there's too much going on that people need to get out before a constructive program can be of value. Part of our community support would have to be making available an outlet for people to speak their minds. The only downside I can see- is that they'll also want answers to their questions that will be nearly impossible to give- given the wide variety of issues.

In general, I think the problem with consent/abuse classes in general can be laid out like this:

The people who attend such classes appear to be of two types: A) either don't have a problem with those things, and are coming simply to hear that they're "doing it right"; or, B) they're people who have had bad shit happen to them and they come so that they can talk about those problems. What the latter doesn't want to hear is that they may be "doing it wrong".

In other words, The people coming to these classes - well, this issue doesn't really "affect them" in any personal way. They're there because they feel helpless, may know someone who has been harmed and wonder how to help; and they even wonder if their names are coming out in a bad way or if they're "part of the problem" Generally, these people-they're there because they're interested in finding out what's going on- but they don't really have a personal stake in it. If people stopped talking about this issue tomorrow- it wouldn't change anything about how they conducted themselves.

The others- the people who have been harmed who attend, aren't looking to be told that they may have contributed to the circumstances that resulted in the abuse. I'm certainly not blaming THEM for the abuse, but they don't really want to recognize that there may have been some things that they could have done to avoid being put in the position to allow the abuse in the first place - I know I'm saying that badly, so I hope you get what I mean. To many of them saying "here are some of the things you can do to mitigate your risk" is coming off as "if you wear a slutty dress in a dark alley- of course you got raped". I look at it more as "there's a dark alley where bad things have happened in the past, you should walk down it carefully, perhaps with a friend, or avoid it altogether- even if the other way takes longer".

The general feeling I get is that many people who have been harmed in this way, would rather focus on changing the people who would harm them in that alley (in this case, the attitudes of those that they choose to play with), rather than focusing on changing their own views of that dark alley or of the people who may be lurking there intent on harming them. Realistically, that's never going to work on a large enough scale to make it helpful.

It all comes back to personal responsibility, mitigating risks, speaking realistically about what goes on in the “Scene”, and making sure people know that despite whatever happens- whatever steps they took, didn’t take, whatever we’ve taught or not taught- that if someone rapes or assaults them, that the only blame that can be placed is solely upon the rapist.

The ABC's of Kink and Abuse

The ABC’s
Abuse, BDSM and Consent

Part 1: Abuse in BDSM

Personal responsibility and obligation is a difficult topic to write about. It differs for each of us. Trying to find a balance between each individual’s personal responsibility and the obligation we owe to each other within a community is like walking a tightrope- focus too much on personal responsibility and we risk “blaming the victim”; focus more on community obligation and we risk blaming the community for the actions of a few. We each have our comfort levels. We each have what we’re willing to believe. And we each know how much we want to pretend that all of the questions we ask will have answers.

Nevertheless, I believe that both personal responsibility and the community’s obligation towards others is the first line of defense in combating abusive behavior within the BDSM scene.

Personal Responsibility

This is the duty of care that you owe to yourself. It’s not an easy thing to remember, especially when playing with dominance and submission. But personal responsibility for one’s own actions and inactions can help alleviate your becoming a target for those looking for easy marks.

Personal Responsibility begins by Owning your Shit.- For everyone. I think that it has to be said that if you want to play in this pool, you have to wear your life preserver and take responsibility for yourself. There are sharks in this pool along with the dolphins.

So how does one begin this Personal Responsibility?

By not trusting someone just because they wear a label of “dominant” or they have all the right words. Instead-

“ take your time to get to know someone well so they can earn your trust instead of giving it away. It's about protecting yourself from potential harm.

Many people get sucked into words or promises they want to hear by a potential partner like dust into a vacuum cleaner. Women who are anxious to be in a relationship are vulnerable to men with all the right moves. They get caught up in the initial rush and don't wait to see if he follows through on what he says with actions...Men also get sucked in by women they're very attracted to who act sweet and agreeable until they get serious. Most people are on their best behavior when meeting someone they like. Then as time goes on, the person changes in ways we don't like.

This stuff is common, especially for people who dive in hot and heavy soon after meeting someone they like. That's why it's so important to filter your immediate impression of a new romantic attraction until they've earned your trust in many ways over a period of time.

We get ourselves in trouble by jumping into relationships too quickly. We trust before it's earned, and assume people are nice because nice things are said. Do I think most people are jerks? No! Far from that. I believe that one person's jerk can be another one's treasure if boundaries are set from the beginning and you take it slow.
~Dayelle Deanna Schwartz

Even in a vanilla context, the advice of “take it slow” and discussions of boundaries is often repeated. In the kink sense, “take it slow” means also that one is not in a race to complete your BDSM checklist. Learning about people takes time. Trusting them should take longer. Allowing them to push limits, order you around and skip formal negotiation can take a lifetime.

Realize that this is NOT a competition among people for the “biggest hematoma of the week” or that you’ve played with 200 people this year alone! Nobody cares and in fact, attitudes like that create a situation where you’re not thinking clearly about personal safety, much less about personal responsibility.

Some key areas which we need to keep personal responsibility in the forefront are:

* Know yourself, your boundaries, your expectations and your limits
* Defend those boundaries.
* Be polite but firm.
* Talk. Say no. Speakout about your experiences, good and bad.
* Do not perpetuate the problem. If you are complaining to your subbie girlfriends that Dom X just wont keep his hands off you, but at every munch you are showing him your new bra.. well.. pick one and stay there. You cant have it both ways.
* Be aware of your surroundings and surrounding event goers.
* Be aware of verbal and non verbal communication signals and red flags ~KinkInMotion

Recognize the places where you have may have some trouble spots and find ways to cope with them. Do you have problems coming back out of subspace when something is wrong? Do you have a safeword which is easily misconstrued? Do you have a problem actually saying “no”? By asking yourself what the “worst case scenario” would be, and finding a way to work around that scenario, personal responsibility begins and you become empowered to demand the exercise of your right to safety.

Easier said than done right? Not exactly.

Practice “Active Bottoming”- When playing with someone new, for the first few times, things should move slowly, you should be able to anticipate what’s going to happen, and you should learn how each other reacts, Smaller scenes, shorter duration, and ongoing feedback, are part of active bottoming. Recognize that it is not an“all or nothing”- that there is truth to the words “live to play another day”.

If you’re new to something, a relationship, a playpartner, a toy or an activity- get some help from someone you trust. Ask them to help you negotiate. Ask them to be your eyes and ears during the scene. You don’t HAVE to trust a virtual stranger the first time you meet them at a party to tie you up and beat you, without having a backup plan in place. Safecalls are one form of backup that everyone is familiar with. Why can’t we have “pool buddies” when doing pick up play at parties and dungeons?

If you do enter an altered state [for clarity- any state where someone is not thinking on their two feet, with their brains fully engaged.], and many of us do when bottoming, I’m going to offer two bits of advice.

First to the Tops- I’m going to suggest to you that when you have a bottom with whom you’re new to play, and that you don’t know very well- when that bottom reaches this place, that this is a good time to begin winding down the scene. If you’re in a party scene with a newer playmate, this isn’t a good time for either of you to change the tenor, intensity or parameters of a scene. In negotiations, tell your bottom that when she/he is no longer actively bottoming, that this is when you’ll just let them coast. If a bottom is unable to communicate with you- This is a sign that the bottom is no longer able to consent! Later on, when you’re doing aftercare, and your bottom says “wow I wish you hadn’t stopped” then that response is something you can add to your negotiation for next time.

Second, Bottoms- if you drop at the touch of a rope on you- even with new play partners, you need to have another person who can advocate for you.- one who has perhaps taken part in negotiations and who can be a “spotter”. Tops need to get over their big selves about people “interrupting a scene”. If you’re a bottom who drops quickly or deeply, either find someone who can be that spotter or you need to be acutely aware of how you choose your partners. If you have a top that won’t allow such a person, you may wish to question whether their toppiness is more important that your safety.

And finally, I have to mention safewords. As I’ve already said, safewords won’t work with abusers. But because they’re so strongly urged in consensual BDSM and is often the first clue that someone is going to ignore what you’re saying- get one that is going to work.

But also be aware that people think that safewords mean “stop EVERYTHING, right now! immediately and do not pass go”. A safeword is defined as a word that is unlikely to be said within a scene, and means for the immediate action to cease, not necessarily for the scene to end. This is the reason why they often don’t work properly. Safewords are fraught with difficulty because bottoms tend not to use them due to the fact that they don’t always want “everything” to stop, but also know that responsible tops tend to panic at them and stop any further interaction.

Bottoms who aren’t clear (when facing away for instance) or tops who can’t hear them in a loud dungeon create a disadvantage for both sides. Instead, try using a combination of plain language and body language.

Red, Yellow and Green (beige) are standard. It’s far easier to think about where you are on a color scale than to figure out if something is safeword worthy. If you’re going to use your own safewords, choose something that is unlikely to be said outside of the scene. Ouch, More, Stop, Please and Fuck aren’t good choices. Rigatoni, Elephants, Purple are better. I prefer to use “You’ve hit my tailbone, please stop, NOW” with a footraise so that he can see from behind me (where, frankly, a lot of the “action” is taking place).

And lastly, because I feel strongly about this, If you DO have a safeword that is ambiguous, it is YOUR responsibility to understand that you’re playing with a handicap and to make absolutely sure that your top knows that you’re playing with this handicap. This really is one of those areas where you really have to make a decision concerning personal responsibility.. It is a learning curve wherein practicing active bottoming will help both of you get through the scene more safely. If your top doesn’t hear, or misconstrues your safeword- You’re responsible for stopping the action if it is beyond what you’ve negotiated - by any means necessary.

Will any of this prevent abuse? Not for someone who has that on his/her agenda. But it will go a long way towards making you an unappealing target. And it will also help in vetting people for yourself. Those who won't understand your need for going slowly; those who disregard your safewords; those who insist on bowing, kneeling and submission immediately will always have problems with a show of strength on your part.

Community Obligation

The second part of taking away the predator/abuser’s playground is the obligation of the community. This is the area that seems to create the biggest problems within our community. As with any issue which needs addressing, people will range in reaction from “I’m staying out of it” to “let’s report the fucker to the police, immediately”..and everywhere in between. But if we, as event organizers, munch facilitators, presenters, party hosts and dungeon operators provide this playground for abusers because we are afraid to act or because we “don’t want to get involved in other’s problems”, then we are providing exactly the kind of playground in which predators and abusers thrive. (with a nod here to a very cool blog: SexGeek)

The community, has an obligation to make it perfectly clear that known offenders are not allowed to come to their events. I’m going to say that, given the absolute HELL that people are put through when reporting abuse within our community, that it’s unlikely someone is going to “cry wolf” as often as we think they might. Erring on the side of the accuser, rather than the accused is not only prudent, but may in fact act as a deterrent for others who might think that their safety lies within our community’s often-repeated standard of “he said/she said, not getting in the middle”.

The community has a collective obligation to respect others’ boundaries. Strictly and without question. This equates to making the rules, promulgating them, and enforcing them. Those truly clueless of our community mores will abide by the rules after being informed. Those who have their own agendas will repeatedly offend under the guise of “just being friendly” and will need to have those rules enforced time and time again. This also means that using a position of authority within groups and events to coerce anyone needs to be firmly and strictly dealt with.

We have an obligation to believe others who are speaking- nobody makes that decision lightly. Knowing all the shit they’re likely to get- it’s not unheard of to just keep quiet and disappear. We have an obligation to those who have been harmed to make sure that they are helped. And that they’re not doubly harmed by allowing their abusers easy access to our groups and events.

We have an obligation to speak out. If someone can’t do it for themselves, others must do it for them. Leadership isn’t just about running things your own way, it’s also about meeting the needs of those who look to leadership for support. My personal opinion is that if someone is unwilling to step up, speak out, or help those who look up to their position of perceived authority, then they shouldn’t be IN that position to begin with. This is not a case of “doing no harm by maintaining the status quo”.

We also have an obligation to protect our spaces, our munches and our events from predators, while at the same time realizing that all those “poor defenseless bottoms” don’t need OUR protection. Protection means that we assume someone is weak and they need stronger people to defend their interests. It creates a sense of dependence (on the “weak” person’s part) and righteous strength (on the “strong” person’s part) which in fact is suspiciously similar to the conditions that create and support abusive situations in the first place. (with another nod to SexGeek)

We have the obligation to provide the tools and resources to foster empowerment. We need to talk more openly about the truly “dark sides” of BDSM and abuse. We need to acknowledge it’s existence and stop behaving as if we have nothing to do with it if it doesn’t happen to us.

Every time someone is abused in our community, in a space we provided, using the mantras and empty vagaries we have all spouted as gospel, we are all to blame.

None of this will stop the most egregious offenders, but realistically speaking, not even the vanilla world can prevent abuse. The Kink Community certainly doesn't have any better answers than the populace at large. The most we can hope to do is make damned sure that we're speaking realistically to those finding us and making sure that when the shit happens, we're not so blind to the fact that it does exist within BDSM, that we're too afraid to help those who need it.

ABC's of Abuse and Kink

The ABC’s
Abuse, BDSM and Consent

How many times have we heard the phrase “BDSM isn’t abuse”?

The answer in our own minds is usually “of course, BDSM isn’t abuse-to engage in BDSM, one needs to have consent”. And in a kinky utopia, that is absolutely the truth.

However, too many people coming into our circles tend to hear instead “there isn’t abuse in BDSM”. We’re doing a poor job of communicating that, like any other society, abuse most certainly does exist within a BDSM context. Well, we are not a kinky utopia, and because of our need for secrecy, our silence, and our fear, we provide an almost perfect playground for those whose aims are definitely NOT utopian, to hide within while providing them easy access to their victim.

Abuse comes in many forms and abusers come in many varieties. It’s often very difficult for people who play with things like rape fantasies, consensual non-consent, or even merely the thrill of “giving up control” to a mean sadist, to understand that BDSM isn’t immune to abuse simply because many of us believe that one cannot engage in BDSM without consent. We’re talking apples, and people are getting lemons.

Those who engage in BDSM are a cross-section of humanity. It stands to reason that, like all communities, we also have our share of “bad apples”. Knowing who they are isn’t easy. Knowing what to do with them once known is even harder. Helping those that they’ve harmed is the hardest of all.

This three part post will talk about abuse within the bdsm context (which isn’t much different than abuse without it), how to recognize abuse, the responsibilities and obligations that we all have to ourselves and one another, and most importantly- to offer suggestions on how we can as individuals and as a community, combat this hidden problem.

“There's a difference between blaming the community and not the attacker, and holding the community accountable for enabling the attacker to be there. That's what we’re talking about here. By accusing survivors of being dramatic, by community leaders not stepping up in any active way when multiple accounts of problems with one person come their way, by saying "if you didn't fight back you let it happen"...

Here's the thing, dear reader: if, as a community, we want to say to radfems, the government and the police that What It Is That We Do isn’t abusive (and we say it a lot), then we need to prove it by treating survivors with respect, listening to their voices, not creating a norm of slut shaming and victim-silencing, encouraging negotiation skills via workshops and demonstration, and holding predatory people accountable, from directly and firmly letting them know their behaviour is unacceptable, to publicly outing and banning them if it’s necessary.

Every time we DON'T hold people accountable, and every time someone says my article is proof that I obviously was an attention whore who was turned on by being forced to do things to men I didn't want to do, or that it’s my own fault for not knowing better, and that this sort of writing is a disservice to the kink community, we are proving the radfems, the government and the police right. We are saying, effectively, that BDSM can be abusive, and that we would rather put blinders on and shun those who speak out than address the issue.” ~ Kitty Styker: I wish I could safeword

What We’re Really Talking About

Throwing a lot of terms around will just confuse everyone. Let’s suffice to say that if you don’t understand what a top/bottom, submissive/dominant, or any other “bdsm term” is, go online and find a few dozen of the really good general dictionaries to use. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to use the following definitions in the most broadest terms possible:

Abuse- non-consensual actions by a person to control the thoughts, actions, or beliefs of someone else. Abuse comes in many forms- from sexual harassment (the “quid pro quo”), to outright and blatant disregard for someone else’s physical or emotional safety. The abuse cannot be stopped with a safeword and may include physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and economic abuse. The last of which is often aimed more frequently at male bottoms. Abuse is an ongoing, non-consensual and/or coercive power dynamic between people. Abuse is hardly ever noticed by those outside of such a relationship, and in fact within the context of BDSM, it very often looks too much like two people having a “really good time”.

Predator - anyone who misuses their perceived or actual authority over another to facilitate abuse. Predators often choose their target on the basis of passivity, lack of assertiveness, naivete, low self-esteem, age, lack of education, or other areas of vulnerability - including fetishes. In our communities, this is often the “newbie”. Unsure, unaware, and perhaps not sexually or emotionally ready for playing in this world. Predators come in many shapes and sizes, across all genders and orientations. There is no way to tell who is a predator and who is not at a glance. Whispers and rumors are often ignored. That small voice in your head is likewise ignored. Predators look like everyone else. They’re charming, appear well-connected and always appear to know their shit. Often, they drift to positions of perceived authority on this basis.

Consent - is permission given for an activity, with all the facts known, and requires active and ongoing participation. One cannot give consent when unconscious or asleep. However, it is a mistake to confuse consent as simply “yes means yes” or “no means no”. Yesses and nos can be given verbally, non verbally, implied and anywhere inbetween. In BDSM in particular, where you have predisposition of bottoms to agree, simply hearing a “yes” doesn’t necessarily mean that consent has been given. Unless the person is informed, aware, and actively participating in the activity, then it’s a slippery slope for both sides. If you don’t feel as if you could say no, it is coerced participation and lacks consent. Without consent, BDSM is unethical at the least and criminal at the most.

Mistake - the old adage “shit happens” applies here. Genuine miscommunication, accidents, inattention, mistakes in judgment, aim, or reading body language all happen quite frequently within BDSM. Experts fuck up. Newbies fuck up. No one is immune to mistakes. We are only human. We all bring expectations and preconceptions into a scene. When they don’t work out, we find ourselves in the middle of a mistake. Mistakes are unintentional and don’t generally fall under the definition of abuse. Do abusers make mistakes? Quite frequently. But thinking that a mistake is abuse, dilutes the power of those who ARE being abused. I think that the true test of a mistake is in the behavior of the actor when called on it. Do they own their mistake? Do they feel even more awful that they made it? Do they try to make amends? Do they question themselves? Do they ask for help in fixing it or learning better? And most importantly, do they apologize without “butting”? Saying “I’m sorry that I hit you harder than you asked me to, I got carried away with the scene” is one thing. Saying “I’m sorry that I hit you, but you moved in the wrong direction and it was your fault” is another. Nobody intends to make a mistake, but when they happen (and they will), the intention to clean up your own mess, for me, differentiates a genuine mistake from abuse.


RACK (Risk Aware Consensual Kink) and SSC (Safe, Sane, and Consensual) are short, marketing phrases that too many people believe offers some sort of magical protection against being harmed. Knowing these terms, saying that one is “risk aware”, and believing that those who also can spout these phrases ascribe to the same values, offers a false sense of security and begins a cycle of belief that there is no abuse in BDSM.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Both RACK and SSC are designed to give a voice to an easy to remember mantra of the utopian kink ideal. But neither RACK nor SSC will protect anyone from someone that doesn’t practice them.

Those who engage in BDSM aren't any better or worse than any other group of people who share a similar affinity. You have people who will play by the rules AND people who will pretend to play by the rules for their own agendas. There are sex offenders and predators finding our community daily. There are also vanilla people who just want a little kinky sex finding the scene. Don't believe that just because we have rules for conduct, we preach negotiation, communication, and responsibility that everyone you meet will follow through. Kinky people are PEOPLE...not every member of any "club" is like any other member. Don’t think that just because someone has a Fetlife profile, can copy and paste something that sounds half-way decent, and has followed along enough to integrate themselves into the scene that they can be expected to KNOW what the “community standards and mores” truly are- much less care if they follow them.

If there are people finding us that don’t have any idea that there is a risk of injury while flogging, caning, suspending or anything else, is it any wonder that people don’t realize that there are also others that might abuse them within the guise of BDSM?

Can We Recognize Abuse?

There have been thousands of books written on abuse and abusers in the vanilla world. Abuse within marriage, abuse of children, abuse of pets- those things happen, are written about, and studied by those with actual degrees in psychology. I’m not going to try to recreate the wheel, but I will say that it’s not easy to recognize abuse when it’s happening within the BDSM scene.

“...we’d negotiated a rope suspension scene, and I specifically told him “no sex”. After he suspended me, gagged me, and while I was in a very happy subspace, he opened my legs and started fucking me. When I realized what was happening, I was crying hysterically. I screamed through my gag, tried to undo the rope, and experienced real fear. He finished and whispered into my ear that if I said anything, I wouldn’t be believed because nobody was paying attention and it would be his word against mine...” ~ Author’s name withheld.

Recognizing abuse, even when it’s happening right under our noses, is a tricky thing within the BDSM context. We play with non-consent as a part of many scenes. Begging for something that you don’t really want to happen, roleplaying, rape play, interrogation play...all lend themselves to consensual non-consent. So how does one recognize abuse within all of that? And how does a casual onlooker know the difference between a “really hot scene” and actual abuse?

The truth is, we can’t. When abuse is happening right under our noses, in our parties and dungeons, we can’t tell the difference.

Simply put, BDSM turns to abuse when any of these things haven't been negotiated as part of a scene or relationship:

1. When it devalues you, your thoughts, your fears or your safety.
2. When your limits are ignored.
3. When a timeout cannot be called to discuss a problem.
4. When you are not heard when there is a problem.

It’s difficult for us to spot abuse because for every negative trait abusers exhibit, there is an equal call for such a trait to be evidenced in domination. Some of the more common ones and their analogous BDSM uses-

* Manipulation is at the basis of predicament play.

* Controlling behavior - control is desired by those seeking a D/s or power exchange relationship;

* Use of force- force is often found in most kinky sexual relationships and is most often used in rape play;

* Sadistic fantasies- I hardly think this one needs explanation!

* Cruelty within a scene is common, especially in humiliation scenes.

* Stereotypical gender roles are maintained as a norm especially by het-male-doms;

* Eagerness to Rush into a “dom/sub” relationship. Presses for exclusivity on your part, jealousy in the guise of “protection”

The unfortunate reality is that from the outside, there is little that any person engaging in BDSM would notice as out of the ordinary in another’s BDSM play or relationship.

Unless they’ve been told otherwise.

~Part 2- Obligations and Responsibility: Individual and Community Combined

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Small Voices

I’ve had a really rotten few weeks.

Since first deciding to speak my mind about issues happening in our “community” ranging from consent/boundary problems to rape, I’ve received tweets, emails, fetlife mail, dm’s and blog comments aplenty. Not all of them were, shall we say- nice?

But what surprised me more, and was more disappointing than anything, was the voices of those who are still missing in this discussion.

I don’t know what it was about some of the things I wrote, but it seemed to bring out the absolute worst in some people. The support I got privately, often wasn’t quite enough to make up for the shit I was getting. I was at the point of almost giving up on this whole fucking idea of taking a stand on any issue when I started talking to a few really good friends whose opinions and good sense I could rely upon for a clear head. Septimus, Dee Dennis, and Railen Panther. Without those three people, I don’t think that I’d be ready to continue speaking out.

I learned a lot these past few weeks. Since I first put out the call for people’s stories. I got nearly 140 messages from people. Some of them were so awful that there were days I couldn’t bear to open another email. Some of those stories were very hard to read, some emails were hostile, and not enough were supportive. Even, many times, from my friends.

But just as I’d about given up, thinking that my small voice couldn’t make a difference, couldn’t reach anyone, and therefore wouldn’t matter, in little more than a long weekend, several things happened that made all the difference in the world. I listened to what my three paragons of sensibility were telling me- I did have people who supported my efforts; that they wouldn’t consider abandoning me, or telling me to abandon my position when I was feeling discouraged; and that together, they had experiences in the things that I’d need to carry this thing forward. Septimus is able to cut through the bullshit and get to the heart of an issue; asking the right questions, and giving me a male tops’ perspective; Dee Dennis was able to help me see the larger issues involved; how to network; and most importantly- how to step back when I needed to regain my own perspective; and Railen- who last night almost brought me to tears when he and his Mistress told me that they understood what I was doing, that they wanted to help and that I was doing a “good thing”.

That, oddly enough, was the very first time anyone had told me that all the crap I’d been reading, hearing, and talking about the past few weeks, was worth it.

I’ve heard a lot in the past few weeks to make me think that part of the problem is that nobody gives a fuck about anyone else. They care about their own small circle of friends, but they don’t generally care all that much about some stranger 20, 200 or 2000 miles away from them. It’s “THEIR” issue. It doesn’t affect them, so why should they worry? And part of me asked that same question. Why should I even get involved in this issue? I have no personal stake in whether or not “someone else” gets their boundaries bent or whether or not someone else was raped. It won’t happen to ME, right? I can go on my merry fucking way, live my merry fucking life and not have to worry about someone else. I’m too smart to be “one of those people”.

Unless that someone else is a friend. Unless that someone else reached out to you for help.

Unless you’re someone who gives a shit about people.

Denial that there’s any problem, silence about it, shaming those that speak about their own experiences, and anger directed towards those who would shed light on such unpleasantness hiding within our “fantasy world” of bdsm, are some of the very behaviors that create the problems in the first place.

Abuse in BDSM exists. Predators in BDSM exists. Harm in BDSM exists. And mistakes in BDSM exist. To deny that those things happen as a he said/she said problem, because we've all read "all the books on how it's supposed to be done" or simply because we aspire to the epitomes of SSC or RACK or whatever behavior and to not talk about them openly and with compassion for those that have experienced those things, simply because “it wouldn’t happen to you”, is to make our “community” somehow more utopian than the vanilla world.

While we’re talking about all the fun, sexy, hot stuff that we do, we also have to remember that we don’t live in the books. We live in a world where abuse, predators, harm and mistakes happen, and we have to include that in our education, presentations, and discussions.

To think anything else, really is fantasy.