Abuse, BDSM and Consent
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.
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.
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.