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.

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