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Back You are here: Home Sex, Gender & Sexuality Diversity Queer Calling out sexual abuse on the BDSM scene

Calling out sexual abuse on the BDSM scene

BDSMThe BDSM community must step up and hold to account people who commit sexual assault. There's a difference between blaming the community and not the attacker, and holding the community accountable for enabling the attacker to be there, writes Kitty Stryker.

14 August 2011

Fetlife's done something really interesting lately. They've done some sort of weird search query blocking, where you can't search the words rape, raped, raping, force, forced, forcing, incest, child, infant, prostitute.

Oh, those fetishes still exist on Fetlife, never fear- but now, you have to put them in quotation marks. So, it's not rape, it's "rape".

Unless, of course, you look up rape/incest/prostitute play, in which case that's ok. Also, phrases like "rape culture" and "raping her" are ok not in quotes. And nonconsensual nonconsent is available to browse. Way to cover your asses, Fetlife!

Sexual assault meanwhile still shows up without quotations. As does abuse. As does nigger, whore, and, of course, fag ("Fag Bashing" being the name of one delightful such group that comes up when you search that one... awesome!). You don't need quotation marks around those words to indicate you're not being serious, I guess, or to say that it's ok because it's only roleplay.

Note: I enjoy some rape roleplay myself, so don't get me wrong there, but I find it interesting what's been decided to deserve that special, "make sure it's not for realz" attention and what hasn't.

By the way, as part of my research for the workshop Maggie Mayhem and I are doing, we've been paying attention to these things, and that blocking stuff? That's new. Interesting. I'll be curious to see what maymay has to say about all that if he's got the energy...

Anyway, I blogged recently about how abuse and sexual assault happens in the BDSM community and how it often doesn't get addressed in any meaningful way, thereby enabling it.

I got a lot of support, and of the people I knew, I was fascinated by the fact it was often from people who don't go into community spaces much anymore. Of the people I didn't know, one of the things I kept hearing was "and this is why I'm not part of the community/have left the community".

But I also got a lot of shit for it. I was told I was doing a disservice to the community by speaking out, that being sexually cajoled must be some sort of fetish for me, that there are precautions I could've/should've taken to avoid it (thereby suggesting that by not taking enough precautions it was partially my responsibility). If I had written this when I was 18-22, I would have been violently triggered and probably left the "community" myself.

But I'm not.

I'm 27 now, a Domme, a writer, a performer, with a lot of time and experience under her corset.

And I'm not scared, I'm not shamed, I'm not shutting up and sitting down. I am pissed off. And even more determined than before.

Let me start with this:

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 I'm 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"... that’s what I'm holding the community accountable for. The comments on the Fetlife post that I received were seriously sickening.

If a rapist is brought to court and walks free because of slut shaming, prevalent attitudes about rape and who gets raped, and racism/classism/sexism, saying the court is responsible for rape culture isn't putting the rapist off the hook – it’s saying they're accessories to a crime.

Also fascinating was that the people who were the loudest about how I was responsible for my own assault were almost all women, and most often sexual assault survivors themselves. How creepy is that? We don't need a male Dom to stomp in and slut shame us, because we've internalized all this shit so much that female submissives will do the work for them. Awesome. In the real sense of the word- inspiring a lot of (horrifying) awe.

Fun fact: the original poster changed the title of her blog post from "Abuse in the Community? Try Irresponsibility" to just "Abuse in the Community?", and apologized for continuing to debate as if I had not said no (even though in some ways the cult of "did you fight back enough" can be equally harmful).

However, in her apology, she said, " I don't know if it just wasn't prominent enough or if the other things she had said in the article contradicted it in my mind’s eye." Way to suggest that not reading thoroughly enough was somehow my fault! …sigh…

Here's the thing, dear reader: if, as a community, we want to say to radical feminists, 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.

I don't want them to be right, do you?

The fact is, if there was a sexual/physical assault at one of our semi-public playspaces, and that person did go to the police, there is a very good likelihood that the local dungeon would be shut down.

We struggle enough getting the cops to agree that S/M isn't inherently abusive... giving them an example that goes against all that, and effectively indicating that our main method of handling it is to "keep it in the family" and "don't make a scene", makes it seem pretty unsafe to anyone else. And, well... isn't that unsafe, particularly if dungeon monitors don't have any idea how to handle a situation of assault?

Don't believe me? Check out the case of John Hauff, who picked up a 24-year-old sex worker, who agreed to some light bondage. Instead, he brought her blindfolded to a place where he tied her up, shocked her with a cattle prod, plucked out her pubic hair to see if it hurt, paddled her all over her body, used a catheter to pump her bladder with liquid til she worried it would burst. He ignored her safeword. He refused to listen to her say no. And you know what? He had been a part of the Seattle scene, a wallflower, for a decade. A decade.

And how did one member of the Seattle community respond?

When the subject turns to John Hauff, Master Ray's face hardens. He's never met the man, he says, pausing to sip from his glass of milk. He knows only what he's seen on TV and heard on the radio. Because he doesn't have all the details, Master Ray cautions that making a judgment "would be improper and foolish." Still, he says, there's something about the young woman's story that troubles him. She acknowledges negotiating up front for a certain amount of bondage, Master Ray points out. She got in his car willingly, and they drove to his place. There was no threat of brutality in the car.

"It wasn't a kidnapping," Master Ray says. "It was a negotiated sex scene between a hooker and her client. And somewhere along the line, she crossed her own panic line and cried 'Help!' "

As for her texting of Hauff's license-plate number, Master Ray points out that this is standard operating procedure in the fetish community, and doesn't necessarily mean the young woman was unusually leery of Hauff. "We call that a 'safe call.' It's perfectly legitimate and normal," he says. Once she'd revealed the text message to Hauff, Ray continues, "What happened next? She got dressed. He took her back where she belonged. He dropped her off. There was no threat. No murder. No 'Keep quiet or I'll come get you.' "

By the way, sex workers also have safe calls, for just this reason. And catheters do not "light bondage" make.

Kind of horrified? Oh, it gets better, folks, way better.

During a bondage session in which the rules have already been agreed upon, a dominant partner's saying something to arouse a submissive partner is as common as flirting, Master Ray says. If, during a bondage scene, Master Ray were asked by a submissive he didn't know if he planned to kill her, he would read it as a sign that this type of talk turned her on. "So I'm going to smirk and say something like 'We'll see,' or 'Maybe later,' or 'Only if you're not pleasing to me, only if you don't satisfy me,' " explains Master Ray. "Call me a smart-ass, but I'm going to say something that is going to elicit a response from her."

When the prostitute asked Hauff if he was going to kill her, Master Ray says, "We don't know what tone of voice she used." Her question, he says, could have been understood as a clue that this form of "danger" was a turn-on for her. "And the worst part of it is that between the time it happened and when she finally decided to report it, her feelings, her thoughts, can change," Master Ray says. "Shame can set in. And then he gets punished because now she's feeling bad about it."

Still, Master Ray acknowledges, Hauff's alleged use of such techniques as bladder manipulation and electric shock, which are at the outer edges of the bondage-play repertoire, give him pause. "If he did spring this on her, then he crossed a line," Master Ray says. "That would not be tolerated in the [fetish] community."

-          Will John Hauff's Gorean Bondage Fetish Set Him Free?, Seattle Weekly

So when you tell me "Oh, it couldn't happen in my community" I want you to think about this. Think about why, exactly, it couldn't or wouldn't. Here is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. And Master Ray's response is enabling, excusing, and justifying Hauffs'. Read the article further, and see how when these things happen, the community is "devastated" or "crushed". Waaaaah. Imagine how the people who are raped and abused and broken and left to pick up the pieces feel.

That is unacceptable and I absolutely will not sit back, as a kinkster and a sex worker, and listen without protest.

This isn't just about individuals, people. This is our community. If we can show that we are responsible about how we handle bad situations, and we can actively show that we hold people accountable, then we have a defense against BDSM being abusive.

But when we cover up for our abusers, when we have rape-y people teaching classes (I kid you not) on how to be better at being rape-y, when these predatory people are (often, I think, consciously) super charming and friends with the major players in these communities (if not pillars of the community themselves) then we enable abusive behaviour.

There's no nice, tactful way to put that. I mean, really now, if I get pushed to do something I don't want to by someone who is friends with the DM, am I going to go to the DM for help, particularly when I see that people jump down the throats of other victims who speak out? No. I will quietly pack my toybag and leave, and the community loses yet another player by being accessories to a crime, over and over again.

So let's fucking fix it.

For all of us.

Start out by reading Maggie Mayhem's "How not to be a douche in the dungeon", Sindelókë's learning how to understand your privilege (cisgendered [particularly male], straight, and white folks, I especially recommend you read it, though everyone should), and Creatrix Tiara's "Ways to combat sexual abuse / power-based personal violence (esp if you are in an alt-sexuality community)". I’ll also be writing more about this on my own blog.

Kitty Stryker is a Domme and escort, along with being a Burner, a queer, and a bookworm. She writes to educate and entertain three groups of people: clients, sex workers, and the general public curious to know more about the backstage of sex work.

She blogs at PurrVersatility where this article first appeared.

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