Not What We Do

This is a guest post by Thomas MacAulay Millar. Thomas regularly blogs at Yes Means Yes.

In fantasyland, the BDSM community is clearly defined, composed exclusively of ethical people who basically agree on our values, who have polite if lively discourses about safety and risk, and we consistently recognize and exclude people and behaviors that are unethical and unacceptable.

In the real world, the BDSM community is a conceptual construct, not an actual club with a definable membership. Some folks play in public clubs and belong to organizations and go to events and know each other. Some folks don’t. Some folks do BDSM with a partner or partners alone in their own homes. Some folks self-identify as BDSMers without doing anything that half of the couples in the US don’t do. Some folks do things at the holy-shit end of the sensation and risk spectrums, but don’t label themselves or what they do.

It’s easy, and too glib, for us to say whenever someone rapes and tortures someone and uses us as an excuse, that they are not “us”, that what they do is not what we do. That’s true, but if BDSMers want folks who are not BDSMers to understand that, we are going to have to be clearer in explaining it, and we’re going to have to be consistent in living by it. We can’t pretend that there is a central registry of “us,” like a political party, and these people are just not on the list. I’m willing to fight for the right of the woman in Waukesha, Wisconsin who gets flogged and pierced in somebody’s basement on a Saturday night to keep her job and her kids, whether she belongs to the organizations and goes to the clubs or not. Therefore, we need to have a clear voice about those people, on the fringes of our community and even in the center of them, who are predators and abusers. Lots of people say “safe, sane & consensual” (“SSC”), or alternatively “risk aware consensual kink” (“RACK”), and those terms have some currency among non-kinksters, but we have to be able to unpack what that means. Our declaration that the abusers are not us has to be more than conclusory. It has to be substantive.

What I’m working my way around to is talking about this. Irin Carmon at Jezebel picked it up, and essentially preemptively presented what is likely to be the consent defense, calling the case “troubling”. Lindsay Beyerstein – a better critical thinker would be hard to find – immediately called out that piece, and I appreciate Lindsay’s take, which I think is neatly summarized here:

It’s a bizarre notion that there’s any kind of blurry line between a consensual BDSM relationship and this. Either the government’s allegations are true, in which case this is a clear-cut case of kidnapping, torture, and near-manslaughter. Or the government’s allegations are untrue and we’re back to square one.

Lindsay linked to the indictment, which is disturbing reading probably for anyone. For me, though, the disturbing reading isn’t the things that turn most people’s stomachs. There are a lot of graphic descriptions in it, and it was horrifying reading, in context. But in an account of consensual play, I wouldn’t read those things and necessarily think, “that’s awful.” Much of it I would read and think, “wow, that’s extreme and risky. Do these people know what they’re doing?”

What turns my stomach is that the relationship had all the hallmarks of abuse. And I want to be clear here: this isn’t a close call. I’m not worried that too many people will confuse this with BDSM. If the allegations in the indictment are true, and I’m assuming that until I have some reason not to (innocent until proven guilty is a rule for the jury, not for the general public or the media), anyone will recognize that this was horrible abuse and the perpetrators belong in jail. He threatened to kill her if she escaped. He killed animals she cared about. These are classic end-stage domestic violence tactics, and abusers who say and do these things – whether what they do bears any facial resemblance to BDSM or not – often do kill their victims, and usually when the victim tries to escape. See here and here. The fundamental substance of this relationship is that of abuser and battered partner, and not similar to people who form consensual 24/7 dominant/submissive relationships.

It is obvious that this wasn’t a consensual relationship from the start. He met her as an underaged runaway. He showed her porn and supplied her with drugs. He promised to make her famous in porn. These are classic abuser grooming behaviors.

We know this because it is in the indictment. She went to the hospital after he did something so wildly unsafe that she want into cardiac arrest and nearly died. (I’ll get to that.) Apparently she reported at the hospital that she was a prisoner against her will.

A Few Declarations Of Ethics:

Though this doesn’t present a close question at all, inevitably people look for clarity. What is it that happened here that was unethical, as we see it? If I get into specifics, there’s almost too much to list, so I’ll keep it general:

(1) It is unethical to ever have an irrevocable Master/slave relationship. Here in the United States, we wrote it right into the Constitution in the aftermath of the Civil War that slavery does not exist. All dominant/submissive relationships, no matter how strict the rules, no matter what kind of written agreement there is, no matter how extreme the sensation play, are subject to the submissive partner deciding the relationship is over. We killed 660,000 Americans for that, and it’s not negotiable.

(2) It is unethical to leverage an existing vulnerability or power imbalance to push someone into any kind of dominant/submissive relationship. Nobody should be pushed into a D/s dynamic at all; it has to be freely and consciously chosen to be consensual. This girl, when she fell into his clutches, was a sixteen year old runaway from a series of foster homes, which means she was extremely vulnerable and had no place else to go. Right there, any sexual involvement is just wrong. Then, he became her source for drugs. By the time she signed the contract that he said bound her for life, she was an eighteen year old with no other options, possibly a substance dependency, in an abusive relationship with a terrifying person. She wasn’t in a position to say no to anything he wanted.

(3) It is unethical to do things beyond one’s capabilities as a top.* And this is one of the places where, even if we didn’t know any of the other stuff, we could tell the difference between abuse and BDSM. BDSMers don’t want to damage their partners. Hurt, sure, sometimes a lot. But we don’t want to do things with each other that result in unintentional injuries. We like each other, we like what we do, and we want to have good experiences, so we control risks as much as we can and still have the experiences we want to have. Like mountain climbers. Not like abusers, who ignore risk and cause injury on purpose.

I said the physical specifics didn’t make me blanch, and I meant it. I won’t gratuitously repeat the detailed descriptions, because they’ll be offputting to some readers. Some of those things I’ve done and some I have not, but I know sane people who have willingly done a whole lot of things in that indictment. The thing is, they’re highly specialized skills. Among people who know what they’re doing, a lot of this stuff is considered appropriate only for people who really know what they’re doing. Responsible BDSMers don’t just hang someone from the ceiling; they learn suspension bondage. Responsible BDSMers don’t just hook electrodes up to people; they learn electrical play. It’s easier to do that in communities where there are classes or more experienced folks to teach; but more isolated people can access books and online materials and do their own research. If they care about their bottoms, they do. Being a top is a lot of responsibility, but it’s worth the work to have the big, moving, out-there experiences and walk away from them with no more boo-boos than intended.

People who don’t do the homework don’t care. The indictment contains some things which just flat should never be done in a scene and constitute medical care. It also contains things that are heavy medical play. With an amazing top with a background in medical scenes and piercings, with autoclave-sterilized equipment, in a clean environment, those things are some people’s idea of an amazing scene. But it’s not something you see on the web and say, “hey, go get the Neosporin, I want to try something.” No ethical top plunges cavalierly into things that carry a high risk of injury, and it really announces that he didn’t care if he did permanent damage.

Breath control and certain kinds of electrical play, done wrong (and depending on who you think it right on the medical stuff, maybe even if done right) can cause cardiac arrest. That’s what happened here. Some combination of electric shock and suffocation stopped her heart and the hospital saved her. I’m guessing he didn’t really care about her, but thought his chances of getting out of it with a live kinky woman accusing him of abuse were better than his chances of hiding the body and pretending he didn’t know where she was. We’ll find out if he was right.

(4) It is unethical to do things with newbies that they don’t understand and can’t make decisions about. If they don’t know anything yet, they don’t understand the risks and cannot give meaningful consent, which is at the heart of RACK and SSC. (I don’t need to get into the difference between the terminology, as the culture of which term people use varies somewhat from the literal meaning, and a lot of it has to do with who gets to be the safety police.) Getting someone to do things that they don’t understand is neither risk-aware, nor safe, nor sane, and generally isn’t consensual. If someone is just too ignorant to fully grapple with the risks they take, that’s negligence, and that’s full of fail. But the allegations don’t paint a picture of someone who didn’t understand the risks. They paint a picture of someone who didn’t care. That’s an abuser.

This is especially true of introducing a teen to BDSM through a 24/7 relationship. I’m not a big fan of 24/7 anyway. Lots of BDSMers have no interest in ever doing dominant-submissive roles. Folks who do D/s have clear boundaries, often time limits on the scenes. Many who have pervasive D/s dynamics in a relationship live apart, which inserts a certain amount of breathing room. A few folks really have those power dynamics in effect basically all the time, but that’s a very hard thing to do and make work, and people generally only try that when they already know a lot about D/s and how they react to it emotionally and undertake it with the understanding that it’s a very, very advanced. Leaving all the other things aside, taking someone with no BDSM experience and saying, “24/7 slavery, that’s what BDSM is” … that’s delusional, evil, or both.

Responsible BDSMers, when playing with newbies, are extra-careful about the basics, like negotiations and safewords – not only because newbies don’t know how they’ll react to things, but because they don’t know how to do things like negotiate yet and they need to learn. Someone teaching a new submissive needs to teach zir how to set zir boundaries, how to communicate with a prospective top about desires and expectations. Not doing this means virtually guaranteeing that something will go wrong, if not in the next scene then at some point in the future.

Do Not Be Distracted By The Irrelevant

There are some things in the story so far that I think are red herrings. I want to address them preemptively. I wish I didn’t have to say any of these things. But I do.

She has some kind of mental disability, says the prosecutor. This may be highly relevant. This may be largely irrelevant. People with disabilities are vulnerable to and targeted for abuse at very high rates. However, we don’t know enough to know what this means because we don’t know anything about her disability. I don’t think it is possible to make any broad declaration about consent from that. The depressed, the anxious, folks with learning disabilities, aspies and autistic spectrum folks, are usually sexual beings and may be kinky. Being neurodiverse, to use one term, does not make one incapable of consent.

She may have wanted at one point to be a porn performer. The defense said that in the Haidl case in Orange County – and you know what? It doesn’t matter if it’s true. It doesn’t matter if she wanted to do porn, if she intended to do porn, or if she did porn. Sex work is not an invitation to rape. She’s got a right to do porn or not do porn without it in any way impacting whether she can leave an abusive relationship.

The abuser lived in a trailer, in Southern Missouri. People are going to say some busted, classist things. I’m calling it out in advance. The problem with this guy wasn’t that he lived in a trailer. It was all that raping and abusing that was the problem. Nor is poverty an impediment to intelligence, learning or humanity – my mother lost all her teeth to childhood malnutrition caused by rural poverty, and she read all of Maya Angelou’s published works, and all of Toni Morrison’s.

Finally, the physical details really only matter in the contexts of safety (here, the total lack of concern with it) and consent (none). I expect to see reporting on this case that dwells on the details, and a great deal of commentary that states or assumes that no person would consent to X. In most cases, that assumption will be incorrect. Graphic description ahead Somebody sort of famous in online BDSM circles once put a Q-tip covered in capsaicin in her own urethra, basically because she was bored, and a top she played with said it would be a neat idea. End graphic description Say it with me: Owwww! Way past my limits, and risky. Like they say in the car commercials, “professional driver, closed course.”

Where Was Everyone While This Was Going On?

This is the part that gets me. I have no idea, though we’ll find out as the news cycle progresses, I suspect, how much contact this guy had with the BDSM communities where he lived. We know now that he had coconspirators. I don’t know whether these people were isolated from the formal BDSM community or peripheral to it. But we know that they shot a cover for a magazine with a person well known in the BDSM community, Nina Hartley’s husband. Nina’s a feminist, and I have run across her husband online though I don’t know either of them and have never met them. Probably the abuser figured out how to present a false image of a consensual relationship, and I’d like to say he would have had to. But kinky communities are not always really good at reporting abuse. I’ve written before that we don’t have a great track record of internal accountability. I think there’s a sense in organizations that their responsibility is to run off the bad apples so that they don’t endanger the organization’s members, but that once the abuser is disinvited to the party or stops showing up at the group or club, it’s resolved.

I wrote about a friend of mine – someone not peripheral but right in the middle of the high-profile scene in a major city – who was disbelieved and mistreated when she reported abuse: just like the general population shuts out and disbelieves rape survivors when the accused is one of their own. More recently in New York a high-profile top was accused of abuse. After the second report, local organizations took a stand and he “took a break” to make some changes in his life. My friend Paradox has written on this.

From the news reports so far, this woman is not this abuser’s first victim. All the reasons that rape survivors do not report abuse to the police are compounded in the BDSM community. Women who are kinky have even more fear – accurate, reasonable fear – that their sexuality will be used to attack them if they report. And they can lose their children and their job and their housing for being kinky. We don’t have legal protections anywhere, really. In the UK, and arguably in parts of the US, we can go to jail for what we do even if completely consensual and within community norms. And that’s all the more reason why we as a community have to make it okay for abuse survivors to speak.

To repurpose a piece of propaganda, “if you see something, say something.” BDSMers are not a formal community. We’re a group of communities and subculture and fringes and affiliations and common interests that overlap. We don’t have investigators and tribunals and we can’t revoke membership cards. If some guy kidnaps a woman and keeps her in an underground bunker or a storage shed and tells nobody, then there’s nothing we can do. (And abusers will use any excuse. Religion far outstrips BDSM as the excuse-of-choice for abusers.) If an abuser is running a website and contacting BDSM-oriented publications, I suppose it is possible that he managed to never say or do things that raised anyone’s eyebrows. But did people miss the signs, or did they choose not to look? Did people who would never do irresponsible and nonconsensual things choose to ignore the signs that this man was? It’s easy to look away and to accept the explanation that requires us to do nothing. The parole officer that visited Phil Garrido accepted glib explanations for the presence of his captive at his house. But if we do that, if we ignore the things that make the hairs on our neck stand up, then we are complicit, and our whole community has to pick up the pieces.

* A terminological note: some of us use “top” and “bottom” as umbrella terms, others use “dominant” and “submissive” for essentially the same purposes. The latter have become more common in the last few years, and are more descriptive, and for that reason many folks, including my friend and BDSM educator Clarisse Thorn use “dominant” and “submissive.” However, many of us think that those terms become a habit of mind and perpetuate the myth that to bottom is necessarily to submit and to top is necessarily to dominate, when there are riggers and sadists who top but don’t dominate, and masochists and bondage bottoms who don’t submit. I generally use the more flexible, and in my view more correct, umbrella terms rather than the more accessible ones.

Mod Note: Edit to paragraph about disability made on 9/18.


Similar Posts (automatically generated):

About Guest Blogger

Guest Bloggers are most welcome to diversify the range of views and experiences presented on this blog. The opinions of Guest Bloggers do not necessarily represent other bloggers on Feministe: differing voices are important to us. Readers are cordially invited to follow our guidelines to submit a Guest Post pitch for consideration.
This entry was posted in Crime, Domestic Violence and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

68 Responses to Not What We Do

  1. Elizabeth says:

    All of your links are broken.

  2. Teri says:

    Thank you for a comprehensive and thorough post. I appreciate your candor and thank you for the information. In our society we shame people for their sexual preferences. Sexuality is as individual as fingerprints and no two people express their sexuality the same. Removing shame and fear of exposure from being able to freely express your sexuality is a goal worthy of aspiration. Again thank you for your frank and honest posting. It is a step in the right direction to having a healthy and honest appreciation of human sexuality.

  3. Thanks, Elizabeth. Working on it.

  4. Links are working now. Thank you Jill!

  5. Ostien says:

    A great and thoughtful post. Thank you. You are right that the story here should be the abuse and not the kink. Unfortunately I suspect the kink will be put on trial (perhaps quite literally) and used as evidence, in and of itself, rather then the issue of non-consent. Or like you said non-consent will be implied in the act with the assumption that no one would consent to these acts (or one would have to be “mentally unstable” to do so). The prosecutors may simply rely on reactions of disgust to the act then to disgust at the abuse. Its simpler, pre-packaged, for them. This is basically what happened recently with Max Hardcore (Paul F. Little) and his obscenity conviction. Most of the trial consisted of showing a jury scat porn. Sure that was more of a First Amendment case but the underlying principal of utilizing peoples reactions to the act and not issues of consent are consistent. From what I have read, Paul f. Little is personally a sleazebag but the ruling was crap (wow only noticed that pun on a second read through).

    A more open dialog about kink, such as your post, is definitely a sex positive step forward benefiting kinksters and non-kinksters alike.

  6. groggette says:

    Thank you for this Thomas.

  7. Hot Tramp says:

    Awesome breakdown, Thomas. Thanks. One question:

    A few folks really have those power dynamics in effect basically all the time, but that’s a very hard thing to do and make work, and people generally only try that when they already know a lot about D/s and how they react to it emotionally and undertake it with the understanding that it’s a very, very advanced.

    Is this really true? Maybe it’s because I mostly encounter 24/7 people when they come to discussion boards for advice — i.e., when there’s already a fairly serious problem — but it does not seem to me that people “generally” go into 24/7 only after long experience with BDSM.

  8. Hot Tramp, I can’t point to survey data. I don’t know of a source for that data, though if there is a source that, say, gives a proportion of 24/7ers to whole community, I’d love to see it.

    I’m reasoning to my conclusion. The subset of the BDSM community that makes a serious attempt at live-in 24/7 is overrepresented in the public scene. And I think the subset of those who have problems that they then want advice about on the forums and groups you’re talking about is going to massively overrepresent the look-before-you-leapers who are new to the scene and decide that their first play partner is their 24/7 master or mistress.

  9. Hot Tramp, I checked the best collection of BDSM-related data I know, Orlando’s, and he says there is no data, but generally says this:

    24/7 Slavery

    Dancer, Kleinplatz, and Moser (2006), focus on couples identifying as practicing “24/7 slavery.” Here the emic term “slavery” is used to mean a relationship in which, ostensibly, the dominant partner controls the submissive partner in a lasting and unlimited fashion; following the authors, I am not placing the term or its cognates in quotation marks. Anecdotally, this is only a small subset of all kinky people, but there has never been an attempt to determine how large this group actually is.

    Emphasis mine. The paper’s focus seems to be narrower than just 24/7 power dynamics, but in practice I’m not sure how much. And nothing there actually says that most 24/7 practitioners have extensive prior D/s experience. The (self-appointed, like me) gurus who have books in print tend to say that that’s how it should work — I have Wiseman’s SM 101 in mind here. But I suppose it’s possible that there are more people going, “I think I like D/s, we should try it round the clock” than I realized. If so, that’s not good, and I blame Jon Jacobs. (Sorry folks, inside baseball.)

  10. Marlene says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with Thomas’s reasoned guess as to the rarity of real life 24/7. I’d also like to add that 24/7 is a very common fantasy held by newbies, but my (not little) experience is that follow through on the fantasy is fairly rare.

    A very well done post.

  11. JustDucky says:

    Thank you for this. When you said, “if BDSMers want folks who are not BDSMers to understand…, we are going to have to be clearer in explaining it, and we’re going to have to be consistent in living by it”, you couldn’t be more right; unfortunately, because we remain so underground and in many cases unable to acknowledge that part of our life for fear of repercussions, it’s fairly difficult to display that we ARE living by it.

    It amazes me, even now, even in fairly liberal locations, that people outside of BDSM circles and who don’t practice, even a bit, the lifestyle, still immediately assume that BDSM means the bottom has no control over the scene; that being a bottom means giving up your rights to say no.

    I frequented a lot of the online communities to try and network, given that I was working a strange schedule and couldn’t make it to munches and other functions in the area. It never ceased to amaze me when I’d get people responding to my advert (usually men) and wanting me to sign on immediately for a 24/7 relationship – which set off every sort of alarm in my head that I could possibly have. For the most part, people I met with were very much part of the Safe/Sane/Consentual mindset, but there were one or two cases where I barely felt safe in a public restaurant with the individual. It really is a shame that the publicity that the kink community usually gets is simply when things go wrong, or when people want to blame horrible abuses on it because they don’t understand.

  12. sub marissa says:

    That was very well written and incredibly true. I’m glad that there are educated people in the BDSM world that can put “our” thoughts and views out there. Where I understand your opinion of the 24/7 relationships as a “newby idea,” there are actually many people that claim to have mastered (pardon my pun) the family and practical side of D/s for a day to day life. My Love and I being one of those couples. Where canes may come into play the practical side of the D/s relationship does not entirely include them. The respect and imagination of the partners in this situation are a more predominate role in a 24/7 relationship. We are married and live professional lives and look like a “normal” couple from the outside, however, to others that live in what everybody calls “the lifestyle” can see the subtle differences in behaviour.

    Where finding other couples that are able to live as we do is very far and few between it is possible, quite exciting, and very fulfilling when done correctly.

    To comment on the abuse post you were very accurate in pointing out that a true Dom actually does protect his sub. Where there may be canings, spankings, electro play and bondage, a true Dom, however, knows his subs limits and does not want to over step these very boundries. He values a good sub and wants her to stay around for more fun in the future. I would like to also add that in a real D/s relationship the sub is as powerful and strong as the Dom.

    Of course, this is my opinion of our relationship and I am sure that my Love would agree.

  13. Pingback: Not What We Do | Dita Courtesan

  14. Sarah says:

    While I appreciate your post and I find it very compelling and well written I am somewhat perplexed.

    Perhaps it is my naivety in BDSMers troubles with positivity in this type of sex/play (which, if consensual I say hey whatever you enjoy doing you have the right to do, again if fully consensual).

    But this is where my problem lies. Working with rape victims and domestic violence victims for quite some time, I am horrified by what happened to FV. Probably the most traumatic and vile story I have ever heard. That being said… I do not feel this is an appropriate avenue (especially considering the severity of the case) for BDSMers to advocate or bring attention to their causes.

    I personally feel that this is not the time, nor the place to find an opportunity to reflect on BDSM (and yes, I understand that this in no way, shape, or form WAS BDSM). The focus needs to be on victims services and why this man wasn’t locked up for his previous offenses.

    Again, I may be naive and I do understand your thought behind the post, I just personally feel this is was probably one of the most inappropriate times to turn the attention on yourself and your agenda.

    (And, I am trying to be thoughtful in my concern, I am not interested in creating an online “fight” or “argument”. Facilitated education and conversation are what I’m open to. Thanks. –Sarah)

    • Jill says:

      But this is where my problem lies. Working with rape victims and domestic violence victims for quite some time, I am horrified by what happened to FV. Probably the most traumatic and vile story I have ever heard. That being said… I do not feel this is an appropriate avenue (especially considering the severity of the case) for BDSMers to advocate or bring attention to their causes.

      I personally feel that this is not the time, nor the place to find an opportunity to reflect on BDSM (and yes, I understand that this in no way, shape, or form WAS BDSM). The focus needs to be on victims services and why this man wasn’t locked up for his previous offenses.

      Just to be clear, I solicited this guest-post from Thomas. I solicited it explicitly because I saw a problematic conflation of BDSM and abuse in both mainstream and feminist media, and I wanted to counteract that. So these points are well-taken, but any criticism of the post topic should fall on me and not on Thomas, as I specifically asked him to write about this case and its relation to BDSM.

  15. CJ says:

    Okay, I’ve deleted this comment about sixty times because I keep filling it with irrelevant personal details but! To perhaps offer a small counterpoint to Sarah’s comment:

    I was one of those youthful, naive people who ended up in a ’24/7′ (it wasn’t, technically, but as I said, I think the details are irrelevant to my main point) D/s relationship with an abusive person right out of the bag – nowhere near the level of abuse involved in this instance but, you know, I know how the film would have ended if I’d stuck around, one way or another. At the time, when I sought advice in online communities, I was kicked out because I was under the age of consent (hello, thorny issues with emerging sexuality, age, kinkiness and the ‘out of sight out of mind’ problem!), and this is the kind of post that could have made a difference to me had I found such at the time, and HAS made such a world of difference to me since that relationship ended and I started restoring my mind to myself.

    I know that this isn’t in any way about me personally so I’m taking my own perspective with a dose of salt here (especially since the shittiness still colours everything and makes it really hard for me to read this kind of post in a specific BDSM type forum and thus I’m particularly grateful that this is being discussed in a more mainstream(?) blog) but while it’s probably a bad time to be an advocate maybe it’s a great time for a bit of reaching out and a reminder that, just because a person enjoys kink, even really extreme kink, doesn’t mean they must therefore enjoy, or be asking for abuse. It should be obvious but.. well.

    Again, my perspective is doubtless colouring my reading of your post Sarah, and this isn’t intended as an accusation, but I found it troubling that people who have been abused and BDSMers appeared as separate categories in your wording. For me, as a victim of abuse within a BDSM context, this isn’t a question of a promoting a cause, this is exactly the kind of time that I can’t help but reflect on BDSM, and abuse, and what that all means. It also appears that this man was using BDSM as a vehicle for his abuse which is what I feel makes it REALLY, REALLY IMPORTANT (again, to me, YMMV etc. argh, knotting myself up over this) for people within the sprawling community to up and say ‘this ain’t it, and we need to tell people’.

    I’m sorry for the rambling and back-and-forth here, but I’m super uncertain that I might be placing myself front and centre and failing to see something important and yet I can’t shake it – so please delete me if I’m way out of bounds here and again I don’t mean to attack Sarah at all, I just had a bit of a wincey reaction shortly after a blast of overwhelming gratitude and it formed a rather explosive mixture in my brain.

  16. Kaija says:

    Thank you, Thomas, for an eloquent example of critical thinking about a subject which invariably provokes all sorts of emotional knee-jerks, and thank you, Jill, for seeing the need for and soliciting this guest post.

    This IS the right time and place to have this discussion because the two issues–BDSM and domestic violence–are getting conflated in coverage and processing of this case and they need to be clearly understood and differentiated. Domestic/family violence is a serious problem and what happened in this case is abhorrent. However, blaming BDSM practices/practitioners is a red herring that gets people wound up but does not help the cause of combating domestic violence. An abuser is an abuser, whether that person is a dom or a church pastor….the actions of the abuser are not more or less heinous as a result.

    Whenever “sex” is involved, it seems that shame has to be handed out, usually to a group that traditionally gets more than their share. Women are shamed for “getting themselves raped”, DV victims are shamed for “why didn’t you just leave?”, LGBT folks are shamed because “you’re not ‘normal’…that’s why this happens” and that latter bit gets handed down to BDMSers quite a bit. We don’t need to dole out shame, we need justice for this abused person, and finding some other marginalized entity to blame (and let’s face it, get some good headlines, ratings, juicy media coverage) doesn’t help fight the issue of domestic violence. No oppression Olympics needed. We can *always* say “Why are we talking about X? Y is much worse and we should focus on that” but that doesn’t change the fact that we still have both problems. Let’s have some compassion and emotion for the victim but still use our rational critical thinking to point the finger where it belongs.

  17. Thank you. Given how quickly the comments on Jezebel broke down into a festival of defensive kinky folks insisting that this probably wasn’t abuse and why should we believe this woman’s allegations I was starting to feel like everyone had lost their minds. And it’s not the first time.

    I don’t understand why so many people’s first instinct was to insist that we don’t know enough to say this was abuse. Not after reading the transcript. Maybe it was the tone Irin took that set people off, at least I’m hoping so, because I don’t know how anyone could read that transcript and think it’s unreasonable to assume abuse.

    I’m one of those women who’s pretty much withdrawn from the scene due to the dynamics you talk about in the post you linked to about your friend who alleged abuse and wasn’t believed. I’ve had male doms try to force me to sub after I had told them quite clearly that I’m a domme. I’ve had them stand there, listen to me stating my boundaries, and then try to tell me that I’m wrong and I must want (whatever they’d like to do to me) because all women have a bit of sub in them. It happens, a lot, this thing where when a man states his boundaries those are his boundaries and that’s the end of the conversation, but when a woman does the same it’s just the start of a negotiation in which it’s assumed that she’ll eventually yield. Our community is far from free of sexism, and when you up the ante in a sexualised environment…well, I got tired of being forced to spend most of my time defending my boundaries from pushy assholes while I was supposed to be having fun.

    And I wonder how that played into what happened to this young woman, if her abuser really was involved in his local community. Did people see the signs but overlook them because sometimes we’re not very good about drawing a line between “is a top” and “is a pushy sexist asshole”? To what extent was the far too common assumption that a young female sub is up for anything part of the reason no one realised there was a problem? What about at the photoshoot for Tabboo? Those were some very experienced BSDM folks. Why didn’t they notice that there was something off about the dynamic between these two people?

    This is all wierdly timely for me because I have a close friend who’s a young female sub, and she’s about ready to give up on the community completely due to the men she’s encountered’s refusal to respect her boundaries. This is a real, ongoing problem, and I’d really like to see the community talk about it. When I see people reflexively defending someone who’s clearly an abuser, and who nearly killed his partner, even though that partner has stated that she tried to escape? Well, that doesn’t leave me feeling very positive that that conversation is going to happen, or that things are going to get better.

  18. Thomas says:

    Sarah, Irin Carmon at Jezebel already suggested that what Bagley did to FV was in some way the same thing we do. So I felt someone had to respond to that. Other feminists, including Lindsay and Jill, saw it that way too. I didn’t mean this as a jumping-off point for a general discussion. I mean this as a specific condemnation of Bagley from the BDSM community.

  19. piny says:

    I personally feel that this is not the time, nor the place to find an opportunity to reflect on BDSM (and yes, I understand that this in no way, shape, or form WAS BDSM). The focus needs to be on victims services and why this man wasn’t locked up for his previous offenses.

    Again, I may be naive and I do understand your thought behind the post, I just personally feel this is was probably one of the most inappropriate times to turn the attention on yourself and your agenda.

    I disagree. The community´s stake in protecting and promulgating safe practice goes way beyond public relations. That ethos is also about protecting practitioners from rape and abuse. The BDSM community also includes bottoms, masochists, and submissives: people often considered unrapeable by virtue of their perversity. As Thomas said, people who practice tis kind of BDSM are especially vulnerable rape and abuse victims because of the conflation of consensual BDSM and rape. We need real discussion of the difference between consensual play and abuse; the alternative is a very wide gray area open to exploitation by rapists.

  20. Joan Kelly says:

    Jill – thanks for clarifying. And Thomas, I appreciate the absence of defensiveness in your post – it is one of the only things I’ve ever read, in the midst of publicity about criminal cases where BDSM is involved, that lacks such defensiveness.

    And I agree with Sarah, though now I understand this post was Jill’s idea. Maybe if there comes a day where the *first* thing I see after a story like this breaks is not even remotely about whether it makes kinksters look bad, maybe at that point it would be less problematic to me to then see someone commission a discussion like this one. As it stands, all I have ever seen, when there is a story in the news about a female person being harmed by males who claim they are BDSM’ers, is immediate disclaimers and hey-don’t-mistake-us-for-him/them.

    Again, I appreciate Thomas that you are addressing the problems with those disclaimers. But, this being the first I’ve read here of that criminal case, it is still bothersome to me that the subject is about distinctions between abuse and consensual kink.

    It is difficult for me, as a pervert, to feel anything in common with other consensual kink people, let alone the criminals, when I’ve yet to see a reflexive first response that is about justice for the raped, tortured, and/or killed in these cases. It just feels like it’s always about justice for BDSM’ers image, with cursory (if that) nods towards the poor poor woman involved.

    This has been my observation in over a decade of various levels of involvement in professional and personal BDSM circles, online and off. Can anyone tell me, what exactly is it that any of us would lose by speaking out (and/or taking any other action) against those predators who are into BDSM without making sure everyone thinks what we want them to think about us at the same time? What do we lose by keeping it only about the women who are harmed in these publicized cases? And why do I never see a recognition of what is lost when we relentlessly make it about us?

    If your answer is going to be “why can’t it be both?” then my answer would be, I don’t fucking know. Because I’ve only ever seen it be about the one. *You* tell *me* why the women harmed and/or killed in these cases never even get co-top billing, let alone primacy.

  21. Anna says:

    Jill,

    It doesn’t actually make me feel better to know that you’re the one who commissioned a piece that uses the rape and torture of an underaged woman with a disability as a jumping off point in order to make a political point about BDSM.

    I know that there are kinky people with disabilities – kinky people with disabilities write about it all the time. There are blogs and forums dedicated entirely to kinky people with disabilities. Dismissing that this is a woman with a disability with “I don’t know what the prosecutor meant” sounds a lot like “this would make it more complicated to talk about, so I won’t.”

    • Jill says:

      It doesn’t actually make me feel better to know that you’re the one who commissioned a piece that uses the rape and torture of an underaged woman with a disability as a jumping off point in order to make a political point about BDSM.

      The piece was commissioned because I saw Lindsay Beyerstein’s piece, thought it was interesting, and then read the Jezebel piece, which made the BDSM connection that was problematic. It wasn’t “let’s use rape and torture to talk about BDSM.” It was “People are tying rape and torture to BDSM, how can we address that?”

  22. Anna says:

    Jill,

    It’s very relevant that this case involves a woman with a cognitive disability, though. According to a study in Canada (which, to be fair, is over 20 years old, but apparently no one wants to repeat a study that just focuses on women with disabilities), 85% of women with cognitive disabilities report being sexually assaulted or raped. I think it’s *very* relevant to this case that this was done to a woman with a disability, and I am really at a loss at why that’s not being discussed, but dismissed.

    • Jill says:

      Anna, that’s fair. I wasn’t trying to dismiss that point. I scanned through the post at Lindsay’s place, saw the Jezebel post, and shot off an email to Thomas. That was the whole of the thought process that went into this.

  23. I decided to respond to Irin’s post because I felt it was shot through with rape culture tropes. She wrote that there was a “blurry line” between BDSM and the nearly-lethal abuse that this woman endured for years. That struck me as offensive because the indictment described acts that the woman said were done against her will and circumstances that would invalidate her consent even if she outwardly cooperated, like being underage, being fooled by a bogus “slave contract”, being dependent on her abuser, etc. If the government’s allegations are true, there is no blurry line between a consensual adult BDSM relationship and this brutal sex slavery/sex trafficking/pimping/torture scenario. I felt like a lot of people were talking as if being a kinky teen somehow made her un-rapable. As if, because she enjoyed some aspects of the lifestyle, she must have been on board for being suffocated and mutilated and nearly killed with electricity.

    Irin later clarified/backtracked to say that she meant that in this case BDSM was a front that allowed the abuser to hide in plain sight. I don’t think that was her original point.

  24. Kristen J. says:

    Hmm….I read this post differently I guess as a call to action for the BDSM community to watch out for each other in light of the fact that this abusive relationship occurred at least partially within the BDSM community.

    In any event if its not too off topic (and feel free to delete this if you think it’s off topic or if you don’t want to address these questions) I have a few questions about how to reach and help victims of DV who are also BDSMers. Based on the conversations I’ve had with BDSM practitioners, the DV community support organizations sometimes seem to have trouble properly distinguishing between abusive and non-abusive behavior and providing a safe environment for BDSMers to talk to someone about abuse.

    In particular in building a case for a TRO I was supervising a respondent claimed that the particular acts of abuse were consensual and part of their BDSM play (which the client denied). I struggled to find a way to cogently explain to the other attorney that she couldn’t/shouldn’t argue that these particular acts were non-consent-able…other than to say people consent to things that you might not consent to and others don’t consent to things you might consider normal and either way that’s okay…the question is not whether you or I would consent, only whether she did consent. In the course of this discussion, I realized how difficult some of the people I work with on these cases find dealing with BDSM and I would love to have some resources to point to not just on this particular (bogus) claim but more generally on how we can encourage a culture of empathy and openness towards victims that are also BDSMers. If you can point me in the right direction or provide some advice, I’d greatly appreciate it!

  25. Kristen, I could point you to a number of pamphlet-type materials aimed at the victim and not professionals. I think they have the wrong focus and lack the depth that your question implies. I’m looking around for material that more directly responds to what you said. It’s an important conversation and I think it belongs in a separate post, either here or at my regular place, the Yes Means Yes Blog.

  26. zuzu says:

    Sarah, et al.:

    I have no particular dog in the fight here, but I think a point Thomas made deserves some additional emphasis: it’s important to draw a firm distinction between consensual BDSM and rape/torture because the lack of a clear distinction in the mind of the public is precisely what makes it easy for abusers to get away with abuse by calling it BDSM.

    It’s important as well because it’s so easy for the public to dismiss women (and men) who engage in certain kinds of sexual activities as unrapeable and untrustworthy. It prevents such women from seeking redress when something happens to them — and it makes it easy for those who would exploit them to do so.

    The concept of consent seems difficult enough to grasp when everything’s all plain-vanilla. It’s especially important to set the record straight when the lack of consent is being given a veneer of kink so that the victim isn’t believed.

  27. piny says:

    Can anyone tell me, what exactly is it that any of us would lose by speaking out (and/or taking any other action) against those predators who are into BDSM without making sure everyone thinks what we want them to think about us at the same time? What do we lose by keeping it only about the women who are harmed in these publicized cases? And why do I never see a recognition of what is lost when we relentlessly make it about us?

    …I´m not going to defend these things the entire community has supposedly said. I´m going to speak for myself.

    For one thing, it´s not as though BDSMers are spontaneously demanding an end to irresponsible, inflammatory anti-BDSM statements in the wake of every horrible abuse case like this one. This post is a response to a post that argued the BDSM is responsible for and inherently similar to sexual abuse. That assertion is made and largely unchallenged whenever a kinky person suffers abuse. Sometimes it´s made by journalists and defense attorneys. I think it´s fair to respond to it, since it is a derail in and of itself. I don´t think it amounts to rape apology to insist that you do not condone rape or willingly associate with rapists.

    Second, what do we gain? Well, gee, speaking as someone who plays that way and who has encountered plenty of creepy assholes, I say we gain the ability to speak out against abuse when we see it. Thomas´s title aside, it isn´t just Not What We Do. It´s Not What We Want Done TO Us. It´s not about giving BDSM a better image than it has. It´s about making sure that rape never finds any avenue to rehabilitation. There are, as you know, a lot of rapists out there who would love even the tenuous legitimacy they get from associating themselves with perverts.

    No one should be allowed to say, or believe, that bottoms want to be treated the way this woman was treated. No one should be allowed to say that about us. People who do that are giving aid and comfort to rapists, and leaving us vulnerable to rape. I want this shit nipped in the bud whenever and wherever it appears. The alternative is horrific, and it affects me and a lot of people I know and love.

  28. Hot Tramp says:

    zuzu, that’s exactly what I got from this post. When I draw a distinction between BDSM and abuse, it’s only secondarily about covering my ass as a non-abusive kinkster — primarily, it’s about protecting people who may be abused under the guise of BDSM. I guess I need to think about how to make that clearer.

  29. To clarify about the title, I meant it not only as a description, but as an injunction and condemnation.

    If I had wanted to do a PR piece for the BDSM community, I wouldn’t have linked to the posts I and others have done criticizing our own community for failing to consistently and effectively deal with abusive conduct. As others have said, I mean to deprive the abusers, as far as I am able, of opportunities to hide or excuse what they do. Not because it makes us look bad, but because they need to be stopped.

  30. Joan Kelly says:

    “No one should be allowed to say, or believe, that bottoms want to be treated the way this woman was treated. No one should be allowed to say that about us. People who do that are giving aid and comfort to rapists, and leaving us vulnerable to rape.”

    People are already “allowed” to say whatever the fuck they want about female people who know their rapists. And I don’t see reflexive posts about how non-rapey regular old hetero dealings are as a regular response to news stories about rapes of non pervert women. And if I did see that as the first and foremost reaction to non-pervert-lady-gets-raped stories, I’d speak to that as well, because I would find it misogynist.

    It does not actually matter whether the woman is into BDSM or was just on what she thought was a non-pervert date. We are already vulnerable to rape, and it is not because you and your patronizing response to me has not been made loud or clear enough.

    I am not the only female person who has participated in BDSM as a bottom/submissive/masochist, over a long period of time, who recognizes that it is shot through with misogyny and, yes, abuses.

    And I don’t need you or any fucking body telling me no one should be disbelieving us when we say we don’t want to do any fucking thing at all. I was disinvited to be a witness for a criminal case on appeal, in Los Angeles, where a man was using “but saying ‘no’ is actually the very definition of what submissives do, it’s consensual rape fantasies, judge!” as his defense. I was disinvited because I told the assistant DA that I take medication for PTSD. The things the man was convicted of were not even within the bounds of any extreme consensual play that I have ever heard of.

    But not only was the testimony of the several women who had pressed charges in the first place not enough to rule out his case on appeal, the supposed “expert witness” the prosecution wanted to bring in was pre-emptively disqualified because crazy people can’t be trusted to tell the truth about rape and abuse, especially if they are also perverts.

    So thanks for your snark and your sanctimony, but I don’t need you lecturing me about how important it is for people to believe women, or on the pervasiveness of the disbelief at present.

  31. zuzu says:

    Joan, you know that. I know that. There are a lot of people who don’t, or are maybe confused about what the line between BDSM and torture is, if there’s a line, etc.

    They’re the ones who have to be reminded that there is a line, and that consent to one act does not confer consent to all acts; nor does simply having participated in kinky behavior mean you consent to anyone and everyone and everything.

    And though I was also taken aback by Thomas’s “not allowed” language you quoted, he does actually write frequently about rape culture among non-kinky or at least not-presumed-kinky populations. Not to give him a cookie, or anything, but he doesn’t actually ignore the issue.

  32. Firstly, thanks to Thomas for linking me in his post!

    @Kristen J:

    I literally sit around and fantasize sometimes about getting a grant that I could apply towards starting an organization that would help BDSMers and other alt sex people with intimate partner violence. (Sort of like the organizations focused on abuse within LGBTQ relationships.) Or at least to start a large-scale effort towards sensitizing existing organizations. For example, I know that NYC’s awesome SM organization the Lesbian Sex Mafia has educated at least one local hotline.

    In the absence of that, here’s what’s out there (besides individual BDSMers who are concerned about abuse within our community and will hopefully help someone out if they’re in trouble):

    * There are a few pamphlets and other written-type materials. I showed one of these in my post Evidence that the BDSM Community Does Not Enable Abuse.

    * There is a list of Kink Aware Professionals on the website for the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. This list is opt-in, and includes doctors and therapists. A KAP therapist was incredibly helpful to me while I was coming into my BDSM identity; I’ve never called on one personally in an abusive situation, though I have directed others to the list.

    * There is a small and growing number of conferences that are designed to help counselors, social workers, and whoever else learn about BDSM. I was a panelist at the 2009 Center on Halsted Alternative Sexualities conference in Chicago, for example. The next Alternative Sexualities conference is actually coming up — it’s next week, on the 23rd! It’s in San Francisco and is totally worth attending. You can even get continuing education credits for attendance if you’re in certain professions. Find out more at the website for the Community-Academic Consortium for Academic Research on Alternative Sexualities.

  33. zuzu says:

    zuzu: And though I was also taken aback by Thomas’s “not allowed” language you quoted, he does actually write frequently about rape culture among non-kinky or at least not-presumed-kinky populations. Not to give him a cookie, or anything, but he doesn’t actually ignore the issue.

    Sorry, not Thomas. Piny. But the same sentiment applies.

  34. William says:

    I personally feel that this is not the time, nor the place to find an opportunity to reflect on BDSM

    As a survivor I completely understand your point, but I have to say I disagree. This is an especially good time to not only talk about BDSM generally but to distance it from the rape and torture that happened in this case, bring it out into the realm of acceptable conversation, and explore what actually happened here. Its especially important because people like the abuser in this case do not exist in a vacuum, they come from somewhere.

    From a psychological perspective, and I’m sure some people are going to take issue with this but please bear with me for a second, what the BDSM community (like any kink community) offers is a way to satisfy an otherwise unacceptable urge. Some people get off on causing pain, others get off on being hurt. A healthy, open, educated, ethical BDSM community brings those people together under norms and standards that allow them all to explore their sexuality without either becoming abusers or abusing. It brings into the realm of consent and healthy sexual behavior the kinds of things which, in a more restricted context, tend to end up being unhealthy and dangerous.

    Being a sadist or a domme, having a strong need for that kind of sexual expression, puts someone in a potentially very dangerous situation. Without a BDSM community you have repression and all the damage that does, you have someone with these confusing needs who has no support, no way of knowing how to fulfill them in ways that aren’t likely to be problematic. At best you end up with someone who is deeply repressed and unhappy, at worst you get someone who (with the wrong combination of background) has the potential to become like the man who raped and tortured this young woman. Subs and masochists, on the other hand, are in great danger of ending up like the victim in this case did: pulled by their sexuality and naivete into a terrible place with no where to go, no support, and not enough information to even know theres another option.

    Talking about the BDSM community, making it less taboo, and being clear about why what BDSM practitioners do isn’t rape and torture (even if an outside observer might not be able to tell the difference) is important when there are cases like this because there are a lot of kinky people who might not otherwise know. Sexuality drives human beings to do all sorts of dangerous things, but information is a very good way of helping people avoid the worst. Thats especially true in at-risk populations.

  35. piny says:

    I didn´t patronize you, Joan. You asked why we should make a point of this, and I answered you. You can´t accuse me of accusing you of not caring about rape culture, not when you frame my answer to the question as a distraction from rape culture. I explained why I disagree with that frame.

    People are already “allowed” to say whatever the fuck they want about female people who know their rapists. And I don’t see reflexive posts about how non-rapey regular old hetero dealings are as a regular response to news stories about rapes of non pervert women. And if I did see that as the first and foremost reaction to non-pervert-lady-gets-raped stories, I’d speak to that as well, because I would find it misogynist.

    I disagree with this as well. They do say that non-kinky women want it, for a variety of reasons. And feminists complain about that constantly, and they sometimes do it when the subject comes up because someone has just been raped. And I plan to complain about it whenever it happens, because it is rape apology, because someone is always around to hear it and file it away. I don´t think it´s a distraction from the larger issue, and I think it´s an important issue of its own.

    There are a lot of posts and articles and arguments about how women who go to nightclubs or bars or fraternity parties or shooting galleries or strip clubs or concerts or sex clubs or universities, women who drink or dance or travel, women who have lots of sex, women who have no husband, women who have a boyfriend, women who are women do not want to be raped. I don´t see much difference between exploding those assumptions and exploding this one. And I am kind of tired of the implication that the only people who have a stake in this clear bright line are patriarchal BDSM apologists.

  36. piny says:

    Look, the reason BDSM is different from these other conditions is that they´re often seen as implicit consent or clear untrustworthiness.

    BDSM is framed as engaging in cooperative rape. Sex plus violence equals rape. The general public either adds blanket consent to that calculus or just doesn´t bother with the issue of consent at all. It helps that kinky women are totally sluts who want it, but that isn´t the whole problem. We are women who demand to be raped by our partners, who then cry rape.

    If there were some sexual activity that obviated the entire question of consensual sex, if the general public literally could not distinguish between that activity and the event of rape, and if the fact of that activity meant that rape could not possibly have occurred…yeah, I would expect people who engaged in that activity to complain loudly and frequently. I would expect them to prioritize that conflation and that stigma. I would not assume that those complaints weren´t being made by women with an immediate and justified fear of rape with impunity. I would not assume that the people complaining were not identifying with the victim rather than reacting to some imagined community insult.

  37. ginmar says:

    Just to make sure everyone gets this: the victim says that she used safe words. He ignored her.

    The victim—–doubting, I guess it was—-over at Jezebel is seriously disgusting.

  38. Murrow Fan says:

    This story has made me extremely ill, partly because I personally knew Brad Cook, the perpetrator from the St. Louis suburbs. I haven’t spoken to him in over a decade and was never close friends with him, but even back then I could sense his creepiness, but I never knew just how truly creepy he is. It’s stomach-turning to read about something as horrific as this and realize that you have shaken hands with one of the monsters involved.

  39. piny says:

    The victim—–doubting, I guess it was—-over at Jezebel is seriously disgusting.

    Yes. If they technically had safeguards and place and he ignored them, then he is an abuser. If they had no safeguards in place and he used that as license to do whatever he wanted without regard to her desires or safety, then he is an abuser. If they began either with formal safeguards or with some nominal sense of mutuality but devolved via his long campaign of manipulation and cruel into a devastating, life-threatening prison-sentence of terror and abuse, then he is a classic abuser who needs to be put away right now what the fuck.

    This is not rocket feminism, and this aspect of it, the abuser´s abuse, is not actually unusual.

    I just wrote several paragraphs on why people can´t reconcile it with their flawed notions of consent, intimacy, and autonomy, I know, but it´s still fucking terrifying to read comments like that on feminist blogs. We´re supposed to get it.

  40. Joan Kelly says:

    I didn’t ask why we should make a point of it. I addressed the fact that it bothered me that yet again, the *first* words I see in THIS space, in line with the first words I see in most any space, about a news story where a woman has been harmed by someone(s) in the context of BDSM, where consent is alleged even while consent as a concept clearly falls the fuck apart because of the particulars, the first fucking thing I see is “Not What We Do.”

    Jill’s first shrug-y, didn’t-put-much-thought-into-it-by-her-claims response is “better get someone to write a post explaining that most perverts aren’t predators!”

    And the lot of you can keep trying to obfuscate what’s problematic about that with all your speeches about protecting “newbies” and the value of calling out prejudice against kinksters when we’re equated with sexual predators, and all you are doing is, in fact, obfuscating. And yes, you were patronizing. And no, the supposed “difference” between BDSM and any/all other sexual contexts where women know their rapists does not exist as stated in your claim. Consent is already always implied if a woman knows and/or has fucked her rapist before, and untrustworthiness is always the presumed resting state of all female people when it comes to rape accusations against those they know. And even those they don’t.

    I am not objecting to and have not objected to the emphatic insistence that it is not okay to rape women under the auspices of BDSM play. Nor have I said that no one ever complains about rape in non-BDSM contexts.

    What I’ve said is that I can’t recall ever seeing, as the FIRST and oft-repeated response to a news story about rape outside the context of BDSM, an explanation of why regular old heterosexual dating, for example, is too a largely safe and ethical framework, and how it hurts or even OPPRESSES all straight people to ever think otherwise, and especially I have not seen paternalistic “we speak out to protect the vulnerable newbies!” types of attitudes towards straight women in connection with rape. And I would find it fucking odd, to say the least, if I did see that over and fucking over again.

    If you wouldn’t, if all of this is honky dory with you, bully for you. It’s not okay with me. And you don’t get to try and twist what bothers me into some anti-kinky people, anti-rape-prevention position just because you don’t like that I don’t like it.

    • Jill says:

      Jill’s first shrug-y, didn’t-put-much-thought-into-it-by-her-claims response is “better get someone to write a post explaining that most perverts aren’t predators!”

      Um, no, actually. Here is what happened: I work somewhere around 80 hours a week at a job that is not this blog. I took a short break one day and perused Lindsay’s blog. I saw her piece. I saw the link to Jezebel. I thought, “Wow, that’s fucked up,” and then I thought, “Who can write about this case and the way it’s being spun in the media who will be feminist and nuanced?” and then I thought, “Thomas.” And then I emailed Thomas and then he wrote this post and then I hit “post.” The point wasn’t to say that most perverts aren’t predators. The point was to center the horror of this incident around the actual horror of it, and to take media outlets to task for conflating it with BDSM. The message when acts like this are conflated with BDSM is that consent is fluid or complicated, and that people who do “weird” sexual things are at higher risk of abuse, etc etc.

  41. piny says:

    You lot? The word for that kind of arguing isn´t patronizing, but it sure as fuck isn´t productive.

    Again, this was not spontaneous. The first words in this discussion–if we want to talk titles–were an exploitative and prurient oneliner about how BDSM is creepy and people involved in it do creepy things. Where do we draw the line? Evidently somewhere on the far side of abuse as we otherwise understand it!

    And the lot of you can keep trying to obfuscate what’s problematic about that with all your speeches about protecting “newbies” and the value of calling out prejudice against kinksters when we’re equated with sexual predators, and all you are doing is, in fact, obfuscating. And yes, you were patronizing.

    No. That is not what I´m saying, and I´ve said so repeatedly. Not sexual predators: willing and eager prey. I don´t actually get all that worried about tops getting a bad reputation per se. I don´t see many high-profile cases where an individual kinkster was unfairly smeared as an evil evil sadist, and suffered thereby as an unfairly accused rapist.

    I constantly see the assumption that women who engage in BDSM simply do not have normal or reasonable boundaries–that their own definition of abuse is either personally or categorically irrational, that abuse itself cannot exist in the context of BDSM because BDSM is itself cooperative abuse. That is happening here. This story and others like it somehow cannot fit within conventional ideas or feminist definitions of abuse, and commenters in these discussions are losing the thread. That doesn´t frighten me because kinksters may be labeled violent perverts when they are actually nice people. It frightens me because it is at root the argument that victims are not victims when the abuse occurs in scene.

    And it is not an obfuscation to point to it here, either. If this woman does not get justice given the clear and obvious pattern of rape and abuse that went on for years and violated any number of laws, then it will be because her status as a BDSM practitioner makes her complicit.

    And no, the supposed “difference” between BDSM and any/all other sexual contexts where women know their rapists does not exist as stated in your claim. Consent is already always implied if a woman knows and/or has fucked her rapist before, and untrustworthiness is always the presumed resting state of all female people when it comes to rape accusations against those they know. And even those they don’t.

    I know it´s never productive to insist that someone go back and reread what one has actually said: but no, I´m not talking about blanket consent. I´m talking about the practice itself. Drinking is quite often defined as blanket consent for whatever happens afterwards; drinking is not seen as the same thing.

  42. piny says:

    The message when acts like this are conflated with BDSM is that consent is fluid or complicated, and that people who do “weird” sexual things are at higher risk of abuse, etc etc.

    And should expect as much, and do expect as much, and do not mind. Nightclubs aren´t a good example–better examples might be sex work or porn. The implication is, well, what did you expect? This is what you went out looking for. This is what you are doing. With the assumption that these behaviors are ritualized abuse with complicit victims.

  43. Alara Rogers says:

    What I’ve said is that I can’t recall ever seeing, as the FIRST and oft-repeated response to a news story about rape outside the context of BDSM, an explanation of why regular old heterosexual dating, for example, is too a largely safe and ethical framework, and how it hurts or even OPPRESSES all straight people to ever think otherwise

    You might possibly have a point if this, or any response like it, had in fact been the first response.

    However, this is *explicitly* a response *to* a first response, where the first response managed to contain the meme “If she was a kinky sub, maybe she consented to being nearly tortured to death”, implying that subs in BDSM are not rapeable.

    The first response to “A woman was raped today” should always be “oh my god, I’m sorry, what can we do to help?” But when the first response is, “I bet she actually wasn’t even raped because she fell into category X”, the correct *next* response is always “People in category X can be raped and have just as much right to bodily autonomy as anyone else”. And if the person in category X was raped by a member of category Y, a response from a category Y person saying “Category Y people aren’t rapists by definition; we shouldn’t excuse any rapist on the grounds that he belongs to category Y!” is also appropriate.

    This is true if X is “sex worker” and Y is “man”, if X is “trans person” and Y is “cis person”, if X is “drunk woman” and Y is “man who goes to bars”, if X is “woman” and Y is “celebrity”, if X is “gay man” and Y is “gay man”… and it is true if X is “BDSM sub or generally BDSM practitioner” and Y is “BDSM dom or generally BDSM practitioner”.

    Your entire objection seems to rest on the notion that as a response to “A woman who is known as a BDSM sub was raped by a man known as a BDSM dom”, the post “BDSM is not about raping people!” is callous and inappropriate, and you might be right if that was in fact what the post was responding to. But the post is actually responding to the *real* first response to the news, which was “Well, since she is a BDSM sub, can we really trust her when she says she didn’t consent? Subs can’t really be raped because they agree to be raped by their doms, don’t they?” And as a response to *that*, Thomas’s response was ethical and appropriate, as was Piny’s comment that no one should be allowed to use BDSM as an excuse for getting away with rape.

    The conversation didn’t start where you think it did. No one being discussed here jumped straight from “A woman was raped” to “Stop picking on BDSM!” There was an intermediate step of “Well, she probably wasn’t really raped because BDSM makes people unrapeable,” and the answer wasn’t “Stop picking on BDSM” but “Stop picking on *people who practice* BDSM by assuming they are unrapeable”.

    Also, while as a non-BDSM practicing feminist I do see this conversation going pretty much *identically* to conversations that would happen if the victim were drunk, trans, a gay man, a sex worker, or honestly any woman, it’s also true that the concept that heterosexual dating is inherently unsafe and any woman who engages in it is consenting to rape is not a mainstream, widely held position in Western society, so pointing out that a woman who engaged in heterosexual dating wasn’t doing anything unsafe and was not “asking for it” and it’s an insult to straight people everywhere to assume that heterosexual dating automatically leads to rape… would be responding to a straw man. Hardly anyone *says* that. And when they do, people jump all over them to say that it’s not true, just as you claim no one ever does. I mean, who were all the people jumping on the Australian imam who basically said that women are like meat you leave out on the porch and men are cats and if you don’t cover the meat you gotta expect the cats will eat it? Hell, many feminists still jump on *Andrea Dworkin* for saying something like “heterosexual sex is unsafe for women and leads to rape”, and she wasn’t saying it to excuse rape.

    But it *is* true that assholes are *always* responding to reports that someone was raped with “Well, they couldn’t have been raped/should have expected to be raped/wanted to be raped because they did/belonged to X”, and every time that happens feminists get all over that and say “No, jackass, that’s not true. Even if she did/belonged to X, that was no reason she should have been raped.” And it’s also true that X = BDSM pretty much *every* time there are reports that a kinky person (especially a submissive woman) was raped. So it would hardly surprise me if by now BDSM practitioners *were* jumping the gun to say “BDSM is not rape!” before anyone else could get a word in edgewise, because if you hear an insult ten million times you’re going to start assuming it’s going to be there eventually. In this case, however, that’s not even what happened.

  44. Natalia says:

    The implication is, well, what did you expect? This is what you went out looking for. This is what you are doing. With the assumption that these behaviors are ritualized abuse with complicit victims.

    Yes.

  45. cathy says:

    “What I’ve said is that I can’t recall ever seeing, as the FIRST and oft-repeated response to a news story about rape outside the context of BDSM, an explanation of why regular old heterosexual dating, for example, is too a largely safe and ethical framework, and how it hurts or even OPPRESSES all straight people to ever think otherwise” That’s called vanilla hetero privilege. In dealing with work on abuse in LGBT/queer couples, these distinction also are made loudly and clearly. You acknowledge that the article rightly calls out the abuse and does not excuse it, yet you don’t seem to understand that the ‘good’ sexuality group of vanilla heteros don’t feel the need to defend the validity of their sexuality because it is already seen as more valid. It is very, very rare to find a person who think that all vanilla hetero relationships are toxic and automatically lead to abuse, it is not hard at all to fing people who hold those views about kinky or queer sexuality. I know queer people who were abused and then had the blame placed on queer sexuality rather than the abuser and the people who refuse to help because people of the same sex are a ‘fair fight’. Privileged people don’t need to assert over and over again that the existence of abuse within their community isn’t representative of all of them, because that’s part of privilege, being able to think of your group as the human default. Of course, everyone ‘knows’ that vanilla hetero-ness can be nonabusive heart warming romance, so why even bother to say it?

  46. Joan Kelly says:

    Jill – perhaps you may understand why I didn’t get all of what you just said at comment 43 when what I’d read before that was:

    “I scanned through the post at Lindsay’s place, saw the Jezebel post, and shot off an email to Thomas. That was the whole of the thought process that went into this.”

  47. Lisa Harney says:

    So I’m really digging Piny’s comments here and just want to say “word” to every one of them. Also Alara Rogers. I’m glad this aspect is being talked about.

    However, I wanted to deal with something else. That is, categorizing her disability as irrelevant:

    She has some kind of mental disability, says the prosecutor. I don’t know enough to know what this means, but we can’t make any broad declaration about consent from that. The depressed, the anxious, folks with learning disabilities, aspies and autistic spectrum folks, are usually sexual beings and may be kinky. Being neurodiverse, to use one term, does not make one incapable of consent.

    I totally agree that we cannot make any broad declaration of consent from her disability, and no one should start arguing this because it would be a disgusting thing to argue.

    But there’s the other side of the coin with regards to women with disabilities and rape. According to this page,

    Women with disabilities are raped and abused at twice the rate of the general population. (Sobsey 1994)

    And this entire article goes into detail how vulnerable women with disabilities are to sexual assault.

    I’m not trying to say that the focus of this post needs to be that she is a woman with a disability, although I will admit that it’s disheartening to see her disability brushed aside to focus entirely on the BDSM angle, but I think the fact that disability can and does play a role in sexual assault and very likely did play a role in what happened here. That element really should be acknowledged, and it can be acknowledged without also falling into the ableist argument that cognitive disability means an inability to consent.

    Also what Anna said earlier:

    It’s very relevant that this case involves a woman with a cognitive disability, though. According to a study in Canada (which, to be fair, is over 20 years old, but apparently no one wants to repeat a study that just focuses on women with disabilities), 85% of women with cognitive disabilities report being sexually assaulted or raped. I think it’s *very* relevant to this case that this was done to a woman with a disability, and I am really at a loss at why that’s not being discussed, but dismissed.

    Jill responded but as far as I can tell, Tom’s post continues to say nothing more than “don’t be distracted by this.”

  48. Cara says:

    I don’t have much that’s original to add, but I just wanted to throw my support behind Anna and Lisa’s comments. This is a story about how misconceptions about BDSM and cover up, aid, and act as apologies for abuse, yes. But it’s just as much a story about how women with disabilities are sexually abused at epidemic levels and in particularly extreme ways, usually precisely because they have disabilities. I understand the vantage point that Thomas was coming from when he said that the victim’s disability is irrelevant — and agree with him with regards to the particular point made within the post re: ability to consent — but the victim’s disability is indeed highly and urgently relevant, for the reasons listed above.

  49. Thomas says:

    I hear what people are saying about the disability issue. I mishandled that. It’s not irrelevant; we just don’t know enough information to assess the relevance.

    I’ll see what I can do about that.

  50. Odin says:

    I really appreciate this post and the debate going in in comments. A friend of mine recently got involved 24/7 with a Master who is a former abuser, and because of my general ignorance with BDSM I can’t tell what should be a warning sign that he’s reverting to being an abuser, and what’s just kink that I’m misreading as Problematic because I don’t grock D/s power dynamics.

  51. William says:

    I really appreciate this post and the debate going in in comments. A friend of mine recently got involved 24/7 with a Master who is a former abuser, and because of my general ignorance with BDSM I can’t tell what should be a warning sign that he’s reverting to being an abuser, and what’s just kink that I’m misreading as Problematic because I don’t grock D/s power dynamics. Odin

    The single greatest predictor of future abusive behavior is having been abusive in the past. I’m a psychotherapist, I’m invested in the idea that people can, will, and do change. Still, you don’t take a sober alcoholic on a pub crawl. If someone has a history of being abusive then, barring years of psychotherapy and a long track record of change, they really have no business being in a position of such power over someone.

  52. Thomas says:

    A former abuser should not be in a dominant role in a 24/7 relationship. Ever.

  53. piny says:

    I don’t know these people, but I think I agree with Thomas and William. You’re right to worry, and not just because your friend is in a BDSM-oriented relationship. This is like making a pyromaniac your night watchman.

    I kind of wonder what this former abuser has done to merit “former.” Has he been in therapy? Does he talk about the problems with this situation himself? Abusers do generally stick with an established abusive pattern. And this level of control…I mean, most people have difficulty managing 24/7 relationships. It’s a huge responsibility.

    That having been said…abuse in and out of BDSM has a lot to do with feelings and outcomes. Abusers have different tactics and many different options. He may not seem like an abusive or even aggressive top. He may be controlling or damaging in other ways.

    Your friend is probably the best possible indicator. If she seems tense, tired, preoccupied, or uncomfortable, pay attention and talk with her. Play, even intensive play, doesn’t make players unhappy. Your friend should have trust in her partner and comfort in her partnership–if she feels dubious or uncomfortable, there is something wrong with the situation.

    And, well, trust your gut. If something seems off or uncomfortable, or if you get the sense that the dynamic between them is cruel or damaging, talk to your friend, ask how she’s doing.

  54. Odin says:

    William, Thomas, Piny – thank you for your advice/input.

    For the record, I know the Dom is a former abuser because he was pretty upfront about it to my friend when they first met. I don’t know anything more specific. So first order of business: talk to my friend, apologize for avoiding him, ask how he’s doing.

  55. Agreed with William, Thomas and Piny above – a former abuser (and why is he “former”, and how sure are we about that detail?) is just about the last possible person you’d want as a dom in general. In a 24/7 situation? No. You’re right to be worried. I’d talk to your friend about it, and keep an eye open for problems.

  56. Cheshire says:

    @Odin Actually the “well he has been up front” doesn’t mean he is better, as I have been abused by people who had put it all behind them, and god don’t you know they where trying and I just had to set them off when they where trying so hard.

    I am a submissive, and I see myself eventually ending up in more than bedroom D/s, for what it is worth

    As for helping your friend, I echo what the people above me have said, if you want to educate yourself I would read feminist kink blogs, particularly those who are in D/s relationships
    Off the top of my head
    http://sm-feminist.blogspot.com/, http://lettersfromgehenna.blogspot.com/,
    http://thinkingaboutmykink.blogspot.com/
    http://maybemaimed.com/

    Also I can be contacted off my linked Dreamwidth, drop by if you want to ask anything else.

  57. Pingback: Bloggers’ Week in Review: The Web’s Best Writing «

  58. James says:

    Fantastic, fantastic post. Wonderful to hear from a feminista that truly understands the BDSM scene from the inside. Have been arguing with a few people lately over in the UK about BDSM within a feminist context, and the cannot get their head around the fetish thing (getting off on being objectified, etc), very annoying. Will definitely be recommending this to my SO.

  59. rebekah says:

    Alara Rogers: What I’ve said is that I can’t recall ever seeing, as the FIRST and oft-repeated response to a news story about rape outside the context of BDSM, an explanation of why regular old heterosexual dating, for example, is too a largely safe and ethical framework, and how it hurts or even OPPRESSES all straight people to ever think otherwiseYou might possibly have a point if this, or any response like it, had in fact been the first response.
    However, this is *explicitly* a response *to* a first response, where the first response managed to contain the meme “If she was a kinky sub, maybe she consented to being nearly tortured to death”, implying that subs in BDSM are not rapeable.The first response to “A woman was raped today” should always be “oh my god, I’m sorry, what can we do to help?” But when the first response is, “I bet she actually wasn’t even raped because she fell into category X”, the correct *next* response is always “People in category X can be raped and have just as much right to bodily autonomy as anyone else”. And if the person in category X was raped by a member of category Y, a response from a category Y person saying “Category Y people aren’t rapists by definition; we shouldn’t excuse any rapist on the grounds that he belongs to category Y!” is also appropriate.This is true if X is “sex worker” and Y is “man”, if X is “trans person” and Y is “cis person”, if X is “drunk woman” and Y is “man who goes to bars”, if X is “woman” and Y is “celebrity”, if X is “gay man” and Y is “gay man”… and it is true if X is “BDSM sub or generally BDSM practitioner” and Y is “BDSM dom or generally BDSM practitioner”.
    Your entire objection seems to rest on the notion that as a response to “A woman who is known as a BDSM sub was raped by a man known as a BDSM dom”, the post “BDSM is not about raping people!” is callous and inappropriate, and you might be right if that was in fact what the post was responding to. But the post is actually responding to the *real* first response to the news, which was “Well, since she is a BDSM sub, can we really trust her when she says she didn’t consent? Subs can’t really be raped because they agree to be raped by their doms, don’t they?” And as a response to *that*, Thomas’s response was ethical and appropriate, as was Piny’s comment that no one should be allowed to use BDSM as an excuse for getting away with rape.The conversation didn’t start where you think it did. No one being discussed here jumped straight from “A woman was raped” to “Stop picking on BDSM!” There was an intermediate step of “Well, she probably wasn’t really raped because BDSM makes people unrapeable,” and the answer wasn’t “Stop picking on BDSM” but “Stop picking on *people who practice* BDSM by assuming they are unrapeable”.Also, while as a non-BDSM practicing feminist I do see this conversation going pretty much *identically* to conversations that would happen if the victim were drunk, trans, a gay man, a sex worker, or honestly any woman, it’s also true that the concept that heterosexual dating is inherently unsafe and any woman who engages in it is consenting to rape is not a mainstream, widely held position in Western society, so pointing out that a woman who engaged in heterosexual dating wasn’t doing anything unsafe and was not “asking for it” and it’s an insult to straight people everywhere to assume that heterosexual dating automatically leads to rape… would be responding to a straw man. Hardly anyone *says* that. And when they do, people jump all over them to say that it’s not true, just as you claim no one ever does. I mean, who were all the people jumping on the Australian imam who basically said that women are like meat you leave out on the porch and men are cats and if you don’t cover the meat you gotta expect the cats will eat it? Hell, many feminists still jump on *Andrea Dworkin* for saying something like “heterosexual sex is unsafe for women and leads to rape”, and she wasn’t saying it to excuse rape.But it *is* true that assholes are *always* responding to reports that someone was raped with “Well, they couldn’t have been raped/should have expected to be raped/wanted to be raped because they did/belonged to X”, and every time that happens feminists get all over that and say “No, jackass, that’s not true. Even if she did/belonged to X, that was no reason she should have been raped.” And it’s also true that X = BDSM pretty much *every* time there are reports that a kinky person (especially a submissive woman) was raped. So it would hardly surprise me if by now BDSM practitioners *were* jumping the gun to say “BDSM is not rape!” before anyone else could get a word in edgewise, because if you hear an insult ten million times you’re going to start assuming it’s going to be there eventually. In this case, however, that’s not even what happened.  

    THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Because I’m so glad that my wanting to be tied up while having sex means that I secretly enjoyed being raped. *sarcasm*

  60. Pingback: Kinky Disability: Of Abuse, Running Away and Erasure « Some Assembly Required

  61. Pingback: Love Bites: Clarisse Thorn | Time Out Chicago » » The Alt Sex Anti-Abuse Dream Team

  62. Anon. says:

    Joan Kelly: What I’ve said is that I can’t recall ever seeing, as the FIRST and oft-repeated response to a news story about rape outside the context of BDSM, an explanation of why regular old heterosexual dating, for example, is too a largely safe and ethical framework, and how it hurts or even OPPRESSES all straight people to ever think otherwise, and especially I have not seen paternalistic “we speak out to protect the vulnerable newbies!” types of attitudes towards straight women in connection with rape.

    Oh God. I *have* seen that. It’s actually fairly common. It’s the first response after the media slut-shaming and “she deserved it”: “Hey, dating is normally safe, not all daters are rapists”, etc.

  63. Pingback: Love Bites: Clarisse Thorn | Time Out Chicago » » Another BDSM and abuse case

  64. Linked to this from two sites, thank you for the actual court report.

    1) BDSM:
    I don’t know that list didn’t make you blanch, because at least two of them made me blanch, and quite honestly I don’t think they CAN be done in a medically safe environment since at least one blows out your liver (the stress of which cannot be determined without blood tests at least 3 days in advance – so I guess a blood lab, a hospital, and a team of doctors), and the other will cause permanent damage (which is what 18 year olds sign up for, and not tattoo damage). And that doesn’t even bring up how exactly you ‘safe word’ while water boarding?

    2) GUNS! GUNS! GUNS!
    She was groomed, she was prepared, she was sexually desensatized, she was put into an alter by abuse and then, well, she talked, she was threatened with death, enacted on video, and the person doing it had not 1 gun, not 2, not 5, not 10, 12 guns. How many guns do five guys need for a shackled 18 year old they are threatening to kill? She was in a POW camp. 18 guns from 2 participants

    3) She was a product (BDSM),
    Over $110,000 was confiscated as a result of her sexual acts. She was used, sexually for profit. She was a product. This has nothing to do with BDSM. In fact these people have nothing to do with BDSM (in the way a person who tortures someone is not a surgeon in a hospital). And I think that should be said again and again. She was a product, she wasn’t human. My first concern isn’t with the negative publicity.

    4) She had a disability. She had no one looking for her actively, she had no roots. And this is an aside? Rape is Rape, when it goes on for years. And it is made easier by a disability – because one thing people with disabilities learn EARLY is that if you try to be equal, you will be knocked down. So yes, it is very, very relevant.

Comments are closed.