BDSM’s Rape Problem And How To Fix It: Summary Of “There’s A War On” Series

This is a guest post by Thomas Macaulay Millar. Thomas regularly blogs at Yes Means Yes, where the series summarized in this post originally appeared.

[Trigger Warning. The whole thing is about rape, abuse, and apologist tactics. There are descriptions of rape, abuse, and apologist tactics.]

In a podcast after Not What We Do , I declared that I’m not going to do BDSM community PR. We have problems. We have at least as much of a rape culture within as the mainstream, and I’m not going to shut up about it. This post summarizes what I said at the Yes Means Yes Blog, in a seven part series that ran 21,000 words. The original, full posts are at these links:

Part 1: Trouble’s Been Brewing

Part 2: The Creepy Dom And The People On The Fringe

Part 3: A Fungus Among Us

Part 4: Just Us

Part 5: Wallowing In The SL-Op

Part 6: Anti-Sunshine League

Part 7: There’s A Crack In Everything, That’s How The Light Gets In

Predator Theory, backed by empirical research, tells us that the bad actors, the repeat, deliberate, serial abusers, are less than 10% of the general population. There’s no shortage of stories that start “I was abused” and end “when I tried to say something the community closed ranks around the abuser and I was frozen out.” Here is a classic example left in comments to Charlie Glickman’s blog post. This one appeared on Tracy-Clark Flory’s Tumblr, after she posted a story on BDSM and abuse in January. One woman had this to say (Sorry, folks, Fetlife login req’d and she prefers that I not cut down the excerpt and lose the nuance). In the full posts of the series, I go on and on with individual stories: some people at the fringes of or outside formal communities luring people on the internet, but too many others well entrenched and defended within social networks and organizations in kink communities. There’s a theme here: that silence and secrecy are the paramount values, and open discussion is to be avoided. It’s a basic function of institutions, but often of informal social networks as well, to protect the body from reputational damage. That’s what colleges do with rape.

“Report It To The Police” Is Not A Serious Answer

As it works on the ground, not all people are equal in the eyes of the criminal justice system. But even assuming that police, prosecutors, and judges do the right thing, the jury is drawn from the general population. Which, on rape, is terrible. That’s why a New York City cop can penetrate a woman who is too drunk to consent, lie about it and get caught, confess on tape, and still get a jury acquittal.

Roughly half of rapes go unreported, the highest underreporting of any crime; when they are reported, arrests result only 25% of the time. That’s a lot lower than other major crimes. It’s not because they can’t find the rapists: about 85% of rapes are acquaintance assaults. Numbers are hard to come by, but in the US convictions as a proportion of reports is about 12%. UK figures are even worse.

But that’s just the obstacles survivors face when they are not kinky. It gets much worse. All the things that make acquaintance rape cases unprosecutable in front of shitty mainstream juries — they knew each other, they had a prior relationship, there were messy personal dynamics, they intended to get together for sex, alcohol was involved — will make an appearance in a disproportionate number of BDSM rape and abuse cases. They’re all the kind of cases that don’t get prosecuted.

You might be thinking that you’ve seen — I’ve posted about — prosecutions in BDSM abuse cases. And I have. But the set of cases that have been prosecuted is very small, and looking at what does and doesn’t produce convictions is actually really illustrative. I’ve looked carefully at them, and the strong cases are the ones with not only allegations of nonconsensual sex and torture, but also nonconsensual sex work, and the ones where the torture was documented on video.

Let’s just look at it practically. Is reporting a sexual assault in a BDSM context likely to work? No, absent serious injuries or hospitalization, or video evidence, history shows that prosecutions are uphill battles, even for relatively privileged people within BDSM communities. So if it’s not all that likely to actually produce a conviction, the notion that we should pressure victims into the criminal justice system is busted. It’s a derail, a way of throwing up a hurdle and washing hands of the allegation. Until the system is fixed (if it can be), we can’t count on it to save us from having to figure out how to deal with rape and abuse in BDSM communities ourselves.

Social License To Operate

We have several dynamics that operate socially to allow rapists and abusers to go unpunished. Some of these mirror dynamics in the mainstream and some don’t. This is my incomplete list:

(1) Miscommunications

This may surprise some of my regular readers, because one of my better known writings is all about how evidence from conversation analysis shows that miscommunication is not the reason some people violate others’ boundaries. And that’s true. This is one of the areas where BDSM parts company with the mainstream most dramatically.

When we communicate explicitly, consent isn’t confusing. I’ve written before that people don’t even need safewords unless they need “no” and “stop” not to mean “no” and “stop.” But that’s not everyone’s play style. Some people want to shout no and stop and do resistance, all of which has risks, and they’re often reasonable risks that can be managed by negotiation and safewords and other measure. But like most risks, they can’t be managed perfectly.

One important thing that can go wrong is the spontaneous misread. We can’t talk about every possible direction a scene could go. It would be easy to say that no top should do anything that hasn’t been explicitly discussed; it would be easy and unrealistic. Responsible, caring tops want their bottoms to have happy, hot experiences. If the bottom responds well to something unexpectedly, tops will read that and often go with it. That’s not a bad thing. That’s a good thing. But it’s inherently inexact. “We hadn’t talked about it and I thought you were into it because of the noises you were making” may be a completely true statement, or it may be a bullshit story someone tells after doing something willfully abusive, and the difference is only state of mind.

One of the common themes I hear in BDSM abuse stories is the mid-scene renegotiation. Above, I linked to a comment on Charlie Glickman’s blog about an abuser. There was good, clear negotiation, but the victim’s nightmare started with a midscene renegotiation. Lots of bottoms, especially submissives, are not really in a state of mind mid-scene to advocate for themselves. Some folks are typically very — what’s the word I’m looking for? Oriented, perhaps — while bottoming, but many are not.

(2) Disinhibition

There are two major disinhibition effects in BDSM communities. The first is the disinhibition effect of sexualized spaces, where people (and not always entitled cis het men) get the sense that grabbing and groping and being intrusive is okay. It’s not okay, It’s bad in and of itself to violate someone’s boundaries, and doing that creates the underbrush that the predators hide in. A pinch because ha ha we’re all kidding around is hard to tell from a pinch to see if boundaries will be defended, which is the predators’ victim targeting device.

The second major disinhibition is mind-altering substances. We talk a good game about keeping alcohol and drugs separate from BDSM because they cause people to ignore safety, miss signals, and do what they should rather than what they want. We talk a good game and it’s a rule honored in the breach.

(3) Geek Social Fallacies

As far as I know, the list of Geek Social Fallacies is almost ten years old, but it may be older. There have been other attempts to apply the concept to sex. But I’m going to go with the original formulation, highlighting the first three:

Geek Social Fallacy #1: Ostracizers Are Evil
Geek Social Fallacy #2: Friends Accept Me As I Am
Geek Social Fallacy #3: Friendship Before All

These combine in alternative sexuality communities to prevents resolution of interpersonal conflict.

“I don’t do drama” is a contrarian indicator. There is more drama around people who say they don’t do drama than those who don’t say it. “Drama” isn’t avoidable merely by saying you don’t do it. Drama is the stress produced by resolving interpersonal conflict. When people interact, there’s interpersonal conflict. Of course, like wealth and income, the stress is not evenly distributed. A group of people can decide to resolve interpersonal conflict by ignoring someone’s grievance until they go away. That’s what “I don’t do drama” means. People who say it mean that if you have a grievance against someone they know, you’re on your own.

(4) Culture of Secrecy and the Cycle of Silencing

In BDSM communities, people operate under pseudonyms all the time, for good reasons. But it can allow people to cover up histories of going from scene to scene and place to place as their behavior gets discovered. I’ve heard stories of abusers hopping from venue to venue, group to group and city to city to stay ahead of stories that spread slowly. This becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. A survivor speaks out, but without transparency, people can’t evaluate the full set of information. The survivor gets a bad reception, and clams up or goes away. Graphic illustration:

A flow chart shows a predator committing violations falling into three silos. Each survivor chooses between silence and speaking out. If the survivor finds a silencing community reaction, the survivor is silenced, and information never reaches into the next silo. If the survivor finds a supportive reaction, an arrow leads through the silo wall and touches the choice of the survivor in the next silo to speak or remain silent.

Each incident exists in a vertical column, what’s sometimes called a silo. Siloed information keeps us from making informed choices about whether someone just made a mistake or is a bad actor. The thing that is necessary to have all the information on the table is to de-silo the information.

(5) Craven Self-Interest, or Don’t Bite The Hand That Gets You Laid

Never underestimate the depth of human venality. One of the things that operates to create structures where abusers have a social license to operate is that anyone standing up to groups of their leaders may lose access to play spaces and play partners.

We all get up on our high horse about Sandusky, thinking that if we had reason to believe that a trusted and respected member of our group were doing something really, really wrong, we’d tell everyone until someone listened. We’re bullshitting ourselves if we think that’s universal, and the BDSM community is no different. Number 5 and something like number 3 operated to protect Sandusky, and that was enough to let a molester have access to prepubescent kids for years.

Solutions:

First, Transparency

Justice Brandeis said that sunlight is the best of disinfectants. We’ve covered abusers and how they derive their Social License to Operate by using the cover of other dynamics: the miscommunications; the secrecy; the geek social fallacies; and so forth. They can’t operate in the open in the light of day. If people are free to talk about their experiences without intimidation or ostracism, if they are as free to say, “I had a bad experience with so-and-so, that person ignored my hard limit” as they are to say “I had a really good experience with that person,” then the predators can’t operate.

Who could be against transparency?

The single largest online organ in the BDSM universe is against that: Fetlife. The Borg that is taking over all online BDSM discourse has a TOU (Terms of Use) that flat-out helps the abusers, requiring a conviction to accuse a Fetlife user of a criminal act. There have been suggestions to change it through formal channels. They’ve gone nowhere. One small group of mostly New York youngish queerish kinksters started taking anonymous, first person accounts and posting them — including ones that named screennames. The Carebears who run Fetlife shut it down, disappearing the items that named names. This policy ensures that in well over 90% of incidents, an abuser can’t be named. We can help the victims, or we can help the perpetrators. This policy is Fetlife’s “I Don’t Do Drama.” Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon and Gizmodo have both written about Fetlife’s stance.

Going to the cops isn’t realistic, and the leaders of the community may be close to the abuser. Going to the abuser only works for actual miscommunications, not for abusers. The other alternatives are (1) say what happened; or (2) don’t. Fetlife has made their position clear: don’t. They’re not saying go away mad, or even go away, just shut up.

When the possibility of people telling the truth comes up, people always always raise false allegations. I direct you to this post on why that’s a derail. The relative frequency of rape and abuse, so often unreported, dwarfs false allegations, so all effort should go to dealing with the rapes before worrying about the smaller number of false allegations. And convictions just don’t result in BDSM cases except those with video evidence or severe injuries. The harm of rape and assault far outweigh the harm of an allegation of rape or assault, since all the allegation actually does is, at most, get the accused disinvited to a few parties.

There is no value-neutral choice. Anyone who says to survivors, “police report or it didn’t happen” might as well say, “I’ll side with the rapist every time,” because that’s the effect. They should just be honest about it. Instead of “I don’t do drama,” they should just be straightforward, and say, “when I hear allegations of rape, I choose to treat it as if it didn’t happen,” or even, “if someone I like does something bad to you, you’re on your own.” That’s what “I don’t do drama” means.

Self-Defense For Bottoms: Defensive Negotiation

I said in Mythcommunications that the lesson was that “Clear communication of ‘no’ isn’t primarily going to avoid miscommunication — rather … clear communication … is a sign of the willingness to fight, to yell, to report.”

I hesistate to even raise the issue of what bottoms can do to prevent themselves from being abused: because the culture of victim blaming around sexual assault is so pervasive and so damaging, there is a counterproductive aspect to even raising the behavior of anyone except the rapist. But I think there is enough potential to deter that I feel remiss not talking about it.

Hard limits and safewords in writing. There are a few items that are really important, that are usually the subject of negotiation and are repeatedly the subject of boundary violations (especially penetration and safer sex practices). These can be covered in an email, a PM or a text message and they can be covered fast, basically as a deterrent. Once they’re in writing, there’s a record and that reduces any uncertainty about what was said — and it is the uncertainty that the predators count on to protect them. I’m talking about deterence: putting in writing the boundaries that are commonly violated so as make a record that could cause trouble for an abuser later.

Self-Improvement for Tops: To Err Is Human, To Get Defensive Is Counterproductive

Talking about the things that went wrong helps the top. We learn from our mistakes only when we know what they are. And talking about things that went wrong helps the bottom. If something went wrong and it wasn’t a deliberate violation, the best way to clear the air is for the bottom to say what happened and be heard, and not get shut down. When the harm in not intentional, that’s often enough.

Talking about what went wrong, finally, helps the culture. What we need to do is separate the predators from the underbrush they operate in, the climate that grants the Social License to Operate, to put them in a position where their deliberate behavior is not easily disguised as something else. Hiding mistakes and denying them makes the mess-up look like the deliberate wrong.

We all need it to become unacceptable and aberrant to get defensive, deny, blame and shut down when our mistakes are pointed out. I’m not saying this because I think it will make abusers better people. It won’t. They do what they do on purpose and they can’t be fixed, only deterred. I’m saying what I think tops can do to look less like abusers, to create an environment where abuse looks aberrant and abusers stand out, so they can be dealt with.

What the Rest Of Us Can Do:

Talk About Ethics, Expect Ethics

Doing sexual things to people that they don’t consent to is wrong. We all need to stop pretending that it’s rude to say that. Violating limits isn’t cute or funny or edgy. Joking about violating limits isn’t cute or funny or edgy. Kate Harding, speaking in a vanilla context, said something about joking and the guy for whom it’s no joke: “that guy? Thought you were on his side.

Zero Tolerance for Impairment

If you can’t do BDSM without getting a buzz on, you shouldn’t be doing BDSM. Call me puritan, I don’t give a shit. It’s a recipe for disaster and a way for abusers to use drugs and alcohol to incapacitate potential partners or excuse their violations. We just have to stop putting up with people who want to play impaired.

Listen.

Now we come to the hardest part. We have to start to listen to what the issues are and decide how to treat the people who keep having the issues. Nobody is going to show up with a score sheet or bingo card and make it easy, we’re just going to have to pay attention and think about who is acting in good faith and who isn’t. If we really want to make excuses for our friends, we always can. We can explain away an infinite number of fuck-ups and blowups and badly handled scenes if we’re determined to exonerate. When our friends fuck up, we need to expect them to act consistently with good faith. If they don’t, we need to be willing to change our understanding about their good faith.

If you decide that your friends can’t possibly be abusers, you’re part of the problem. If you decide that anyone who is an abuser can’t possibly be your friend, you’re part of the solution. It is up to you whether you want to listen to the survivors and expect better from tops, or whether you want to pretend that you “don’t do drama.”


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61 Responses to BDSM’s Rape Problem And How To Fix It: Summary Of “There’s A War On” Series

  1. XGP says:

    Sorry, but no. I don’t accept the idea of nuance when it comes to sex. BDSM is simply an unacceptable practice because it has the potential to cause rape or rape-like interactions. Any sexual practice which could potentially lead to anything remotely like rape is not acceptable. Rape must be 100% impossible. Any case where one individual is stronger than the other, any case where one individual has more social power than the other, all of these are potential rape inducers. Sex can only acceptably take place between individuals of exactly equal strength, social standing, education, etc.. If that makes all sex other than masturbation impossible, then so be it. After all, I’m celibate because I cannot accept the prospect that I may inadvertently rape someone. You can do it too.

  2. zuzu says:

    If that makes all sex other than masturbation impossible, then so be it. After all, I’m celibate because I cannot accept the prospect that I may inadvertently rape someone. You can do it too.

    Your sexual preferences are not universal.

  3. EG says:

    I call troll or performance art on XGP.

  4. amblingalong says:

    Your sexual preferences are not universal.

    Please tell me you didn’t read that post as serious.

  5. DonnaL says:

    I’m celibate because I cannot accept the prospect that I may inadvertently rape someone

    Wait. This sounds familiar. Who was the male commenter who endlessly talked about exactly that, and nothing else, and was eventually banned?

    Either this is he, or the comment is entirely facetious.

  6. After all, I’m celibate because I cannot accept the prospect that I may inadvertently rape someone. You can do it too.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAAA

  7. On a more general note, Thomas, I just wanted to say I loved reading your posts, I linked them to people I know who also enjoy BDSM, and I admire the clarity, insight and heart with which you’ve written these posts. It clarified a lot of things for me about the scene (and frankly validated many of my reasons for avoiding parts of it), and I’m really grateful for it.

  8. Seriously, though, people, is it so fucking hard not to rape people? I mean, is it like a special degree you have to get in sex college, you must violate X people Y number of times and buy into Z beliefs for Q length of time before it miraculously occurs to you that consent is a thing?

    I only ask because, compared to these dipshits on feminist/BDSM websites I frequent, I seem to go through life with a remarkable sort of relaxation about whether or not I might rape people, by the simple expedient of, y’know, learning others’ boundaries and sticking to them scrupulously. It didn’t seem like this hugely difficult endeavour to me, but maybe I’m the sex equivalent of a Mary Sue? Huh.

  9. Karin says:

    Sorry, but no. I don’t accept the idea of nuance when it comes to sex. BDSM is simply an unacceptable practice because it has the potential to cause rape or rape-like interactions.

    I dont think you have a kink for BDSM by what you said. Therefore you can not understand what BDSM people are into and what they need.

  10. Karin says:

    Oh disregard, didnt read the post till the end and realized too late you were being funny ^.^

  11. Jadey says:

    Seriously, though, people, is it so fucking hard not to rape people? I mean, is it like a special degree you have to get in sex college, you must violate X people Y number of times and buy into Z beliefs for Q length of time before it miraculously occurs to you that consent is a thing?

    I’ve been reading through the Project Unbreakable tumblr lately (here is the link to the project, but seriously TRIGGER WARNING there for a fuck-tonne of rape and trauma-related stuff), which is an ever-growing collection of photos of survivors holding up white signs on which they’ve written quotations of things their rapists said to them (or friends/family said to them after they came out about their rape). It’s a full spectrum of human shittiness, callousness, and self-serving “logic” that’s embodied in these quotes. I won’t repeat specific examples here because they are all really loaded and I don’t want to risk triggering someone who may have heard something similar from their abuser, but holy god. The justifications, rationalizations, threats, willful ignorance, manipulations, attacks on selfhood… Words fail. Some of the survivors have even pointed out that as awful as the physical assaults were, it was these statements which haunted them even more (and their participation in this project was apparently liberating/healing, so thank god for that).

    I mention this because I am right there with you on is it so fucking hard not to rape people? Reading this tumblr, I couldn’t bring myself to be shocked, per se, as I’m now unhappily familiar with how blatantly self-serving people can be when they don’t feel like treating someone else as a human being, but I couldn’t shake that thought: These excuses are so stupid, so flimsy, so paltry when dragged out into the light of day – would it have been so hard not to rape this person?

  12. zuzu says:

    Please tell me you didn’t read that post as serious.

    Poe’s law.

  13. These excuses are so stupid, so flimsy, so paltry when dragged out into the light of day

    I know, right? It’s actually actively triggering for me, not from the perspective of someone who’s been assaulted (though I certainly have that perspective) but as a sexual being who delights in being sexual. How am I supposed to navigate sexuality in a society that seems to regard “not a rapist” as some sort of achievement? Really? We’re handing out “not a shitty excuse for a human being” cookies to people? Ugh.

  14. stonebiscuit says:

    Nothing really to add, but I thought you ought to know how much I enjoyed reading this and all the linked posts. I feel like I learned a lot. Great stuff.

  15. EG says:

    God, mackavitykitsune. That tumblr is both amazing and horrifying. I don’t know whether to cry or spit. I shouldn’t have to feel lucky that I’ve never been raped, but I do.

  16. I shouldn’t have to feel lucky that I’ve never been raped, but I do.

    Yeah, I knew not to click on that tumblr when Jadey linked it, because I’ve been there before, but it’s pretty fucking horrifying.

    The gratitude, though… I actually had to do a lot of work on that, when I was first realising the shit I’ve seen/been through, and I wound up putting up a post on it here: http://macavitykitsune.dreamwidth.org/95396.html (uh, trigger warnings on that). tl;dr – I’m trying not to be grateful, except as a “could have been me” way, because I felt at the time – and still feel – that it actively impedes my evolution as a human being/feminist.

    (oh, and because I have the long username of doom – Mac will do :) )

  17. konkonsn says:

    Regarding the false accusations line…seriously, how many people have actually been hurt by a rape accusation, even a real one? When I hear it, the “What about all the men losing their jobs and families and loved ones?,” I’m like…please, show me the family that has abandoned a known rapist, not just an accused one.

    And if you do, I’ll just show you the 50 examples of people who have been raped being abandoned by everyone they know.

    It’s easier to hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil for people. Get rid of the person pointing out the darkness rather than the darkness itself.

  18. Susan Wright says:

    I agree with a lot of what you say – especially that we need transparency in this issue.

    Fetlife is not transparent. Anyone can make up a screen name and make false accusations. It does happen much more frequently in the BDSM community than you realize. Because of the persecution that exists around BDSM, it’s much easier to blackmail someone or destroy someone’s life by outing them. That’s what false accusers do. Blackmail is the largest form of harassment against the BDSM community according to my Violence & Discrimination survey in 2008.

    NCSF is contacted by plenty of people who have been reported by their partner for abuse or assault after a consensual scene as a form of retaliation for breaking up, cheating, relationship problems, etc. The problem is so pervasive, that NCSF has just published two guides to navigating the social service and law enforcement systems – one for victims and the other for people accused of abuse. Criminal issues and domestic violence comprise about half of the reports we get to NCSF’s Incident Reporting and Response.

    Personally I think we need to empower the physical BDSM groups and events more. If someone is abused by another member, they should be able to make that accusation and get a hearing from the group. I was elected the Arbiter of TES for several years, and we had to deal with hard issues like this. An arbitration is a private process that would give abusers a voice, and it would give those accused a voice. Then the situation could be discussed to determine if it was a consent violation, or a technical error, a mistake in communication, or a bad scene which is not necessarily abuse. Even if there is no definitive conclusion, if someone is accused a second or third time, then a pattern exists and that person could be refused entry to attend events.

    By encouraging communication about abuse, we’ll be educating people in the scene how to protect themselves. By holding people accountable for what they do, we will be encouraging responsibility for everyone. For transparency to work, it has to be equal.

  19. For those unfamiliar, Susan Wright is a founder and spokesperson for the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. While I’m not one to agree with … well, anyone … all the time, I have a lot of respect for the time and effort she has put in over the last fifteen years, and I think there are some very good people in NCSF with very good intentions.

    Susan, I note you’ve commented over at Yes Means Yes on Part 6, to the same effect as your comment here. I have long been skeptical of BDSM communities’ ability (or rather willingness) to police themselves. Your conclusion from your experiences, including as the elected Arbiter on the TES Grievance Committee, are obviously different, but I think you would have to share a lot more information about what those experiences were to persuade a skeptic that internal arbitration works. I’ve asked specific questions over at YMY.

  20. I was elected the Arbiter of TES for several years, and we had to deal with hard issues like this. An arbitration is a private process that would give abusers a voice, and it would give those accused a voice.

    Arbitration and internal discipline?

    The last time I heard that as a suggested solution to systemic sexual abuse it was from the Vatican. New song, same tune.

    I get the impulse towards internal legislation, and given BDSM’s different take on consent (one which I would argue is theoretically healthier than society’s) I can see the issues in taking everything to the legal court, but once you’ve tossed consent issues into the field of “discussion”, it’s back to the old stomping grounds of rape culture and rape narratives and silencing and “we should all get together and decide whether or not you have a right to feel bad enough about this”. And I’m sorry, but the scene hasn’t transcended rape culture any more than society has.

  21. William says:

    These excuses are so stupid, so flimsy, so paltry when dragged out into the light of day – would it have been so hard not to rape this person?

    You’re thinking in the wrong direction, Jadey.

    The question is not “would it have been so hard not to rape this person,” because that implies that somehow the rapist values not being a rapist. The question ought to be “why was it so easy to rape this person.” The excuses and justifications are just that, they’re artifice designed to excuse rape. Rape isn’t sex gone wrong, it isn’t a loss of control, it isn’t a misunderstanding. Rape is what happens when someone makes a conscious decision to gratify themselves at the expense of others. Often the fact that rape is rape is what a rapist is looking for. As long as we ask ourselves “was it so hard not to rape this person” we’re playing into the hands of predators who benefit from a world in which we assume that they made a mistake or acted from ignorance. At some point we have to stop imagining that we can fix rapists or educate them away and start seriously considering what we need to do to make rape more difficult to achieve and more risky to engage in.

    We need to not accept rapists in our community. Yeah, that might mean we lose friends, that might mean some negative social consequences, that might mean that rapists face a serious drop in their quality of life. Too bad. We need to be willing to accept the negative outcomes of making rapists persona non grata. I’d go so far as to say that sometimes we might even need to do or be things we otherwise would not want to do or be because the costs of not playing rough mean that rape becomes easier. We cannot expect the courts to change, we cannot expect the police to change, if they somehow do thats great but for now we’re on our own and the price of rape being easy is just too great.

  22. Jadey says:

    @ William

    My own cognitive dissonance aside (as someone who does value not being a rapist and therefore has some difficulty empathizing with those who do not! yay, minimum standards of human decency achievement unlocked), you are right, of course. These excuses are so pathetic, they were clearly not designed to withstand genuine scrutiny but merely go through the motions of absolving one of a sense of responsibility they do not even possess (a meta-sense of responsibility, perhaps? that they feel they ought to feel bad and feel faintly poorly that they do not?). Well, and in some cases also just to manipulate the person being harmed and not to absolve anyone’s conscience of anything. I certainly don’t assume that they did any of what they did by mistake or accident. In fact, the very flimsiness of their excuses seem to argue against that, because who could genuinely be so thick as to make a mistake like that? My initial question was more a rhetorical expression of disbelief.

    Digging past my first emotional response, though, I think the question I am asking is really, Why are there so many people who don’t value not being a rapist? Why don’t they care? And, maybe on the flipside, why do those of who do care, care? What switch (or series of switches) got flipped there?

  23. Anon for This says:

    This really hits home for me. I was raped at a sexually-oriented Science Fiction con in the 1990s. I’d forgotten my badge, went upstairs to my room to get it, and continued to chat with the person I was talking to on my way…. I didn’t think twice about it. In that community, we’re all friends, right? No. He pushed me into my room, closed the door, and raped me.

    I did everything “right.” I went to the ER and called the police. I told the organizers of the con. The police (and the ER) ignored my outright because I was wearing lingerie. I didn’t know the man’s full name, but I knew that there were people at the con who would… the police never checked.

    My friends told me that I’d done a horrible, devastating thing to this man, hurting him psychologically… because, you see, he’d been falsely accused of rape before, in almost the exact same circumstances. How could I do this to him? My best friends (who I thought were family), my roommates, and my partner all turned their backs on me to defend this person who was almost a stranger to them because he was “one of us.”

    The organizers of the con decided to ban both me and the man who raped me because we were both “causing drama.”

  24. Jadey says:

    Oh lord, I just realized that:

    as someone who does value not being a rapist and therefore has some difficulty empathizing with those who do not!

    implies that anyone who can empathize with rapists may not value not being a rapist, which is beyond the pale in terms of stupid things to say. Apologies for the logical fallacy – excise the word “therefore”. My values have fuck-all to do with my lack of imagination.

  25. Donna L says:

    I’ve been reading through the Project Unbreakable tumblr lately (here is the link to the project,

    Thank you for the link, macavity. I read the first two pages and had to stop. They are all horrifying, and make me both tremendously upset and tremendously angry. It’s one of the most effective projects like this I’ve seen.

  26. Jadey says:

    Ha ha, not that it’s very important or that I mind being confused with someone as awesome as macavitykitsune (even if her screenname has caused me perpetually to have a certain musical number stuck in my head), but I might be starting to develop something of an identify complex from this thread…

  27. We need to not accept rapists in our community. Yeah, that might mean we lose friends, that might mean some negative social consequences, that might mean that rapists face a serious drop in their quality of life. Too bad.

    Yep. Because who else faces a serious drop in quality of life? People who’ve been raped.

  28. Ha ha, not that it’s very important or that I mind being confused with someone as awesome as macavitykitsune

    *sheepish* I’m so sorry!

  29. Tomek Kulesza says:

    Digging past my first emotional response, though, I think the question I am asking is really, Why are there so many people who don’t value not being a rapist? Why don’t they care? And, maybe on the flipside, why do those of who do care, care? What switch (or series of switches) got flipped there?

    I don’t think that’s good idea to have that discussion here. I’m afraid it would be hard for victims and would come as excusing the rapists.

    But, if you want my take on how they are able to do that? Well, Hitler had really, really shitty childhood.

  30. Jadey says:

    @ Tomek

    No, you’re right, this is not the place for this discussion. I got caught up in explaining my own thought process. I’m a research psychologist by trade and my default position tends to be, “But why?” But that’s no justification for a derail.

    That being said, I really appreciate Thomas’s article in part because it does a really good job of explaining exactly how this kind of behaviour gets committed and protected within BDSM circles from a psychological (e.g., disinhibition, the geek social fallacies) and sociological/structural (e.g., culture of silence and secrecy) perspective.

  31. Fat Steve says:

    Zero Tolerance for Impairment

    If you can’t do BDSM without getting a buzz on, you shouldn’t be doing BDSM. Call me puritan, I don’t give a shit. It’s a recipe for disaster and a way for abusers to use drugs and alcohol to incapacitate potential partners or excuse their violations. We just have to stop putting up with people who want to play impaired.

    I will start my response as I always do when Mr. M-M posts on this subject, by saying that I have no experience whatever of the BDSM scene, so apologies if I sound ass-paralyzingly naive.

    Having said that, I find it amazing that this rule could be enforceable (even on a self enforcement level.) Surely, if one was to be realistic and acknowledge that many people ‘get a buzz on’ regularly, drug use would be something that should be taught how to be used responsible rather than proscribed as people will just do what they want to do behind closed doors.

  32. William says:

    Why are there so many people who don’t value not being a rapist? Why don’t they care? And, maybe on the flipside, why do those of who do care, care?

    I think thats a really good question! I think we tend to break down different kinds of behavior too much a lot of the time. We look at rape and say “why are people rapists?” without necessarily stopping to look at the orientation to one’s fellow human beings necessary for rape to happen. The idea of intersectionality is really useful here, for me, because it helps conceptualize what we’re seeing. Its not difficult for us to think about racism and sexism as being related, but bringing that down from the macro level of society and kyrarchy down to the individual level of whats going through someone’s mind when they disregard consent is a little more difficult.

    Obviously there are a lot of kinds of rapists, but at the bottom rape is something in which someone disregards the rights and feelings of other human beings for their own gain. We have a lot of that in our society. A mugger on the subway, a robber-baron on Wall Street, the casual cruelty of a sweat shop owner, the cop who gives a mouthy kid a tune up, a guy who goes to a massage parlor and wonders on his way in if the employees have been trafficked, all of these are different kinds and degrees of violations but they all come down to the same mindset: what I want trumps someone else’s rights. For rapists it isn’t so much that something is flipped wrong in their heads that makes them not see rape as bad, the same guy might end up shooting someone who raped a woman close to him, but that a rapist feels that he is entitled to behave in a given way because other people just don’t matter as much as he does. Its narcissistic and predatory.

    Thats why the excuses on that tumblr sound so off: they ring hollow because they are the product of an intellectual attempt to deflect blame for something that isn’t empathically perceived as a crime.

  33. William says:

    Yep. Because who else faces a serious drop in quality of life? People who’ve been raped.

    Exactly! I’ve an incredible amount of trouble giving a shit about the stress of having to exclude a rapist from a group or how hard it must be to turn your back on a friend who raped someone when I put that next to what its like to be a survivor. The way we handle it now is that the victim gets to play leper and limp away with all the stigma and bullshit and pain while everyone else gets to remain above the “drama.”

  34. (Okay, content note, I’m going to get BDSM-specific here.)

    Surely, if one was to be realistic and acknowledge that many people ‘get a buzz on’ regularly, drug use would be something that should be taught how to be used responsible rather than proscribed as people will just do what they want to do behind closed doors.

    Steve, BDSM – even the stuff that’s really ridiculously safe, like light spanking or cuffing someone with soft fuzzy handcuffs – can go horribly awry if one partner’s impaired in some way. For instance, I have fibromyalgia which attacks my hands fairly consistently, but which can flare up intensely on a moment’s notice. Now, if I were drunk or buzzed, I would be JUST zoned out enough for me to lose enough coordination to be unable to free my partner from his/her bindings if something DID go horribly wrong – coughing fit/dizziness/seizure/whatever. Or my coordination could be juuuuuust a bit off, resulting in aiming to whacking someone’s thigh and accidentally taking a belt to their testicles instead. And that’s light stuff! Imagine the shit that could go wrong with, say, electric wands, or fireplay, or extreme bondage, or asphyxiation play. Or consent play, for that matter; what if the top’s too buzzed to remember what the safeword is? Does that joint REALLY matter to someone more than, oh, not raping their partner?

    So no. BDSM is right up there with driving, operating heavy machinery, flying planes etc. If you can’t stay clean long enough to play, you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place, and there should be legal and social consequences to it.

  35. To clarify: If I’m having a flare-up, I stop play immediately, before I lose my ability to release my partners/play without injuring them. If I’m drunk, my judgment might be horribly compromised on whether I’m going to have issues doing a certain thing or not. I just realised my previous post was rather incoherent.

    I’ve an incredible amount of trouble giving a shit about the stress of having to exclude a rapist from a group or how hard it must be to turn your back on a friend who raped someone when I put that next to what its like to be a survivor.

    William – I kinda love you. :D Particularly as someone who found myself not half as traumatised by my abuse as by the way my family closed ranks around my abuser.

  36. Grace says:

    @Jadey–Thanks for posting that link. It made for kind of an intense morning, but that’s an amazing project.

    @Anon for This–I know people who have had similar experiences trying to talk about sexual assault at cons and in scifi/geek culture. It’s horrific that communities who insist they’re creating a safe space for difference or sexual expression close ranks for rapists, not survivors, and I’m so, so sorry that happened to you.

    I’ve an incredible amount of trouble giving a shit about the stress of having to exclude a rapist from a group or how hard it must be to turn your back on a friend who raped someone when I put that next to what its like to be a survivor.

    THIS.

  37. Partial Human says:

    Thomas – I read the series a while ago, it was such a powerful read. You bring such clarity and nuance to a difficult subject. Some of the survivor testimony was devastating.

    I was also shocked to witness the outing of a (former?) Feministe commenter (well, when he was looking for blog traffic) as a very dangerous predator. He seemed to use every geek social fallacy in his disgusting excuses, he’s very calculating and dangerous.

    I’ve been seeing him on various feminist, womanist, and SJ blogs for years. He always made me feel uncomfortable, especially with his odd, mansplainy “Here’s why feminism is wrong, here’s how I would fix it” credo.

    The existence of people like him, who deliberately ingratiate themselves into movements where it’s a given that there’s incredible vulnerability, is reason enough for this. It’s something that desperately needs the sunlight to disinfect it.
    Thank you.

    Could the 101ers/JAQoffs please just read the series, and see if your questions are rendered moot by doing so? Ta.

    The “But whyyy?” and “Let me tell you all my beliefs” is one of the reasons that men, who post on ostensibly feminist/SJ sites, are often viewed with rolling eyes.

  38. Alexandra says:

    Re: playing while impaired,

    I recently cut off a proposed meet-up with a guy to see whether we’d hit it off as BDSM buddies, because he INSISTED on playing high, and when I said I wasn’t comfortable with that, he kept trying to persuade me otherwise. I can’t think of any better indicator that he wouldn’t respect consent either.

  39. William says:

    Does that joint REALLY matter to someone more than, oh, not raping their partner?

    The fact that you might need to ask that question suggests that maybe a lot of things might matter more to someone than not raping a partner.

    To jump off your post. BDSM isn’t really my thing. I’ve got some aspects on the periphery, but its not really my cup of tea. That said, I’ve some friends for whom it is so I’ve spoken about it socially and being part of the analytic community pretty much guarantees that I’ve had to think about BDSM clinically. I think when we talk about impairment during BDSM we’re having two major, and interrelated, problems: we tend to separate “normal” sex from kink and we’re so blinded by the vested interests of rape culture that we don’t recognize things that as problematic because that threatens our normative experience.

    There really isn’t much difference between medical play and old fashioned fucking. Sure, the prevalence is different and skill levels required are different and the consequences of a mistake are different, but at the bottom we’re looking at people doing things to satisfy desire. We’re in the realm of eros, from there the differences basically come down to what we have to say to ourselves to ward off whatever shreds of obscene guilt we’re still saddled with when we get off. So when I see people talking about impairment in BDSM what I really read is people talking about impairment in advanced sex (graduate level getting off?). We act like somehow BDSM is different, like this is a novel thing to think about…

    Which brings us right into rape culture territory. As a culture we have too much impaired sex. I know, its fun, but sex-while-impaired is an advanced maneuver that we really shouldn’t be comfortable with having become a norm. Its risky, its dangerous, and its a major way in which predators take advantage of people and a major way in which society rationalizes ignoring victims. We joke about it, we’ve built reducing inhibition (to say nothing of judgement and resistance) into our sexual culture, we’re sitting in a situation in which the norm for vanilla sex leaves a circumstance in which rape is unacceptable common. Now, when we talk about BDSM, that norm gets carried over. My wife and I can get drunk and fool around without much worry that anyone’s boundaries are going to be violated because we have 15 years of negotiation and conversation and learning about one another to fall back on. I have no doubt that longer term, experienced BDSM partners could come to a similar arrangement, but that requires an enormous amount of knowledge about a partner. Its not something for an early phase or one-off relationship and its deeply problematic that so many people feel so entitled to being fucked up while fucking around that they would argue as to whether or not its prudish to set a boundary as simple as “I don’t want either of us impaired in a situation where consent might be difficult to give or interpret.”

    I say to my patients all the time “if you’re not able to talk about sex without layers of euphemism and embarrassment getting in the way of an adult conversation then you’re probably not ready to be having sex.” I don’t see whats so wrong about saying “if you’re not able to get off without being impaired then maybe you’re not ready to be getting off.” If someone has to get drunk to go on a job interview we don’t start talking about how employers should be less uptight and more understanding of whiskey doused applicants, why on Earth would a social interaction as advanced, complicated, and potentially risky be any different?

  40. I recently cut off a proposed meet-up with a guy to see whether we’d hit it off as BDSM buddies, because he INSISTED on playing high

    o_O Jesus. I’m glad you backed out and that you’re safe.

  41. White Rabbit says:

    @SusanWright wrote: “Even if there is no definitive conclusion, if someone is accused a second or third time, then a pattern exists and that person could be refused entry to attend events.”

    “Could” sounds rather weak to me here. While I am sympathetic to the difficulty of handling an initial accusation, subsequent accusations against the same person would seem to be sufficient reason to banish that person for the sake of the group’s safety. At the very least, I think that person should be flagged in some very prominent way to warn others.

    ——–

    @Anon for This

    I just wanted to say that I’m sorry for what happened to you. It will never cease to amaze me how predators are able to charm/con people onto their sides, or how prone people are to blaming and abandoning victims.

  42. konkonsn says:

    Fetlife is not transparent. Anyone can make up a screen name and make false accusations. It does happen much more frequently in the BDSM community than you realize. Because of the persecution that exists around BDSM, it’s much easier to blackmail someone or destroy someone’s life by outing them. That’s what false accusers do. Blackmail is the largest form of harassment against the BDSM community according to my Violence & Discrimination survey in 2008.

    I’m just…having a lot of trouble with this. I’m not involved in the BDSM community for clarification. What I’ve read in the links Thomas has provided about Fetlife’s policy seems to say that on Fetlife, people go by usernames and very little is given of their real world identity. So if someone makes a fake account, goes on Fetlife, and says, “konkonsn was terrible at the last meet-up. She kept spanking me even though I told her to stop,” that may impact my socialization on Fetlife, but in the real world? Not so much.

    What you’re talking about seems also more about BDSM in general and less about consent. Someone doesn’t have to be a rapist for another person to blackmail them with outing their lifestyle to work and family.

    NCSF is contacted by plenty of people who have been reported by their partner for abuse or assault after a consensual scene as a form of retaliation for breaking up, cheating, relationship problems, etc.

    This sounds exactly like rape accusation logic in the non-BDSM community. That girl wasn’t really raped – she was just upset that I dumped her after having sex. I don’t want to sound accusatory, but I’m wondering how you’re able to tell that ‘plenty’ of these are, in fact, blackmail and not the real thing? You also say blackmail is the largest form of harassment against the community, but are you taking into account that sexual assaults are most likely under-reported? And how much of this blackmail is angry partners vs. non-community members who are just discriminatory? Based on the context of your sentence, you’re making it sound like all blackmail is the result of false accusations when that may only be the fraction of a larger problem of discrimination against the community.

  43. William:

    I say to my patients all the time “if you’re not able to talk about sex without layers of euphemism and embarrassment getting in the way of an adult conversation then you’re probably not ready to be having sex.” I don’t see whats so wrong about saying “if you’re not able to get off without being impaired then maybe you’re not ready to be getting off.” If someone has to get drunk to go on a job interview we don’t start talking about how employers should be less uptight and more understanding of whiskey doused applicants, why on Earth would a social interaction as advanced, complicated, and potentially risky be any different?

    Cosign. I sometimes feel like there’s little point in me saying this, because since I don’t use any alcohol people will disregard me about too extreme and too outside the cultural norm to bother listening to on issues of alcohol and drugs. But we’ve completely normalized mind-altering and judgment-impairment as part of the cultural sexual landscape, and that’s so bad for all of us. I think lots of folks never learn to give and receive expressions of sexual attraction sober without embarrassment, and never have to in our culture, and intoxication becomes an excuse to avoid communication that people never learned how to have sober, and that this cultural illiteracy and reticence creates a good part of the rapists’ Social License to Operate. That’s not just BDSM, that’s the whole culture. I just think it’s easier to address with BDSM because people have a lot farther to go to recognize that fucking a new partner drunk is a problem, than they do to recognize that hitting a partner drunk is a problem.

    PH, Mac, Stonebiscuit and others, thanks for the words of support; and to all the survivors out there, speaking up and lurking: what was done to you is wrong, and people who fail to listen to and support you have failed their obligations to you, and to all of us.

  44. I have no doubt that longer term, experienced BDSM partners could come to a similar arrangement, but that requires an enormous amount of knowledge about a partner. Its not something for an early phase or one-off relationship and its deeply problematic that so many people feel so entitled to being fucked up while fucking around that they would argue as to whether or not its prudish to set a boundary as simple as “I don’t want either of us impaired in a situation where consent might be difficult to give or interpret.”

    This, William. As someone who engages in consent play and roleplay relatively often, the thought of people normalising BDSM-while-drunk/stoned makes me absolutely nuts. Ideally, no one would ever get more than mildly tipsy with new partners. I mean, as you said, my wife and I have done the giggly-gropage thing while drunk, but there’s a whole world of difference between that and, say, flogging.

    And thanks, Thomas!

  45. Subscribing to comments (I’d do it without commenting if there were a button for that).

  46. zuzu says:

    One of the best descriptions of sex and impairment and how it ties in both with the normalization of rape culture and the alienation of women from their bodies I’ve ever read is from Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story, excerpted at Historiann:

    Two days after my graduation I went out to lunch with Roger [one of her professors], a celebratory gesture on his part. He’d suggested this after the graduation ceremony . . . and he’d called the next day and arranged to pick me up at my apartment.

    We drove to a small, sunny restaurant about ten minutes away from campus, and he ordered us martinis. Then he ordered wine with lunch. We ate lobster salads and talked about writing.

    After lunch, in his car, Roger leaned over suddenly and kissed me on the mouth. I was startled and scared and confused when he kissed me, but I was also drunk, so I let him. I let him keep kissing me, and I let him put his hand on my breasts, and when he called me on the phone a few days later and asked me to have lunch with him again, I agreed because I didn’t know what else to say.

    I must have gotten drunk with Roger six or seven times that summer. We’d drive to a different restaurant each time and we’d have many drinks–usually martinis. . . and after lunch, blind drunk in the daylight, we’d sit in his car and I’d let him kiss me again. I’d close my eyes, panicked inside but numb, very numb, and I’d feel his breath on my neck and his tongue in my mouth and I’d just sit there, not knowing how I’d gotten into the situation and not knowing how in the world to get out (pp. 83-85). . . .

    [T]he martinis allowed me to indulge in that attraction, to flirt with it, to tap in to a feeling of power I was otherwise too self-conscious and fearful to acknowledge. After the second or third drink I know that I was leaning across the table, interest in my eyes, asking questions, drawing him out. (86). . . .

    Alcohol puts you in such a box, leaves you with such an impossible equation: you have to sexualize the relationship in order to feel powerful, and you have to drink in order to feel sexual, and on some level you don’t understand it’s all fake, that the power is chemical, that it doesn’t come from within you. So I’d sit there in the car with Roger, and I’d let him touch me and I’d feel completely stuck, just the tiniest stirring of inexpressible rage–at him, at myself–bubbling inside (87).

  47. William says:

    ZuZu:

    I was nodding along up until

    and on some level you don’t understand it’s all fake, that the power is chemical, that it doesn’t come from within you

    Alcohol doesn’t change who someone is. Sure, it can make someone less capable of resistance because its a CNS depressant, but the real play of alcohol (and why so many people is it) comes from the disinhibition. We don’t become someone else when we drink, we become more of who we already are and we lose the social inhibitions that keep us contained. I think thats an especially important point when we’re talking about alcohol, sex, and rape. By saying “this was caused by a chemical” I feel we end up uncomfortably close to rape apologism, opening the door for arguments like “it wasn’t my fault, I was drunk, thats not me!” Anyone who drinks has made that argument at some point and theres no reason to think think that rapists would be any different.

    I find the idea of alcohol producing “fake” feelings problematic from the point of view of survivors as well. Theres a lot of sex that people would like to have, that they find appealing, that they fantasize about intensely, but that they nevertheless understand they are not ready for or would not like to actually do because of consequences. Society already undermines those kinds of judgements about oneself, but thats an important part of consent. Just because someone thinks bondage is hot doesn’t mean they’re psychologically ready to be tied up, desire is not the same as consent. The common use of alcohol in our sexual relationships serves to disinhibit victims as much as abusers, it pushed people past their comfort zones in ways they are not necessarily consenting to push, but it does not create “fake” desires.

    Alcohol only opens the door, calling whats behind the door fake only serves to distance us from both our own experiences and the unpleasant reality of what lies beneath so many people.

  48. SW says:

    My favorite new thing in Fetlife is how now the caretakers have taken it upon themselves to set up a policy of ‘restraining orders.’ That is, in a conflict, they delete all offending content and state that both parties are no longer allowed to mention the other person on the site. They then inform the parties that they will delete all future content mentioning the other person and give the offender one warning before booting them off the site. No arbitration. No attempt at resolving the situation. No recourse. Just ostrich head-in-the-sand.

    Yes, that’s their solution to this problem. Yes, really.

    Seriously, fuck you fetlife.

  49. They then inform the parties that they will delete all future content mentioning the other person and give the offender one warning before booting them off the site.

    o_O

    Gladder than ever I don’t use fetlife…. thanks for the heads-up, this is useful information when I’m trying to explain my dislike of fetlife to other kinksters!

  50. maymay has a decent post on why he considers FL harmful, too:
    http://maybemaimed.com/2011/03/20/fetlife-considered-harmful/

  51. XGP says:

    You guys are wrong. Avoiding rape is not easy. It is damn-near impossible. You see, rape occurs whenever someone’s personal boundaries are crossed. Let’s say you’re engaged in sexual activity and you start doing something which the other person tells you to stop doing. Even if you stop, that person’s boundaries have been crossed. For whatever interval of time that you were engaged in that activity that crossed their boundaries, you were, by definition, raping them.

    Taking this further, we know that human minds are not singular objects. You are not one perfect, irreducible whole. Your conscious experience is the integration of multitudinous subroutines with different algorithms. This fragmentation makes ambivalence possible. It is very possible to consent to something and not consent to it at the same time because some parts of the brain consent and others do not. Any time “partial consent” like this occurs, any time that some part of the brain doesn’t currently want the activity, then something akin to a quotient rape has occurred. Since it’s basically statistically and biologically impossible for the whole brain to consent the whole time, every instance of sex is almost guaranteed to be at least quotient rape, if not full-blown rape.

    Now, you say that one could get around this by discussing personal boundaries. This sounds nice, but it’s flawed.

    1. Personal boundaries are very unstable. They change extremely rapidly and are constantly in flux. You could establish personal boundaries before sex only for them to change mid-way through. The unstable nature of consciousness all but ensures this will happen.

    2. Personal boundaries are too complex to totally specify. Even if two people discuss their personal boundaries for 6 hours straight, they’re bound to leave something out. They are bound to leave out some specific situation or scenario. If that scenario should manifest during sex, then the two would have to communicate out what to do, and even the very act of communication would change the scenario and produce a new scenario that must be discussed, which in turn would create a new scenario, ad infinitum. It is mathematically and logically impossible to cover all possible bases. Necessarily, some degree of guesswork and reasonable approximation must occur, and any approximation always leaves room for error. Within that error lies rape and quotient rape.

    You could also say that one could simply err on the side of caution. The problem is that the only possible caution that one could err on here seems to be never having sex with anyone else at all. It’s the only way to ensure that you might not violate a certain aspect of someone’s boundaries. If you want there to be no risk of you raping someone, then communication is not going to help. The only possible way to ensure that you don’t rape is to not have sex. Anyone who chooses to have sex is therefore risking the possibility of raping someone.

  52. SW says:

    XGP, by your logic, we cannot give meaningful consent to anything in our lives. What I’m getting is that according to you, we can never really consent to being married or driving a car because we can’t cover absolutely every contingency before we even start. What I see is that your view is one in which mistakes are so horrible that it is better to not engage in anything risky because of the possibility that it might go horribly wrong.

    We all hurt one another, all the time, intentionally or unintentionally. The thing that makes a mistake different from a violation lies in the way in which a situation is handled. Mistakes happen because we are human and cannot account for all variables; sometimes we stumble across a land mine that neither us nor our partners knew were there. Owning up to it and doing everything necessary to make amends goes a long way, because we know that neither of us is omnipotent.

    I saw a case on Fetlife that I thought was very well handled. Despite having repeatedly negotiated a boundary, a dom interpreted a line by a sub to mean that that while in the middle of a scene, that’s exactly what she wanted. He fucked up.

    Her request for amends was that he publicly admit what happened and that it was he who violated her consent. He did so. She graciously accepted his apology, dropped the issue, took some time to herself to heal, and is now back.

    He has learned something incredibly important which I doubt he will ever forget, and I doubt he will ever repeat. She I have an incredible amount of respect for.

    Compared to that is the person who places the blame entirely on the other’s shoulders. Or the person who just doesn’t believe what they’re doing is wrong. It isn’t about negotiating in good faith. It’s about power. It also indicates that the person with the power only really cares about themselves. And that is a completely avoidable type of rape.

    Thomas includes several techniques to help prevent the fuck-up, namely getting and giving explicit information about major issues, preferably clearly in writing. (EG. No PIV, ever). The other is to pound into people’s heads that meaningful consent is given before the clothes come off or the flogger comes out. Anything else, and everyone is playing with fire and the possibility of miscommunication is much, much higher.

    I think it helps in negotiations to discuss what both parties like best, or have especially liked in the past. To me, that’s a fairly good indicator of that person enjoying the activity again. And there’s a whole lot of green area with which to play. There’s more to sex than PIV. There’s more to BDSM than edgeplay. There will be more chances. We aren’t just having sex or doing kink to get our rocks off; a whole lot of us need the connection part of it too. Negotiating limits and staying within previously negotiated limits indicates that both partners care about the other as people. It indicates that the ultimate goal is a connection.

    I’ve found that when fuck-ups have happened in my relationships, being accountable and making amends caused us to become closer, rather than more apart because they were treated as fuck-ups by people who honestly cared about each other.

    I think that it would be especially productive to aid all parties with fuck-ups (avoiding and resolving), and remove those who regard themselves as infallible or truly wish only to take what they believe is their right.

  53. SW says:

    Thomas, I do have one major problem with your position. You say that you enjoy playing with one person exclusively and have no use for ‘the scene.’ That’s great for you, and I’m glad you have that.

    But what about the rest of us? How do we meet our potential partners?

    And how do we help pass on our knowledge of safer practices?

    I say this in the era of 50 shades of grey and collarme. I say this as a person who has only been called ‘not a true submissive’ by internet posers and not by anyone I have met in the scene.

    I say this because I think you are implying that your situation is the ideal one, without either elucidating how you found your partner or how others not as fortunate as you might cope.

    I also say this as a person who has noticed that a lot of the same behaviors happen in other, inter-linked spheres like geek culture. I’m not sure how one finds and screens partners in your scenario.

  54. Jadey says:

    @ XGP

    The suppositions upon which your argument is based are baseless and absurd – you sound like a character escaped from Neon Genesis Evangelion, taking the Hedgehog’s dilemma to ridiculous new heights. 1. Consent is not a pure brain activity – it is a behaviour. I don’t expect to divine someone’s consent from what’s happening in their mind (not a mind reader!) – I ask them. And if I feel that they aren’t able to communicate a clear position on their own behalf, I err on the side of not. Communication can be imperfect, but “quotient rape” is ridiculous. 2. Boundaries are complicated, but they are not that complicated. Trust me, it is perfectly possible to have on-going negotiation of boundaries throughout an encounter, especially if you and your partner(s) have established a basis of trust. Your definition of rape as “any violation of personal boundaries” is absurd – you may as well avoid all public transit out of the fear that sitting next to someone will violates their uncommunicated boundaries (although half their brain was trying to consent with you, the other half would rather have sat alone!!) and therefore rape.

    That being said, if you personally feel that you are incapable of reasonably effectively communicating about consent (yours or theirs) with other people, then with my totally unnecessary blessing, please do chose a sexual lifestyle that you feel is more suitable and don’t have sex with anyone. There’s nothing wrong with that. But your argument to generalize is weak.

    @ SW

    Sorry, are you arguing that rape culture is essential for you to pull? Or that Thomas owes you some kind of magic guarantee of relational bliss if he’s going to challenge rape culture in BDSM? Frankly, if more people behaved more like Thomas is suggesting, I’d find it a lot easier to go out in the scene and try to meet people. But I didn’t see anything in the OP suggesting that people avoid the scene – in fact, why bother suggesting new norms of behaviour if he was advocating a dismantling of the scene at all? So why do your current screening practices hinge on the continuance of rape culture?

  55. SW, not at all what I meant. My situation is not ideal necessarily — perhaps not even for me, as I lean poly and my relationship, wonderful as it is, is more restrictive then I’d prefer. I’m not saying that monogamy and no public play is right for you.

    I’m not dumping on the idea of a public community, just the reality of it as it stands now. I’m not saying that I want to wreck it, I’m saying that I want to fix it. And I don’t really want to fix it for me. I, personally, don’t really need it. But you do and so do a lot of people. And I want to fix it for you, because that’s what being progressive it. “I don’t need it so I don’t care if it’s broken” is what conservatives and libertarians say. “I don’t need it, but lots of people do so it should work well for everyone” is what progressives say.

    I want a public scene where women are not assumed to be bottoms or subs, where male bottoms or subs feel valued and included, where people are included and respected no matter what their gender and no matter how their sexuality interacts with their kinks, where everyone is willing to interact with everyone else without unwanted cruising and role-policing, and where everyone’s boundaries are accepted. I don’t think that’s pie-in-the-sky craziness. I think that’s how it ought to be.

  56. Seriously, not a thing I wrote is meant to express disapproval of how people find kinky partners, unless they are pressuring someone. Munches, play parties, Fetlife, Craigslist … none raises particular issues with consent. I have no problem with pickup play between complete strangers, none. I’m not an evangelist for monogamy. I don’t think that limiting the public scene is necessary or desirable to reduce predation. I think that what is both necessary and desirable is to create an environment where being dismissive or disrespectful of boundaries stands out like a sore thumb, and then kicking out the people who stand out like a sore thumb.

  57. EG says:

    You see, rape occurs whenever someone’s personal boundaries are crossed.

    Where did you get this definition from? Does that mean that you think that a student who calls me by my first name instead of “Professor” has raped me, instead of just being a bit rude? That’s a personal boundary that I prefer to keep quite strong.

  58. Mxe354 says:

    You see, rape occurs whenever someone’s personal boundaries are crossed.

    You have no idea what rape is. Rape is sex without consent. Nothing else. Don’t even dare to change the definition.

  59. Mxe354 says:

    It is very possible to consent to something and not consent to it at the same time because some parts of the brain consent and others do not. Any time “partial consent” like this occurs, any time that some part of the brain doesn’t currently want the activity, then something akin to a quotient rape has occurred. Since it’s basically statistically and biologically impossible for the whole brain to consent the whole time, every instance of sex is almost guaranteed to be at least quotient rape, if not full-blown rape.

    Consent is not a state of mind. It’s an agreement. A decision through communication between parties. To reduce it to a brain state is unfathomably stupid. Consent is determined through communication, not analysis of the latter’s brain state. The things you’re saying have great “utility” for rapists.

  60. William says:

    You have no idea what rape is. Rape is sex without consent. Nothing else. Don’t even dare to change the definition.

    I’d like to just object a little bit and say that, while I think XGP is going for the reducto ad absurdum brand of rape appologism, different people experience different kinds of violations in different ways. I can say without hesitation that the physical abuse I suffered triggered virtually the same things for me that my rape did and that the sense of violation was of an almost identical form. I experience that abuse in the same way that I experience my rape and it took me years to link the two and understand how they affected me.

    To borrow an old trope, rape isn’t really about sex. I’ve got ten years of post-high school education under my belt, so I’ve got the language now to talk about the physical abuse and the rape I suffered as being rooted in the same systems of power. I know what kyriarchy is. I can think of the ways in which similar social structures encouraged different people feel entitled to engage in seeming distinct but functionally similar means of domination over me. But when I was 16 and angry and getting fucked up to escape pain I didn’t understand because I didn’t even have the word “triggers” at my disposal? Being able to call something that didn’t involve sex “rape” gave me hand hold on my own experience that I’m not sure I ever would have found otherwise.

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