There’s A War On Part 6: Anti-Sunshine League
[Trigger Warning for the whole series, as it deals with rape and abuse. This part, however, contains less in the way of graphic descriptions of abuse than previous parts.]
Justice Brandeis said that sunlight is the best of disinfectants. We’ve talked about 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 harsh 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, ze ignored my hard limit” as they are to say “I had a really good experience with zir,” then the predators can’t operate. In a transparent environment, people would have to own and learn from their mistakes; those who were not really making mistakes would become apparent really fast. They’d get shut down and shut out and maybe even prosecuted right away.
Who could be against that?
A radical social experiment started last winter. In one small group of mostly New York youngish queerish kinksters, the owner started taking anonymous, first person accounts and posting them — including ones that named names. The results were mixed. Several people owned up to past misconduct, or said that if anyone thought they should be named that they welcomed it. Some folks who were named talked about things they had done wrong and their process to fix it, including not playing while impaired, or recognizing bad relationship dynamics that they had felt gave them license to act wrongly. Others reacted poorly, of course, and some people whined about the drama, because resolving interpersonal conflict is uncomfortable.
On March 5, the Carebears who run Fetlife shut it down, disappearing the items that named names. Their message to the owner went as follows:
However, we also do not allow accusations of criminal conduct when a conviction has not happened. Unfortunately, many of the posts in this thread are doing just that. We’d like to give you the opportunity to continue this great service to the community in this way. We’ll delete all the comments that name names. If you can anonymize any accusations that come in from now on, we’ll allow the thread to stay open. If not, we’ll have to delete the thread completely. We hope it doesn’t come to that – we’d really hate to do that – and we hope that we can come up with a way to keep this going in a way that helps everyone.
[Bold mine.] I got the group owner’s permission to post that. It’s such bullshit. I discussed in Part 4 that conviction isn’t a realistic expectation. This policy ensures that in well over 90% of incidents, and abuser can’t be named. See, there is no way to “help everyone.” We can help the victims, or we can help the perpetrators. ”Help everyone” is Fetlife’s “I Don’t Do Drama.”
(Let’s be honest about Fetlife’s history: they now ban discussion that encourages child molestation, and they now ban actual photos and real-world recounting of bestiality, but that wasn’t always the case. That was a recent change just a few years ago, and as I’ve heard the story in many, many Fet groups, those rules were instituted when those topics became a threat to Fet’s ability to process credit card transactions, and not before, and Fetlife apologized profusely to the pedophilia and bestiality group members for having to spoil their fun. Halfhearted enforcement of these rules remains a bone of contention among Fet customers, and popular writings recently have decried the Carebears’ laxity in pulling down pedophile content. There is money to be made off BDSM communities, and there’s access to partners, especially young women, to be had. See Part 5: there’s no shortage of craven self-interest when it comes to stifling discussions of rape and abuse.)
The real kicker is that Fetlife isn’t even consistent about its own TOU. I linked to the Consent Counts project in Part 4; lots of consensual BDSM is a criminal act in many places. Someone who says they were flogged and caned by their partner in Boston, for example, has just accused their partner of a criminal act. Fetlife, of course, makes no effort to shut down that discussion. And it’s not at all clear that violations of consent are all criminal where they occur: sexual assault statutes vary widely, and penetration with an object of a finger may or may not violate the law where it was done, depending on the jurisdiction, and participants and the circumstances. So Fetlife has this unworkable and ambiguous TOU, and their effective interpretation is that if you say that someone did something nonconsensual to you, you won’t be allowed to say who it was.
It may seem I’m unfairly picking on Fetlife here. I am picking on Fetlife, but it’s only fair. John Baku wanted to make his creation the Facebook of kinky people … and succeeded. It’s so ubiquitous that it sucks the air out of the room. Fetlife isn’t just one organ of BDSM, it’s the overwhelming online center of the BDSM universe. With great power comes great responsibility.
Look at it from the victim’s perspective: going to the cops isn’t realistic. Often, going to the leaders of the community isn’t realistic; the abuser may be better connected and that would just mean ostracism. Going to the abuser only works for actual miscommunications, so that fixes the easier problem but leaves the really scary people untouched. So … what?
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:
Those of us who are spearheading this discussions are coming from a place of reality and shared history. We are coming from direct personal experience. We are coming from pain. We are coming from abandonment, apathy, and downright hostility from our community. It is real. It is current. It is now.
We have lost safety. We have lost friends. We have lost lovers. We have lost time. We are still losing by taking on this conversation. But we do it, because we know what its like and for me, I will do everything I fucking can to make sure that no one else has to lose.
Then the masses come in. What about false accusations, they say. Well, what about them? Its a hypothetical. Yes, it can happen however it is rare. In the meanwhile, we are seeing slews of stories of abuse. So I need to ask to those who are worried about false accusations to look around you. When you say that someone may falsely accuse, therefore the consent efforts are harmful- it is implying that this is a problem in Boston. That this is a real problem in our scene. So tell me, who you do think does it? Why do you think it is a problem? Can you tell me via private message who these people are so I don’t play with them? Please, do this. I really want to know where this epidemic is happening because somehow my ladybrain has missed it.
Or do you think that once we get a consent culture, your friends, lovers, play partners are such manipulative, selfish people that we’ll start seeing a slew of false accusations appear that moment that a consent culture becomes an actuality?
Here is the thing. Our society teaches us that some people are inherently untrustworthy. That women are hysterical and overemotional and manipulative. We have these things for all marginalized identities. This is where the myth* of false accusations comes from.
When there is a discussion on rape, abuse, predators and survivors and people come in and say “but false accusations”, it is saying that the discussion over false accusations is more important and takes more precedent over the discussion of abuse- despite it being incredibly rare and despite abuse being reported left and right. Take into accounts that many reports of “false accusation” are actually true events that are just not believed and then the derail gets even more insulting. Also, in my world- rape is a much more serious crime than slander.
[Bold mine.] There are several points that bear repeating or emphasizing here:
First, the relative frequency of rape and abuse, so often unreported, swamps all other narratives. There are just a lot more rapes and boundary violations than there are accusations. Most victims stay silent. The scale of that problem is so large in comparison to all allegation, true and false together, that all effort should go to dealing with the rapes before worrying about the smaller number of false allegations.
Second, convictions just don’t result in BDSM cases except the most severe abuse cases with the most 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. The real-world consequences are stress and reputational damage rather than imprisonment. Somebody might have some story about a false accusation that led to loss of job or kids or something: it’s always someone’s cousin’s brother-in-law and you won’t be able to verify the facts, and if you could, those facts would look a lot more sympathetic to the survivor than they’re made out by the accused’s supporters. Anyone fantasizing that simply made-up allegations of abuse in a BDSM scene are going to result in imprisonment is just out of touch with reality, or they’re really acting as a press agent for the alleged abuser in a well-known story.
Third, there is no effective method to verify the account. For the reasons I stated in Part 4, the courts won’t resolve BDSM community cases unless there’s a video or a hospitalization, no matter how clear the boundary violation. There’s no grand high panel of dispute resolution, and if there were it would be immediately co-opted by the Powers That Be in the scene and the panel members would have to worry about their own access to parties and play spaces. So we don’t have the formal process, and we don’t have an informal process, to tell us who is telling the truth.
Letting the survivors speak out in public is actually more likely to lead to an adjudication: in the US, truth is a defense to libel, but the wrongly accused have a claim and they can hire a lawyer and sue, and the standard is preponderance of the evidence. Juries sure are not perfect, but if people really want an impartial (whatever that is) panel to determine what happened, then allowing survivors to speak out subject to defamation laws is the best we’re going to get.
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.
I reject that solution out-of-hand. I find any outcome better than simply throwing up our hands and saying, “survivors should just shut up, because we can’t know whether they’re telling the truth.” Any outcome. I’m not going to mince words here: the comparatively small problem of false allegations is not important enough to me to stop the solution to the comparatively huge problem of real abuse for which there is no other remedy but transparency.
A note about comments: I am not going to let this blog be a forum for people who think that the mere possibility of false accusations is a reason to silence survivors. This is my space: comments serve the function of moving the conversation in a direction that I want it to go, and I do not allow comments that move the conversation in directions that I do not want it to go. You can call that an “echo chamber”, and you’d be correct. Also, all comments are my property and I’ll publish your IP if I see fit.  Because I’m not a nice person. You have been warned.
If tops know that people feel free to just say that a top violated boundaries, tops might be a bit more worried about how they conduct themselves, they might be a little more stressed, they might have to trust their partners more. But right now, bottoms have to trust their partners a ton. Checking reputations and safecalls and the community leaders don’t protect someone from having their limits violated in private, or even in public. Right now, all the weight of risk is borne by the bottoms. How the hell is that fair? (It’s not. And it leads to a slash-and-burn culture where bottoms, particularly women bottoms, come into the scene and many just bail because of experiences they have. I think some people prefer it this way, because it can have the effect of lowering the average age of bottoms while leaving the same cohort of tops.
 blah blah whine entitled free speech waaaaah: Free speech is a right against the government, I am not the government and this blog is not a government program. My threads are my space; people express here only what I choose to allow, and what I allow is subject to my policy: complete discretion, which may be exercised for any reason, no reason, inconsistent reasons, biased reasons, or arbitrary and capricious reasons. Blah blah marketplace of ideas: I do not agree that all spaces are open to all debates, and my purpose is not to discuss this here. In fact, properly understood, this series in particular is not a discussion. It’s a brief. The purpose of this series is to provide tools to people who agree with me. If you disagree, we’re not having a conversation. You’re the enemy, and I’ll treat you as such.
 Yeah, people switch; in fact, probably most of us do. But a lot of people lean heavily one way, particularly in play outside one or a few lasting relationships. And there are a lot of cis het male exclusive doms.