One In Three Kinksters Reports A Consent Violation
Last Spring I wrote a series about rape and abuse in BDSM communities, titles There’s A War On. Here’s the start of the series. One thing I couldn’t do at that time was say how many people in BDSM communities experienced consent violations. Now I can.
The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom did a survey this Fall on consent. Results are in. The survey got over 5000 respondents. It was broadly focused on people’s views of what constituted consent, and not experiences of violation, but there were two questions about experiences of violation. Here are those questions, and the responses:
“Have you ever had a pre-negotiated limit violated in a BDSM scene or relationship?” Of 4,115 respondents (1,552 missing):
“Have you ever negotiated a safeword or safesign with a partner who then ignored it during play?” Of 4,110 respondents:
Taking the two questions together, 33% of respondents that answered these questions answered yes to one, or the other or both. 33% of kinksters who responded reported that their consent was violated. More than 11% responded yes to both.
So … this is very, very bad. Of kinksters responding to this question, 30% had had a prenegotiated limit violated. Those numbers are even worse than victim self-reports of rape in the general population; which the New York Times reports as about 20% based on a study supported by the National Institute of Justice.
Communities ostensibly based on consent, with more consent violations than the general population.
It is interesting to note that the proportion of respondents reporting a violation of a prenegotiated limit is almost exactly twice as high as the proportion reporting a violation of a safeword. However, there is a lot of overlap because 11% answered yes to both. There are several possible hypotheses to explain this. Mine is that most of this is accounted for by people who violate consent being rational actors who are more willing to ignore a preset limit than a safeword, possibly because it’s easier to claim a misunderstanding arising from negotiation. The overlap between the safeword question and the limit question seems critical. The vast majority of those whose safeword was ignored also reported that their negotiated limit was ignored. This undermines a hypothesis of mistake for the majority of reports. Either these folks are reporting separate incidents, in which case the rates of violation are even higher than the rates of people violated; or they are reporting that in the incident where a safeword was ignored, the conduct also was against their stated limits, making mistake unlikely.
There are a lot of things to deal with in the NCSF survey, and more to say about consent violations. Among other things, crosstabs currently available don’t give a gender breakdown.
I’m seeing about getting one. [Edited to Add: I'd forgotten that the survey itself did not collect this data. Gender and role orientation were not collected, so some of the crosstabs I'd most like to see cannot be done. The answers we do have, however, cry out for a much more detailed victim report survey on consent violations.] My prediction is that if it becomes available, a crude m/f count for these questions will break down a little closer to equal than rape in the general US population, where victims are about 91% women.
There is a lot more to say, but I don’t want to get too deeply into this because first, I think the point just needs to sink in. The best data we have shows that a third of kinksters have experienced a consent violation, 30% of kinksters have had their negotiated limits violated and 15% have their safeword ignored. This is much worse than any reasonable person should have anticipated coming out of this survey. It is a crisis. I think this demonstrates empirically that the biggest problem facing kinky people today is consent violations and everything else is less important. I’ve said that before, in reference to things like legal reform projects, and I think the data backs me up.