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Breaking the Silence

July 18, 2011

Kitty Stryker says a mouthful:

It says a lot to me that I had to do some digging to find posts on this subject, yet I have yet to meet a female submissive who hasn’t had some sort of sexual assault happen to her. So many sites are focused on saying how BDSM isn’t a cover for abuse that we willingly blind ourselves to the times that it can be.

The smaller and more cohesive a community, the more its internal politics will tend to make it incapable of effective self-policing.  It’s fair to call me a critic of how the BDSM community handles sexual assault in its midst.  I take that stance because I know too many people whose trust has been violated not only by community members or play partners, but also by the community as a whole if they’ve tried to report.

The BDSM community is not an island free of rape culture.  It is a group of people existing within rape culture and subject to it.  BDSM spaces are spaces that new people come to these days with an expectation that they will be safe, and where people generally say all the right things about negotiation, consent and respect for boundaries.  But there really isn’t a lot of protection behind that.  People who have been accused of sexual assault, if they are well connected, don’t actually become persona non grata, and the BDSM community has its own liturgy of victim-blaming.  As Striker says,

Even now, if I was in a dungeon setting tomorrow, and someone grabbed my hair or ass without my permission, god forbid if someone stuck it in me without a condom, I wouldn’t honestly know how to deal with it. In theory I should talk to a dungeon monitor, but in practice? I’d probably talk to someone I knew. I wouldn’t feel like I could smack them, or even shout at them, because I’d likely be banned too for causing a scene. Plus, no one wants to be a tattletale, right?

It all looks so familiar.  The blame-placing on particularly female subs (and that’s what I have in mind, though partly that may simply reflect my lack of insight into queerer BDSM communities) looks a lot like the blame-placing in the general population.  “She didn’t negotiate right” looks a lot like “she didn’t really say no.”  “She’s a drama queen/wants sympathy” looks a lot like “she regretted it and changed her mind.”  It’s the same bullshit.

Stryker is not alone.  One commenter said this:
Men I didn’t know at all who touched me in public, and when I yelled no one cared. I’d ask around, and of course he’d done it before and maybe he’d gotten a slap on the wrist, but no one was not inviting him to things because of it. When I tried to bring this stuff up, men and older women both would lecture me on being patient, on staying in the scene and trying to make it better. They would imply that the men were just socially awkward, that they didn’t know better. Screw that. I was a very small, very young woman and I was in need of protection. One incident undoubtedly met the legal definition of assault, and I should have called the police. The older men knew exactly what they were doing at that they could get away with it.
[Emphasis supplied.]  I’ve seen many variations of the same story, usually by sub or bottom women — often younger and newer — by email and in comments and on comment threads where these issues get raised, not enough to say anything specific about prevalence, but enough to say that in many communities in many different places there are a lot of these experiences.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and Stryker links to sources that I want to signal-boost here:

Kinky Little Girl
Perverted Negress
Field Guide to Creepy Dom
Jack Rinella
Intimate Partner Abuse in the BDSM Lifestyle

I have more thoughts on this.  I have endless thoughts on this.  The biggest thought I have is that silence doesn’t change anything.  We need to be, and we can be, better than this.  People who talk about consent a lot should be able to practice it better than the general population, and we could.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. July 18, 2011 3:00 pm

    Thank you for writing this. As someone who has had a very difficult time asserting my own needs, I feel like Pro-kink, pro-BDSM, polyamorous and many other communities have their own blinders as to why it doesn’t matter when THEY pressure someone into something that doesn’t feel right, but it’s different if it’s “abuse”. The distinctions become so blurred. If someone is willing to let you hurt them in a way that you KNOW will psychologically damage them for a very long time… do you have any responsability?

    If they let you, it’s all good? That doesn’t seem right. I mean LEGALLY sure— but morally? And we SHOULD care about how to treat each other— even if we can legal get away with doing something damaging to someone, that doesn’t make it ok.

    I’ve seen it asserted that maintaining your own boundaries is your own responsability and therefore– if you get injured or psychologically damaged by something you consented to it’s all your fault no matter what other pressures were going on or no matter if the person who did it to you was aware they were causing severe damage. It seems so much more gray than that. The same people will say that “clearly” if a woman is crying and withdrawing during sex and that wasn’t negotiated it’s obviously rape. What if she said yes to the sex though? And then freaked out? And the other person doesn’t stop? Or what if she said no but them jumped on the other person and started having sex with them? I mean I just don’t get how it’s anything BUT gray. And the reality is that we should continue to talk about these “gray” areas and continue to address how best to treat each other because I think when we do it improves lives.

    What if one partner is into BDSM and the other partner agrees to try it and then doesn’t like it and then the first partner says, “Well it was really hot, do you think you could tolerate some more?” and the other person says, “God I really don’t want to, I feel like I’m breaking inside, but if you want to you can.”

    I mean sure LEGALLY that’s consent, but would it really be ethical to say, “Ok! You’re up for it then!” Yes ideally someone whose willing to be broken inside in order to make their partner happy might have some issues— but what if we change it to “Ok it makes me broken inside but it’s worth it to make you happy so it’s what I want”

    Is that empowering? And what if that state IS the result of past abuse…. is that the ideal? Nothing for a dom to be concerned about?

    I thank you so much for writing this and Kitty Striker as well. I don’t participate in BDSM because I know that it would hurt me psychologically but it is how I am oriented and I’ve found a LOT of stuff I’ve read in BDSM online communities helpful, and there are some other areas where I feel like I’m not sure what to make of it. Anyway, thanks.

  2. July 18, 2011 4:38 pm

    I have more thoughts on this. I have endless thoughts on this. The biggest thought I have is that silence doesn’t change anything. We need to be, and we can be, better than this. People who talk about consent a lot should be able to practice it better than the general population, and we could.

    I am less certain of that last bit than you are, but the entire rest of that paragraph is something I agree with wholeheartedly.

  3. July 25, 2011 12:49 pm

    THANK YOU FOR SPEAKING UP! It’s very brave of you – I tried addressing this topic a few months ago in St Louis and was harassed terribly, the sex predators in the community circled me like sharks. They hate when you try educating their prey.

    I stood my ground for two weeks, but finally took the post down, stripped my profile on FetLife, and focused my efforts elsewhere. I got accused of being sex-negative for speaking out against sex predators, so frustrating!

    The slut-shaming is even worse when it comes to BDSM because there is the added element of judgement on if you are a good submissive. Like one article I read recently stated, a woman can’t report an assault without having her character assassinated.

    I wish EVERY WOMAN would read the book The Gift of Fear, it has so much invaluable info about trusting your gut and being aware. So many women are naive and don’t want to cause trouble.

  4. July 25, 2011 9:56 pm

    I will absolutely second the Gift of Fear recommendation.

  5. July 26, 2011 5:17 pm

    There’s a great little pamphlet made by the Northwest Network in Seattle about the difference between Abuse and S/M. Take a look here:
    http://zinelibrary.info/abuse-not-s-m-and-s-m-not-abuse

  6. jas permalink
    August 2, 2011 9:29 am

    THIS. the ‘Field Guide to Creepy Dom’ is a pretty much perfect description of my 1st dom. he used BDSM and nonmonogamy as a cover for his “sex addiction”, and “sex addiction” as a cover for being a fucking predator.

  7. Rose Orozco permalink
    August 9, 2011 11:38 am

    What if BDSM is being practice by Jesus followers and you are not a Jesus follower. How do you handle that? Some of them are Jesus freaks! You know the ones that have the name Jesus in their mouth every hour or every day.

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