What A Witch Hunt Actually Is
Lately, when I’ve suggested that rape survivors should have places to say, “so and so raped me,” and to name the name of the assailant, some people have used the phrase “witch hunt.” This is offensive, and it is a poor metaphor. I’ll tell you why: there are three components of a witch hunt, in historical practice, that do not fit an environment of public transparency.
(1) It’s all made up.
(2) Confessions are extracted by torture.
(3) The result is execution.
Let’s look at a historical case, the North Berwick Witch Trials. James VI, who later succeeded Queen Elizabeth as James I of England but who was then the Scottish king, sailed to Denmark to marry. The weather was bad — really bad, and the fleet had to shelter in Norway and wait it out. The Danish admiral blamed witchcraft, and there were witch hunts in both Denmark and Scotland.
More than a hundred suspected witches were rounded up. One of them, Agnes Sampson, was personally questioned under torture by the King. She was kept without sleep for prolonged periods and tormented with a device called a “witch’s bridle,” which forces metal spikes into the cheeks and tongue.
Sampson confessed to over fifty counts, and was strangled, then burned. There were more than seventy people implicated, I don’t know how many executed. Estimates I’ve seen of European witch hunts put the total number of those executed over thirty thousand for the core period of witch hunts, from the mid-1400s to the mid-1700s.
First, neither Agnes Sampson, nor any of the dozens of indicted coconspirators, cause the storms that forced the King’s ship into a Norwegian harbor. Storms are not the result of black magic; there were no “real witches” to find.
You can’t say that about rapists, and you can’t say that about rape. Or, you can say it, but it’s ridiculous, and you won’t be saying it here. The problem of rape in BDSM communities is not a natural phenomena like weather top which we simply assign a blameworthy cause. It is a problem of bad actors doing bad things.
Second, I have yet to see anyone advocate the procuring of rapists’ confessions by physical torture. In fact, my position is that all physical torment should be entirely consensual and the recipient’s limits respected. I think I’ve been quite clear on that.
Third, I have yet to see anyone advocate execution as a punishment for rape in BDSM communities. I have not seen that, and I have not taken that position. I am not the government, I don’t have the power or the inclination to sentence people to lethal injection or electrocution or to be hanged by the neck until dead.
When people talk about the consequences of someone saying, “so and so raped me,” let’s be realistic. They’re not going to go to prison, except in the most unusual circumstances, for the reasons I covered at length in There’s A War On Part 4: Just Us. Realistically, what might happen is that some party promoters will decide that person is not welcome and some people they know may decide they don’t want to be friendly with that person anymore. And my observation is that even that is usually only a very partial effect.
So that’s nothing at all like confession under torture followed by burning at the stake.
(Anyone planning to deploy the term “lynching” outside its historical context will be banned for racism. You have been warned.)
This use of “witch hunt” to describe a process of social transparency is misplaced. At best, it represents a failure to think though the meaning of the rather shopworn phrase. At worst, it is a conscious rhetorical attack, trying to enlist the image of broken limbs and burned corpses to churn up sympathy for the wrong side. It’s bullshit, and I plan on liberally linking this post when people say “witch hunt.”