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Assault and consent in the BDSM community

I had planned to spend this afternoon writing about the Long Now Project, which inspires some of the most optimistic parts of me and speaks to the parts of me that are profoundly in love with the potential of the human race.

Instead, I'm going to write about something that saddens me greatly.

A short time ago, a friend of mine was sexually assaulted during a play session with a person who's prominent in the local Portland BDSM scene. The situation was complex, as these things often are; most rapes, whether they're within the context of BDSM or not, usually don't involve some perpetrator springing from a dark alley onto an unsuspecting victim. Yes, it can happen that way, but more often than not the victim knows the perpetrator, as was the case here.

This situation started out as consensual play, and turned into assault when my friend's boundaries were overrun. And what happened next makes me especially disappointed and angry.

The purpose of this post isn't to discuss the details of what happened. The things I'm going to say hold true regardless of the exact nature of the circumstances. Instead, what I want to do is talk specifically about the BDSM community, and how it often falls short of its own stated ideals, and often plays into cultural norms about men and women even while it supposedly enshrines values of individuality, negotiation, and consent.

It's not my intention to go into the details of the assault. For anyone who's interested and a member of FetLife, there's an essay here on Fetlife written by my friend. For folks who have access to Fetlife and who haven't read it, I encourage you to do so.

I'm a lot more concerned about the fallout after the assault. A lot of folks who I really think ought to know better have behaved in ways that suggests to me that they are blind to the value of consent and trapped in cultural paradigms of how women "ought" to behave.

I'm not saying that everyone in the BDSM community reacted badly. Quite a number of folks, both within the community and outside it, were supportive. What's disappointing and angering to me, though, is the people--and I will admit to being surprised by how many people--were not, and the lines of reasoning I saw.

If you don't lock your car, whatever happens is on your head

In conversations about rape and rape culture, one of the things I've heard feminists talk about is the idea that we as a society will often try to encourage women to avoid situations where they might be raped, but we don't encourage men not to rape women in the first place I think this is a valid complaint, and I do agree that this does, in effect, end up making it easier to blame the victims of rape for their own victimization. ("Well, if you hadn't been walking alone in the park/wearing that dress/whatever, this wouldn't have happened to you!")

But I think that blaming it solely on misogyny and patriarchy misses something important. There are women who buy into this notion as well, and it's not entirely because of internalized oppression.

We do the same thing with other kinds of crimes; we tell people to lock their doors rather than telling people not to burgle other people's homes; we tell people to lock their cars and hide their valuables rather than telling people not to rob cars. And this also creates an environment where victim-blaming becomes easier. I have had a car stolen before, back when I lived in Ft. Myers, and a surprising number of folks I knew told me it was my fault for parking it in a dark parking lot in a bad part of town. The impulse to blame the victim runs deep, and it isn't just about misogyny.

Instead, I think it's often about creating an illusion of safety. By finding some way to blame a victim of a crime, we can protect ourselves, if only a little bit, from the fear of that crime. If you are a victim because you did something wrong, then I don't need to fear being a victim as long as I do things right. I don't need to worry about having my car stolen, because I'm smart enough not to park it in a dark corner of a parking lot. I won't be a rape victim, because I'm smart enough to know better than to wear that miniskirt or walk down that alley.

Reality doesn't line up with those assumptions, but that doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if women who dress modestly are just as likely, or more likely, as women who dress provocatively to be victims of rape. People will cling to beliefs that make them feel safer, even if those beliefs aren't true.

I am absolutely not saying that rape culture doesn't exist (it does) or that misogyny doesn't play a role in people's perception of rape (again, it does). For example, if a rape victim and a perpetrator know each other, that often makes folks more inclined to blame the victim than if the perpetrator were a stranger, yet the same is not true of robbery--whether a robber and a victim know each other or not doesn't change how likely people are to blame the victim for the robbery.

Instead, what I'm saying that both men AND women have a psychological motivator to engage in victim-blaming, and that misogyny is just one of many factors leading to victim-blaming.

In the BDSM community, victim-blaming can be more subtle and more insidious. I've heard folks say "Well, everyone knows how so-and-so likes to play. She should have known what she was getting into when she agreed to play with him." I've heard folks say "Well, she should have checked his references (or established a safe call or not played with him in private or any of a dozen other things) and this wouldn't have happened."

These "she should have" games play out after the fact, too. I've heard folks, including one person I know who I consider to be basically a decent guy, say "She should have done thus-and-such after the assault happened." Usually it's "She should have reported it" or "She should have confronted the perpetrator directly" or "She should have gone to a community leader and let him know that there was a problem".

To me, all these "she should have" statements are a little fucked up. See, here's the thing: Often, the folks in the BDSM community who end up assaulting someone are well-respected leaders in the community, with impeccable references and strong community support.

And I especially find it odious when folks try to say what they think an assault victim should have done after the fact. Look, here's the scoop: I am privileged. Men in general are privileged. We don't live with the pervasive knowledge that we can be sexually assaulted. I have never been the victim of a sexual assault, and because I am male, I am unlikely ever to be. That means I do not know what it feels like to be assaulted, or to be constantly aware that I can be assaulted. For me, or anyone who doesn't know what that's like, to presume to tell someone who has been assaulted how she is "supposed" to deal with the assault seems incredibly presumptive.

Confrontation has a cost. It is quite common for people, even when they have been victimized, not to be confrontational. This can be especially true if the person who's been victimized rationalizes that some part of the victimization might be his or her own fault; it's often easiest to say "Well, I shouldn't have been in that situation, so I really am not in a position to make a fuss about it now."

The "She should go to a community leader" is particularly presumptive considering how often it is that the "community leaders" are precisely the ones most likely to behave inappropriately, as was the case in my friend's assault.

And when it is a community leader who's involved, the community can close ranks behind him surprisingly quickly.

Again, this is not necessarily because of overt misogyny, though misogyny may play a role in it. There certainly is a streak of misogyny in some parts of the BDSM community, which you can see in the way submissive women are treated at social functions; there's often a presumption that a person who identifies as submissive, especially a female submissive, should naturally behave submissively toward any self-described dominant who walks into the room. You can see it in the way a submissive woman may be subjected to unwanted touching, especially in a "ha ha only kidding" context; if you announce that you're a submissive woman in a group of kinksters, one or two of them will quite likely assume that means they can swat your ass or otherwise encroach on your personal space without your permission. You see it in the way that many self-described dominants believe that submissive men are not "real men."

So there is an element of misogyny at work. But misogyny isn't the only thing going on. Community leaders in the BDSM community often become community leaders because they're willing to do things for people. They may host play parties or BDSM events. They may conduct classes in rope work. They may donate money to causes that are important to BDSM. They're community leaders because they perform some kind of service that people benefit from.

And people don't like losing that benefit. They may feel that if a community leader is accused of inappropriate behavior, he might stop hosting play parties, or they might not have the opportunity to learn from him. That creates a powerful incentive for them to find reasons to discredit accusations of assault or other inappropriate behavior. Or, worse yet, if the perpetrator withdraws from the community, they can act like it's the victim's fault they're not getting to go to those play parties or getting that education any more.

So community leaders in the BDSM community often find themselves in a position where there are fewer checks on their behavior, and where it is easy for them to be able to get away with inappropriate behavior. And that creates an environment where it is easy for a person in the role of a community leader to become a serial offender. Without checks on his behavior, he may feel free to commit assaults over and over again, with each victim believing that her assault is simply an isolated incident. The cost of coming forward means that few people are likely to come forward. The reluctance on the part of the community to acknowledge abuse means that those who do come forward may be discredited or dismissed. Together, these things become a recipe for an ongoing cycle of abuse.

In talking to people about my friend's assault, I've seen this happen. The perpetrator in this particular case runs (or used to run) a studio dedicated to teaching erotic rope work. This is a resource which, for obvious reasons, people in the local community do not want to lose. It's not hard to figure out why otherwise decent folks, folks who would act decisively against a random person accused of assault, might be willing to search for reasons to believe that what happened isn't really that big a deal when a community leader is involved. They have something to lose.

A person--especially a submissive and most especially a submissive woman--who comes forward in the BDSM community about assault often faces considerable repercussions for it. Other submissives might say "Well, the victim isn't really a TRUE submissive; if she were, she'd embrace what happened." She might have difficulty finding play partners, as people think "Well, she's just crazy; crazy people fling around wild accusations all the time. I better not go near her, or next thing you know she'll be making shit up about me!" People who like the perpetrator, or who gain some benefit by the perpetrator's involvement in the community, can try to minimize the assault: "Well, it wasn't REALLY assault; the boundaries were fuzzy, and it wasn't like he really meant to violate them."

It's that last one that pisses me off the most.

I like my women like I like my coffee: as a metaphor for objectification

When you encounter the BDSM community, the first thing you'll find is people talking about consent. It's the thing that differentiates BDSM from abuse. It's in the slogans you'll hear: Safe, Sane, and Consensual; Risk Aware Consensual Kink. BDSM Web sites, including mine, spend a lot of time talking about it.

And yet, for all the fact that the BDSM community talks the talk about consent, even to the point of smug self-congratulation, it's far too common that folks in the BDSM community aren't really serious about consent.

And I don't just mean the way that people will non-consensually swat the ass of any self-identified submissive who walks by. I mean in the way that folks will rationalize sexual assault just because they think there might have been some fuzzy boundaries.

There are lots of situations where boundaries can be fuzzy. I get that. People might start a scene and then what they want might change midway through. People might not communicate clearly. I get that.

But here's the thing: If you're not quite sure what the boundaries are, don't go sticking your dick in other people.

My sweetie joreth doesn't like the "No Means No" anti-date-rape campaign.

It has a noble purpose; and it is certainly true that if someone you're with says "no" to a sexual activity, you're an asshole if you go ahead and do it anyway.

But its weakness, she argues, is that it places the burden of responsibility on the victim--usually the woman--to say "no". If no means no, what does it mean if the answer is ambiguous? What does it mean if there's no answer? Does that mean yes? Should we assume that the default is yes unless we hear a definite no? Women are often socialized not to say "no" directly. Does that mean they're actually saying "yes?"

Instead, she argues in favor of a different standard: "Yes means yes." If you don't have direct, affirmative permission to put your dick somewhere, don't do it. Even if you didn't hear a "no."

In the BDSM community, which prides itself on negotiation and consent, one would expect to find that the incidence of "assault due to fuzzy boundaries" would be lower than in the wider society at large--but honestly, I don't know that that's the case. I suspect it's not. Some of the blame for that, I think, can be pinned on the "no means no" mindset; we didn't specifically negotiate this, but she didn't explicitly say "no" to it either, so that must mean it's OK.

"Yes means yes" sets a higher standard for consent; if the boundaries are fuzzy, if you didn't hear an explicit yes, if you aren't quite sure whether or not she wants you to put your dick there...assume that it is not OK for you to do it. In a community that claims to worship consent so much, that is, quite frankly, the minimum standard I would expect to see. And I'm disappointed by how often I don't.

There also seems to be, for some people in the BDSM community, an all-or-nothing approach to consent, even though we talk a great about limits and negotiation. Consent to one activity never implies consent to another. If she is in your house, that does not mean she has consented to get naked. If she has consented to get naked, that does not mean she has consented to be touched. If she has consented to touch, that does not mean she has consented to sex.

This should be obvious. Sadly, it appears that it is not. The perpetrator in the case here has tried to use photographs from a previous rope session with my friend, during which she had a positive experience, as evidence that the assault was consensual. It seems plain to me that consenting to be tied up is not the same thing as consenting to sex.

Overall, I'm quite disappointed by the way the BDSM community handles cases of assault, especially when the perpetrator is highly placed in the community.

I don't want to give the impression that it's a common problem. It's really not; most of the folks I know involved in BDSM are upstanding people, and the abuses I'm aware of are relatively rare. But they do happen, and when they do, I think a lot of folks in the community really fall short of responding in a compassionate and appropriate way.

What I would like to see from the BDSM community:

- An acknowledgement that sexual assault can and does happen within the community, and that this assault is sometimes perpetrated by community leaders within the community

- A standard of consent that is very, very high. No means no; fuzzy boundaries means no; I'm not sure but I think she might be indicating that she wants to go further means no; I'm not quite sure how to read this situation means no; only yes means yes. No putting your dick, or anything else, anywhere you don't have an explicit invitation to go. (Yes, I get resistance play. Yes, I get consent play. You can still negotiate that out with an explicit "yes.") This includes small things, like swatting the ass of that subby girl who walks by. Doing that isn't cute and it isn't funny. It's misogynistic, and it shows her that her consent isn't really all that important to you.

- Better recognition of the fact that a person who has been assaulted might not react to the assault the way we think she should. If a person does not react to being assaulted the way we think she ought to, that doesn't mean the assault didn't happen or was less serious. C'mon, really, people, this should be obvious.

- Better policing of the behavior of community leaders. The fact that community leaders contribute so much to the BDSM community creates an incentive for people to downplay accusations of assault against them. That's exactly why such folks ought to be held to a very high standard.

- Assignment of responsibility where it belongs: on the assaulter. Yes, we like to talk about what people can do to keep themselves safe, and there's value to that. Safe calls, references, meeting in public--these things are the scene equivalent of locking your car's doors. But make no mistake about it, if a person doesn't lock their doors, or doesn't meet in public, that person does not deserve to be violated! Regardless of what the victim did or didn't do, the responsibility for assault rests squarely on the assaulter.

- Make it safe for people who have been assaulted to talk about it. No victim-blaming, no ostracizing the victim, no whispered "wow, she must be crazy" behind closed doors. Keep an eye on the ball. The asshole is the perpetrator, not the victim. It's bad enough that the victim was assaulted; don't compound it by making it unsafe for the victim to do anything about it.

- Don't ostracize people who come forward when they've been abused. An explicit recognition of the fact that coming forward is difficult would go a long way toward creating that safe space.

- The roles that people play in the BDSM community are choices. They are not the whole of who someone is. It might be fun to talk about "true" dominants or "real" submissives in a scene, but at the end of the day, every single person makes choices about what role they play and what their boundaries are. If you let these roles bleed over into reality to the point where you think that all dominants should X or all submissives should Y, you're missing the point.

I believe that my friend is likely to face reprisals or ostracism from some of the members of the local community for coming forward, and I have a lot of respect for her for doing so despite the social cost. It's entirely possible that by writing this blog post, there are some members of the local community who won't much like me, either. I would like to propose that instead of being something that creates enmity in the community, this should become a catalyst for change. I think this should be a wake-up call for community leaders to make the community safer for its members, to hold ourselves to a higher standard of consent, and to create an environment that does not tolerate abusers. I would like the local BDSM scene in specific and the community in general to become better educated on the subject of sexual assault and create a safety network that makes it easier for victims to come forward. We need to do better than this.

Comments? Your experiences?



( 118 comments — Leave a comment )
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Aug. 12th, 2011 03:43 am (UTC)
"Instead, I think it's often about creating an illusion of safety. By finding some way to blame a victim of a crime, we can protect ourselves, if only a little bit, from the fear of that crime. If you are a victim because you did something wrong, then I don't need to fear being a victim as long as I do things right. I don't need to worry about having my car stolen, because I'm smart enough not to park it in a dark corner of a parking lot. I won't be a rape victim, because I'm smart enough to know better than to wear that miniskirt or walk down that alley."

You're 100% correct, there've been numerous studies that show when someone close to you is victimized it shakes YOUR sense of safety, so you find a way to make it their fault to restore that sense.

And no, it's not misogyny. Your analysis of some of the issues in the community being at fault is, IMO, far closer, and I say that because I've seen the exact same thing happen on at least 3 occasions with people I know in the gay male scene, and once to a het male who was victimized in the straight scene. It is unusual for it to happen to straight males in the scene, but more common in the gay scene than most people would admit. Same sort of community ripples & victim blaming happen in both cases.
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 12th, 2011 05:31 am (UTC)
^ this

Generally, what you're describing in this post happened to me once, so I avoided the Madison scene for years. 'Prominent man' wasn't hearing what I had to say, so I spread the word of his ignoring my well-defined boundaries. I was ostracized, but didn't mind so much since I wasn't interested in a place that condoned his kind of behavior. I just made sure incoming girls understood who and what that man was before they went further.

Now that I'm in a monogamous relationship, I'm a little saddened that I've lost that part of my development that could have been better enjoyed with more worthy partners.
(no subject) - inyou - Aug. 13th, 2011 12:06 am (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 12th, 2011 04:18 am (UTC)
Aug. 12th, 2011 05:44 am (UTC)
Very nice post. I like the "only yes means yes" stance.
Aug. 12th, 2011 06:48 am (UTC)
With your permission, may I print this out? I think the local community really needs to read this.
Aug. 12th, 2011 09:19 pm (UTC)
Absolutely! By all means. :)
Aug. 12th, 2011 07:13 am (UTC)
Thank you for giving such a clear voice to this topic. Things are not always as clear as people want them to be..when I was violated it took a day or two to even realize my own anger, and longer to put words to why...that was eight months ago and even now I'm understanding my anger in a better sense from reading your post than I had available to me when confronting my perpetrator. Even then I felt the need to 'hold back' like my anger wasn't justified because I knew he 'didn't mean it'.

It's amazing how much we can further the violation on ourselves for the sake of society, playing to people's discomforts about the topic and fear of shame and blame that we deny ourselves our own voice...sometimes even out of guilt/self-punishment. I've a friend who's now got her perpetrator living with her because of the "karma" of putting off a guy she cared about because she felt too guilty to tell him about being date-raped, so she's staying with the rapist.

And others...that someone can somehow quickly work his hand down your pants, which gets physically removed and ends the date, and then still not get it enough to try contacting the next day as if nothing happened, baffles me.
Aug. 12th, 2011 07:40 am (UTC)
I need to read this in more detail, but yes. The conversations need to start happening, and the rationalizing and "mansplaining" need to stop.

Oy vey, people! we're cutting edge here, (pardon the pun) we have to take care of each other!
Aug. 12th, 2011 08:08 am (UTC)
You are right once again!
Thank you for writing and posting this. Having been physically assaulted a number of years ago by a so-called community leader, during a social in one of the main gathering places of our community here in DC, I can attest as a guy that community leaders get away with a lot of crap no one else is allowed. How much worse it it for women or others, I can only imagine. Life may be a popularity contest, but ethical behavior is not.
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 12th, 2011 09:29 pm (UTC)
The fact that so many people feel it's OK to harass women online, especially on fetish sites, is a dimension I hadn't considered, but I definitely think it's closely related to misogyny in the BDSM community in general. I know many women who've been subjected to some pretty amazing levels of online harassment. While it's not 100% misogyny--I've talked to male submissives who say the same thing happens to them, suggesting that people who identify as submissive may be targeted for harassment regardless of sex or gender identity--there's unquestionably a strong component of misogyny to it.

I've been chewing on something that happened to me many years ago, when I was still living in Florida. I'd gone to a play party in Ft. Myers with one of my partners, who I was bottoming to at the party. A lot of folks at the play party behaved in what I thought was inappropriate ways toward me (ass-swatting behavior being one specific example), just like they did to female submissives. The difference, though, was that when I said "Hey, that's not cool" to one of the people in question, I got a "Okay, sorry man" response, whereas a woman who said the same thing got a "Man, what a bitch!" response. So even when people behave inappropriately to both men and women, there does still seem to be misogyny in the way they react to boundary-setting.
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(no subject) - james_the_evil1 - Aug. 12th, 2011 10:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Aug. 13th, 2011 07:56 pm (UTC)
That's one of the problems, I think--men and women both in our society are taught to surround sex with shame, and on top of that, women are also socialized to believe that consenting unambiguously to sex makes them "sluts." So both men and women can have internalized reluctance to talk openly about sex, though I think it's worse for women than it is for men.

Still, the BDSM community talks the talk about open negotiation and consent, and I think it's necessary--particularly since so much potential for abuse exists--for it to walk the walk as well. Even if talking unambiguously about sex is difficult.
Aug. 12th, 2011 11:11 am (UTC)
Repeated, in whole, for depressing truth. (The whole blaming thing? Some of it's misogyny; some is Just World Theory, which makes an observer think the victim did something to deserve the punishment. Both serve to distance the observer from the victim--"if I don't do X, it won't happen to me." We all know that's BS.)

One of my favorite posts on sexual assault: this one from Harriet J.

Thinking good thoughts for your friend.
Aug. 12th, 2011 02:50 pm (UTC)
We'd a long talk at dinner about the aspect of the just world fallacy here.. and certainly the misogyny.. but there is something I see playing here among the good people I nkow who are not being the best versions of themselves in responding to the situation and it REALLY seems to be centered on wanting to feel safe. Victim blaming to create a sense of self-safety: They want to decry the victim as having blame for getting into the situation by ignoring certain safety or communication concerns they can come up with because if THEY could avoid doing that THEMSELVES then maybe THEY would be SAFE. The other influences are there, of course, but they don't seem to be winning.

People seem to want to believe there is a set of rules or expectations they can rely on (without, you know having to actively negotiate them?!?) to validate they will be safe - and don't want to accept that is merely an illusiory.
(no subject) - zellion - Aug. 12th, 2011 03:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tacit - Aug. 12th, 2011 09:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 12th, 2011 11:42 am (UTC)
I have an example of unacceptable behavior, not at a BDSM event but at a party with people who practice. It is a minimal example of unacceptable behavior, but I did in fact report it to the host. And he did in fact go have a word with the person who overstepped a boundary she knew I had. And she did in fact think it was silly. But I confronted her directly later and made it clear for her. I don't like spanking, not from anyone, let alone someone who was not even on my "friend" radar. It was one swat, it didn't hurt, but that's entirely beside the point. Our host agreed without any hesitation whatsoever. There was at least one person at that party who'd have removed her head for such a violation of boundary.

I was raised to speak up about such things, and although I couldn't always do it (a crotch grope many many years ago in a very crowded place went unreported), I know the value of exposing a violator. It often, alas, comes at a very high price. THAT has to change!
Aug. 12th, 2011 01:57 pm (UTC)
I have a "Yes Means Yes!" pair of panties, and you inspired me to make an icon out of them...
Aug. 12th, 2011 02:36 pm (UTC)
Great post! Thank you, I'm passing it about in the BDSM community here.
Aug. 12th, 2011 02:40 pm (UTC)
I read Tom Friedman's From Beirut to Jerusalem he talks about what people do to survive emotionally in a war zone when you or people close to you can die suddenly. They invent "rules" for survival. "He died because he only waited 10 min. after the cease fire siren. Everyone knows you wait 15 min."
They had to invent these rules to create an emotional zone where they could survive. Where there is no safety, you invent it.
Aug. 12th, 2011 05:01 pm (UTC)
Good observation, and sad. We humans crave not only safety, but a sense of order and narrative. When things don't make sense, our brains work overtime to impose sense on the senseless. I can't begrudge people in a life-or-death situation that crutch if it helps them keep themselves together long enough to survive it.

The rest of the time, however, I wish more people would see victim-blaming for what it is and work harder to dismantle it. I'm tired from all the self-defense I have to do every day.
(no subject) - tacit - Aug. 12th, 2011 09:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 12th, 2011 03:04 pm (UTC)
I had my car broken into over a year ago and my laptop stolen, I was told "You shouldn't have left your laptop in your car in that part of town."

I was raped at 13 at a party filled with older people who were drinking and was told "You shouldn't have been at that party because people were drunk."

I stayed the night in the bed of a friend a couple months ago and he started groping me. I asked him what he was doing, and his response was "I'm not hearing a 'no...'"

I get nervous telling people I am a submissive, because I am particular about me being touched and have been told before that because I am submissive I should "appreciate" the touching I recieve. About a year ago I had a partner that I was submissive to. He gained another partner/sub, and decided to tell me that from that point on I was submissive to the both of them. I had no choice in the matter, according to him I was supposed to answer to her the same way I answer to him. I broke up with him over this, and was told that it was a stupid reason to break up with him from other people in the community. Because I am a submissive I should have said "yes, sir" and just gone with it.

I'm really glad for your friend for standing up. Knowing someone who has had a scene with a community leader that has gone too far has been hard to watch, especially when she tried to speak up and people immediatly rallied behind him. She quieted down because she would rather remain a part of the community than be booted out and she was aware there was no chance of people standing behind her in the numbers they were standing behind him.

I'll comment on this comment with two youtube links people should check out. One is from a speaker at Slutwalk Seattle, and the other is from a deaf actor.
Aug. 12th, 2011 03:20 pm (UTC)
A message from Shoshanna Stern about "don't rape" vs "don't get raped"

Amazingly powerful speaker from Slutwalk:
Aug. 12th, 2011 03:04 pm (UTC)
Excellent and well thought out, as usual. I do take issue with one point, however. Slapping the ass of a passing subby girl is not misogyny any more than grabbing the ass of a passing subby boy is misandry. It's simply dismissing them as a person, as someone who has agency in their own right (even if they choose to yield that to certain other people, end enjoy doing so).

Calling it misogyny/misandry, as Jay Smooth points out, just makes it easy to duck out of the accusation. Yes, misogyny is a pointed, painful accusation, but it's better to call it what it undeniably is: dismissing another human being as nothing more than an object.
Aug. 12th, 2011 09:36 pm (UTC)
That's a good point. It does happen to both men and women who identify as submissive; it's about dismissing the agency of people who identify as "submissive" ore than it's about the sex of the person whose boundaries are being disregarded.

Having said that...

Like I said to hyacinthos above, I do think there's a difference in the way people behave toward men and women who object to that sort of behavior. I was subjected to ass-swatting behavior at a play party only once, and when I told the person who did it that it was not OK, I got an apology. On the other hand, I've seen several examples of women who assert a boundary being called a bitch, or worse, for doing it. So in that sense, there does seem to be an element of misogyny at work there--if not in the original behavior, then certainly in the way people respond after a boundary has been asserted.
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Aug. 12th, 2011 03:12 pm (UTC)
You could have written this post about me. I'm in the process of dealing with this now. I have the benefit of the people who assaulted me (mostly non-sexually) currently being filmed for a documentary, so I know that at least some of it is on tape.

I don't think it will make a difference, though.
Aug. 12th, 2011 03:15 pm (UTC)
I'm not going to read about the rape because it will trigger me.

When I was 18, in my first experience with BDSM, with a friend I'd known since I was three years old, he raped me. It was the 5th time I'd ever had intercourse, in my life.

At 28, I finally started experimenting with BDSM again. I still have issues with being tied down. I have only 2 partners I've subbed to. My bar for subbing to someone is VERY high.

I'm now 38. I've healed a LOT since I was 18, but the reprocussions of that assault stay with me, and affect my current relationships and partner choices to this day.

When I started exploring BDSM again, I mentioned my rape on a board where I was going for advice about how to enter into this scene, and I was told that I was not raped, that I consented, that I must have loved it, and how stupid I must be for not having had a safe word (even though I had never heard the term "BDSM" when I was raped, I just did what my best friend asked me to because I trusted him).

I have a lot of dislike for the BDSM scene. It frustrates me. I don't go to a lot of events. I hate the assumption that I'm a sub, I hate that people will talk to my white partner while he's on a leash and not even notice that I'm there holding the end of it. I hate the assumption that because I'm female and not-white that I'm an object and a sub and that I'd love it if THEY did it.

I hate it. And it makes me so sad because I'd love to find more kink partners - but the scene is a MORASS of misogyny and racism and I just can't take it.

Every once in a while I plunge back in until it's Just Too Much again and then I flee.

Aug. 17th, 2011 03:02 am (UTC)

I hate the assumption that because I'm female and not-white that I'm an object and a sub and that I'd love it if THEY did it.

Aug. 12th, 2011 04:47 pm (UTC)
I really like your thinking, but let me play devil's advocate for a minute to illustrate that life isn't this cut and dried.

I'm a very deeply consent oriented person. Probably to a nauseating fault. One of the key reasons I don't generally identify as being particularly kinky, despite the fact that I am in my own ways, is that a big chunk of the BDSM mythology is built around rape fantasies, force, and, literally, humiliation.

Kudos to you and many others for voicing the importance of negotiating and explicit consent. But I think you should acknowledge that almost every facet of human communication involves "mind reading". Most human languages seem built more on metaphors than literals. Let me ask if you literally ask your partners for permission every time before you start to play with them. I doubt you or any human does. We take certain things for granted. We say we've already negotiated those things in advance and so now, it's just a matter of reading body language and such. Seems reasonable, except that your partner may not want something now that you've done before. If you start down that road because you misread his/her signals and didn't explicitly ask, is that sexual assault? Most of us would say no because of this assumption that you can't sexually assault an existing partner, but why is this fundamentally different from combining explicit statements with nonverbal suggestion and cultural assumptions and coming up with mistaken conclusions about less-than-explicit consent?

I have male friends who are very dominant and not likely to ask for things in words. It makes me squeamish. And then I watch women get choke-held, molested, and so forth without a word being spoken and then watch them get up with great big gins and stated plans for more of the same. Put a different way, some people really do want to be taken and don't want to negotiate any of it before-hand; at least not explicitly. Let's acknowledge it's a fetish, plain and simple and healthy or not. What do you say to them and to the dom/mes that are happy to cater to it? That they are wrong?

A friend of mine whom I respect greatly for starting and running a kink-oriented group in town puts things bluntly: if you are part of this group, it's up to you to be an adult and say what you don't want. Anything else is fair game. This is the "no means no" approach with a clear disdain for the "yes means yes" approach. Much as I argue with him about the wisdom of this policy, he has a point. This is stated very clearly to newcomers. This group has its culture and it is well understood. Is this wrong?

You have to acknowledge that there are such sub-cultures like this within the BDSM spectrum. Is it appropriate that your (and my) standard should be uniformly applied to everyone, even when an entire group disagrees with it?

Which brings me back to the BDSM community, writ large. It seems that people who are into forced play, rape fantasies, humiliation, and so forth naturally tend to tilt the balance toward less than explicit consent than the public at large generally assumes. Having a culture of explicit negotiation and such helps counter that imbalance, so keep at it. But I question whether it's realistic to expect uniformity in this regard. The community is also at its core about diversity, including diversity of desires and views about human nature.

Let me reiterate that I agree with your points, fundamentally. I like to pat myself on the back for asking the women I cuddle (and more) with about what's OK or not. And yet I know that sometimes even my approach to consent isn't clear enough. Communication is critical, but flawed. Good communication requires constant feedback and clarification. It must also be two way. Let's not pretend that the alternative is between the burden of consent being 100% on victims or 100% on would-be predators. Let's acknowledge that both parties have 100% responsibility for their and their prospective partners' needs and accept that all people are somewhere between 0% and 100% perfect at either.

And let's acknowledge that cultural assumptions play a critical role. Making those assumptions explicit instead of unstated within your community is a great idea. But then, that's what you do well, sir. Keep setting the tone. Cheers.
Aug. 12th, 2011 07:20 pm (UTC)
good question
"if you are part of this group, it's up to you to be an adult and say what you don't want. Anything else is fair game....is this wrong?"

Well, not necessarily, but it's not a place I think people new to kink should go either. Because, let's face it, negotiation is a skill that's taught, not something that's implicit. I've noticed that submissives particularly struggle to say no because they want to be pleasing and have often read tons of erotica and watched lots of media that suggests safewording is for wimps. Unfortunately, that's reinforced by spaces that dissuade people from using safewords by warning against them being "abused".

I'm certainly not a safety police type person- I don't think safewords will mean a damn thing if the person you're playing with feels a reluctance to say it! That doesn't mean it's ok to do what you like until they safeword i.e. "why did Jesus die on the cross/he forgot his safeword". I mean, ok, so someone disassociates during play, and I don't hear a safeword, so I start doing something that we haven't explicitly discussed- say, sex without condoms. Is that ok because they didn't safeword? No, it isn't, IMO. Does that make this stuff complicated? Sure does.

You can negotiate on the go while still keeping it sexy and in-scene. I wish that was acknowledged more. I do tend to negotiate everything ahead of time when it comes to sex and kink, but I do it via dirty talk and sexting- fun foreplay and we're on the same page.
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Aug. 12th, 2011 05:01 pm (UTC)
Confusion in the Dungeon
User grail76 referenced to your post from Confusion in the Dungeon saying: [...] ------------ I bring these two up after one of 's posts about sexual assault in a dungeon space [...]
Aug. 12th, 2011 05:03 pm (UTC)
Thank you for writing this, it speaks to things that I am highly invested in. I am happy that someone else mentioned the "Yes Means Yes" concept. I've been talking that one up for years, but it never seems to gain traction.
Aug. 12th, 2011 07:41 pm (UTC)
I have that same problem - I've been talking about "yes means yes" for a while, but tacit has such a large audience, that I'm glad it's finally getting seen.
Laurie Richards
Aug. 12th, 2011 05:25 pm (UTC)
Thank you
I was raped six weeks after my first dom died. I asked about the person before setting up a play date with the person who raped me. I did everything "right" and I was still raped. Due to my more traumatic childhood and young adulthood I was able to deal with the rape better than a lot of people. I was infuriated more than anything else.
It wasn't until an event where someone acted in an out of control manner that I told anyone about what had happened-- it was almost a year after the rape and I was the secretary for one of our local BDSM groups. The people I was close to were shocked that I hadn't told anyone-- and that I continued to play, educate and live my life. What they didn't know is how the rape shaped how I dealt with people. I took more control over me. I did away with the mindset that since I was a submissive I had to "put up" with what someone dished out. It might be a nice erotic fantasy, but in reality no one touches me without my permission-- and yes, this goes for my dom (and we've been together for 8 years now). As for Fetlife, if anyone looked up my profile I list myself as a switch simply because it keeps a lot of the trolls at bay.
As for the people who think a submissive should enjoy rape, they're confusing fantasy rape with the real thing. A lot of us LOVE rape fantasies. I love rape fantasies, but in a rape fantasy there is ALWAYS control. In the real thing there is NO CONTROL. I think that's what terrifies me the most is the fact that a previously self-possessing person turns into an animal that can't or won't control their own behavior. I suspect because rape fantasies are so common (even vanilla people have such fantasies) that we can't help but think that the victim really is enjoying the rape at least a little. The fact is there is nothing enjoyable about being raped. There is nothing erotic about the real thing. There is no reason to condone or protect a rapist...and when the person who violates another person is a community leader, it's absolutely reprehensible...and sadly, there are far too many community leaders even national speakers who have gotten away with bad behavior.
Aug. 12th, 2011 06:33 pm (UTC)
I am going to catch so much shit over this.

First let me say that as a whole I agree with almost all you say. I don't believe in fuzzy boundaries, if you don't understand were the boundary is, error on the side of caution and respect to your partner. Rape is a horrendous crime and rapists are the lowest scum of the Earth.

But there are a couple things I think you should consider about what you say.

"we tell people to lock their cars and hide their valuables rather than telling people not to rob cars."

Actually we do tell people not to rob cars, and not to rape people. Almost all the people involved in these crimes knows they are doing something wrong, but at the moment they are doing it they don't care that it's wrong. The fact is that we live in a world with evil people, and we have a responsibility to protect our selves from them, or they will hurt us. This concept extends to every extent of our lives. Our country has to have a military because without one other countries will attack us and destroy our way of life, and if you don't put your name on your frozen lunch before putting it in the freezer at work, someone that left lunch at home will likely eat it.

This does not mean the victim is responsible for what happens to them, and it does not mean the perpetrator didn't do something inherently wrong. But it does mean that we all have an inherent responsibility to do our best to protect our selves.

"Instead, she argues in favor of a different standard: "Yes means yes." If you don't have direct, affirmative permission to put your dick somewhere, don't do it. Even if you didn't hear a "no.""

For everyone in support of this, think back on every sexual experience you've had. Do they ALL include explicit verbal permission in BOTH directions (that's right: What's good for the goose [goose = women] is good for the gander [gander = men]). I'm willing to bet that if your honest with yourself the answer is "no". I'm also willing to bet that most of your future experiences won't include explicit verbal permission either.

This is one of those great idea's on paper that could NEVER work out in practice. The reason it wont work: Most of us, including most of the people reading this AND most of the people that speak out in favor of this, don't really want it to work that way. Can you really imagine women asking a man if it's what he really wants before they go down on him? People don't want to have to stop and ask if their partner laying naked on the bed "really" wants to have sex or not, and they also don't want to have say "yes". They want their lovers to "know" them well enough to understand what they want.

The other major problem is that our society programs women from an early age to believe there is something imoral about a woman that says she wants sex. This is increadibly hard for many women to get past. When I was in highschool I was interested in a girl at one point that found it almost impossible. If I asked her out right if she wanted me to touch her or do something sexual with her she'd say things like "I guess you'll have to try it and find out." I remember one situation that left me laughing. I was over to "help her study". She answered the door wearing a nearly see through tank top that left almost nothing to the imagination, a pair of jeans shorts so small she couldn't zip the zipper or button them, and no panties. Later after we were done having some fun I asked out right why she never just said "yes". She said she didn't want to look like a slut...

The other problem is what constitutes "direct, affirmative permission"? If a women is lying naked on my bed spreading lube on herself with one hand and handing me a condom with the other, do I still have to ask? Am I supposed to ask her if it's OK if she's on top and mounting me? If so, then this "rule" is just stupid. So how do we build a universal standard for what "direct, affirmative permission" means? Who gets to decide what situations constitute an unspoken "yes"? That's why "no means no" is so strongly encouraged. It leaves absolutely no possibility of ambiguity.

Doing ANYTHING to discourage the "no means no" concept only increases risks for people. Consider that very carefully before trying to say it's a flawed concept.
Aug. 12th, 2011 07:49 pm (UTC)
"For everyone in support of this, think back on every sexual experience you've had. Do they ALL include explicit verbal permission in BOTH directions"


" I'm willing to bet that if your honest with yourself the answer is "no". I'm also willing to bet that most of your future experiences won't include explicit verbal permission either."

Absolutely they will. In fact, mine involve an excel spreadsheet.

"Most of us, including most of the people reading this AND most of the people that speak out in favor of this, don't really want it to work that way"

Are you fucking kidding me? You seriously believe that those of us who live under the constant threat of rape don't really want people to check in with us and make sure that we're OK, or that we're not considerate and concerned for our partner's feelings?

" If a women is lying naked on my bed spreading lube on herself with one hand and handing me a condom with the other, do I still have to ask?"

Yes. Most considerate partners do ask.

The "yes means yes" campaign is also intended to address the whole slut-shaming aspect of society, by requiring people (women in particular) to own their own sexuality. There is no discouragement of "no means no" as a concept, but that the concept is not enough. It is not a high enough standard.

I'm glad for one thing at least. You have exposed yourself as someone who can't be trusted to check in with his partner or be honest about what he wants.
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Aug. 12th, 2011 08:03 pm (UTC)
There's a study out somewhere that shows that our society actually uses rejections without the word "no" all the time, and everyone understands a rejection when they hear one, even if there is no "no" in it.

Except when it comes to sex.

Think "I'd love to have coffee with you but..." - we all know that's a "no". Yes, even the most socially awkward people understand that it's a "no". People might try to find a solution to the "but..." because of the first part "I'd love to", but we still understand that these ambiguous phrases are, in fact, a rejection.

But when it comes to sex, people weasel out of it with "I didn't know she wasn't into it - she didn't SAY no!" That's not good enough. We, as a society, know when someone is unconscious, or making excuses, or trying to be polite. "No means no" requires women to give a forcible rejection in situations that they have been socialized to fear giving explicit rejections.

There is punishment for rejecting someone. Usually, it's just that we feel bad for hurting someone else's feelings. But sometimes, there's real consequences. Like the time a guy refused to take my explicit, non-ambiguous rejection at a bar and I had to pull my knife on him to get him to back off. No one should ever have to fear a reprisal for policing their own boundaries.

So we all phrase our rejections, when we're even capable of it, in the softest manner possible, leaving the door open to abuse of the ambiguity.

I think the "no means no", while absolutely true, misses some fundamental beliefs in our society and "yes means yes" is an attempt to change those underlying beliefs.

"Yes means yes" *does* require changing the social mindset against sluts and sexuality, which is why this will be a hard sell. But I think that is an important paradigm shift. I think we need to move away from woman being shamed for enjoying or wanting sex.

"Yes means yes" does not replace "no means no", it is a step above "no means no". It removes the burden of responsibility for a person currently in the potential-victim role to police her own boundaries, it puts the burden squarely on the potential-rapist for not getting a clear and unambiguous "yes", and it *also* creates a society where sex, by necessity, has to be something that all partners enter into freely. Which means that, yes, women have to start owning up to wanting sex. Between the two - getting a woman to say no when she's afraid is actually much harder than getting a woman to say "yes" when she isn't, even if both go against social programming. So I vote for the latter.

When it comes to social mindsets, society is a much healthier place when we teach people to own their own sexuality, than when we teach people that it's your job to avoid getting raped and that rapists have no responsibility if they manage to put some woman into a position where she can't say no.
Aug. 12th, 2011 08:43 pm (UTC)
"It removes the burden of responsibility for a person currently in the potential-victim role to police her own boundaries"

"society is a much healthier place when we teach people to own their own sexuality"

Huh? Pick one.

And why "the potential-rapist" not "the potential-lover" or "the potential-partner"?

Also "her own boundaries". Can we try to keep this non-sexist?

I'll make it as clear as I can: If you aren't willing to be 100% clear in your communication than you have no right to expect your partner to be willing to. Why should they have to take on that responsibility for you? Why should they have to be clear in their communications if you aren't willing to be clear in yours?

Take respectability for your own sexuality. If your not interested in someone make it clear with no ambiguity. If you are interested, let them know what your interested and not interested in. COMMUNICATE!! And for the love of god, if someone does something you don't like SAY SOMETHING.
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