Kinky abuse and community response

I got on this topic because of a discussion on Midori’s student list. I highly recommend her workshops.

The question before me is, what do we do about kinky abuse? BDSM practitioners are a group of people who engage in activities that often closely resemble abuse, and sometimes that play crosses over the line into actual abuse. Sometimes this abuse is accidental, the result of a scene gone wrong, but other times it is downright purposeful. While I suspect that the incidence of abuse is lower within the BDSM community than outside it (and surveys such as this one seem to confirm), there are still a certain number of habitual abusers within our ranks. Worse, abusive people can use the trappings of BDSM to disguise their abuse. What can we do about these people? How can we as a community (to the extent we are a community or multiple communities) identify and stop abusers?

Before I get into answers for this question, I want to say that I consider this a feminist issue, because women are much more likely to experience abuse than men, and they are most likely to do so at the hands of men. While there is not much in the way of statistics on this, it is a fair assumption that BDSM practitioners mimic the power dynamics of the general culture in this regard. Also, the fact that straight kinky men are more likely to be sadists in the scene than straight kinky women supports this, if we make the assumption that sadists are more likely to abuse. (There is some question if this last bit is actually a good assumption, but it seems to make sense.) I fully expect that women are on the wrong end of abuse in the kink scene more often than men, as happens in the wider culture. So, finding mechanisms to stop abuse in the scene is a feminist undertaking, even though it would help people across gender (and would help the overall community).

When confronted with this issue, a common first response seems to be to refer it to the legal system. After all, abusive kinky situations do make it into court, so the idea is that we should let the usual authorities do the work of regulating abuse within the community, as they do outside the community. I consider this a cop-out (no pun intended). The law, the police, and the state have failed to significantly reduce abuse outside the community, and there is every reason to think that they will be even less effective when dealing with the BDSM subculture.

Much as it might be popular to show dominatrices and kinky marriage scenes in mainstream movies, BDSM play remains a marginalized activity, one that is nominally illegal in most places. Because it fails to distinguish between kink and abuse, the law itself is therefore insufficient to handle this sort of situation, and there is no reason to think that courts, juries, and police officers will be any better. In fact, the failure of the law in this regard is evident in the composition of the jury: if it were truly a jury of one’s peers, there would be twelve kinksters sitting in it.

Also, depending on legal remedies will of course fail those BDSM practitioners who are marginalized in various ways beyond their BDSM practice. It is foolish to expect that African-Americans, Latinoamericano/as, queers, and people in poverty will be able to get a fair hearing in a kinky abuse case (either as plaintiff or defendant) given that they often do not get such a hearing even when kink is not in play.

We cannot depend on the law to handle abuse. To the extent that we are able, we need to develop extralegal mechanisms around kinky abuse, not just to protect community members from abuse, but to find positive ways to rehabilitate abusers. (Prison, it should be noted, does not rehabilitate violent actors in most cases.) After all, the BDSM community is all about creating positive pursuits for what would otherwise be destructive behavior. If we can teach people to administer serious beatings that are still safe, then we should be able to teach people to overcome their abusive tendencies. The rest of this essay will focus on things we as a community can do.

1) We need to provide community support for victims/survivors of abuse. This support comes both in the form of actually being personally supportive (which often does not happen, unfortunately), and in the form of actual support organizations. Organizations like the National Leather Association have been taking on this task. This work should be continued and expanded, especially at a local level through kink organizations.

2) We need to provide kink-specific resources for abusers to stop abusing. To my knowledge, this has not been happening, though there are similar resources aimed at the queer community and straight men. (Of course, I’m not necessarily in a position to know. If you know of any kink-specific resources, let me know.) We should hand out flyers and set up discussion groups if they do not exist. Again, this is one of those areas where the BDSM community is uniquely positioned to help abusers heal themselves: we have a ready supply of people with vaguely similar desires (say, sadistic straight or bi men) who can help abusers manage their anger and power issues, and stop abusing.

3) We need to educate people on what is and is not abuse, and what is and is not relatively standard kinky practice. This is already happening. It is impossible to crack open a kink manual of any sort without finding some version of SSC (safe, sane, consensual) or RACK (risk-aware consensual kink), both of which contain the key word “consensual”. Furthermore, the idea of the safeword is ubiquitous within kink communities, to the point where it has been leaking into mainstream culture. We should perhaps focus a bit more on doing this sort of education at the first point of contact, which is often munches. Perhaps I will start bringing a “kink and abuse” fact sheet to the munches I attend, to hand out to newbies.

4) We need to self-police the community, and find ways to react to abusive behavior as a community. This is extremely difficult because the BDSM communities can be disparate to the point that even calling them “community” is a bit misleading. Most kink play happens behind closed doors instead of in group play spaces, and I suspect that the majority of people practicing kink have never been to a single event. However, we should do whatever we can within these limits. The limits themselves are no excuse for inaction. I have seen two different suggestions on the self-policing front.

First, we should not be shy about excluding people from clubs or play spaces. I personally have called men out (and they have all been men) on their creepy behavior or nonconsensual touching both at polyamory events and sex/play parties that I have organized. It is not difficult, even when the event is large or the venue is semi-public. In fact, I suspect this is already happening to some extent. If someone started randomly groping people’s asses at my favorite San Francisco play space, I do not think they would make it to the end of the party.

However, this sort of exclusion response is typically not coordinated among venues, nor does it take into account episodes of abuse that happen outside of the venues. Stopping abuse (and other forms of bad behavior) is very difficult if the person in question can just start hanging out in a new locale. If someone is known to be abusive or problematic, we should be able to present them with a solid wall that says “come back when you have changed your behavior”. Will this process be somewhat arbitrary, and subject to the judgment and good intentions of the people running the venues? Absolutely. Is excluding someone in this manner an uncomfortable and often thankless task? Yes. However, neither of these are excuses. We should not be afraid to trust our judgment here, and indeed venue organizers are already making this sort of call on a regular basis. We need to find ways to share information around this.

This brings me to the second suggestion, which is an organized blacklist or rumor mill of some sort. Usually this is conceived of as a website. Judging from what I have read online, this is not a popular idea among kinksters. But I disagree. I think it’s a great idea, and perhaps the best way to reach kinky people who are not in the scene or who are new to BDSM. Let me go through the common objections to this scheme.

There is some question as to who would chose the people who are put up on the website. While I think this is another case where we should not be afraid to use our own judgment, I prefer a website that would be easy to post to, to lower the barriers to entry and just get more information and discussion circulating. A rumor mill website, in other words, or perhaps a rumor mill combined with a set of judgments by community leaders.

People seem to think that this would not be legal, or would attract lawsuits. However, there are a number of other websites running that do similar things: Don’t Date Him Girl, Woman Savers, and Holla Back NYC. (Note these sites are all primarily for women to post on. More on that later.) It is not difficult or illegal to run websites of this sort.

One objection is that these websites are not going to work, or are not going to attract the right audience. This is a legitimate concern, though we really cannot tell without giving it a try. One way to make such a website more popular is to use it for positive as well as negative experiences. In other words, it becomes a sort of BDSM player review website. I personally would love such a site. While I have had lots of kinky lovers and kink experience, I tend to move between venues or scenes. Being able to send people to a website for references would be excellent. Also, this changes the tone of the website, so that a lack of positive reviews would be problem, though not as damning as negative reviews. Even better, if we could attach this review website to one of the popular kink personals sites (which are again entry points into the community), it could function as a personals reference website, which again would attract more users and establish it as an easy way to get information on BDSM practitioners.

Of course, easy access to information on people points out the final objection, namely that such a website would violate privacy and encourage abuse. This appears to be the primary objection, actually, and seems based in people’s fear of losing control of the information that affects their lives.

I suspect that abuse of such a website would be rare, and fairly easily handled. Looking at the sites I have listed above, it is fairly clear that posting a report requires enough time and energy that it is not undertaken lightly. Also, it is typically easy to detect whisper campaigns or attempts to spam a website of this sort, since spammers are rarely up for writing multiple believable stories. We need to step back, take a deep breath, and perhaps relax a bit over what others might be saying about us. I personally am in the most vulnerable position for rumor-mongering: I am a sadistic man who mostly plays with women. However, I trust that any person I meet will trust their own feelings and any interactions we have over what someone has posted on a website. And they will. Even if someone posts something bad and untrue (or even true) about me on a website, hopefully anyone interested in me would take that as the starting point of a conversation about who I am, not the end point. And if they do not, maybe I should not be playing with them. Really, I trust my circle of friends and lovers to support me enough to fend off any malicious rumors. In the final calculus, people will trust their own judgement and make their own decisions, and websites such as this are only providing extra input into those decisions.

Privacy is of course a huge concern in BDSM circles, as people can lose their jobs or otherwise be ostracized if it comes out that they are kinky. However, kinky people already have a number of mechanisms in place to protect themselves, which would not be obviated by a review website. Scene names, the ban on photos in play spaces, and similar mechanisms are there to protect identities. However, these tricks are never perfect. It is entirely possible that your boss will randomly run into you in full fetish gear walking out of that downtown club, and so we are never entirely safe from exposure. People I have known who want guarantees of privacy do not play on kink websites or go to kink events. While the internet of course speeds up the dissemination of personal information, it would not necessarily undermine the privacy of kinksters. For example, if someone is listed by their scene name and description, the posting may be readily identifiable by people in the scene who know them, but not by the general public. The rumor mill is already in use for the purpose of identifying abusers in scenes, and it should be noted that it is probably our most effective mechanism for this, and that people rarely complain that their privacy is being threatened. Putting it on the web makes it more effective.

Our culture maintains a stony wall of silence around abuse, rape, domestic violence, and harassment. This code of silence is what keeps survivors from talking about their experience, what keeps abusers from being named, and what helps maintain an abysmally low rate of rape convictions. While the silence around abuse primarily comes from shame around sexuality, its primary effect is to protect abusers and encourage abuse. Our culture likes to talk a lot about privacy concerns and individual rights, but these arguments are typically deployed selectively, in a sexist manner. Recent outbreaks of online misogyny illustrate this nicely: the same men hiding behind anonymity and “freedom of speech” have no problem posting the pictures, physical addresses, and social security numbers of the women they are attacking. The culture basically puts the privacy and individual rights of people (mostly men) ahead of the right of people (mostly women) to be free of abuse. We should be careful that we do not do the same in conversations around community self-policing and community-based justice.

Note that the three websites I listed above are all public responses available to women. This is no accident. Community-based response is one of the best ways to empower women and stop abuse or harassment.

In order to really address abuse, we need to move towards a model of collective responsibility in our community (and this goes for the overall culture as well). The person most responsible for abuse is the abuser, of course. At the same time we as a community are collectively responsible for abuse that happens in our community, or using the trappings of our community, or through connections made at our venues. We need to take responsibility, come up with collective solutions, and expand the things we are already doing that work. We should not use the situation in the culture at large as our yardstick, because it is heinous. Because we are a subculture, we have an opportunity to do better. Let’s take it.

35 Responses to “Kinky abuse and community response”

  1. bitchyjones Says:

    What it says is men are more likely to be *exclusively* sadistic. I think this is rather different. I think female sadists tend to put the pain into a romantic context or want the acceptance of pain to be an act of love rather than a pure end in itself.

    I know, not what you’re talking about, but, you know, you pushed the button.

    (Also, I love your blog and am all giddy that you have blogrolled me)

  2. Chris Says:

    The thought of a player review site gives me some very mixed feelings. In particular – I think that it could result in some unintentional outing of people that could have some very bad consequences.

    Most people don’t have to worry much about their boss aggressively and proactively googling them to dig up dirt. But there are trolls out there who can and will dig up “dirt”, and then throw it out in public in ways that can be very damaging.

    One true story – a former coworker of mine used to be very active in a professional context in certain online forums. She was a very good representative of the company and product line. But one particular anonymous troll started digging into her, and managed to connect her real name with an online “scene name” and through that he was able to find an online profile of hers that did little more than display a leather pride banner and list a few BDSM interests.

    Using this link – he began addressing her as “Mistress” in his responses to every online post she would make, asking her to “stop beating him” or “hit him again” and so on – always backing it up with links back to her private profile (or to his cached copies once she pulled the originals).

    Eventually others adopted the language of the troll and her online presence was completely undermined. She soon was so overcome with stress that she quit the forums entirely. And since these forums were read by coworkers and others in the industry, her kink background became grist for the office rumor mill as well.

    This story makes me fear that having an online “player review” webpage that the reviewees do not consent to be a part of could actually open up avenues for more abuse and not less.

    As I said – I have very mixed feelings…

    – chris

  3. pepomint Says:

    bitchyjones:

    What it says is men are more likely to be *exclusively* sadistic.

    Thanks for the catch. You’re right, this is a statistic that does not fit the argument well. I’ve struck it above.

    Unfortunately the statistic I want to quote is not available. Trevor Jacques has unpublished survey results that show that straight men are more likely to identify as exclusively top than bottom, and straight women are more likely to identify as bottom than top. The difference disappears (top and bottom even out) as soon as you move to bisexuals or other queers.

    (Also, I love your blog and am all giddy that you have blogrolled me)

    I just discovered yours and it is insightful and hilarious. I’m working my way back in time.

  4. pepomint Says:

    Chris:

    This story makes me fear that having an online “player review” webpage that the reviewees do not consent to be a part of could actually open up avenues for more abuse and not less.

    This is a legitimate concern, though I think an overblown one. There are a number of steps that a site could take to avoid this sort of harassment:

    1) Restrict identifying information to scene names. Or, allow fully identifying information for negative reviews, but require that negative reviews with such information include a vaguely believable story. Harassers are rarely willing to make up stories.

    2) Your example is a man harassing a woman. This is no surprise. Online outing and harassment is much more likely to be done by men to women. This suggests a simple solution: make the site a place where women post, much like the two cheating websites I listed in the article. (And be inclusive of transwomen and genderqueers.) This would be a compromise that would lose some situations, since I am sure there is abuse by women and of men, but would pretty much guarantee that the site is not used for online harassment of the sort you have described.

    (On thing that I glossed over in the article is that my relative nonchalance about rumor-mongering or outing is at least partially due to my gender. Not having to worry what people are saying about you is an identifiable male privilege, because rumors typically do not have the same devastating effects, are not backed up by violence, and so on.)

  5. pepomint Says:

    Chris:

    Forgot to add, the situation you described happened in the absence of a review website, and there is some question as to whether adding a review website would make it worse. Is a website read primarily by members of the community a good place to stick outing material? And if the website adds a simple registration barrier, it would prevent linking of the sort you describe, because people (harassers or observers) would not be willing to implicitly identify as kinky by registering.

  6. Kerrick Says:

    I’m interested in the idea and would like to volunteer my time to help (as well as a name: Kink Positive or Positive Kinking. I’ve been looking for a good place to use it.) I would rather the website not turn into performance reviews, though. What I’m looking to avoid is discussion of how skilled the top is or how good the play is. I’d like things to be framed more as “references”. And I think it might be okay to require registration at least to see identifying material.

    However, registration adds a barrier to someone who might be in a vulnerable situation, who might prefer to take risks with hir safety than give hir email address and a handle to a website ze might not trust.

    Please do not make the site “women only” or targeted to “women and transgender people.” For one thing, many trans men will feel alienated by such a limitation, and trans men are a really vulnerable population group right now. I’ve known plenty of young queer non-trans men who’ve been victims as well and don’t even understand that they’ve been victims because they’ve been taught that men can’t be victims, so they don’t fight their abusers and blame themselves for not liking it. This can’t be allowed to continue, it’s terrible.

    Instead, I suggest using a team of moderators who are dedicated to women’s empowerment, with a known history of service in women-led anti-violence activism. The moderators should be people who are willing to be out about their involvement, and who can connect people with resources for help. And they should be people who are willing to ruthlessly weed comments and ban harassers to keep the space safe.

  7. pepomint Says:

    Kerrick: Thank you for the insight. I had no idea about the situation among trans men, though I did understand that building in gender exclusions would definitely leave queer men as a whole by the wayside, which is bad. Also, I agree that a dedicated team of moderators is the best solution to this sort of issue, the same as it would be for an email list, livejournal community, or other online forum.

    I left this out of the essay since I wanted to discuss this site in the abstract first, but I would also be willing to volunteer time to such a site. Specifically, I can cover the dynamic functionality aspect, since that is what I do for a living. It would probably be possible to get this going in under six months, even on a spare time schedule.

  8. hotbibabe Says:

    The biggest problem with a kinkster review site isn’t necessarily that it creates some significant risk of outing. Given how easy it is to create a public web site and say any shit I want about someone, and have it show up in Google searches, I think we should all be aware that anyone we interact with in the scene can spread such rumors about us if they so choose.

    The problem is that such a site violates community norms about privacy. Anything that transgresses those norms will find itself subject to mistrust and spurious technical objections – you could demand full-on government security clearance from each visitor and it wouldn’t help. Since privacy norms have been used to support and enable domestic violence since the dawn of rhetorical time, I think a full consideration of abuse in the kink community requires a full consideration of what our privacy norms are and how they got there. Which I won’t do, because I have to take a shower and also because I am too much of a newbie.

  9. pepomint Says:

    hotbibabe:

    Since privacy norms have been used to support and enable domestic violence since the dawn of rhetorical time, I think a full consideration of abuse in the kink community requires a full consideration of what our privacy norms are and how they got there.

    Exactly. I think it might be time to consider giving up a bit of perceived privacy (which may or may not correspond to actual privacy) in order to create more discussion and openness around abuse.

  10. Desmond Ravenstone Says:

    I understand and appreciate your concerns both for victims of abuse, and the lack of adequate police response (and abundance of inappropriate response). But there is a theme within this and other writings which disturbs me — the repeated suspicion, even hostility, towards law enforcement and legal systems.
    Granted, many police do not understand BDSM let alone suppport our rights; and the law is more often used to prosecute or persecute us than protect and defend us. And granted, this current situation does call for more self-help and self-protection on our part.
    But once you’ve gone the route of “extralegal” methods (your term) then what? Continue to use them, and never trust police at all? Or use them while pressing police and prosecutors to learn and change?
    The history of how police deal with various minorities – racial, ethnic, class, religious and sexual – has followed similar patterns of evolution. Often police, in defending cultural and political hegemonies, drew their ranks from the so-called “majority” population (overwhelmingly straight white men of the “right” class, ethnicity, religion) complete with all of the prejudices and sense of entitlement that come with that identity. The inevitable conflicts led to members of the minority communities responding in a complex series of ways – codes of silence, internal methods of “dealing” with disputes (not always resolving them, though), and so forth. Actually confronting the police and insisting they treat all citizens as equals would only come later; this would lead to another set of responses – protest, behind-the-scenes negotiations, educating police and prosecutors, even getting members of the minority group in question represented within law enforcement and prosecution.
    There is nothing wrong with using internal means to respond to abuse. What I am arguing is that it is potentially dangerous to rely solely on internal means. Too often I’ve heard other kinksters berate the police, saying that they can never be trusted and will always hate us and persecute us (I’ll spare the reader from the actual language used, which is much worse!). This is the perspective that predominated the GLBTQ community prior to Stonewall, and for many years afterwards; it was not until activists took it to the stage of confronting police and prosecutors – calling on them to protect and defend the rights of all citizens equally – that attitudes and practices on both sides began to change for the better.
    Self-protection and self-policing, yes – but let’s not exclude the necessary option of demanding that police and prosecutors do the job that we as tax-paying citizens have hired them to do.

  11. Kerrick Says:

    Good points, Des. One way to accomplish that would be to involve kink-aware members of law enforcement agencies in the community efforts, including the website.

  12. edwarddain Says:

    Ok, want me to repost all my comments from the LJ feed here?

  13. pepomint Says:

    edwarddain: Yes please. Because LJ notifications don’t work fo r the feed, I have been unable to keep up on who is posting there.

  14. pepomint Says:

    Desmond: I know I come across as harsh on systems of law and state policing. It’s the anarchist in me.

    However, your point that police agencies come around does not hold. There is good reason to believe that on some issues, the police will never be sympathetic.

    For example, despite thirty years of activism on the issue, I would not want to be discovered by the police getting it on in a cruise zone with another man. I would be deeply afraid. Similarly, despite fifty years of civil rights work, the legal structure (police, courts, law, prisons) is still a primary conductor of racism. I’ve personally seen racist police actions right here in San Francisco. The inclusion of minority members on the force helps this a bit, but often does not solve it or even advance the problem as much as we might think. How long exactly is it going to take the police to come around?

    There’s a very serious argument to be made here that the basic premises of certain institutions (say, prisons) are corrupt, and these institutions will therefore never operate in a manner that is acceptable. Instead, new institutions must be built. In the case of prisons, the corresponding institution would be restorative community-based justice for most offenders.

  15. Kerrick Says:

    I think there’s a difference between the police as institution and individual officers, and that individual officers may well be understanding and supportive. I think that could be a way to reach into the system eventually, over time. But there’s another issue that I hadn’t thought as much about, which is the number of people abused by other individual LEOs who will not be comfortable participating in any community effort which involves them. So, yeah. I’m not advocating heavily to include police in community efforts around this issue.

  16. pepomint Says:

    Other people have recently expounded on this subject in various forums, and I want to link to them from here, because they say really great things. If you’ve made it this far, go read these.

    Sex Geek wrote a series of three posts on this subject: one, two, three.

    I received some very insightful livejournal comments here.

  17. K Says:

    If someone is known to be abusive or problematic, we should be able to present them with a solid wall that says “come back when you have changed your behavior”.

    The anarchist community has spent a lot of time trying to deal with sexual assault/domestic abuse in an extralegal matter. A point that we’ve raised in our community relates to this (though not all agree): If the survivor calls for ostracism of his/her/hir abuser, the abuser, no matter how reformed, is not welcome. Survivors should not be forced to leave the community out of fear of running into their abuser.

  18. pepomint Says:

    K: Ah, of course the anarchists would be doing this. Can you describe anything else about what has come out of this work? Are there writeups anywhere? I’m very interested in community-based approaches to handling abuse and reforming abusers.

  19. K Says:

    There probably is writeups somewhere, but unfortunately, I have not read any; what I know of how the anarchist community dealing with sexual assault was through how my anarchist community dealt with it when two survivors came forward.

    What happened that I really liked: survivors creating a list of demands for the perpetrator (examples would be acknowledgment of the abuse, agreeing to a mediation, arranging schedules so they wouldn’t accidently meet, etc…) and requests for the community (asking for mediators, asking for perpetrators to be banned from certain collectives/organizations, etc…). I liked this, because it was survivor-led. I think even more important than the community healing is that the community supports the healing of the survivor – by encouraging a survivor to name what she/he/ze needs, we can develop a plan of action that fits the needs of the survivor, rather than a one size fits all solution.

    This is in contrast to organizations like the Anti-Racist Action Network, who has a policy that perpetrators of sexual assault should just be banned outright. The survivor might not want that. It also makes sexual assault seem rare, as if only a small percentage of people are perpetrators…since estimates run as high as a third of women (not to mention other genders) are sexually assaulted, unless it’s a handful of very busy individuals, it’s not uncommon at all.

    Okay, my baby is fussing. More later. Sorry about not reading this through for coherence…I’ll clarify anything you can’t understand.

  20. K Says:

    Continuing….
    What I didn’t like: there was this idea that we should keep friendships with or keep perpetrators in the community in order to hold them accountable; on one hand, I liked that because it meant the perp wouldn’t be able to forget his mistake. On the other hand, our community really didn’t know how to keep the perp accountable. We still don’t. There are therapists who work with perps, but 1) they report to the cops and 2) they are about as kink-friendly as Andrea Dworkin. There is an alternative mental health group for anarchists, but it’s about empowerment, so that wouldn’t have worked either. Ultimately, no formal requirements for the perp to work on his shit were created.

    I also am more skeptical about how beneficial keeping a perpetrator in the kink community would be for holding him/her/hir accountable – antisexism didn’t seem to be a frequent topic in the bit of the local kink community I’ve seen. (Actually, I could see it be very detrimental – I am not active in the local kink community because there are people who advocate playing without safewords for things like fear play.)

    What I didn’t like: people advocating to have people help the survivor take revenge, in essence recreating the punishment offered by the prison industrial complex.

    So, um, there’s my novel. I hope it’s clear and that I’m not forgetting anything.

  21. pepomint Says:

    K: Thanks for all the information on how things were done in your anarchist group.

    I particularly like what you said about the process being survivor-led. That seems like a key piece of handling the aftermath of rape.

    As for keeping the perps accountable, it seems like the focus should be on helping them to heal or manage in a way so they aren’t perpetrators again. A community-based mental health approach seems like it could be useful for that. Kinksters do have the kink-aware professionals list to draw from.

    Also, I agree that perhaps the answer as to whether or not a perp should stay in the community is to have the survivor(s) decide.

    While the public kink community is small and I think that this sort of approach works best in small communities, I think you are correct that antisexism does not seem to be a priority, and there may not be space to work on these issues as a result. As an example of this, I went to a recent discussion on abuse within the community that was a complete disaster – abuse was trivialized, power and control were barely mentioned, and the only handout was on how to forgive the abuser. While that’s useful stuff, I expected a much more complete picture from the sex therapist giving the talk.

    So perhaps the first task is anti-sexism and basic political awareness around abuse and rape.

  22. Mistress160 Says:

    Thank you for this! I hope its okay if I link to it, in an educational abuse / bdsm post I’m currently writing.

    With best wishes for 2008,

  23. pepomint Says:

    Mistress160: Please feel free to link to this post. And thank you!

  24. M.C. Otter Says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful writing on this topic. My friends and I have revisited it many times in the past year. We are not a group of kinksters, but we have repeatedly run into the connundrum of what happens when a group of highly tolerant people has people in their midst who continually abuse the social contracts without consequences. People are ever-so-reluctant to ban abusers from their groups, even repeat abusers (one guy has been criminally charged by three different women!) and it’s starting to bite them in the ass.

    One of the things that I’ve seen happen several times (including myself) is that without some sort of response to abusers, the bullies run the playground, and the victims/survivors disappear from the group because they feel unsafe and unsupported. It’s no coincidence that the only people from my former “community” who I still consider my friends are the ones who actually picked up the phone and talked to me when the trauma happened.

    While community response will go a long way toward changing the culture, personal support is absolutely essential. Having organizations that are willing to offer support is one thing, but that can also be intimidating if you’ve been through a traumatic experience. Individuals who identify themselves publicly as willing to be a go-to person for folks in crisis is also a good way to approach it. Knowing that one person will stand with you could make it easier to take the next step of publicly articulating grievances.

  25. M.C. Otter Says:

    One more thing: a concept that I have been thinking about a lot is that a lot of times when people hurt others, they are not consciously aware of the effects their actions are having. I have tried to think of “punishments” that might help people to understand what they have done by putting the perpetrator in the shoes of their victim/survivor.

    A simple example of this would be a somebody who is a chronic speeder who hits a pedestrian. Instead of fining the speeder or making him go to traffic school, perhaps he could be sentenced to walk along the side of the freeway for two days, so he could understand what it feels like to be a pedestrian. If the experience sunk in enough, he might start paying a bit more attention to those he previously drove past without a second thought.

    Maybe there is a way to adapt something like this for your community, where the abusive top is put into the position of the bottom? Of course the person needs to know why it is happening and must agree to having the experience, and the person administering the punishment would have to be highly skilled and adept at playing on the edge (as opposed to an angry mob chaining him to a St. Andrews Cross and having their way with him on the spot). But perhaps this would allow them to understand and “get” what they had done….

  26. pepomint Says:

    M.C. Otter: Thanks for the insightful comments!

    I agree that having (visible) personal support out there is a very important step. The question is then how to produce that in sexual minority communities: visible support groups, well-known go-to people who are listed in dungeons, etc. Good ideas here.

    I’m not sure if I want to explore the punishment dynamic you describe, even though the BDSM community would actually be one of the best places for that, because many of us traditionally undergo experiences we find painful specifically to grow or otherwise change. That said, hopefully the best way to educate abusers is to make them aware of the harm their abuse causes others, which may or may not actually be served by this sort of punishment dynamic you’ve described.

  27. kinkylittlegirl Says:

    What a great post and set of responses, Pepomint! There are many great ideas here to chew on. I’ve been recently discussing the idea of a website such as you propose with someone else (her idea, but it has possibilities), and we’re chewing through the possible options – and consequences. This thread has addressed a number of them, and raised a lot of other really good ideas and issues to consider.

    I’ll likely comment further on what’s here in my own blog, but I do agree that I don’t think a punishment type dynamic such as M.C. Otter proposes is a good idea.

    It is also absolutely crucial that we change the entire culture so that victims are not so routinely revictimized.

    I very much share your consternation at what has passed thus far for presentations and discussion about the subject of abuse in the kink community. It is only within the last 6-8 months or so, if that, that I’ve seen this start to change substantively in the direction things really need to go. I’m very encouraged that the community as a whole is starting to wake up to these issues – and starting to question the way the status quo has been, looking for other more viable solutions.

    Thanks for the link on your blogroll, too, BTW! I really appreciate it.

    • Anonymous Says:

      Hello, and welcome to the blog.

      You haven’t said anything here that I disagree with. Since originally writing this post, I’ve soured a bit on the idea of a rumor website – I’m not sure it would lead to the sort of positive healing I’m looking for on the part of folks who abuse.

      But at the same time, I’m still quite sure that we should be paying attention to these issues, and that some other sort of community response to abuse is needed, probably something that starts local. I’m not sure what that is, but I’m pretty sure that it needs to start with local community leaders being on board, which is unfortunately not always the case.

      I look forward to reading more of your thoughts in your blog.

      Pepper

  28. kinkylittlegirl Says:

    Thanks, Pepper. I’ve soured on the idea myself, for the same reasons I’ve previously always resisted similar notions. The risks are too high, the potential benefits too iffy, and the likelihood for abuse of that kind of a tool itself far too substantial. It’s all well and good to think about, and to discuss options, but in the end, I’ve never come up with any truly workable ideas for a way to implement such a thing in a way that would not be fraught with more problems than benefits, nor has anyone else I’ve ever discussed the idea with in all the years I’ve been active in the scene.

    As you point out, it is true that there are now other websites that do this kind of thing in the vanilla world – but I would be very surprised if they do not find themselves in hot water at some point, if it hasn’t happened already.

    Perhaps if there were a way to implement it so that posts would be completely anonymous, no identifying information allowed, but allow anonymous contact between readers and authors who so desire to get in touch, and to only exchange identifying information privately between themselves, *maybe* something could work. The issues inherent in trying to moderate such a thing (and I would also guess the programming challenges to create it in the first place) would be substantial, though. What I know about moderating online groups and the law also indicates to me that there could actually be even greater legal liability from trying to moderate something like this closely than just letting people post whatever they want without any kind of moderation.

    At the end of the day, there is likely no really workable way to implement any such thing, as much as we might fantasize about it.

    I agree that it’s necessary to get the local leaders on board to fight abuse, though. It’s really essential, actually.

    Sadly it is not only not always the case that they are on board, but all too often they themselves may be a big part of the problem. As anyone who has been around for a while knows, being a “community leader” is far from a guarantee of safety in and of itself – http://kinkylittlegirl.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/what-to-do-about-a-dangerous-top-what-if-they-are-a-community-leader/.

    If they are in fact part of the problem, you know they will often even outright resist any and all attempts to stop abusers from abusing, or to expose them. Whether they are abusers themselves, or just view attempts to expose the issue and the guilty as threats to their fiefdoms in some way, or just don’t care, they can really be serious obstacles.

    Thankfully, it seems as if the tide is starting to change, as the recent unanimous agreement of all participants on the local RACK Panel about the necessity of naming names shows. http://kinkylittlegirl.wordpress.com/2011/04/04/report-on-rack-panel/ This would have never happened even five years ago.

    Actually, while local responses are critical, I think that initiatives such as the National Leather Association’s Domestic Violence Project carry the potential to have a much broader impact, and to help enhance those local responses.

    NLA is in the process of designing a new survey with which to study the issue much more extensively over an extended time period. The existing data from their 2005 survey indicates that we do in fact have a major problem that exceeds the rate of DV in the vanilla community, as many of us have been saying for a while.

    The survey questions need to be refined to really get to the heart of the issue, and the elements most specific to D/s vs vanilla contexts, but I fully expect that the net result of the redesigned study will show the incidence is even higher still that what the 2005 numbers show.

    I think we’re heading in the right direction, but it will take a while. Solid data will help a lot to convince the disbelievers of the existence, nature, and extent of the problem.

    • pepomint Says:

      Sorry, that earlier response was by me – I failed to log in before posting it.

      At the end of the day, there is likely no really workable way to implement any such thing, as much as we might fantasize about it.

      I’m not fully convinced of this. However, at the same time the current websites I used as a model in the post (i.e. dontdatehimgirl.com) aren’t particularly effective. So there’s some possibility there, but it would involve some rethinking of how to do it, much as you’ve already described.

      Thankfully, it seems as if the tide is starting to change

      I’m very glad to hear that.

      I am looking forward to the results of the survey, though they don’t affect my own personal politics much. I feel that abusive relationships are a big issue that should be dealt with by a community-wide response whether or not the BDSM community comes in at lower or higher rates than the overall culture. Domestic violence and emotional abuse rates are much too high in the overall culture, so even if we’re doing slightly better we still have a problem.

      That said, I think there’s a certain segment of the community that believes that we can’t have such problems because having our kinky selves figured out means that we somehow get to magically avoid them. The survey you describe should be a wake-up call for such folks, whatever the results. So politically I’m glad that it is happening, despite the potential it may create for attacks on BDSM from outside the community (i.e. the right wing).

      • kinkylittlegirl Says:

        I agree that it doesn’t really matter whether we are “better than” or “worse than” the overall culture in terms of rates of domestic violence, at least with respect to what we do about it. It is important, however, to try to get a handle on just where we do stand vis-a-vis the vanilla world, if for no other reason than to have a better understanding of ourselves as a subculture.

        There definitely is a segment of the community that does indeed believe that we are somehow magically better and more evolved because we’re kinky. It’s part of the whole subculture mythology. This attitude predominates in two parts of the population that I’ve observed – the star-struck newbies who haven’t yet figured out the realities, and the folks who have been around for a while who also still haven’t figured out the realities. Most people thankfully do wake up at some point and get it that we are in fact no different.

        I don’t think the religious right, etc. needs any further cannon fodder; they’ll do what they want no matter what. If a study does show that there is more abuse in our ranks than in the vanilla world, though, well, then maybe we just need to focus more on cleaning out our own house before trying to convince the rest of the world that we’re OK if we really are not. I don’t condone their attacks, of course, no matter what – but perhaps if the shoe fits, we need to face that we are in fact wearing it. If that is indeed the case.

  29. Jun Says:

    How does it become a feminist issue just because more women suffer from this abuse than men? No, if it was ONLY women who suffered then it would be a feminist issue.
    It’s a problem with society and people as a whole. You can’t just take this abuse, call it “male supremacy”, and call the solution feminism.

    • pepomint Says:

      Given that women are disproportionately affected by abuse, we can say that abuse is a somewhat gendered issue. And therefore it should be (and is) a priority for feminist movements.

      It should also be a priority for the rest of society, of course. But often it isn’t, because the mostly-male people running the show haven’t personally been on the wrong side of relationship abuse and so don’t recognize it. This is why non-mainstream movements (like feminism, queer movements, etc) are obligated to step up and take action around abuse – because it is largely ignored by mainstream culture and politics.

      Generally when people throw out comments like this it’s because they are allergic to any mention of feminism. Does this perhaps describe you?

  30. datinghotlove.com Says:

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  31. Consent and abuse of power in kink and other sexual communities « Rewriting The Rules Says:

    [...] Mint, P. (2007b). Kinky abuse and community response. Freaksexual (11th April). Accessed (22nd October 2012) from: http://freaksexual.wordpress.com/2007/04/11/kinky-abuse-and-community-response. [...]


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