Sarah Sloane 0

An Open Letter to the BDSM Communities

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As BDSM educators and activists, we view with concern some of the more extreme suggestions of the "Consent Culture" movement. 


This movement was conceived to address a serious and genuine problem: the predatory serial abuser. Such individuals do exist, and may do serious harm to multiple partners over a period of years or even decades. 

However, Consent Culture suggests that the "BDSM community" has the ability to protect potential victims and punish offenders. We are dubious, and also deeply concerned about the potential harm to innocents that these ideas might accrue. 

First, we question the idea of a monolithic "BDSM community." Thousands of communities exist under the umbrella of BDSM: forums and publications both online and in print, democratically run support groups, privately run discussion groups, party groups, political advocacy groups, sash competitions, munches, mailing lists, blogs and more. Within those categories, there are gay and hetero and queer communities, D/s-oriented and sensation-oriented and fetish-oriented communities, and so on. It seems that looking to the "BDSM community" for recourse is problematic from its very conception. 

Second: even within any given community, we question the practicability of creating a judicial system that is impervious to internal affiliations and feuds. (The stakes are not small: even the suggestion of rape or assault can cause people to lose their jobs, children and reputations.) Privately held groups, of course, can and do exclude participants by their own criteria. But the democratically run support group, club or munch, the collaboratively maintained online forum, or the publicly supported advocacy group faces a thornier problem. Can such organizations establish and maintain an objective "jury" to determine the truth or falsehood of an accusation? And how can the organization punish the wrongdoer, aside from exclusion (which may simply drive a predator to hunt among less informed victims)? 

There exists, of course, a systematic and refined method for dealing with predators: the police, court and prison system. Unfortunately, many victims - with good reason - are reluctant to involve themselves in that process. They fear, often correctly, that uninformed and/or prejudiced police, judges and juries may judge a victim to have "asked for it" simply by making the choice to do BDSM. (Of course, even if everyone involved is informed and sympathetic, sorting out multiple versions of the same story is rarely a simple process. Nor is it unique to BDSM participants: rape and assault happen in all communities, and often come down to one person's word against another's.) 

Several national and regional organizations are spearheading forceful outreach efforts to educate law enforcement in the standards of BDSM culture; NCSF's Consent Counts and Educational Outreach Program are the best known. However, even the best-educated police officer, jury and judge will not always reach the "right" conclusion, if only because often there is no "right" conclusion: for every malicious predator, there are many individuals who have misjudged the status of consent, or whose partners have been "triggered" into a state of mind in which earlier agreements no longer have meaning. (There is also the real, if rare, phenomenon of the malicious accusation, designed to harm an enemy by claiming assault or rape when none took place.) 

We are entirely sympathetic to the desire of a victim to see justice done. We note, however, that the best legal minds of history have been unable to fully solve this problem, and that attempts to supersede the legal system have often ended in violent and/or life-destroying action against perceived wrongdoers. We fear that the greatest excesses of the "Consent Culture" movement hold a strong potential for such an outcome. 

 Here, instead, are our suggestions: 
  •  That BDSM/Leather communities collaborate on raising funds for a project to educate law enforcement, legal and judicial professionals about typical BDSM/leather practices and the standards of informed consent - NCSF's programs, or something similar. (Guy Baldwin has pointed out that much BDSM fundraising has gone toward charities outside BDSM. This internal project might well be an appropriate place to focus our efforts instead.) 
  • That clubs and support groups consider maintaining a "Sympathetic Ears" function, a volunteer group of trained individuals who can listen non-judgmentally to anyone who has ended a scene feeling abused, or confused about whether abuse took place - an appropriate function for the scene's many therapists, counselors and other helping professionals. The Sympathetic Ear would also be available to accompany a victim to file legal charges against their assailant should they so desire. 
  • That these groups also consider retaining a professional mediator, external to the community in question but informed about its standards and values, to mediate disputes between partners who feel that a scene has had a bad outcome. This mediator would not be empowered to take action against either partner, but would instead attempt to ascertain at what point the breakdown of communication (if any) took place, how it can be prevented in the future, and how the individuals involved can seek closure. 
  • That all educational functions strongly emphasize personal responsibility and clear communication of desires, values and limits. In a sex-negative world, understanding one's own desires can seem impossible and communicating them even more so; anybody who wishes to explore non-normative sex must be empowered to communicate what they want, what they're not sure about, and what they don't want. If a curriculum in basic negotiation is mandatory for anyone joining support groups, public play spaces, etc., fewer misunderstandings will happen and clear-cut malicious abuse will be more easily distinguished.
None of these strategies will eliminate every predator from our midst nor shelter every potential victim. They can, however, provide a framework for taking care of our own and for engaging with the resources of the outside world when appropriate.

We wish to thank the Consent Culture advocates for drawing the communities' attention to a real and long-unaddressed problem. We hope these suggestions may serve to move the debate productively forward. 

Sponsor

Janet Hardy Sarah Sloane

Links

http://www.sfbg.com/sexsf/2012/01/23/bad-kind-pain-kitty-stryker-talks-sexual-abuse-bdsm-community
http://www.google.it/search?q=%22consent+culture%22&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&hl=en&client=safari&redir_esc=&ei=P534T_mcFo76sgbX2sG-Bg
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