Friday, April 20, 2012

The scene is not safe.

[Trigger warning for rape and BDSM abuse.]

I went to a sex party not long ago.  I talked to a bunch of the members and organizers of the group, and heard all around that they really value consent and they're super aware of feminist issues and the danger of abuse in sex-positive spaces.  I had a pretty good time, met a lot of people, hooked up with a dude, fit a humorous number of naked people people in a bathtub at the same time.

Days later I found out, almost incidentally, that one of the guys at the party had been ostracized from another scene for "some problems."  Some problems with boundaries.  I was a little ticked that no one had identified this guy to me.

Later still, I found out that the guy had raped a woman.

Oh, but, like, she only said he raped her and no one was there to see it and it was really confusing and stuff and anyway what do you want us to do, like, treat the guy like a leper?  He got kicked out of one scene already and that was like a couple years ago and we're trying to help him change and now he's okay as long as someone keeps an eye on him at parties.

Originally I had written a rant here.  I'm angry about this, is the short version.  I'm quite angry.  I'm angry because this isn't the first time I've been around a known abuser and nobody told me; I'm angry because I've been abused under the aegis of BDSM; I'm angry because so damn many of my friends have been abused in the scene; and I'm angry because if I used the guy's name in that story above, I'd be kicked out of the scene.

If you want the long version, Yes Means Yes spells it out here, in a post I think everyone in the BDSM/swinger/sex-positive communities should be reading.
The first step is admitting we have a problem.  And we do have a problem.  I’ll skip to the end: there’s no shortage of stories that start “I was abused” and end “when I tried to say something the community closed ranks around the abuser and I was frozen out.”  It’s happened to friends of mine.  It’s happened in communities where people insist that the community isn’t like that.  And almost always, you have to actually know the participants to know what happened because nobody talks about it.  It’s all secret, there’s no sunlight and no transparency.  You, you out there on the internet, can search blogs until you’re blue in the face for a record of some of these stories, or some indication that you shouldn’t play with some of these people, and you’ll never find it.  Even when “everybody knows,” the “everybody” is very narrow.
And much more.  Go read it.

In the meantime, I like the BDSM scene.  I like the sex-positive scene.  I love that spaces exist where I can be myself and spend time with people like me.  I don't want to leave.  I especially don't want to leave and let the abusers have it.

I also don't know how to fix it. I find the efforts to do so alternately inspiring and utterly frustrating.  I understand the problems that "expose and expel anyone with any accusation against them" would create and yet I hate the default solution of "therefore, keep all abuse secret and consequence-free."  And I also understand that anything framed in terms of accusations is only cleanup after abuse has already happened--a real "fix" would cut down how much it happens in the first place.

I have a few small suggestions that don't require involvement in the question of accusations*:

1. Let new people know the scene is dangerous.  Newcomers shouldn't be hearing "BDSM is all about consent."  Newcomers should be hearing "BDSM should be all about consent, but there are a few people here who won't respect that, and we don't know who they are."  We shouldn't be teaching new people to relax and take it all in stride; we should be teaching them to be wary as hell.  I'd rather feel like I'm scaring people off than feel like I'm luring them in.

2. But don't assume all newcomers are only potential victims; newbie education should also include teaching people how not to become perpetrators.  (I'm going to hopefully write my own thoughts on this soon.)  For three reasons:
a) It may, in fact, prevent some of them from becoming abusers.
b) Seeing things from the other side may make them better at recognizing abuse.
c) It takes away the "I didn't know that was a problem" excuse in a hurry.

3. Make audience-visible consent a part of BDSM classes and demonstrations.  I've seen this done right a few times and wrong a lot more.  Right is when the presenter negotiates with their demo-partner right there in public, or makes it explicit to the audience that they've negotiated privately.  Wrong is when the presenter just jumps right into throwing rope (or whatnot) on their demo-partner, and as far as the audience can perceive, the "consent" is that the demo-partner doesn't safeword or run away.  Wronger than wrong, and not at all rare: the presenter gets "playful" with their demo-partners (or audience members!) in ways that clearly weren't pre-negotiated even in secret.

Taking thirty seconds to make it clear that you always ask, you don't skip it because "it's just a demo" any more than you skip it because "I know they'll like it," would make a big difference in BDSM education.

4. Most parties have special rules that you have to talk to the host about before doing fireplay and bloodplay--the host will direct you to a location where you won't set the house on fire or ruin the carpet, or simply say "no, we don't have facilities for that, this is a no-fireplay party."  We need to have these same rules about resistance and "consensual nonconsent" scenes.  If you're going to do something that looks just the same as abuse, you should be required to run it by the host first.

That way, if a host sees something that looks just the same as abuse, even if they're afraid/unable to shut it down with a "hey, is that consensual?", they have an excuse to shut it down with "hey, you didn't get clearance to do that!"

5. Get survivors to real resources.  I don't think we should be creating internal, informal resources in our community for this.  The "we'll handle everything internally and informally" mindset is how we got in this mess in the first place.  What I do think we should be doing, however, is making a concentrated effort to connect abuse survivors with resources like the following:
The Boston Area Rape Crisis Center
The Network/La Red (GLBTQ- and kink-friendly organization against partner abuse)
The National Leather Association Domestic Violence Project
The National Domestic Violence Hotline
 The National Sexual Assault Online Hotline

And, frankly (although I know damn well the barriers there can be):
The Fucking Police

When people report abuse, we should be referring them to outside, professionally run organizations with trained specialists who can help them through the painfully complex process of decision-making and escape and recovery.  We should not be encouraging them to keep it in the community.  We see everywhere from churches to colleges to the military what happens when abuse survivors are told "we'll handle that internally," and it's always crap.  Let's handle this shit externally for once.

The first step is to admit we have a problem.  So in a way I'm glad to see my community doing that.  Even though it's upsetting and causes a lot of strife in the short term, I'm really happy to see all these conversations about the dark side of the BDSM community coming out in the open.  I just hope we can go from conversations to actual change.

*I really fucking hate saying "accusations," by the way, when I think it's "reports," and I fucking hate acting like it's a big tough question.  As far as I'm concerned I know the vast majority of these accusations are true and that not inviting someone to sex parties is such a mild goddamn punishment we should just fucking do it when we know damn well someone is a fucking rapist.  But I'm never going to sell that opinion to the community.


  1. This is happening right now in my community. My fiance and myself have become moderators of the local TNG. I've never really liked the leader of the TNG. He's pompous and thinks WAY too highly of himself.

    I was informed, confidentially, by someone in the community who is a friend of mine that he was inappropriate with her. It pretty much boiled down to attempted sexual assault. This was about a year ago. Now, more and more women are speaking up. The victim count is up to 4, ranging from rape to attempted assault. There are far more women who have also come forward with stories that amount to "accidental" scarring, leaving marks when asked not to, etc.

    Action will be taken. After it has, I'll probably come back here and detail it.

    1. Good luck. It's an incredibly difficult thing to do. I think we're all looking for examples of how to tackle this. Please remember that, even if you're unsuccessful in your community, it's not your fault for failing (it's the fault of the dickheads causing the problems for continuing to cause them!) and that also, it gives us more information and experience (us, as feminists) which we can use to improve our approaches on the future.

      So yes, please, do share the results, and I hope others do too.

    2. For those of you on Fet

      For those of you who aren't:

      It was brought to the attention of our community that there was a possible predator in a leadership position.

      Members of the Las Vegas BDSM Co-op launched an investigation. During the process of the investigation, we unearthed more complaints regarding unsafe play, violations of safewords, and inappropriate sexual behavior. The complaints were numerous and detailed enough and made by women of impeccable credibility to warrant removal.

      Tonight there was a meeting of the Co-op where the leader in question was asked to relinquish his position in TNG. It is the stance of the Co-op that if he were to remain a leader alongside these allegations, it would be a detriment to the community as a whole, creating a distrust of leadership by members.

      While he initially refused to hand over leadership, after much drawn out discussion (and many other leaders appealing to him as a friend) he decided he needed time to determine what the best course of action would be for him.

      He will notify us by the end of two weeks time (maybe) of his decision.

      In the event that he decides to keep his leadership status in his group, a new TNG will be formed by myself and StutteringStud. In this new group, he (or anyone else who engages in similar unsafe practices) will be banned. It is the opinion of the two of us that second chances are granted when making a mistake, not multiple, clear violations.

      We are also of the opinion that allowing him to attend events and participate in groups in an effort to "rehabilitate" him in some way or keep an eye on him simply allows him to prey on and manipulate more women.

      Stay Tuned for more updates!

  2. Thoughtful and thought provoking as always, thank you!

  3. Coincidentally, I came across your post while poking around here

  4. Your frank discussions about sexual consent are so amazing and clearly arranged. I've read the others too, but this is the first time I actually decided to comment. I think you're doing a great job here. Keep it up and thank you for taking the time to write these things out!

  5. Your posts are always so well thought out and brilliant. I love rule number four, it's one of those things that make so much sense once you hear them.

    I'm not in the BDSM scene but I've had this experience with the local 'rockers' group (small town, small country). Two girls were raped that I know of, everyone knew, guy was frozen out and I left the country for all of four months. When I came home, he was back in the group - everyone but one of my friends was friends with him and he's sent me a number of friends requests on facebook. It's sickening because everyone knows but... it's "been a while"? He's "not like that anymore"?

    I'm all for people becoming better but don't they have to pay for what they did first and even apologize? It makes me sick. /ramble

  6. Should we give up?

    Clearly the kinky community is failing. Having a few people who attempt to be predators is normal. Letting them run free and even become influential is definitely not. Protecting them is just plain evil.

    Arguments like "But it's people I can be myself with!" are as weak as "But they do charity work!" is to defend the Catholic church when it shields child rapists. It's not enough.

    Now, we don't know if people who do BDSM at home are any less abusive than members of the community. Or if vanilla people are, for that matter. So just walking away might not help with anything.

    But still... any community that actively shields abusers is *rotten*. I'm very pessimistic about our chances to fix that.

    1. Leo - The problem is that in many ways, the scene creates safety.

      Play parties are a huge safety measure, in that they let us play with people while still being in screaming distance of others--that's far safer in my mind than going home with someone, even taking into account the abuse that happens at parties.

      And the scene gives us a structure for education--without the scene, communicating the message "BDSM is all about consent!", hypocritical as it often is, wouldn't happen at all.

      I also think the scene's going to exist whether we like it or not, and if the good people abandon it, it'll be all creeps--which will increase even further the public perception that BDSM is all creeps which will make life harder for people who do BDSM privately.

      So I don't think giving up is an option.

    2. Leo, everywhere shields abusers. One difference between the BDSM scene and other scenes is that the BDSM scene is moderately more invested in the idea of itself as a place which doesn't. This means it's moderately more hypocritical than other spaces, as well as being a different kind of dangerous.

    3. Yeah, part of the problem is that the BDSM community has to fight the idea "all BDSM is abuse" while at the same time dealing with the fact that sometimes there is abuse, and too often it chooses the former priority.

    4. Good point about safety - especially if we drain the scene of newcomers and thus predators are more likely to go for private play.

      I did think about the scene being the face of BDSM to the vanilla public and to potential newcomers; I don't think that's true anymore. We lose the workshops and suchlike, but the basic idea of "BDSM exists, consent comes first, here's a few tips on how to get started" can be spread online by people who only play at home. Only you change the standard advice from "go to a play party" to "play with people you already trust to have vanilla sex with; never go to a play party, we abandoned those to predators". Though it would require people to learn more on their own, which is dangerous. And obviously it'd be harder to find partners.

      Lisa, how do you know that everywhere shields abusers? I know of individual cases (military of various countries, colleges, companies, organisations, friend groups) but I was still under the impression that kicking out abusers (who aren't particularly prestigious, and whose victims are also part of the group) was the default. For example, I'd expect most companies to fire the perpetrator of a proven sexual assault rather than silencing the victim, but that we don't hear about this because it's normal. Got a source?

    5. It wasn't anywhere near assault, but I was sexually harassed at work and the company responded by separating us (with no punishment to the guy except being reassigned) and carrying on with a "well, he's not bothering you anymore, problem solved, shut up now" attitude.

      I'm sure everywhere doesn't shield abusers, but insular ingroups are amazingly good at it. I think one problem is that the abuse itself (being relatively invisible) didn't disrupt the group, but the accusation of abuse disrupts the group tremendously, and people's knee-jerk reaction is "our group is under threat! resolve the disruption!", which means that accusers get a harder time of it than actual abusers do.

    6. @Leo: I don't want to give you "a source" - I want you to throw yourself deeply into feminist work on abuse so that you can understand this from the inside.

      One example of why I say that is that you're using ideas like "kicking out abusers (who aren't particularly prestigious--" But, 'becoming prestigious' is one of the things abusers do before/while they abuse, exactly so that the person they target will be lower-status when it comes to deciding who to throw out. So, I think spending some time adjusting your framing will be more useful to you than trying to interpret summarised conclusions through your existing frame.

      If you don't want to do that, I want you to respect those who do - lightly browsing feminist writing on abuse will bring up any number of women concluding that abusers basically get away with it in every walk of life.

      If you'd like to read one book, you could read The Revolution Starts At Home, by South End Press. It's talking about abuse in activist communities but it will teach you a lot about abuse in general, after which statements like "everywhere shields abusers" should make much more sense!

    7. Holly, thanks, that's the kind of example I was looking for. I think disruption to the group is a good explanation, it predicts shielding abusers with ingroup victims rather than just outgroup ones as I expected.

      Lisa, I understand it sound like I don't know about many issues because I try to keep my comments short. And when I try mentioning something so I don't sound so clueless, it backfires - that hedge about high-status abusers was here because I know it's a big tactic.

      I know that people get away with abuse everywhere, and I know about active protection of abusers in some places. It doesn't follow that active protection is what allow abusers to run free in all cases. I do trust people who work more against those kinds of abuse than I do, but "I've seen it" and "I've deduced it from what I've seen" and "Actually that was hyperbole, it's bad but not literally everywhere" are different levels of confidence.

    8. Sorry, then, not really sure what you're asking. Abusers really often abuse from contexts of power, contexts of power are often things like "sexism", those contexts imply groups like "men", those groups actively protect abusers. I don't think you need little tight-knit groups to see people protecting abusers. Look at - ok, it's a different example, but look at the treatment of rape survivors in courts. There's no "in group" that's protecting them except the group called "rape-denialist rape culture inhabitants" which makes up most of the population.

    9. "Lisa, how do you know that everywhere shields abusers?"

      Everywhere? Probably not. But personally speaking, I'm a member of a number of communities (of varying degrees of kink-friendliness and kink-focus), and I know of a number of people in them that are considered to be Bad People that we should Warn Newbies About.

      And I know a lot of first- and second-degree stories that have "and I found out later he was known to be a bad guy"... and I know exactly one story of "yeah, so we told that guy he wasn't welcome around here any more" and it took years to finally happen.

      I do not think this is a BDSM-specific problem per se, but I do think that the trauma from abuse is generally a lot more severe when it involves sex.

    10. "I do not think this is a BDSM-specific problem per se"

      No, but I think that the BDSM scene is in the unique position of talking big about consent, leading people new to the community to think that it is an *especially* safe place. I also think it is a very insular community--which isn't unique, but brings with it challenges that less insular communities don't have to deal with quite as much.

      So I don't know that there is a problem with BDSM communities any MORE than other small, tight-knit groups...but I do think the fact that BDSMers talk up consent so much makes it especially dangerous when abusers are tolerated.

  7. As a counterpoint to the first commenter: I'm involved in the leadership of my local TNG. At a meeting, we had a member ask to speak to us about something that had happened to his friend. She had been dating one of the leaders and he had violated her stated hard limits and once even ignored her safe word (the perpetrator happened not to be at the meeting). We chose to remove him from his position in the organization. Honestly, he also had some personal conflicts with our leader, which made it an easy decision. We decided that if he did show up to any of our munches, we would keep an eye on him. I felt like we should somehow do more, but didn't quite know what to do. Our munches are at bars and regularly draw upwards of 40 people, so it's not technically a private event and we've never tried to actually kick someone out.

    Then, three months later, she starts showing up in the scene again, and soon he's in tow, and they're back together. Now I don't know if we did the right thing or not.

    Your suggestions are good, but what I want to know is: WTF are we supposed to do when there is an accusation of assault? As scene participants? As organizers? No community has a very good handle on this, which is why the BDSM scene is not the only one I've been in where there's a perception of "safety" but people still get away with rape.

    1. People often do take back their abusers; it doesn't mean the accusations weren't true.

      But the position I'd take with him is "she may have forgiven you; we didn't," and stick by your original decisions--he doesn't get a place in the organization, and he gets watched closely. Booting someone is tricky, but you can always ask him not to come back even if you can't fully enforce it, and ask other members not to engage with him socially if he does.

      I'd also try and check with his partner privately if she's okay, but I know that's pretty unlikely to get you a straight answer if she isn't.

    2. You can kick someone out of the bar. I would assume from having a regular event there, and bringing a decent amount business in, you have a good rapport with the manager.

      We do. And that's what we do. We inform the manager and they kick the person out. They have the right to do so. Considering they sell alcohol, the last thing they want on their hands is to let a known predator in around people who have compromised judgement.

      (BTW, I'm the first commenter)

    3. How long are you supposed to ban someone? For instance- take the Chris Brown incident with Rhianna. We're all agreed it was bad he hit her and got just punishment for it. But is he always a bad person? Are we supposed to hate him and shun him forever because he did a bad thing once? Does doing a bad thing make you a bad person? Aren't people ever allowed to "not be like that anymore?"

      I was raped at a sex party when I was 21. I was one of a few girls at that party who was raped by this man. I can say he was a bad man with no boundaries and he should probably never be invited to a sex party ever again.

      But I also had a scene go bad with my significant other, which at the time felt like rape (the other rape felt more like a nuisance funny enough). But he made a mistake and apologized when I pointed out where he crossed the line. He's not a bad man and deserved to be forgiven.

    4. I think it's:

      a) about risk, *sooo many* rapists are repeat rapists that, well, the biggest indicator of "is this dude gonna rape" is "has he raped before?"

      b) about risk tradeoff - if you keep a supposedly-now-ex rapist out, then an ex-rapist is missing out on some kink, but if you let a supposedly-now-ex-but-actually-still-rapes rapist in, he'll rape people, which is horrific

      c) about what other rapists think when they see a rapist getting back into the community. It's like, ok, I'm gonna get away with this stuff.

    5. B, I think an apology and a believable promise to be better are good places to start. Your partner apologized and has, I assume, tried to make good, whereas assaulters usually tend to dismiss and explain away any legit comcerns about their behavior. For example, as far as I know, Chris Brown has been nothing more than an abuse-apologist asswipe the whole time and there is no reason to assume he believes to have done anything wrong.

    6. I wanna note that abusive people definitely use apology as one of their tactics to defuse concerns about their behaviour. Public apologies that have people rushing to commend the abuser for how open-minded they are are a real favourite. Of course, repenting abusers apologise too, but just the fact of apologising doesn't distinguish the two. I think that sometimes there is something in how the apology is done which people who are keyed in to abuse dynamics can pick up on, though?

    7. B - I think it's important to remember that "not getting invited to sex parties" (like "not getting to sing at the Grammys") is a very, very minor punishment. You're not taking away someone's freedom or their livelihood here. So I'm inclined to be pretty liberal with it.

      Genuine contrition does happen, but it's a tough thing to judge--and I'm wary of laying out a tidy list of "signs of genuine contrition" because a manipulative person can hit all those signs and still be a remorseless scumbag who plans to do it again the next time they think they won't get caught.

      I will list one thing that ISN'T, though, and that's someone pressuring others for forgiveness. When someone crosses the line from "please forgive me" to "why won't you forgive me already, I said I was sorry, what more do you want from me," that's a big ol' red flag that they're not really so sorry.

    8. B., when you start talking about whether somebody is "bad" and "deserves" forgiveness, you're stepping on the path of apologism.

      (First of all, nobody is OWED forgiveness. "Deserve" implies that somebody has the right to demand forgiveness from a person they've hurt, and I assume I don't have to explain what that's all messed up.)

      Does the person genuinely understand *why* their behavior was problematic - not, "oh, I guess I can see why you had this unpredictable and weird reaction to my blameless behavior, so I'm sorry I freaked you out", but a genuine recognition that they did something inappropriate? Are they willing to change their behavior in the long term, even if that's inconvenient for them? Are they willing and patient to accept that others will be distrustful of them based on their past conduct?

  8. The thing that strikes me about both Holly's original article and the YMY piece is how similar they are to things I've heard from Catholic priests (some of whom are genuinely excellent people). In both communities (and in many others) there's a sense of "us" vs "the outsiders who don't really understand how things are" (see also the blue wall); and Geek Social Fallacy #1 is still going strong. People like to think of their own communities as safe places for real people with the rest of the world locked outside, and admitting (a) that there is a problem that can't be handled internally and then (b) that therefore you're actually going to have to let some of those outsiders in... comes very hard.

    1. I think that a lot of it rings true. Really insular communities do tend to do this, and I think that letting people from "The Outside" is, for lack of better words...scary. Terrifying. Especially when it's a group made up of people who would be shunned or mocked by "The Outside".

      And if someone from The Outside comes in and uses it as proof that "a-ha, this group is worthy of our scorn", it really is a terrifying thought, but while I can't say, authoritatively, that, for example, someone working at a rape crisis center would approach a report of rape or abuse with that mindset, I can say that I don't know if such a person would deliberately look for evidence to prove their "point", whatever it is.

      So I think that some of Geek Social Fallacy #1 comes from the fear that someone "outside" will deem "the group" worthy of scorn and derision, which would make them close ranks even more, if that's the case.

      And sorry for the rant, and for the blathering that counted as a comment.

  9. I think one of the big issues here is one that perhaps all communities share -- it's very hard for people to really believe that someone they know socially is capable of abuse or assault. It seems like they just can't hold those two conflicting pieces of data in their heads: that someone they've talked to, joked with, maybe even had consensual sexual/king encounters with, has *also* abused or assaulted someone.

    So the abuse or assault gets brushed off as "not that serious" or "in the past" or "just about that one person". In the meantime, to avoid "drama" in our heavily-interconnected social scene, we don't uninvite anyone, often leaving the victim no choice but to uninvite themselves lest they find themselves at the same parties with their perpetrator.

    As a host of sex/kink parties, I do my best to not include people who have had credible reports of assault or abuse made against them. But one of the things I struggle with is what to do when I'm not in that position -- when I'm just an attendee at a party, and I see someone who is a known abuser being invited. I suppose the best thing to do would be to email the hosts with my concerns, but I haven't gotten up the courage to do that yet.

    1. You could try making an email account just for that purpose and emailing the hosts from it. It's better than having nobody know about the issue.

    2. Herschele, I think it goes deeper into that. It goes into "Rapists are evil, but even though Pat could be a rapist, look, he has pictures up of his dog and cat, and some funny stuff, and even him holding a teddy bear, and look at how cute he is, so he can't POSSIBLY be a rapist!" People are taught to give the benefit of the doubt, and even throw away hard evidence if it conflicts with what they deep down know to be true: Pat is a rapist, end of story. Quit making excuses, people. If someone is coming forward with EVIDENCE, back off defending the wrong person. It takes balls of steel for someone to come forward to begin with, why not give them the benefit of the doubt, instead of the guy who you schmooz with?

  10. All of the replies are great in this. The article is very well written. I did have a thought however while soaking in the bath that I feel should be pointed out.

    Predators are predatory. They are new, old, young, immature, mature, familiar, coy, ad nauseum. A predator - especially in the BDSM/Kink community has their pickings of whatever "dish" they choose to have. I've been sought out by not only older, more skilled "players" of the lifestyle, but by new "please teach me the ropes" people as well. They only know how to chase and catch, feasting on the emotional carnage. The sad part is that we are rare to know until we feel chunks of us fall to the wayside. We gawk at ourselves in amazement, shock, terror.. when we realize we have allowed ourselves to be victimized.

    We want to trust each other in this community. I have made my own bad decisions regarding people I have met. I have played "the game" of tease and denial, attraction and rejection. I've said things - as we all do - to feel our way around the minds of those we are considering pairing up with at some point. The problem arises within the mind of the predator. They can't "turn off", and when they finally meet the "prey", all they have in their mind is their own focus. As "prey" you have two choices: sit there and take it, thus resulting in your own breed of self-committed hell, or fight back and risk your reputation/life/everything being put in the spotlight.

    Predators are also very skilled at manipulation as they have mastered winning people to their side. Once you make people see your side, you can't go wrong.

    This deer is gonna be armed with tazers. Bring it, predators!

    1. You have no idea how much this resonates with me. I'm not part of the BDSM scene, nor any other, really, but I am a rape survivor who "allowed" herself to be victimized. I was too terrified of being seriously hurt or worse to put up much of a fight, and I have had to try to make peace with that for nearly five years now. It is still not easy to reconcile in my mind.
      What's even worse is that I am currently in a "friends with benefits" thing with someone I had hoped was a good friend. But some things have gone on with him that I reflect on with horror, thinking "Why do I still want him? what's wrong with me?" Yet I find myself still going back to him and acting as though nothing is wrong. I wish I knew why I keep doing that, because I've exhausted all possible explanations by now.
      I'm sorry for the emodump... Your post just really touched me...

    2. That is a really shitty situation and I'm sorry to hear that you're stuck in it. *Offers virtual hugs*

  11. I've had some recent problems in group that does weekly bike bar crawls; I've being hit on by married men, had people come up and grope me and other harassment. This is a public group, where people can just come in and ride if they want to. So it's sort of similar to the scene Holly is describing. So I've had similar problems trying to find a way to warn new people of the assholes and stop the behavior at the same time. This is what i've done so far;

    - If there's a new girl in the group and we're talking, at some point, I'll point out the specific assholes and say "Hey, just a heads up- that dude waits for girls to get drunk and then gropes them. And if that one makes a move on you, he's married." You are not obligated to keep people's assholery a secret for them. It also doubles as a way to tell newbies "If that guy tries something, I will believe you. You can come to me."

    - If one of them tries to get frisky, I will leave- and I will tell bystanders why. Even if it's just a simple "Hey look, it's INNAPROPRIATE TOUCH MAN! again."

    - I eventually stopped going to that group, because no-one was doing anything about INNAPROPRIATE TOUCH MAN and frankly, I found better bike pub crawls that weren't full of handsy assholes. But I often run into people from that ride (bikers are a close-knit bunch) and they ask why i don't ride with them anymore, and I answer truthfully- "People kept groping me on that ride and nobody would tell them to stop. This is why your ride has no girls."

    Hopefully this will cause them to re-evaluate their choice of riding partners but I'm not holding my breath.

  12. Also, I went to a BDSM munch once and got invited to a play party at the very same meeting. That, coupled with being hit on by several guys in really creepy ways anytime I joined a conversation vaguely related to sex or BDSM, left me thinking "there's no way this scene is safe." I know I'm a girl, but, come on. Particularly since the rules of this group was that you had to attend at least 4 meetings before coming to a play party. I've pretty much stuck to doing BDSM in relationships since that.

  13. The kinky community is no less sexist than the rest of the world. I don't have any reason to believe it's more*, but kinky people are people, and most are immersed in society and part of society and exposed to society's values. Which means as prone as anyone else to absorb those values, without necessarily realizing it, and without necessarily knowing how much.

    *That's an oversimplifacation; I think several attitudes within the kink community converge to hide sexism more thoroughly, so if there isn't more sexism than in the rest of the world it's probably easier to get away with. But certainly nothing as straightforward as "kinky=sexist" moreso or more reliably than "Westerner=sexist."

  14. Yeah, I've talked to you before how creepy I find the dichotomy of, "We're all about consent here! Consent consent consent!" and everybody kinky I know having horror stories of the community acting like... everywhere else.

    It's why I only use kink in my relationship. Because horrifying as it is, I actually trust my system to intervene on my behalf, while I DON'T trust anyone at a play party to do it unless I'm screaming my safeword.

  15. Yep. Both the scenes I've been involved with (DC/Bmore) are rife with people who've crossed my boundaries, who I've heard to be abusers, who I do not trust farther than I can throw them. And that's JUST the play/kink/abuse dynamic - that's not even counting the racism.

    Ugh. Man. I don't really love large social situations, which is the main reason why I don't do much scene stuff anymore in general, but also the fact that there is NO good accountability system for abuse.

  16. BDSM is all about consent but if for some reason people are hearing "We are magically immune from rape here" then we need to start with:

    These are the rules. This is how you negotiate. These are ways that things can go wrong(like not following limits and not respecting safe words.) This is how you handle it if a top doesn't follow the rules.

    All of the original post is brilliant.

    Rule 4 is wonderful.

    I'd say everyone should go to orientations with all the respecting limits discussion and that parties should have posted rules.

    I think it would also be a good idea to have community standards discussed. Things like if you do X you will be banned from, Y munches, public play spaces etc. People should be introduced to the idea from day one that abuse will get them blacklisted.

  17. Well, this is only slightly terrifying. I had actually been considering seeking out a local chapter of a BDSM group, but I'm definitely not doing it now without a partner or pre-established group of friends.

  18. Fucking Blogger comment system. Third attempt. Anyway.

    Holly, you ask why kink communities are more willing to accept rape and abuse than they are to just not invite someone to parties. I have a theory that I think fits that data.

    Kinky people overlap with geeky people to an enormous extent, and even if a kinkster is not actually into Doctor Who or Batman, the kink community provides the same emotional space that the geek community does: "That which would get you excluded or mocked elsewhere gets you accepted here, and is even a badge of cool." Thus we may assume that kinky people are, in functional terms, socially equivalent to geeks.

    Geek Social Fallacy #1 is that Ostracizers Are Evil.

    Thus, kinky people will, on a completely unexamined, knee-jerk emotional level, look for any solution at all that does not involve ostracizing someone. Nobody quite intends to do that, but for most people it's the easiest solution, if you don't think about it too hard.

    This suggests that the solution is to actively examine, personally confront, and if necessary point out this knee-jerk emotional reaction. Most of us, confronted with a sentence like "Well, we can't just tell her we don't want her at the party" will instinctively feel that that's true, we can't do that. If, however, we give ourselves and others permission to say "Yes we fucking well can tell her that" then we can start getting some shit done.

  19. Noah, Geek Social Fallacies are a centerpiece of Part 5 of the There's A War On series, forthcoming.

  20. Pagan spaces have the same problem, and I agree that the Geek Social Fallacies are a major contributor. We have a lot of people who have been thrown out of their families and other support structures because they are pagan, gay, poly, or otherwise not conforming. There's an ingrained feeling that *that* is why people are thrown out, and that it's obviously evil.

    When we need to throw someone out because they are abusive all of this stuff comes bubbling to the surface.

    I particularly remember the closed board meeting in which we read the abuser's letter of apology. Not a one of us wanted to ignore that apology. We actually felt that we *could not* ignore that apology; we were going to give him another warning. Then I happened to say, "If only we had given him an ultimatum date, because I'm sure this would have been after the date and then we would have a hard objective reason to refuse to take him back."

    And our secretarial officer looked through her books and said, "Here is a copy of the letter we sent him with the ultimatum date. And it was last month."

    Five people in the room. All of our signatures on the letter. No one had remembered we'd set that. This is how badly alternative communities don't want to ostracize.

    We threw him out. We will warn other communities about him if the opportunity arises, but there's no clear way to do so outside the local region. In retrospect I'm sorry we didn't go to the police with reports of sexual harassment.

    1. It's not too late to go to the police. They may not act on it immediately, but should this person ever come to their attention again, they'll have an existing report.

  21. Well-written as usual, Holly.

    It's your points about "the scene" that actually make me somewhat glad to be in a part of the country that doesn't have "a scene." I play with my partner and our two very good friends/kinky mentors exclusively. We have the same secrecy; we four meet confidentially in a hotel room, edit the truth to our families, and then have fun. Everyone is extremely clear that whatever one of us doesn't want to do, we don't do. Period.

    I can't imagine going to a scene, even a kinky scene, and not having that assurance going in. As a sexual assault/abuse survivor, trans* person, and queer person partnered to another trans queer person, safety is something I never take for granted. Ever.

    I know that if I were to go into the scene as you have described it, Holly, eventually I would recognize abuse because I have lived it, breathed it, and relived it. And I would want to do something. But I would be in no position to do so, either because of my newbie status in the community or my vulnerable status in the wider world.

    But thank you, Holly, for being so brave and keeping on. You are doing a wonderful thing. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

  22. and I'm angry because if I used the guy's name in that story above, I'd be kicked out of the scene.

    Is that really a bad thing? I mean, I know it's hard being the one who is ostracized, but... that kinda sounds like "Oh no, Brer Fox, please don't throw me out of the Lion's Den." If the Scene is full of rapists, that doesn't sound like somewhere I'd want to be.

    1. It really is a bad thing. The scene contains most of my social life, nearly the only social life where I can be totally open about who I am and what I do, and my opportunities for education. And like I explained above in one of my responses to Leo, even a shitty scene still provides more safety than playing alone with new people.

      Also, the scene's going to exist (and going to attract new people) whether I'm in it or not, and I can make a bigger difference from the inside.

  23. Thank you for being angry, and vocal in your anger, and continuing this conversation Holly. I would *love* to see more of solution number 3 - at Bound in Boston, I found myself uncomfortable several times when 1) I hadn't seen any negotiation between the top and bottom in a class, and then 2) demo bottoms had things done to them that weren't in the class description, and I was left wondering if this had been negotiated at all :/

    I have seen solution 2 work pretty well in practice; at a party I went to once, the hosts had an introductory bit that included not just party safewords, but how to negotiate with a new partner, what consent should look like (particularly between people without established relationships), and what to do if you see something that looks non-consensual at the party.

    "Fixing" the scene may seem like a daunting task at times, but I don't think it's impossible!

    1. I was in Bound at Boston and I noticed the same thing. Some presenters were very good at making clear they'd negotiated and gotten consent from their bottoms. Some were not.

      There was one class Rowdy and I actually walked out of because the presenter seemed to have a completely "these demo bottoms aren't here to help me teach, they're here so I can fuck around with them and show everyone how domly I am" attitude--it got pretty gross.

  24. I went to a couple of munches, and a rival not-the-munch kinky-people-in-a-pub, and then I decided the local scene wasn't for me. There were lots of reasons for that, not least that I find groups of strangers really hard work and I don't have much spare cope to use on making small talk, but the big reason was, it was scaring me.
    It was scaring me how everyone was assuming I was a femsub. It was scaring me how when I said "I don't make much noise when I'm bottoming," people salivated at the notion of "fixing" that. It was scaring me how when I recoiled from tales of electrical predicament bondage, the assembled tops lit up at finding something I didn't want to do. It was scaring me how every anecdote I was told had either bottoms not wanting what was done to them, or "surprise" play, or intimidating onlookers by pulling a bottom, randomly as far as the onlookers knew ("I'd played with her before, so I knew it was okay...") out of a queue, or deliberately frightening inexperienced customers with canes...
    It scared me, that every story I was told and every reaction I saw said that my active and informed consent to what was done to me was not only irrelevant, but undesirable and maybe even impossible.
    So I stopped going to those meetups.
    Oh, yeah, there was also the guy who got very insistent that I and a fellow newbie should let him give us a lift home, or to where the bike was locked up, or anywhere, just so long as we got in the car with him. We didn't get in the car with him.

    1. Those are horrifying stories to hear, violamessaline. And the worst part is that it's all things that a lot of people don't even -realize- to be horrifying, because the idea that 'sub' is defined by not having agency and self-determination is so very ingrained in them.

      I hope you feel and are safe among the people you are now with.

  25. Thank you for posting this.

    I just left one of my local kink groups because I found out they'd been keeping abuse quiet - when confronted, they said it was a "rumor control" issue. Except I know one of the victims and find the idea that she's lying (as the group leaders claimed to me behind her back) very, very unlikely. And that leads me to worry about the other "rumors" they're trying to "control."

    It really didn't help when they went on a spree of deleting and censoring posts that mentioned the alleged abuse or the abusers.

    To make it doubly difficult, someone outright removed from that group because of how many different people accused him of nonconsensual violations (one eventually led to charges, which were later dropped) is now a prominent member in many of the other local groups.

  26. Lots of good stuff here, and frankly I've been thinking about writing about the things I learned during the past several months.

    People who run events get reports of abuse because they run events, not because they're good at working with victims. Pointing victims towards professional resources needs to be part of the initial response, and I think possibly even more important in the short term than dealing with the alleged perpetrator. In any case, event organizers need more training and need to put more thoughts into this.

    I would also point out that event organizers can point victims towards these organizations without worrying about if the accusation is accurate or not. It's something they can do immediately even if they don't or don't want to believe the accusation.

    I need to write up my own thoughts in more detail, but I just wanted to post this now.

    1. I think this needs to be handled carefully. In particular, I think the critical word in this sentence is *part*: "Pointing victims towards professional resources needs to be part of the initial response."

      If I were the victim, and the entire content of the first response I got was, "You need to get help", I would be pretty pissed off. That needs to be balanced with, "I'm going to have a firm and clear talk with the person who did this," or, "The person who did that is now banned."

    2. Agreed. But the part you balance it with is a lot more complicated. I get the impression that event organizers forget the first part because they are worried about the second part.

  27. Permission to repost this on Fetlife?

    1. I think this would be a good read for the community at large, but I don't want to copypasta without permission. It seems the link is already making it's rounds and all. But if this went K+P I really think a lot of people could benefit from reading this.

    2. It's fine to repost this, just please provide a link back to the original!

    3. Oh, and optionally, I'd like a link to the discussion on the repost as well.

  28. I shared this on Fetlife as well. I also want to combat the very wrong actions taken and more often not taken against abusers and rapists in the Scene, but had no idea where to start. You outline some sensible, practical, and WORKABLE suggestions.

    1. Is there a link to where I could find it so I could love it? I think breadcrumbs are in order here... (just don't want to give out my FL name publicly)

    2. I posted links in some groups, rather than copypasta the entire article.

  29. I think your idea of "non-consentual-looking play needs to be cleared with the host first" is probably one change that is easy to adopt and would absolutely help fix many issues with play parties almost immediately.

  30. This makes me so fucking furious. Thank you for posting Holly, it is very important that stuff like this is said. It is extremely upsetting and it makes me very anxious about pursuing anything in the BDSM community, outside of a trusted few.

    I've been reading in between the lines in FetLife for awhile. Here's a big red flag: The scene talks BIG about consent, honesty, communication, etc..., but when actual issues of abuse are brought up or when you ask how they are dealt with you either get no reply (*crickets*) or you get people accusing you of stirring up shit. This scares the crap out of me and decreases my confidence that real abuse will be addressed by people in the scene.

    On the other hand, I know for a fact there are a lot of decent kinksters out there. This is why I am for developing friendships first before any play happens. I might go to a play party, but I'm not going to get tied down and if they don't respect my boundaries and/or my safeword I step the fuck away or I start screaming bloody fucking murder.

    There are decent and respectful people out there, but if you want to play rough you have to be careful. Blowing rainbows up newbies asses and telling them the community is safe and all about consent is a good way to turn them into victims. Also tolerating abuse is a good way to perpetuate and even increase it. I think your rules are an awesome first step to protecting people and addressing abuse.

    Here's a core and very simple principle that so many people don't seem to get:

    "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." Desmond Tutu

    This is why I don't condemn your choice to stay in the community and fight to create a better one. It's important that you stay safe (and please do), but it's also important to be the one brave person that annoys the crap out of complacent people who allow abuse to happen until shit gets done!

    Btw, here's some happy rainbows to blow up your ass that aren't so full of shit: All of these comments rock. They are not just affirmative, they're well thought out. People interested in BDSM and sex positive lifestyles DO tend to be thoughtful and decent people, even though they may share some of the cowardly and conformist tendencies of all human beings. These comments give me some hope that the community has the tools to work this out, even if it takes awhile and will be hindered by a few charismatic sociopaths. Finally, Holly, I think your words and your strength are inspiring. Thanks for standing up. :)

  31. I'm one of the organizers of the party that LilyR mentioned above (thanks for shout-out, Lily!), which I call "the Welcome Party". I've also written an FAQ that I send around before each party:

    I do have a note in there that it isn't guaranteed that there will be no one at a party who will overstep someone's boundaries, and what to do if that happens to you. I'm planning to beef that up in response to the thoughts this post has evoked.

    In particular, I'd like to add a section on how to spot someone who might not be as respectful of boundaries as you'd like (or even has the potential to be outright abusive). Anyone here have tips on what to say for that? For that matter, any and all suggestions on improving the FAQ are welcome, with the caveat that it's meant as a FAQ on kink/sex parties, not the lifestyle/scene in general.

    And a totally separate thought: I often say in my welcome party presentation that anyone who is not respectful of boundaries and consent will not be welcome in future. I wonder if that is perversely *discouraging* people from coming to hosts with their concerns about someone. I can see someone who is newer, or has less social capital, or who just doesn't want to "cause drama" avoiding mentioning problems to hosts if they think the result will be an immediate ban that will be attributed to them.

    I wonder if the message (and procedure) should be: talk to a host, who will talk to the offender about their behaviour. If they don't acknowledge the issue, aren't open to making the needed changes, and/or there are multiple reports, then the host can make a call about banning them. This applies more to the edge cases of skeeviness than outright abuse or sexual assault, though.

    1. I think that making the rules different for first time skeeviness is an excellent idea for exactly the reason you point out.

    2. I disagree about the utility of a section on "how to spot someone who might not be as respectful of boundaries as you'd like." That seems to me to put the burden of spotting the abuser on the victim, or potential victim. Plus, as has been discussed here, often abusers are people who seem great to other people, or are in positions of power from which it's difficult to dislodge them, don't give off "abuser vibe", for lack of a better term.

      I think a more useful section would be to spell out what good communication might look like, what might constitute a violation of boundaries, the procedure for reporting said violations, and a clear set of penalties. If there isn't one, well...maybe you need one?

    3. One of the excellent things I've heard from another party organizer is that they say something to the effect of "If something happens, please come talk to me. If you don't want me to, I don't have to do anything about it, but telling me means I can watch them more closely."

    4. Katie: there are already extensive sections on those topics (well, except the penalties -- it's impossible for me to know what the penalties might be in someone's particular scene).

      I agree that the burden should be on party organizers to watch for and correct offenders, and on offenders to change their behaviour. On the other hand, the focus of this post seems to me to be, at least in part, on what we can do to educate newbies about safeguarding themselves in the absence of that ideal.

    5. And here I thought I was being all vague and discreet :)

      I like the idea of dampening the response to first offenders a little (a little!) for exactly the reason you mention - it takes guts to speak up when your boundaries have been violated, particularly if you aren't experienced at policing them; knowing that there won't immediately be a big scene would make that easier.

      Regarding spotting people who might not be respectful, things I pay attention to are:
      -If I have to set a boundary more than once
      -Whether they respect my personal space (if I step back, do they leave the space or move closer)
      -If I see them play with someone else, are boundaries respected and is the other person happy afterward
      -and, any talk of "true/real submissives" or "not liking safewords" is an immediate red flag.

      You already cover some of that in the FAQ, of course, but those are things I look at when considering playing with someone.

    6. Match Stick - If something happens, please come talk to me.

      I'd be careful with this one. I think it's good to say "if something happens, you can talk to me," but you have to be really careful not to imply either:

      "If something happens, only talk to me"
      "If something happens and you don't talk to me I'll be upset."

      It's good for hosts to make themselves available, but they shouldn't do it in a way that implies they're trying to control the flow of information.

  32. Of course the scene isn't safe. We live in an unpredictable world. No place is 100% safe.

    This, of course, doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't try to make things safer. Kudos for bringing this issue out into the open, so that it can be properly dealt with.

  33. I would like feedback on something.

    During my effort to “do something” about someone who is a serial offender in the local scene I was told by a number of other leaders in the scene that for open invite events such as munches they don't recommend banning people unless there is something exceedingly serious going on, or the police have been involved. Instead, you pull the newbies aside to point out the problem person and give the newbies a warning. I would hope that this process would include at least telling the offender to knock it off.

    Initially, my reaction was pretty negative about this. Since then I've a found out about a few people who were banned by their local organizations who went off to create new organizations because they had the energy, resources, and *charisma* to pull it off successfully. The argument was it is now harder to warn newbies about these people, and that these people could use these organizations and events to hunt for newbies more easily.

    For a private invite-only events, it seems pretty obvious to me what to do – Don’t invite them back. But for open invite events such as munches, classes, restaurant outings, bar outings etc, things get complicated quickly. When the problem behavior happens at other events and the problem person shows up at your events things get even more complicated.

    Comments? Ideas?

    1. This is something that I learned the hard way. Not in the scene, but in trying to get people away from a predator of a different kind. And it goes to Lisa's reference to The Revolution Starts at Home (which I'd second, for the reading). With these individuals, you need strategies.

      Outright banning often doesn't work, and that can even extend to private events, due to interpersonal influences and pressures; the end result can be the corralling of predators and potential victims into spaces where they are even less safe than they were before. And as the result of banning, these individuals can simply form new groups around them that are resistant to the people who banned them, and resistant to the information that they could provide... as well as willing to protect the individual(s) that they see as having been wronged. Fail in that initial strike, and they become more difficult to get to -- and, if you're dealing with the truly bad ones, eager to make sure that you're seen punished for the attempt.

      They're dangerous on their own; they're even more dangerous when they become walking martyrs.

      But that isn't to say that these hard targets can't be taken down. Just that it usually can't be done directly. Watch carefully, warn carefully, document, and plan; you have to come at them sideways.

    2. The problem with "warn the newbies" is:

      A) People slip through the cracks. Newbies don't always announce themselves and they don't get warned in an orderly fashion. There's lots of "oh shit, I thought someone had already told you about that guy" situations.

      B) Knowing that newbies are being warned, the predators can engage "poor me, people are slandering me because I'm so awesome, won't you be the one to see through to the real me" defenses, and sometimes those'll work. Of course they can do this when they've been expelled, too, but then the group can honestly say they did all they can.

      C) Don't you just feel... stupid having people around who you have to keep on Rape Watch? I mean, the guy I talk about in the post, he was literally being assigned Rape Babysitters at parties. How fucking terrible is that? Working around bad people like their problems are some kind of special need that has to be catered to just leaves a foul taste in my mouth.

    3. Agreed on all points.

      I'm not at all endorsing a "warn only" approach, or even a warn-plus-watch one; in fact, that's one of the things that led up to the situation I was referring to. Its failure was what led me to try to organize a ban in the following months.

      More what I'm trying to point to is the risk of underestimating the type of threat that can be involved here, and the tactics that can be required to deal with it. Warning is one part of it, but so is getting a proper idea of the individual's reactions, so as to preempt the "poor me" counter as much as is possible; monitoring is part of it, but so is knowing how to make that monitoring "spike" when necessary in order to get them to back down, back off, or back out (e.g., going from subtle distance monitoring to physically stepping in between, or similar). Keeping records is also part of it, as is having someone reliable to go to to make reports, so that patterns of behavior can be noted, such as the particular types of people that they target. And so on. Especially later on, all of that becomes crucially useful.

      I'm not trying to undermine what you're promoting here -- just relating what I've learned from my scars.

    4. I mean, the guy I talk about in the post, he was literally being assigned Rape Babysitters at parties.

      This just....I can't get my head around this.

      I mean, I understand (even though I do not excuse) 'oh but Bob isn't like that' and 'well I know *he* says she did X, but *she* says it never happened and who are we to believe' and all the usual denial mechanism.

      But the idea that we *know* that Jo/e is an abuser and a rapist, and so we assign somebody to spend their time following him around at a public event to try and protect others from Jo/e? I can't even *grasp* the thinking behind that.

    5. I'm confident that it happens for other reasons. But one of the big problems that I've seen? No architecture in place to protect people who speak up. Which is especially the case in any situation when going to the authorities could be... problematic. Because the scene is marginal. Or because you'd be exiled from it, for turning on one of its own. Especially if you need to remain in it, in order to do what you can to make sure that others are safe.

      Once they see a messenger shot, people tend to move to defensive measures.

  34. It occurs to me that people throw "theme" or restricted parties all the time: women-only, pirate-dress-up theme, BDSM but no sexual play, etc.

    Why not an Explicit Consent Only, Actually We Really Mean It themed party?

    This would simply be a party where all that lofty talk about only playing with or touching people who've given you explicit consent and cheerfully accepting someone's refusal rather than pouting/gossiping/continuing to pressure is actually enforced with an iron fist, even where the people involved all say they're OK with breaking the rule (and therefore set a tacit example that is different from the stated ground rules). The party would begin with a boundaries workshop and participatory exercises. It would include volunteers whose job it was to facilitate explicit verbal negotiation for those shy or unaccustomed to such things. Any hint of disrespect for this rule would ensure someone was shown to the door. I'm thinking the volunteer to guest ratio would have to be around 1:5.

    For those who feel this type of enforcement is cramping their style, or too harsh, well, it is just one party out of many and it would be no different from any other party featuring activity that isn't your preference. Predators would quickly learn to stay away.

    I suspect that actually having to verbally negotiate every single touch would be outside most people's comfort zones, but it would also be a fascinating exercise. As it is, people are asked to do something hard (openly confront Sleazy Dude and tell him to stop his behavior) without ever having seen it explicitly modeled IRL.

    1. That sounds like a seriously interesting idea for a party (or pre-party). Perhaps a High Protocol High Tea?

  35. This has been flaring up in the local community, and I just have to thank you over and over and over again for existing to write this. Thank you.

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  37. Like MaryKaye, I've seen this sort of thing a lot in the Pagan scene. Habitual abusers/creepers allowed to continue ad nauseam because no one wanted to be "judgemental". Here's something that helped:

    Designate a few people as the sexual safety officers. In my community, it was an older, respected man and woman who had been in the scene a long time (and weren't creepy). At festivals and parties, organizers would hand out an orientation packet, and it had a section that basically said, "Dick and Jane are available to help if someone is making you uncomfortable, and talk to the abuser if you're not ready to." It was also announced at the beginning of the party, and Dick and Jane stood up to be introduced so everyone knew who they were. It also helped to publicly establish that abusive behavior wasn't OK.

    It wasn't a magic bullet, but it made me feel so much safer. I think every party should have a couple of these folks.

    1. I'd just add that, IME, safety officers seem to be most effective, and most trusted, when they're... "independent," so to speak. Knowledgeable, and respected, but not at risk of gaining or losing position for their actions, or established enough in reputation (not position, but reputation) that this won't be a concern. Not always attainable, but the ideal to aim for. Also helps if it's made clear that they're available for contact at other times, whenever an individual might feel comfortable and ready to do so.

      And the plural is worth noting.

  38. How does everyone think the situation should be handled if someone were to commit a relatively minor offense because of well-meaning cluelessness or general awkwardness?

    I ask because I'm a little scared that that might one day apply to me. I'm currently only practicing BDSM in a relationship that's currently monogamous, but we've discussed opening up to some degree in the future. Part of me is really scared that if we ever, say, start going to play parties, I'll accidentally do something wrong because I'm so darn awkward. I mean, I'm more than socially aware enough to avoid raping people or committing any other really terrible offenses, but I'm scared I'll break some mostly-unwritten rule or accidentally cross a finer boundary.

    (Context: I'm a woman and my partner is a man.)

    1. No worries. As long as you are willing to ask questions, apologize when you make a mistake, I wouldn't foresee a problem (we have people like that in our groups).

  39. I had the unfortunate experience of dealing with something of this ilk about one year ago. A friend of mine and I were at the play party of a local TNG leader, who was new to the community. She got a little drunk. The TNG leader then gave her more alcohol and a massage (which made her worse) and then tried to take advantage of her. She barely made it out of the situation before it really got bad. When I started looking into this guy and did a little research I found out he was a convicted sex offender. When I tried brining this to the attention of several people I was told to keep it quiet and not make a big deal about it. I kept talking. I told other leaders in the community. He was forced to step down and actually left the community for a little while. I however was still being told to keep my mouth shut and that my friend should have kept her legs together. Well here we are a year later and he is starting to come back into the community and I just found out he is "mentoring" an 18 year old. Here we go again.

  40. Its funny because this sounds exactly like a Dungeon in ORLANDO FL complete with the pompous asshole as moderator for one of the groups, known abusers being almost secret service like protected from anyone raising up against them, and funny enough I actually found this posted in THIER group on Fetlife....Just shows you that the whole sunny day with fluffy white clouds perception that community's put out isn't always accurate...

    A cross dresser whose name is Muuse (ge'd write some funny sarcastic thread about this if he could see it, and would have him on a soapbox for hours belittling it) in Orlando fits for the Moderator
    And the Woodshed Orlando, is the dungeon,
    awww dont like being called out? sue me asshole!

  41. You know what's depressing about this problem? Comparing it to other anti-social but non-sexual activities that can go on at parties (sex parties or otherwise). Imagine if there was a thief in the community who goes to parties and quietly rifles through people's discarded belongings taking their wallets - and someone caught them at it. Would the organisers accept as an excuse "They got it all wrong, I was looking for my own wallet amongst these clothes that are not mine, anyway Jane promised me he'd lend me a fiver, and she's already donated some money to the weekly charity appeal tonight anyway" or would they kick him out and tell him he's not welcome any more, with a report to the police as an optional extra?

    1. Exactly. You'd also be unlikely to hear, "well, he only took $10, no big deal, it's not like it was your whole wallet - why are you so SENSITIVE?"

      Not to mention, no one gives you a big speech when you walk through the front door of a party about how it's OK to relax and not guard your possessions quite so closely here, because this is a safe space.

  42. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Post deleted for pointless bashing. It's one thing if you want to talk about something being dangerous, but if you just want to call them an asshole and make fun of the sex they have, go do that somewhere else. That's not contributing to the safety of the scene.

  43. We actually had the wallet situation once. Our pagan group met at a Unitarian church for event rehearsals, and we would leave our stuff in the basement room of the church. It started vanishing. People complained to the church, pointing out that a specific janitor was always on duty when this happened. The church did nothing. We saw the janitor going into our room when people were not in there. The church still did nothing. Apparently accusing an employee was too big of a step to take.

    I could well believe that in some social contexts, petty pilferage by someone who had some social status would be tolerated the same way that sexual harassment or plain bullying are tolerated.

    1. Busted someone in one of our groups for that kind of thing once, and booted him out. Found out years later that he'd retaliated by forging some of the group member's signatures as co-signers on credit card applications.

  44. Now I have visions of staring "ConsentCon"...

  45. Thanks for posting. A newbie came to me crying about a scene where the top ignored her pleas to stop, it was hurting, she didn't like it. She was left with substantial bruising and confused because of their interaction before the scene made her think he was listening to her concerns about keeping it light and keeping the lines of communication open.

    She forgot to safeword. She felt abused and confused and days later when she finally wrote to him about how it made her feel he basically threw it back in her face saying it was all her problem and she didn't safe word. She explained that she was overwhelmed and that pleading with him to stop it was hurting was in her opinion good enough. He disagreed. He has VTTC (value to the community) and she hasn't because she is a newbie and older. I have seen over the years many VTTC members get away with multiple forms of consent violation because of their status.

  46. Holly, I don't know if you've been reading/following, but the Vancouver Poetry Slam is also a small insular community that is working on calling out abuse.

    It's definitely a tricky thing. But I applaud you for trying to build people's skill sets around what to do. So often, we don't know what to do and so people do nothing. It's heart-wrenching and maddening. Thanks for moving the conversation forward.

  47. On the idea of theme parties...could we have a No Means No Every Time Even If You Think Shouting No Is Really Sexy party? I'm a rape survivor and I'd refuse to go to any party where *any* attendee would ignore me shouting "no" or "stop" because "hey, maybe you're into that kind of thing."

  48. I am from somewhere in central Florida and I have been ONCE to the woodshed, they had a grand opening for a new event and I actually first hand witnessed St Andrews, " which in itself is so doucheyyy"

  49. Holly, I think the suggestions you make above are really good ones. But I think that a really important thing that those suggestions don't speak to is getting rid of the feeling that "if I used the guy's name in that story above, I'd be kicked out of the scene." Why can't we both try make that less true, and try to dispel the appearance if it being true? Suppose the comments on this page had included a dozen posts saying "*I* won't do anything to kick you out of the scene if you put his name in the post. You'll still be my friend, I'll still invite you to my parties, and I will think more, not less of you, if you do this". I can say this, but I'm fairly peripheral to the scene, have never met you (though we have friends in common) and don't host parties myself. So my statement doesn't help much. But if a lot of people posted comments like that, would it help? I'm dead certain that naming names wouldn't make you unwelcome at mzrowan's parties, for example.

  50. I think a few things are being missed by most of the comments here, 1) ALL sex has a predatory element to it, inside or outside the BDSM community. That applies to men and women. Indeed one major "draw" for those on the dominant side is the fantasy accentuation of that aspect in a safe, legal, and welcomed manner. The "no this is unwelcome" act by a sub can actually part of the thrill for a Dom, so there will be occasional abuse that crosses "the line", and the offender will not even realize it. 2) Sometimes the "victim" is lying, out of regret, out of malice, out of jealousy or any number other reasons.
    Because of these 2 factors there can be no 100% right way to handle every accusation, it has to be done on a case by case basis, as a group or by the group leaders. Note the plural, a single leader can be an invitation future problems. if the aggrieved party feels that their complaint has not been adequately dealt with by the leaders then they should have the right to bring the problem to the larger group. This may put the accused and/or leaders in an uncomfortable or unwarranted position but it is a necessary evil to prevent wrong doing. i feel sorry for the poster who forgot the safe word but in that situation the proper action would have been to ask "What is the safe word again?" Finally for those who feel nervous about things going to far, communication with their "playmate" before hand, or having a trusted third party to observe and make sure that no boundaries are crossed is probably their best bet.

    1. You're right, every accusation could be false, therefore let's treat them as all false or at least "complicated" and "no right way," default to doing nothing, and wonder why so many young women mysteriously leave the scene after only a couple months.

      I actually agree that dealing with accusations is complicated, but I'm really fucking sick of hearing "it's complicated" used as an excuse to let widely-known rapists operate forever.

    2. Full disclaimer: I am not in a scene, I don't know how they handle it, but just based on the basic idea of "sex group/sex party" I do have a few thoughts.

      There may be ways to treat the case as true until proven false with regards to the victim and false until proven true with regards to the accused (note the word choice). The first thing that needs to be done is just the basic measures to make the victim SAFE. Was there are fundamental issue that went wrong (e.g. malfunctioning equipment), is there a way to remedy that (e.g. testing)? Find ways for the victim to participate without involving the accused. It may be wise for there to be "safer" events with no fake resistance, where stop means stop (as opposed to a more derived safe word), and doors will be opened if the host thinks there may be a violation, maybe even slight restrictions on kinks (e.g. spanking okay, caning is not). It seems like this may also be a good 'breaking in' ground for newbies: they get to experiment a little without any pressure for the more extreme or threatening aspects.

      On the other hand, the offender does need to be able to tell their side of the tale and a single accusation may not always be grounds for expulsion. We're intelligent creatures, we can do the math: someone leaving bigger bruises than might be expected shouldn't be treated as someone forcing sex on another person. In larger sessions make it clear that the accused is not permitted to be alone with the victim at any time or contact them outside of the scene, but is also not banned.

      Another thing that would help would be having a definite policy and formal records within scenes. As much as it's all about consent, that's useless without being enforced. Scenes need real policies with this. Keep records of who's been warned, keep emails, papers, whatever works. Make these policies clear from the get-go: maybe you have zero tolerance for rape and if you are accused you will be kicked out and reported to the police immediately. If it's a case of something going too a little far you might have a three strike system: you may not play with anyone who you have a strike with, but you won't be removed based on this one incident. Find ways of separating "a bit too far" from "clear and present danger" this can be found in degree of what was done and frequency of what was done.

      Make rules, keep records, have clear positions, and lastly involve law enforcement when appropriate. It's hard to argue with "This person has pushed three of their partners to the point where they felt the need to report it on dates 1, 2, and 3 and with partners x, y, and z. They also made a phone call to y trying to get y to withdraw the complaint after being explicitly told not to contact y as seen in this email." It's also harder for there to be a double standard that way (a complaint is a complaint, not a proven action).

      The best thing to do is have a clear policy. It avoids the bias and it makes it less personal ("I'm not kicking you out, you broke the rules we agreed to as a group and you agreed this would be a consequence of breaking said rules."). It's not fun, but it makes it safer with definite consequences for not gaining consent.

  51. This. All of these comments. Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou. I was raped last semester in my second experience in BDSM. The guy was fairly active in the community. There were no redflags. I found out later that other girls in entirely different states (I had to drop out because of PTSD related stuff and I incidently reside in that city) have also been abused by him a have had it written off.

    Someone's right to rape because calling him out would just be AWK-ward <<<<<< my right to a safe space.

  52. I know this is an older article, but my brain just spat out a really good idea regarding suggestion 3: Have a class set up like the one you describe, but have a confederate in the audience. When the presenter fails to obviously get consent, have the confederate call them on it. (The presenter should probably respond along the lines of 'oh, geez, right', and the demo partner should say something along the lines of 'well, I wasn't going to say anything, but my arm/leg/whatever is a bit stiff today - could you go easy on it?' for maximum effect.) That way the audience doesn't just get a model of asking for consent, they get models of checking on people, fixing screwups, asking for accommodation, and giving accommodation - lots of awesomeness, in other words.

    Might need to have something in place to make sure that it doesn't do anything unpleasant to the presenter's reputation - have all the old-timers in on it and able to say 'no, that's part of the class, they do that every year' might work - but even if that's tricky I still think it'd be worth it.

  53. I know I don't have any experience in 'the scene', but I have played in boffer larps before which also have roleplaying (and thus confusion as to whether someone is 'really hurt' or not) and situations where people could be physically hurt.

    Not every group may be ok with doing this, but in the larp I used to play, every game had a time just before 'play time' began when everyone had to gather and the safety-related rules were read aloud. The list of rules would be handed around so that every each rule was read aloud by a different person.

    That game has one 'safety word' in common that everyone practices the use and release of during that rule reading, and I know a common safety word might not work in these gatherings.... but the idea that before play starts there is a common set of safety rules everyone listens to be read every time.... it reinforces how important certain things are (of course, they have to be enforced... but still that ritual drives ideas home)

    I also want to say while I'm here that I really like the idea of parties establishing a "no pretend non-consent without clearing it ahead of time" rule

  54. Sorry for commenting (anonymously!) on an old article, but I just wanted to say: I love you for this.