I Never Called it Rape: Addressing Abuse in BDSM Communities

(Note: while I’m speaking here about M/f situations, as that’s where I was at the time, that’s not at all to say that men or Dominant women don’t also suffer sexual and domestic violence along with victim silencing in BDSM communities, because that happens too)

I’ve been a part of the kinky community since I was 18. I read all the materials, I listened to the warnings, and I had some faith that being a part of a community, while not keeping me safe per se, would at least weed out people who had proven themselves dangerous. I did have a sexual assault that I have been out about, and I had some support about it- but one of the things I was repeatedly told, over and over, was “ah, but he’s not part of The Community”.

I started to think about this, and it really honestly scares me. When I start to think of the number of times I have been cajoled, pressured, or forced into sex that I did not want when I came into “the BDSM community”, I can’t actually count them. And I never came out about it before, not publicly, for a variety of reasons- I blamed myself for not negotiating enough, or clearly, or for not sticking to my guns, or I  didn’t want to be seen as being a drama queen or kicking up a fuss. Plus, the fact is, these things didn’t traumatize me, and I didn’t call it sexual assault or rape, because I felt ok afterwards. There was no trauma, no processing that I needed.

That makes me really angry, because I realized I didn’t feel traumatized because it happened so bloody often that it was just a fact of being a submissive female. WTF, right? I used to see on Alt.com and Bondage.com female submissives talking about predatory behaviour in the BDSM community, and I still see it on CollarMe and Fetlife. I remember being given the stage whisper not to play with this person or that one because they had a history of going too far, something that was often dismissed as “gossip” and kept on the DL to avoid that accusatory label of being overly dramatic. Being in the scene meant learning how to play politics- how to be polite, even good-natured, to people that you kept an eye on.

As I reflected on the number of times I’ve had fingers in my cunt that I hadn’t consented to, or been pressured into a situation where saying “no” was either not respected or not an option, or said that I did not want a certain kind of toy used on me which was then used, I’m kind of horrified. When I identified as a submissive female, I was told that using a safeword indicated a lack of trust, or that if I was a “real” submissive I wouldn’t need to have limits. I had a guy drive me home from a munch who refused to leave my house, insisted on sleeping over, and then wouldn’t sleep until I gave him a hand job. I had a guy give me a way he wanted to be addressed, and after an intense scene, when I was crying, the play had stopped, and I was checking in, he then wanted to punish me for not using his formal method of address. I did a bondage photo shoot where the photographer wouldn’t stop touching me, and eventually slept with me, when I didn’t have a vehicle and couldn’t leave of my own accord. I took up the offer for a massage and ended up realizing the price for that massage was allowing him to play with me. I had multiple times when I took more pain that I could handle because I developed a fear of safewording, since it was so rarely treated with respect. And that’s just a sample.

I never thought of any of it as sexual assault, even though it was all non-consensual, because I blamed myself for attracting the wrong sort of Dominant, for not being good enough at negotiating. Speaking to other women, I discovered how many of them had similar stories that they laughed off, because if we stopped and really took it seriously the community we clung to would no longer feel safe, and we didn’t know where else to go. I got to know various men who were known behind closed doors for being unsafe to play with or for not respecting boundaries, but who still enjoyed open arms in the community at large because, while these things were things “everybody knew”, no one wanted to be pegged as the drama queen that called them out.

How on earth can we possibly say to society at large that BDSM is not abuse when we so carefully hide our abusers and shame our abused into silence? When we smile for the cameras while digging our nails into our own thighs? I can only speak for myself, but as a fat, insecure girl coming into the BDSM scene, whatever rhetoric I was told, actions taught me that my value was in my sexuality and my willingness to give it up. A good submissive, you see, is quiet, passive, and obedient. Or, at least, the submissives who got the attention were.

That said, I’ve been noticing more and more an attitude akin to bragging about being manipulative, whether that be by submissives who style themselves as being “bratty” because “passive-aggressive” isn’t as sexy, is it, or Dominants who talk smugly about being excellent at pushing through boundaries and “doing things because it amuses” them. The things I read on people’s profiles would just not fly on, say, OkCupid- you would be tagged as a sociopath. So why, then, is it “cool” to pretend to be “hard” in this way in BDSM? And more to the point- why do we, as a community, let them? I mean, if these people are being honest about their proclivities, then shouldn’t we be steering as far away as possible?

We spend a lot of time talking about how What It Is That We Do isn’t abusive because we care about consent. Well, it’s great that we talk that talk, but I’m calling us out, community. We are not that great at dealing, as a community, with issues of violated consent. We’re just like the rest of society- we often look at the victim and whisper behind our hands about how they should’ve known better or aren’t they making rather a lot of fuss, instead of being supportive. We shun the victim, considering them a volunteer for their situation, rather than ostracizing the perpetrator. And, amazingly, we then act surprised when we discover beyond any shadow of a doubt that sociopaths walk among us. Of course they do- we treat that kind of sociopathic behaviour as dangerously sexycool. We look around at other members of the community, and say to that little voice inside “well, everyone else seems to be ok with Predator Dude, so I’d look pretty bad to call him out, maybe it was something I did wrong instead”. This creates a situation where predators are allowed to continue to be a part of the community, often an honored part, while past victims keep their mouths shut and hope that it doesn’t happen again to someone else. Predator Dude isn’t often a big name, sure, but they do tend to be an aspiring nanocelebrity, so there’s something to lose if you make an accusation and the community doesn’t back you up.

It says a lot to me that I had to do some digging to find posts on this subject, yet I have yet to meet a female submissive who hasn’t had some sort of sexual assault happen to her. So many sites are focused on saying how BDSM isn’t a cover for abuse that we willingly blind ourselves to the times that it can be. Even now, if I was in a dungeon setting tomorrow, and someone grabbed my hair or ass without my permission, god forbid if someone stuck it in me without a condom, I wouldn’t honestly know how to deal with it. In theory I should talk to a dungeon monitor, but in practice? I’d probably talk to someone I knew. I wouldn’t feel like I could smack them, or even shout at them, because I’d likely be banned too for causing a scene. Plus, no one wants to be a tattletale, right?

We need to have a better way of handling this stuff. Because whether we like to admit it or not, the BDSM scene is the perfect place for abusers to find targets. There’s a desire for status, and a desire to please, that, when mixed with a sociopath, can fuck your brain right up. There’s a lot of trust in the idea that “the right Dom for you will know what you need without talking to you about it”, suggesting an awful lot of romantic naivete that can be extremely dangerous. Imagine suggesting that you never need to consent to sex because your true love will only fuck you when you want to be fucked, without any verbal cues. That wouldn’t fly, so why does it pass unchallenged with kink? Possibly perhaps Dom and sub are so linked together that it feels like you’re missing something when you’re one without the other, so maybe we overlook the issues in order to feel like part of a pair. That, and the Cult of Masochism, the idea that it’s good to suffer, that your ability to suffer is what makes you valuable, that maybe if you suffer enough it will finally become pleasurable.

Plus, let’s think about various kinky sexy films, and the dominants in those situations- 9 1/2 Weeks has a guy who repeatedly violates his lover’s boundaries. Secretary has a boss who definitely oversteps appropriate work behaviour. The Night Porter… well, do I even have to go through it? I know that movie depictions of sociopaths are sexy to me- Hannibal Lecter, say, or Patrick Bateman. Loads more women find Spike attractive than Xander. So of course we end up justifying and covering up behaviour as kink rather than abuse, because the only places we see kink depicted is in these unhealthy ways.

So, then, community- what’re we going to do about it?Cause I don’t think hear no/see no/speak no evil is good enough.
Links addressing this subject:
Kinky Little Girl
Perverted Negress
Field Guide to Creepy Dom
Jack Rinella
Intimate Partner Abuse in the BDSM Lifestyle

All photos shown are of me, 18-22, struggling with these issues.

Kitty Stryker

Kitty Stryker is a geeky sex worker, Burner, rabid writer and feminist activist with one high-heeled boot in San Francisco, California and one in London, England. In London, Stryker worked with the TLC Trust, an online organization connecting people with disabilities with sex workers experienced with emotional or physical limitations. She is the founder of the award-winning Ladies High Tea and Pornography Society, and was nominated by the Erotic Awards as Sex Worker of the Year for her charity and activism work. Now back in the States, Stryker has been presenting Safe/Ward, a workshop on combating entitlement culture within alternative sexual communities, along with being the PR rep for the Bay Area Sex Workers Outreach Project promoting sex worker rights. She has written for Huffington Post, Filament, and Tits and Sass, built a social media strategy for Cleis Press, and consults with sex workers about their online presence. In her copious free time, she enjoys switching things up with her two hot lovers. Read more from Stryker on her personal blog, Purrversatility.

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1 Response

  1. 03/15/2013

    […] war broke out, I suppose, with a silence-shattering piece in Good Vibrations Magazine in July 2011, “I Never Called It Rape: Addressing Abuse In BDSM Communities.” Following that, Kitty Stryker and Maggie Mayhem founded the Consent Culture Project, and doing […]