Safe/Ward: How to Encourage Consent Culture for Community Leaders
Earlier I wrote a guide for community members on how to help to promote consent culture and reject rape culture within their communities. All of that advice is valid for this discussion too:
-Admit it Happens
-Be Aware of Creepiness
-Negotiate… and Stick To It
-Be Heard Calling “Bullshit”
Again, you can read more about these headings, and what I mean by them, here.
Community leaders, you should be doing those things. But there’s a few extra things I think you should consider when hosting or running an event or an event space- as someone who has hosted multiple events in both SF and London, these are things I’ve learned myself from experience.
Take them or leave them, but I definitely suggest you have a think about them. Ready?
Make Your Rules Clear To Everyone
You know user agreements? Most people glance over them, say “yeah yeah yeah” and click “I’ve read and understand the TOS” without really reading it. They’re held responsible for knowing the TOS anyway, but they don’t really read it.
That happens a lot in play spaces I’ve been in. The rules are listed somewhere in the front, by the door, where people give it a quick glance and say they know the rules without really checking in with them. They want to get into the party, after all! Performers are often not read the rules at all. And once you get into the play space, the rules aren’t clearly restated again anywhere. This creates multiple possible issues- people don’t really know the rules and aren’t likely to return to the doorway to read them more thoroughly, things that are against the rules are harder to reference without the help of a DM or host, and it’s easier for a predator to say innocently that they didn’t know it wasn’t ok, or they forgot.
So what do you do? Well, two playspaces I’ve gone to have great methods for this. Both had their rules online, and they either encouraged or insisted that you read them before you come along. Secondly, both had a way or checking in with you at the door- one space made you sign in on a copy of the rules every time, and they would tell you to read them again, because you would be held accountable for them. The other space reads an abridged version of the rules to everyone who comes to the party, no matter how long you’ve been coming. This means that you get a verbal confirmation that every party guest knows the rules, and it makes it clear that these rules are important. It also makes the hosts life easier- if someone breaks a rule, you can say “you broke this rule, you knew that was a rule, and that’s not ok”. The social agreement has been made.
Another thing I’ve found interesting is asking the community for ideas on what the rules should be. This can take some time, but it allows you to build a list of rules for behaviour at the party that works for your specific event and helps people feel invested. Get your community involved, and figure out what values are important to you all and what issues need addressing.
Have Your Rules Posted INSIDE The Playspace
Similar to the above- if the rules are reiterated inside the playspace somewhere (like the social area) it can reaffirm that these rules are important and make it accessible for everyone to read. It also enables party-goers to point to rule #5 and say “this is a rule for this space, and you agreed to it in order to be here, please follow it”.
Think About Safewords
I think it’s a bad idea to tell people that they shouldn’t “abuse the house safeword”. On this, I can only speak to personal experience, but… it made me reluctant to speak up when my boundaries were crossed because I didn’t want to “make a fuss”, which is so frowned upon by the community. When you’re in a scene, and you’ve safeworded and your partner keeps going, you may sit and try to figure out in your head “yes, this is serious, but is it serious enough that other people won’t accuse me of abusing the house safeword and being melodramatic?” And that can be dangerous.
Also remember- just because someone didn’t safeword doesn’t mean that their experience of abuse isn’t valid. Trauma manifests in a lot of ways, one of the most common being disassociation. Speaking at all, much less saying a safeword, can be impossible. I would suggest recommending negotiation before play as a more consistent way to avoid boundary violation than just “having a safeword”. Safewords do not always protect you.
Consider having a PAL/Buddy/Vouching System
Kinky Salon had a few ways of dealing with issues before they settled on the PAL system. I think it’s inspired, and here’s why- rather than having a single guy policy (which makes men feel resentful, entitled, and/or penalized for being male, while ignoring women who break rules) the PAL system means that everyone’s vouching for each other. Also, if there’s an issue, the PAL system says that both the perp and their PAL get spoken to- no one likes to be told off in front of friends. Self-policing is extremely effective in general, and then hosts/DMs can fill in the cracks. It also allows for hosts to address an issue less formally first- “hey, I see your PAL is getting a little gropey, can you speak to them please?” can stop a problem before it gets out of hand.
I was asked what you can do if you have people who are new to the area and want to come along- I think social events that are free and open to everyone can be a great way for people to meet potential PALs, and in some circumstances, I’ve PALed newbies myself. It means that I keep a practiced eye on them and they get to meet new people. There’s ways to make it work.
Make Your Hosts/DMs Accessible and Diverse
One problem I’ve had with dungeon parties and the occasional swinger space is that the hosts are often chatting with a group of their friends. This is why I’d suggest having people other than the main hosts who act as a welcoming community and are equipped to deal with issues- it allows the main hosts to have fun at their party while also giving people someone accessible to speak to. DMs often come off a bit like police- they’re waiting in case something happens, so may not be able to be as chatty when on shift- hosts can help with that by talking to wallflowers and introducing people to other people. This can greatly reduce the lurking that can happen at parties and helps make everyone feel included.
I also would suggest trying to have some diversity in your hosts/DMs. If I’ve just had an issue with a dominant male, I will probably feel uncomfortable chatting with another dominant male if I have an issue. And remember- sometimes the problem person IS the DM/host, so having more than one can mean there’s a outlet if that happens. It’s also great to rotate these volunteers if you can, because another potential issue is that the person causing trouble may be friends with a couple of the hosts/DMs and if those hosts/DMs are the same at every party it can feel pretty unsafe.
Don’t Be Afraid to Put Your Foot Down
“But people really like him…” “But she’s following the letter of the law, if not the spirit…” “But he’s such a great volunteer…” But but but. There’s a lot of buts I’ve heard when trying to talk to a host about an issue at an altsex space. People make excuses for the behaviour of others all the time. As a host, you need to be objective and think about this differently. Because, lets face it, if there’s a sexual assault and the cops get called (which is reasonable, by the way) you run the risk of losing your space and your ass is on the line, so it’s in your best interest to listen. Most government/police officials would love to see altsex spaces shut down.
Putting your foot down is one of the hardest parts. You may have to tell a pillar of the community that their behaviour is inappropriate and they need to leave. You may have to ban someone that’s well-liked. You may have to tell someone that rape jokes can be triggering, or that refusing to use someone’s chosen pronouns isn’t ok. You may have to delete a thread and people will complain. But you are a leader and will just have to take that on, because you have a responsibility to maintain a safe space. If being popular is more important that creating the safest space you can, you may want to reconsider hosting events.
Tell People What They’re Doing Wrong
This one is near and dear to my heart. At KSL we have a yellow card/red card system which allows us a system in how we deal with issues. A yellow card issue is one that’s problematic or against one of the rules (getting too intoxicated, say, or touching without permission) and you get a warning. If you do not heed that warning ad keep behaving the same way, you get a red card and are banned, usually from the next event, though for certain circumstances you may be banned for longer. When we give a yellow or red card, we explain why, without naming names, by indicating what on the charter they broke and why that’s not acceptable. Because yeah, people fuck up, altsex spaces are not the norm for a lot of people and (at least in theory) we consider consent to be a value in a way that society often does not. By telling someone what they’re doing wrong and how to fix it, you can offer them the chance to learn and do better next time. If you just kick them out of your community and don’t explain why, they may go to another one and do the exact same thing, having learned nothing.
Know Your Shit About Sexual Assault
As a host, you and your DMs should have some first responder training to know what to do if you are speaking to the victim of sexual assault. I can imagine people saying “oh, but I just know what to do!” No, you probably don’t. You take first aid classes, and make your DMs take those, so first responder training should just add that extra bit that is incredibly important. Here in California, consider talking to San Francisco Women Against Rape about getting some training and information, because I can promise you that some of the things you need to know to do are not what you expect. Look into rape awareness and first responder training in your area.
I would go so far as to say if you want to (as I hear so often) “address these issues as a community”, then you need to know how to support the victim first rather than address the perp first. You need to know how to listen to what the victim needs to feel safe. You need to understand that abuse is scary and sometimes the story changes because your brain blocks things or changes things around in order to cope with trauma. And you definitely need to consider that telling a victim that they’re being dramatic is unacceptable. Refer to aforementioned blog– admit that this happens, even in your community, even with people you know, even at your party- and get some training to help you deal with it.
Have Resources Clearly Available
Consider having flyers by all the other flyers about how BDSM is not abuse and abuse is not BDSM. The National Leather Association’s Domestic Violence Project has some great resources on offer, includingpamphlets, postcards and a hotline. Have some cards for Kink Aware Professionals. Have cards for Consent Culture (when we finally get it up and running) as Maggie Mayhem and I will have a list of resources for people there. If you have a suggested resource please link me to it and I’ll add it to this. Resources let people have some space to get the help they need if they’re intimidated asking in person.
Remember: You Are Being Watched
You are a community leader, or a host, or a DM. Other people are watching you. If you’re smacking asses without permission, or cracking jokes about raping people, or victim-blaming, other people pick up on that and decide it’s ok to do. This is a great example of how NOT to do it on Fetlife. If you don’t speak up about a problem or don’t call someone out on their shit, people are watching you do that and deciding how to handle issues themselves based on that. If you don’t follow up a boundary violation with clear action or make excuses for a predator, people will realize that you aren’t to be trusted with that information. Some won’t come to you. Some won’t come to your spaces at all. You have a responsibility to go above and beyond when it comes to holding people accountable and creating integrity in your community- that’s what being a leader is all about.
I hope this is helpful to people, and please, if you’re in the Bay Area, come to Maggie’s and my workshop August 4th “Safe/Ward: Combating Abuse in the BDSM Community“. Even if you’re altsex, or a swinger, this workshop can give you some important information. Plus we have some pretty amazing raffle prizes. 🙂 It’s listed on Fetlife and Facebook– the guestlist is anonymous and will not show up on your wall.