What to Do When Sex-Negative Actions Happen in Sex-Positive Communities?
Editor’s note: Per our company policy, Good Vibrations made an internal executive decision to remove the original blog post. This is the updated version. We apologize for any discomfort this caused.
Next March, I’ll be participating in a panel discussion at Momentum, a conference dedicated to “making waves in sexuality, feminism and relationships.” The discussion is titled: “Being the Change You Want to See: Helping Stem the Tide of Silence About Sexual Abuse in Sex-Positive Communities.” I’ll be joined by some fantastic women on the panel with varying experiences, including Kitty Stryker, who wrote about this topic a short while back here on GV magazine.
I’ve seen time and time again women (as it’s most frequently women, but some men certainly have their boundaries violated too) silenced when they try to speak out about their experience with sexual abuse, assault or rape. It’s troublesome to see as we’re supposedly a sex-positive community “ why are we silencing issues that need facing?
Some of the behaviors I’ve seen from otherwise sex-positive people include:
- Silencing the victim/survivor (choose the language you prefer, I prefer the latter).
- This can happen via the assailant telling the survivor “what happened according to them, rather than acknowledging their bad behavior and dealing with it. Inevitably the assailant refuses to acknowledge what really happened and behaves as if telling their own version somehow makes it so.
- This also happens when sites (swinger, bdsm, sex-positive, etc.) delete threads discussing situations.
- Refusal to do anything, including listen to the survivors “ this generally gets dismissed as, “It’s a he said/she said situation. I don’t get involved with those.
- Telling the assailant that a complaint has been lodged against them. (This potentially puts the survivor in a dangerous situation “ harassment at minimum, violence at worst.)
- Calling the survivor “crazy. Using supposed mental illness as a way to silence people happens not only in the realm of sexual violence, but any situation where the person in control has reason to discredit the person who is refusing to be silent.
Responses in our communities are generally abysmal. Occasionally, someone approaches the situation discreetly, with respect and truly listens to the survivor. But more often than not the survivor is ignored or the assailant manages to discredit them enough to be effectively silenced.
A framework for dealing with sexual violence has not been created in the sex-positive community. But by ignoring assault (or abuse or rape), we basically support the perpetrator as their behavior has no consequences whatsoever. These people go on to arrange parties, teach classes or even run local kink groups – and quite frequently violate boundaries again. Some of them have multiple complaints lodged against them without their activities in the community being scrutinized at all.
At the Momentum panel, I hope that we’ll be able to find ways to approach accusations in a more respectful way. I hope we can come up with suggestions for organizers on how to deal with something like this if a survivor comes forward. I understand the complexity of this issue as I’ve spoken to men who are afraid that an unintentional mistake would get them branded an abuser. Certainly, we don’t want to persecute an innocent person if the accuser is lying. (However, this has been shown to be a rare occurrence with sexual crimes, and considering how badly survivors who speak out are treated, what would anyone accomplish with a false accusation?) Good people who do something accidentally take responsibility for it and try to repair any damage they did. It’s the ones who think that consent is not important and their behavior is acceptable (or at least can be denied) that we have to watch out for.
Many survivors leave our communities, disappointed, bewildered and damaged. We give a lot of air time to discussions of consent, but then refuse to react when someone’s consent has been breached.
So tell me, what are your suggestions for dealing with this in a way that acknowledges the reality of assault, listens to the survivor, and keeps people with no sense of boundaries from wreaking havoc and having a negative effect on our communities?
We’re overdue to start a dialogue about this subject. And hopefully by discussion we can come up with ways to better handle what amounts to intensely negative acts happening unnoticed in supposedly sex-positive communities. I hope that suggestions will be left in the comments here.