I Never Called it Rape: Addressing Abuse in BDSM Communities

Reposted with permission by Kitty_Stryker

(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 is a curvaceous courtesan splitting her time between tying people up in SF alleyways and helping clients (both able-bodied and not) realize their sexual possibilities in London. In her copious free time, she’s an Erotic Award winner, a founding member of Kinky Salon London, a guest lecturer about sex work, and a queer femme Daddy to her boy. Kitty blogs about her professional and personal experiences at Purrversatility.

10 Responses to I Never Called it Rape: Addressing Abuse in BDSM Communities

  1. There is obviously a lot to know about this. I think you made some good points in Features also.

  2. dianne says:

    Very good points made. I’m writing a novel on this at the moment. I’m also into BDSM for a number of years, as a dominant. When I was younger I tried to learn about myself and my preferences, but where I lived at that time both information and experiencing the scene were difficult to put in practice. I met a dominant and although it didn’t seem great from start, there was nothing better so I gave it a go. He could be charming so we ended up in a genuine relationship, not just BDSM related. After a while he demanded some horrible things from me, which sounded like pushing me into prostitution. I was in love with him, but aware he was abusing the fact. I couldn’t do what he was asking, besides the whole idea of playing submissive every now and then just didn’t fit with me. We ended up having rows and eventually split. It took me a while to find my way back into the “community.” This time, I was in the Netherlands and although I have lovely memories and excellent play time there, I’ve seen things and heard stories. I’ve been to parties which could have turned ugly for the submissive creatures , but also for us dominants. What is the point to using drugs in a BDSM situation, btw? I thought the purpose of taking pain was to feel it. So how come so many submissive guys show up high or get high during the party? Also, any dominant woman should never go to a party unaccompanied by a trustworthy, dedicated slave. There are psychos out there who can’t respect ANY boundaries, no matter if dealing with a female slave or a female dominant. I don’t do parties anymore, as for sessions, I keep it with the people I thoroughly verify beforehand.

  3. Mark says:

    That’s a really great essay, I’m definitely going to refer others to this.

    I would have commented on Kitty’s site but it requires a wordpress account; the original version of this is at http://kittystryker.com/2011/07/safeward-i-never-called-it-rape/

  4. EC says:

    Thank you so much for writing about this. It really is ridiculous how little info there is on actual abuse in the BDSM community, as if all our big talk and rules could cover up the fact that people are all fallible, and some people are jerks. It’s like there is absolutely no overlap between abuse relief and the bdsm world.

    When I volunteered at a domestic violence/sexual assault center, I tried to bring up the possibility of clients being in bdsm relationships, and how we might deal with that. Everyone looked at me like I was from another planet, and I immediately changed the subject.
    Then last night, I was at a bdsm discussion group, and objected to some of the abusive-sounding behaviors people were encouraging, and again people looked at me like I was from another planet, and tried to excuse themselves with talk of how nothing is completely safe, and as long as there’s consent between all parties, then you can do whatever. I never even got the chance to bring up the possibility that someone might feel coerced into giving consent, or maybe have issues they need to deal with, rather that wanting to have potentially dangerous stuff done to them.

    I thought we were better than that.

    • admin says:

      EC,

      Kitty_Stryker is pretty amazing. The BDSM community is not immune to rape culture and it does boggle the mind how much animosity can be generated when the topic of abusive behaviors comes up. The number one purpose of this website is to educate and promote healthy and ethical BDSM. I recently gave a presentation to our local rape recovery center. Yes, I too got a vibe from some that I was a freak of nature, but from others, I could see and feel a real desire for information. You might approach your sexual assault center about giving and in-service about healthy BDSM. It is my opinion that education is the key to changing minds and hearts. You might look at it as informed consent. Let me know if I can be of service in your education endeavors!

    • InaCat says:

      EC – WE are better than that…not everyone is.

      I have been thrown out of parties for slapping a Dom who laid un-consented hands on me a second time.

      this is my own acid test – I do not expect the community to police its own any more…but I do expect to be supported if I rise up and defend myself or another.

      the only way to change the culture? hurts, costs us associates we mistook for friends, and often leaves us frozen out – but then we are free to form our own community, which can be a brighter light.

  5. kane says:

    What do you guys feel about sadists? Do you think they are only sadists if they enjoy inflicting physical pain on consenting adults? Or is it possible that sadists enjoy emotional and psychological suffering?

    While I do not enjoy at all doing something that I sense the girl is not into, I’m not a sadist. There are some among us, who have a letter in the infamous BDSM acronym, that enjoy the abuse.

    So maybe it’s not about trying to build an artificial barrier between rapists and sadists in the community and maybe admit that this will continue to happen. Let’s treat everyone, whether within the community or not, equally. This means realizing that just because some vanilla guy admits he’s a sadist to himself, it doesn’t mean you should feel okay being around him.

  6. GamerUK says:

    Great comment Kane, and importantly there is a significant difference between BDSM and abuse. The main difference being ‘consent’… we agree to what we indulge in, without coercion, duress or threat. We have a choice without consequence/repercussion.

    When there is clear understanding between consenting participants; when a situation is negotiated so everyone involved is getting a need or desire met within the relationship (however long that relationship lasts), then it’s not an abusive situation.

    Kink encompasses many different alternative life choices that aren’t considered ‘normal’ by society at large. Sure many sadists/tops/dominants enjoy inflicting pain on their willing partners, but there are many diverse and overlapping interests that fall within Sadism, and yes sadists can also enjoy the accompanying suffering. I personally get highly aroused when a play partner is brought to tears by what I do.

    Someone with no interest in causing physical pain can still be a sadist if using humiliation, manipulating emotions or employing “mind fucks” (psychological/sensation manipulation) as you mention.

    But, as with all healthy relationships, getting pleasure from different aspects of kink, and by putting our partners in uncomfortable situations is something we do for mutual enjoyment. It is something done to explore reactions, relationship dynamics, and test our limitations. We do it because we enjoy it, not with the intent to harm/be harmed, devalue or be used or simply to please another.

    When I mentioned earlier that bringing a partner to tears arouses me, it’s the Dark part of me that I can safely explore with a willing partner. My partners have to feel safe when we play. Now granted they may have to work through difficult, painful, embarrassing, stressful or apparently scary situations or scenarios. But, and the important part is, they do so because they are looking to explore and/or achieve something too. They enjoy the experience that we share. We will cause pain but the difference is we seek to hurt not harm. Injury has been known to happen but it’s something we try hard to avoid.

    As part of a healthy relationship, there needs to be mutual respect. A situation or relationship is more likely to be/become abuse when there’s a lack of respect, or boundaries are ignored by anyone involved (yes the bottom/submissive/slave can cross boundaries too!).

    I’m not aware of any artificial barrier between sadists and rapists. They are separate traits. By way of example, I’m most certainly sadistic but in no way am I a rapist. I’d take great offence to being incorrectly labeled as such. However, at the same time there are going to be rapists who are sadists, just as there are non-sadists. The difference being that rapists take their ‘pleasure’ (if you can call it that) from taking power from an unwilling person who is at that point a victim. For rapists, it’s mostly about the control over their victim.

    I do agree with your comment that we should treat everyone equally. Time will reveal how worthy of our trust, friendship and time they are.

  7. Ashley says:

    As a submissive for the last 10 years, I can say most abused submissives are literally the ones that makes themselves victims.

    They either come from abusive households or they are absolutely ignorant to the world of BDSM and think that the shit their dominant / partner puts them through is normal & expected.

    It’s a vicious cycle. There are perverts in the BDSM world that will specifically target females [and men] with low self esteem that really should NEVER be in a BDSM relationship to begin with as they are just setting themselves up for abuse. People with low self esteem will do ‘anything’ to feel like they belong and are “loved” even if that means submitting to rape & abuse.

    If you as a submissive wouldn’t trust your dominant / partner to walk the dog & take out the garbage, then turn tail and run… because to that sort of a dominant you’re nothing but a piece of meat [a “cock-hole”].

    If you’re ashamed of bringing your dominant to the normal or “vanilla” aspect of your life, then turn tail and run because that’s just steps away from the dominant isolating you completing from your friends and family [an outsider] who can tell you when your “relationship” is nothing but abuse.

    If you’re starting off with BDSM, find someone that you absolutely trust. Someone that you may consider worthy of marriage & mothering / fathering your offspring [maybe not literally that person but of the same level of trust].

    Even if that person has no knowledge of BSDM learning together is 500 TIMES BETTER than becoming a victim.

    There is LITTLE support for BDSM victims in the BDSM community. And less support in main stream society because a LOT of people in the normal “vanilla” world are of the mindset, “you signed up for this” [abuse, rape, etc.] by entering into a BDSM relationship.

  8. Jaqueline Sephora Andrews says:

    http://genderapostates.com/trans-activism-and-the-promotion-of-sex/

    Here is my story. Please feel free to share. I am hoping to reach someone…

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