FeminismKinksPolitics / ActivismSex & Sexuality

Kinksters, Time for a Change

This post discusses kink, harassment, abuse, and sexual assault in generalities (not specifics). It may be triggering for some, and may not be appropriate for those who do not want to read about the kink community. Feel free to skip it if those things make you uncomfortable.

There has always been a low-level rumbling in the kink community about how to deal with those who ignore boundaries, harass other community members, abuse their partners, or sexually assault people. From time to time, in various physical locations, this rumbling peaks to an active discussion about these issues. Each time feelings are hurt, people become angry, and nothing about the community culture changes. This summer that rumbling has become a roar throughout the kink community across the internet and in various geographic environments.

So far the disagreements have been mostly about reporting. The TOS on the kinky world’s largest social networking site, FetLife, specifically bans people from naming abusers or harassers on the site. This rule is enforced (although not completely consistently) and is highly unlikely to change. In various communities conversations have happened about how to handle allegations of harassment, abuse, and assault. No answer seems to have been forthcoming.

One side of the discussion tends to be in favor of public disclosure of all allegations of abuse – posting someone’s name and identifying information in a public forum along with a description of the allegation against them. This has been done, many times, and the result is not very helpful. Posting in a public forum allows the perpetrator’s defenders to come out in force, and they do. They are incredibly good at working to silence victims with demands for “proof.” These attacks often include personal attacks on the person making the allegation. While there is sometimes social cost for the alleged abuser, it is generally dwarfed by the social costs of the victim(s) and/or the person who publicly discussed the problem. Once people have seen this cycle happen once or twice they recognize that coming forward and trying to discuss something terrible that happened to them will get awful results, silencing future victims of the same abuser, or others in the same community.

Another perspective on the discussion is even less productive. A certain subset of the community (primarily but not limited to cisgender heterosexual dominant men) have said quite loudly and repeatedly that the only response to an incident of harassment, abuse, or assault should be a police report. If a victim does not immediately go to the police and “prove” that they have been, for example, groped at a BDSM party by someone they did not consent to, then their allegation is to be immediately dismissed. Again, the result of this route is likely to be extremely damaging to the victim (harassment by police, loss of their job, losing custody of children, public humiliation), with very little done to stop the person who assaulted them since the odds of conviction are tiny. The whole purpose of this tactic is not to hold those who harass, abuse, or rape to account through the legal system. The purpose is simply to shut up the victims, and ensure that the status quo is maintained.

Then there are the folks who would prefer that we don’t discuss this at all. They like the missing stair just the way it is. Talking about things that make people feel unsafe and chase people out of the community is just making drama! It will make us look bad! Shut up shut up shut up! This perspective is essentially identical to the incident earlier this summer when DJ Grothe said women talking about sexual harassment was the reason that fewer women were signing up to attend TAM this summer. This attitude insinuates (or sometimes says directly) that discussing consent issues does more damage to the community than harassment and abuse do.

Not talking about this issue is NOT a solution to the problem. It is WAY past time for the culture of the kinky community to change, and to become a safer place for everyone. The options already posed do not solve the problem of rape culture and harassment apologetics in the community. The current situation allows those who use harassment, intimidation, and abuse as tactics to get what they want to continue doing so without barriers. It puts all of us at risk.

The community as a whole is at a standstill. Not a whole lot has been accomplished, other than a lot of angry words, and hurt feelings. The time for a new option is now.

Sexual harassment policies have existed in workplaces and professional arenas for decades. They are becoming more common at fandom conventions, skeptic conferences, and in a variety of organized social groups. They may not be perfect, but they are getting more and more refined all the time, and they work. Policies create a structure under which an individual organization or event can create a consistent expectation for what behavior is considered acceptable within that structure. They clearly designate what the consequences are for behaving in a way that makes other members or attendees unsafe.

Individual organizations in the kink community must create harassment policies for their events. These policies must be made clear to those who attend those events, and they absolutely must be enforced consistently. Clearly the wording of these policies will be different from those used at a fandom or professional conference, but the intent is the same. Those who harass their fellow kinksters, or who abuse and assault them without consent, are not welcome and will not be ignored.

Policies will need to vary by group and event. This is as it should be – each venue and group culture is different, and policies should reflect that. In general I believe that organizers of groups and events are capable of creating good policy if their membership insists on good policies. If the members of the community speak loudly and firmly “We want harassment policies in place for the events we attend” in the same way the skeptical community has, some events will begin adding these policies.

Harassment policies at individual events and within groups give survivors a voice. They create a system in which acceptable and unacceptable behavior are clearly spelled out, instead of putting all of the responsibility for preventing abuse on the heads of potential victims. They have the ability to be empowering for the members of the community who currently hold the least power and who are at highest risk of victimization.

We must support those events brave enough to take on this issue, and create good harassment policies that make their attendees safer. There is bound to be pushback, and I expect it will be as nasty and vitriolic there as it has been among skeptics. Those among us who value safety and the importance of consent have a responsibility to stand up and be heard. We will need to be brave and stand together against those who wish to protect abusers.

Some of those pushing back will scream “Innocent until proven guilty!” loudly and often. To them I say this: That policy is crucial when what is at stake is taking away a person’s freedom, and their basic civil rights. I absolutely want a fair trial before throwing someone into prison. However, the ability to attend a kinky convention or a sex party is not a civil right. It is a privilege, and not only does the event have the RIGHT to remove you, they have the responsibility to do so if your presence is making the other attendees unsafe.

Harassment policies alone will not solve the problem of predators in the midst of the kink community, but I believe they are a good step on the path to a healthier and safer future for kinksters. They educate and clarify what is, and is not, appropriate behavior in kinky environments. They create sorely needed consequences for behavior that is clearly harassing, predatory, or abusive. They provide a mechanism for those who have a non-consensual experience to respond and regain control of the situation. They will make us safer as a community.

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Quickies 08/20/2012

Benny Vimes

Benny Vimes

Benny Vimes is a queer polyamorous transman, curious skeptic, and enthusiastic seeker of knowledge. He's an undergraduate student in his 30's and loves teaching people about alternative sexuality and gender issues.


  1. August 20, 2012 at 10:14 pm —

    Thanks / Thank you so much Benny. This is a great/amazing step that I definitely approbate and concur with !!! I look forward to begin conversations with the Madison Event Group / Communities about implementing these policies !!! YAYY !!!

    Cheers !!!

    – Matthew

  2. August 20, 2012 at 10:15 pm —

    Looking forward to reading other comments !!!

    Cheers !!!

    – Matthew

  3. August 21, 2012 at 1:46 am —

    I like this approach a good deal–it allows diverse policies to develop that meet the needs of attendees at different events (instead of hoping for scene-wide consensus on how to handle harassment, which seems impractical) and enables attendees to choose events based on their harassment and abuse policies (which will likely encourage competition among events to establish and communicate more comprehensive policies). I am personally willing to advocate for developing a harassment policy for the kink event I am involved in planning. Great food for thought–thank you!

  4. August 21, 2012 at 3:36 am —

    A couple of the BDSM parties I went to had one or several dungeon masters and those were the ones I always felt most safe at. I never felt unsafe at any party, the community here is fairly closely knit and supportive, but having someone whose job it is to watch out for me was awesome. The rules were clearly stated and people who were not up to following them got removed quickly. I wish more parties would adopt that system, especially the huge ones with hundreds of people in attendance.

    • August 21, 2012 at 10:52 am —

      Nearly all kink events and parties have dungeon monitors. It has not seemed to help with this problem because those DMs do not have policies in place that tell them how to manage a situation in which someone’s consent has been violated. Further, it does not create consistency; each DM uses their own judgement instead of a policy.

      All too often people with power (like a DM) are the ones doing the harassing and abuse. Policies allow a structure in which people can report those problems even when someone with authority is the aggressor.

  5. August 21, 2012 at 12:16 pm —

    Nearly all kink events and parties have dungeon monitors.
    Not where I live… Here it’s more the exception from the rule (or at least it was, I haven’t been as active in the last few years partywise)

    The parties that had a DM here also had a set policy people knew and the DMs enforced. It never was one without the other.

    I can absolutely see how the DM system has the potential to go terribly wrong without a policy and there are enough people who’d love the job who shouldn’t have it. So yeah, if I can have only one, I’d take a clearly stated policy, but both is is awesome.

  6. August 26, 2012 at 5:33 pm —

    I think this is a good idea, and a necessary one. The devil is in the details though.

    Implementing such policies seem theoretically easier at big events whereas community groups have more details to sort out.

    A number of groups I’ve been in have had policies regarding making safe spaces that have all boiled down to, “If there’s a complaint that someone has done ‘something wrong’, the board/leaders will decide… something.” I know of far more instances of harassment and abuse that happened at events than were ever reported officially.

    This could be due to a failure of the groups to make these policies known, failure to make what behavior is unacceptable known, or maybe because those who’ve been victimized didn’t know what the consequences would be and therefore didn’t want to raise a ruckus for something “so small as what happened to them” or that no ruckus would be raised at all and only a slap on the wrist would occur and nothing would change. Clear policies that are well advertised could help both of these.

    Reporting someone at one party is unlikely to cause consequences at any of the other events in town, but very likely to cause backlash against both the victim and the group leaders. This is a problem now and will be a problem with written policies in place, but perhaps with the unacceptable actions and consequences clearly laid out people won’t see the leaders in such a harsh light, but more as simply doing their duty. One can hope that applies to the victims to some degree as well. They aren’t causing drama or being whiny, they’re reporting a violation that is plainly written down for all to know.

    There has always been vindictive counter reporting against the victim and/or their supporters to some degree. The attitude of “guilty until proven innocent” makes this even more abusable. “Yeah, you can have that one play party in town where I groped you, but me and my friends are going to get you kicked out of everywhere else for tarnishing my name.” Isolating their victims has long been a heinous and effective tool of abusers. This isn’t a reason to not have policies in place, just one way I see the the assumed guilty mindset working against the community. Zero tolerance policies are preferable for obvious reasons, but giving someone a couple strikes before they’re out can help guard against such policy abuse.

    Writing these policies is admittedly going to be a little tricky and will likely be done by trial and error, meaning when they don’t work out as people wanted they’ll change. And changing every time there’s enough of an outcry to change them will make them inconsistent, not very clear, and cause people to lose faith in them. Getting enough people talking about this now and enough feedback before they’re implemented could work wonders to cut this problem off before it gets out of hand.

    Many of the issues mentioned are going to be much worse the more powerful and popular the harasser is, this is already true under our current systems and will continue to be true under any system I can imagine, but hopefully others will have more advice on ways to work around these or agree that these are necessary drawbacks to making our spaces safer.

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