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.