ActivismFeminism

Kinksters, Time for a Change

This post was written by Benny and is cross-posted from Queereka. It 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 part 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.

Will

Will is the admin of Queereka, part of the Skepchick network. They are a cultural/medical anthropologist who works at the intersections of sex/gender, sexuality, health, and education. Their other interests include politics, science studies, popular culture, and public perceptions and understandings of anthropology. Follow them on Twitter at @anthrowill and Facebook at facebook.com/anthrowill.

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17 Comments

  1. A commenter on FTB make an excellent point: in any group setting, apathy is the null hypothesis in regards to in-group harassment.

    Having public policies in place lets people know, before harassment happens, that the organizations cares about harassment and that there is somebody to talk to when harassment occurs.

  2. This doesn’t get said enough! Brilliant article. Considering how important boundaries are in kink, the idea of consent and making sure everyone is having fun, I don’t understand how complaints are so easily ignored.
    A perv (The bad kind) policy is a brilliant solution. A way to keep everyone’s anonymity but allow people a voice to call out harassers. Out and out exclusion , some kind of black list, could also be employed if needs be.

    That said, mainstream acceptance and acknowledgement of kink (seems to be growing, if… oddly) would make cases that require prosecution a lot easier to deal with for everyone. Sexual crimes are a nightmare to fight, even worse if you like something a little unusual. I guess we’re not quite there yet.

    1. There have been calls for a community-wide blacklist, but I am not advocating for that here. Mostly that is because I just don’t think it works logistically. I think that individual events and groups having their own individual policies would go a long way toward creating safer spaces, and those who do not create policies, or who’s policies are weak or unenforced, would suffer competitive pressure to improve. It’s certainly a hell of a lot better than the free-for-all we have now.

  3. I guess it’s a lot easier said than done, but this still makes clear sense to me. Having a harassment policy to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct need not mean making those allegations public, which is what many people seem to object to. But there has to be *some* way of handling them; the attitude that says ‘just ignore it, it’s not our problem’ or ‘just go to the police’ is what enables abusers to get away with it.

    1. I have heard about a dozen different explanations, none of which came from the owner of the website. So I honestly don’t know, and don’t want to speculate about it without more information. I DO know that it is highly unlikely to change partly because the number of people who want to see it change is small and because the site owner has been very clear that he intends to keep the policy.

  4. Well said Will. I think a reasonable parallel can be made with the issue of child abuse and maltreatment which is an area I have decades of experience and expertise working in both investigations and prevention. When I was in high school and college back in the late 70’s and early 80’s child abuse, and specifically child sex abuse, was something that was rarely talked about in public and rarely in a school setting. That began to change in the mid 80’s and many media outlets and personalities started to talk about the issue either from personal experience and/or as a cause they cared about. It was also around this time that more and more states expanded their mandatory child abuse laws and started more aggressive training of educations and medical professionals about what to do when they suspected a child was being abused. Another pivotal change was when school curriculums’ started to include some elements of telling students it was okay to report when someone was abusing them. Education and people talking about a very unpleasant issue resulted in many laws being changed as well as a vast improvement in child abuse investigations and child welfare practices across the country. And when a particular state lagged behind they had to change in the end because if they did not meet particular standards the fed’s cut funding, and not one state child welfare agency could operate without federal funding. Overall child sex abuse rates are much lower than they were 25 years ago and this drop has been steady and significant over that time. The reason is very clear in my opinion and that is because the issue is no longer whispered about and ignored, victims are listened to (for the most part) and people who put children at risk are much more likely to be confronted for their non criminal actions and prosecuted when something criminal happens. When issues like this are openly and rationally discussed, and when those who want to ignore or silence those who speak out are confronted and presented with facts I truly believe change can and will happen just as it has in my field. Children are safer than they were in past generations, despite what the news media may lead you to believe; and I think it is a reasonable position to hold that for women and members of other frequently harassed groups the culture will change because of the persistence and voice of those willing to speak out.

    1. Jacob, it’s really encouraging to know that child abuse rates have dropped a lot as these new laws and ways of reporting have been put in place! It gives one hope that the same process can be effective in the skeptical and kink communities. It’s likely to be a lengthy process, but social change rarely happens swiftly. The important thing is to keep fighting on, even in the face of opposition, knowing that the fruits of your labor may not come for a long time. Amy’s current series of posts is laying important groundwork for this kind of change. That’s one reason she is being targeted so intensely right now.

      1. Indeed & agreed. And as with child sex abuse (incidents of physical abuse have dropped only a bit and neglect has stayed steady and strongly correlates with poverty, mental health and substance abuse numbers) there is still a lot of work to be done; and education and truth telling in the face of silence and ignorance remain the most effective tools in both fights. The power structures in society create the laws, set the rules, and make policy, and clearly laws, rules, and policies can be out in front of the attitudes of the general populace and make a difference in changing those attitudes.

  5. Will,

    As far as I know, none of the women I know haven’t experienced any of this. If that’s the case they’re really lucky. I would hate to go through stuff like this, and I would imagine, so would more than 99% of the people on the planet.

  6. I happen to have a Fetlife account (no this isn’t my username there) and this is the most recent statement from John Baku, the founder of Fetlife on the naming abusers situation:

    “Just an update, on top of asking for your input, we are also now currently working with the NCSF [National Coalition for Sexual Freedom] to not only figure out what stance should be taken on “naming abusers” but what else we can do to productively deal with consent violations that happen in a BDSM context.

    I know a lot of you are very passionate about this topic and for very good reason. So I know it is a lot to ask of you, but please be patient with us. It would be reckless of us to come to a decision overnight because, as you all know, there are a lot of complex issues that must be considered.

    This is not a decision we are taking by ourselves but a decision we will be taking with both your input and that of the NCSF’s.”

    So it does look like Fetlife may chance the rules at some point soon.

    On the “innocent until proven guilty” argument. Attending kink events or having a Fetlife account certainly isn’t a civil right and I’m all for strong harassment policies. However some people are pushing to post real names and addresses of accused predators and that crosses the line for me. Being kinky can cost people their jobs, child custody, or even lead to criminal charges for fully consensual activities. Recently a RCMP officer was suspended and may lose his job because he was outed (apparently by an angry ex) and he had photos on his Fetlife account showing him engaged in kinky activities. Right now outing people in the BDSM community is considered nearly as bad as outing is in the gay community and we aren’t at a point where it doesn’t have consequences for many people.

    1. One of the best things about harassment policies that are specific to an individual group or event is that those groups can choose to keep the situations as private as possible. I like this fact because it can help create privacy and protect the victims of consent violations, and it also has the added aspect of not publishing the real identities of those accused. Whether this is a good or bad thing can be argued to death, and probably depends on the situation, but harassment policies can avoid the problem entirely.

      I absolutely agree that outing people as kinky is a very serious thing, and this solution is a possible way of dealing with consent violations without needing to deal with that issue.

    2. Also, thank you for the update from Baku. I had not seen that (Fetlife is incredibly difficult to find that kind of thing on since search is so limited) and I appreciate the update. Even if Fetlife changes it’s TOS I STILL think that harassment policies are an important part of the process towards making the community safer.

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