Here in Sweden, the #MeToo general hashtag against sexual harassment and abuse has multiplied into many specialized hashtags against sexual harassment and abuse in different sectors of society. In the BDSM subculture, this specialized hashtag is named #ViSägerRÖTT , which translates to #WeSayRED .
(A quick note on terminology: The terms BDSM, fetishism, kink/kinky, “rött”/“red”, sadomasochist and queer are defined at the end of this text. Scroll down if you are unsure about how any of these words are being used.)
Last night, one of the biggest Kinky clubs in Gothenburg lended it’s premises to a gathering for the #ViSägerRÖTT hashtag. The meeting turned out great, with several hours of very serious and nuanced discussions about sexual harassment and abuse as well as about what we can do about it.
Most of the people present were cis women, but there were also a lot of cis men and people who are trans or non-binary. It should be noted that the hashtag “ViSägerRÖTT” is explicitly open for all victims of sexual harassment and abuse, regardless of gender. (This is in sharp contrast to some other hashtags projects, which has been defined to be only for women – thus explicitly excluding those victims of sexual harassment or abuse who happens to be cis men, while also implicitly making it easy to exclude all trans* people as well as AMAB (Assigned Male At Birth) non-binary people.)
Lots of experiences were shared, all of them told in a spirit of mutual respect and in ways which did not include any identifying information or otherwise directly or indirectly would be outing anyone. The core spirit of the meeting was that all human beings have the right to dignity and integrity. Sadomasochists, just like everybody else, have the right to be free from sexual harassment and abuse. Thus we need to fight against sexual harassment and abuse itself, as well as against various kinds of acceptance for sexual harassment and abuse. To do this in a BDSM context requires us to do this struggle as well as the struggle to raise general awareness regarding safety and consent. These struggles must be done both inside the subculture and in the mainstream society, not just one or the other.
The misbehavers and the predators
The destructive behaviors we discussed can roughly be rounded up into three main categories, which we can call “honest mistakes”, “wilful ignorance” and “calculated predation”.
Education about consent and psychology as well as sexuality in general and kinky sexuality in particular helps against all three sources of destructive behavior, although such education helps in very different ways against the different sources.
Man, woman or non-binary, everybody makes mistakes. Straight, gay or otherwise, everybody makes mistakes. Vanilla, sadomasochist/kinky or otherwise, everybody makes mistakes. We all have a duty to control the problem of mistakes by maintaining a decent level of safety and continuous learning so that the mistakes we make…
* Are as few as possible,
* Causes as little harm as possible,
* Gets repaired as well as possible, and
* Gets learned from as well as possible
Generally speaking, the tolerance for taking a risk should be much smaller when it involves people who hasn’t agreed to take that particular risk.
The effect of education: By learning we can in many cases help each other so we don’t have to make mistakes in the first place, and we can also learn from each other’s mistakes.
Some people harm other people because they chose to keep themselves uninformed or misinformed. When they cross other people’s sexual boundaries, they do it neither out of a honest mistake nor out of calculated predation: They simply choose to believe that the boundary wasn’t there, thus letting themselves say with a straight face that they “didn’t intend to cross any boundary”. People who systematically abuse through wilful ignorance hide disingenuously behind the fact that innocent people do make honest mistakes sometimes. Their behavior is disingenuous because they are not really trying to learn. They enjoy making their “mistakes”, and want to continue to do them. They prefer to not see how they are harming their sexual partners
To misuse sadomasochism/BDSM/kink as a cover for abuse is often very useful for the wilfully ignorant, as there are a lot of people who honestly don’t know the difference between BDSM and abuse.
The effect of education: The more widespread knowledge is, the less room there is for ignorance – wilful or otherwise. Please note, however, that wilful ignorance is not only about keeping oneself uninformed – but also about keeping oneself misinformed. A person who is wilfully ignorant can pretend to themselves and others that “consent” means that it’s ok to bully people into “consenting”, or pretend that “safe words” mean that the submissive’s health would be only the submissive’s own responsibility. Thus, we need not only to get the basic information out there – but also to keep spreading more and more nuanced knowledge.
Some people harm other people simply because they actually prefer to harm them. These predators are aware of what they are doing, they are not hiding from themselves behind a mask of wilful ignorance. Some of them also understand how wrong their actions are, yet choose to do them anyway, while others justify their abuse through bigotry: By hating a category of people such as women, men, or sadomasochists, these predators fool themselves into believing that their victims somehow “deserve” to be abused. Calculating abusers who do not believe in such bigotry themselves may still try to make others believe it, as a way of getting away with their horrible behavior.
There are two different ways in which calculating predators can misuse sadomasochism/BDSM/kink as a cover for their abusive behavior. One way is to simply incite hatred against sadomasochists, implying that the victim is a sadomasochist and thus “deserved” to be abused. The other way is to try to hide behind the subculture: They claim to be sadomasochists and claim that what they do is what sadomasochists do: Thus they try to trick people into making a choice between either accepting abuse or dragging all sadomasochists down along with the abuser. This is especially efficient when the predator has managed to sink their claws into a victim who is a sadomasochist. Thus the two kinds of misuse merges with each other.
When neither the predator nor the victim has any connection whatsoever to sadomasochism or the BDSM subculture, the predator can still pretend that “he thought the victim was a masochist”. Note that it is often very hard to distinguish between calculating predators and the wilfully ignorant, since the former may often manipulate others by pretending to be ignorant.
A predator who has no connection whatsoever to the BDSM subculture may still prowl the outskirts, trying to prey on vulnerable people within the subculture. For more dangerous to the people in the subculture, however, is the predator who inserts himself in the subculture and builds a facade of good reputation while prowling for new victims.
Note the difference between people who do single predatory acts and people who are systematic predators. Some rapists and other abusers do their foul acts only once in their lives, or at least extremely rarely. Others are predators at heart, and just keeps prowling for new victims. Some of them prefer to destroy innocent people’s lives, others just don’t care.
The discussion last night pointed towards the two very different patterns of single case abusers versus systematic predators. The single case abusers are quite numerous, while the systematic predators are merely a handful of individuals. Yet, the single case abusers seem to stand for a very small part of the total cases. The math is simple: One man who has personally raped one hundred women over the years has on the whole committed one more rape than ninety nine different men and women who each raped one person. There seem to be a handful of bad apples who stands for the majority of the abuse in the whole BDSM subculture. Sadly, each young person who is new to the subculture is very likely to get contacted by at least one of these few individuals, as they tend to be among the most eager to find new people to “play” with. Society’s stigmatization against sadomasochists make it so much easier for these few dangerous individuals to hide within the subculture and keep prowling for new victims.
The stories shared about single case abuse were very diverse. Abusers of all ages and genders, as well as victims of all ages and genders. Dominants abusing submissives as well as submissives abusing dominants. As for the very few known systematic predators, however: They were all male, all positioning themselves as “dominants”, and all targeting women? Of course, this doesn’t mean that all systematic predators are male and/or heterosexual: It simply means that since most abusers are men and most people are heterosexuals, a very small sample size is unlikely to contain any deviations from this pattern. It may also be a sign of the fact that systemic predators will hunt through any means which work for them, and that there may be social differences in what patterns are efficient for a male or female predator. For starters, it is likely that male predators are more likely to prowl for victims while female predators are more likely to passively lure their victims into traps.
The effect of education: An educated prey is harder to victimize, and an educated bystander is harder to manipulate into accepting the abuse.
Direct and indirect abuse
One of the things we talked about was emotional abuse versus physical and sexual abuse. This led us into talking about direct abuse versus indirect abuse.
Direct emotional abuse is when they shout obscenities at you, calling you worthless to your face, demanding that you isolate yourself socially, and so on. Indirect emotional abuse is when they systematically undermine you, manipulating you so that you “figure out” that you “are worthless” and/or that you “ought to” isolate yourself socially.
Direct physical abuse is when they hit you in a way or context which you didn’t consent to. Likewise, direct sexual abuse is when they sexually touch you in a way or context which you didn’t consent to. So, what is indirect physical abuse or indirect sexual abuse? It is when they manipulate others people or in some cases the environment to disregard your boundaries or set a trap so that you will “get yourself into” an “accident”.
As we talked about emotional abuse, I saw the difference between the direct and indirect emotional abuse. At first, I thought this was a difference between physical and emotional abuse, assuming that physical abuse is always direct. Then I realized that I had witnessed a situation which was a mistake at best and indirect sexual abuse at worst. This happened to one of my friends, but it happened the first time we met. Thus we didn’t know each other yet. She had agreed to do a shibari session with me (she consented to me tying her up and touching her), but then her boyfriend informed her and me that I was also allowed do have intercourse with her. She got furious with him, he definitely didn’t have her permission to offer her to strangers like that. Thus the shibari session got canceled, they spent the rest of the evening arguing instead. After I told this story, one of the women at the meeting explained that the same thing had happened to her. In this woman’s case, it was definitely no mistake: Her abuser knew perfectly well that she did NOT consent to have any sexual activity with others, but he scared her into staying quiet as he offered her to another man. Thus she got raped, but the guy who did the physical act was innocent – he had reason to believe that they were having consensual sex, he didn’t know that the other guy had forced her to play along.
A final note on activism
We live in a society which is still very prejudiced and bigoted against sadomasochists and fetishists: A very kinkophobic society, if you will. One of the main reasons why we need to stand up against kinkophobia is to protect people in the kinky subculture from acceptance of abuse and to help them protect themselves from abusers. For any of this to be possible, we need to overcome the myth that BDSM itself would be abuse. Sadomasochists who have been abused deserve to get respect and help without getting their sexuality disqualified and further stigmatized. During the meeting, I gave some brief advice to people who want to become activists. I now plan to write a longer text about that later.
The hashtag name refers to “rött”/“red” being the most widely accepted safeword to use when one has to stop a BDSM session which has gone bad or is about to go bad. The
BDSM: The practices of the sexial minority also known as sadomasochists. BDSM is a smorgasbord of different practices, divided into three main categories. These are Bondage and Discipline (which stands for physical control of the body) Dominance and Submission (which stands for social and emotional power exchange) and Sadism and Masochism (which stands for giving and receiving intense stimulation which can be interpreted as pain). For an act to count as BDSM, the act has to be consensual.
Consensual: Acts that everyone involved in them agrees to be doing. Forcing someone to pretend to be okay with the act should not be considered consent.
Fetishism: Sexual interest in certain objects or materials.
Kink/kinky: The other way of being “not straight”, besides being gay, being kinky refers to being a sadomasochist, other BDSM practitioner, or fetishist.
“Rött”/“red”: The name of this color is the most widely accepted safeword to use when one has to stop a BDSM session which has gone bad or is about to go bad.
Sadomasochist: A person who is into BDSM, whether they actually practice it or not.
Safe word: A word or other term used as an emergency break for a BDSM session. Note that while the top/dominant/sadist must respect the safe word and stop the session if the bottom/submissive/masochist uses it, they must also keep sure that everything is okay rather than relying on the safe word.
Shibari: An advanced and often artistic form of tying people up with rope.
Queer: Anything that deviates from traditional norms for what gender and sexuality is. Thus, queer is simply another word for GSRM – “Gender, Sexual & Sensual, Romantic & Relational Minorities & Multidiversity. Sexual abusers and molesters should not be explained as being “queer” or “GSRM”, for the same reason as for why they should not be explained as being “heterosexual”: The problem with abuse is that it violates the rights of the victim, not whether or not it deviates from one traditional idea of normality or another.