There are many signs that recognition of the problem that abuse in kinky relationships is growing, along with concern and action to try to stop it. It is clear that abuse in our ranks is at an all-time high, and I’m delighted to see increasing discussion of it in our community.
Over the past several months, there have been at least two classes given on the topic at the SF Citadel in San Francisco, and on Tuesday March 22, from 8-10:30pm, there will be a panel discussion there entitled “RACK: A Discussion About Risk, Awareness, and Consent” that promises to be a powerhouse exploration of the role of RACK in our community, including how it interrelates with abuse.
One of the major questions that will be addressed is whether this concept is a “shelter for predators or a sophisticated philosophy”.
Admission is $20, and this event is a fund-raising benefit for Community United Against Violence www.cuav.org. Please attend and support this worthy organization.
Personally, I think that RACK is both a “shelter for predators” as well as a sophisticated philosophy.
It’s a great idea when it’s used judiciously, but is so often turned around and perverted for the benefit of the dominant, to the detriment of the submissive. Of course this happens in reverse at times as well, but much more abuse – and much more harm – seems to come from abuse of submissives by dominants.
What makes both RACK and SSC so problematic from an abuse point of view is that all of the concepts inherent in both acronyms can be so nebulous that interpreting them can be quite difficult. SSC is more problematic because it’s even more vague, and leaves out the notion of awareness of risk, but when dealing with RACK, we then get into the question of what, in fact, the parties were actually aware of, what really constitutes awareness of risk, etc. The very concept of consent is multifactorial. Both acronyms are also great ideas and buzzwords that anyone can bandy about to look good, even while not walking their own walk behind the scenes. But they sound good, and seem to know what they’re talking about, so many people get sucked in by just the words.
A surprising number of people seem to think that just because someone speaks apparently intelligently about these topics means that they are inherently safe to play with – but nothing could be further from the truth.
This idea dovetails well with other issues I’ve discussed here, including how just being a community “leader” confers zero special status in terms of how safe or reputable one is. When you add in those people also speaking the party line, which these concepts are, that only adds to the potentially false impression that people may come away with about such people.
What’s more, oftentimes it’s the quietest ones who are the most dangerous, because they may simply not give enough external clues to arouse suspicion before it’s too late. The louder they are, the easier they are to spot.
The concepts involved in both SSC and RACK are excellent, and both acronyms came into existence as honest, good faith efforts to try to a) communicate to the vanillas why what we do is not abuse, and b) to help verbalize a set of highly laudable community standards and goals to which many of us actually aspire. I think both have done much to help us, both inside the community as well as in presenting ourselves to the outside world. Both are a reflection of concerned, sincere efforts to make our world a better and safer place to play in.
The very notion of considering elements of safety, sanity, risk awareness, and indeed even making consent explicit is, in fact, quite sophisticated. Verbalizing these things and actively, explicitly negotiating our contacts and relationships is not something most people do, and is certainly not taught as we’re growing up. Regardless of the degree of individual successes or failures with these techniques and approaches, it is clear that they do very much help in many cases.
Unfortunately, it’s equally evident that they are widely used as a cover for dangerous, unscrupulous tops to hide behind, knowing full well that community ethos as it stands today will support them if they talk a good line, and that the standards that prevent submissives from widely sharing information about dangerous tops, and ending up demonized ourselves when we try to, and shunned by the community. As long as the top keeps on chanting SSC and RACK, and related verbiage, it is astonishing how many more people will support him rather than his victims.
This is why these mantras are problematic. I think we have also come to rely far too much on chanting them over and over again without fully examining what exactly goes into each part of each concept, and what really differentiates WIITWD from abuse.
Hint: it’s not just consent.
Or at least consent is far from being as simple a concept as we’d like to think it is.
Risk awareness attempts to get at the need for the element of informed consent, which is lacking in the SSC model, and all too often in actual interactions, but it still falls short of what we need, in large part because it fails to consider long term relationships as thoroughly as single scenes, or completely play-based relationships. Both concepts – and everything we teach newbies and continue to talk about and run classes about – tends to focus around what my esteemed friend Teramis has described as “scene-delimited” D/s interactions vs those that are more relationship-focussed.
Not only is adequate risk awareness a major component of consent, but so are many other elements, including intent, length and nature of the relationship, duration, effect, presence or lack of coercion vs freely given consent, whether the behavior in question happens in a single scene or more frequently in an ongoing relationship, when in the course of a scene or relationship it occurs, the dominant’s responses to the submissive’s reactions, and much more.
What I think is on the table at this point in time for our community is a need to look much more deeply at all of this, and to realize that consent is a much more multi-factorial concept than a simple yes or no.
How we go about teasing out all of these disparate elements, and then finding some hopefully cohesive way of both quantifying them, describing the different parameters involved, and then finding a way to use that information to help protect people is one of the central issues facing our community these days. How we address them as a group, and face the problems we have, will have a huge impact on not only how our subculture functions in the future, but how we are perceived in the world at large.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, although I’m researching this and exploring on an ongoing basis. I am very gratified that other people are also clearly starting to ask a lot of the same questions, and to recognize that we simply must look a lot deeper into the things we do and say about it than we have been. Kink has come of age, so to speak, as Midori put it, and now it’s time to move past the simplistic stories we have told ourselves for years into looking more carefully at all of the individual elements that make them up.
I also don’t claim that this is an easy task – or one that is widely embraced in our circles. It’s not either one. To speak out openly on the problem of abuse in the kink world these days is to invite a firestorm of extremely vocal public opposition, which itself often turns quite abusive.
That alone tells me we are really getting close to the heart of the matter. If people are treating their partners well, then why would they object to pointing out how others are not?
The answer is that in many cases, those who shout the loudest that we don’t have a problem in this community, and object the most to having the differences between healthy kink and abuse dissected and pointed out, are almost invariably among the people who are themselves the most abusive – or their brainwashed victims.
Others worry that if we admit to the extent of the problem in our ranks that this will somehow turn the vanillas further against us.
Nevertheless, this is an issue that absolutely must come out of the closet – and amongst ourselves first of all. Until and unless we are willing to face reality, we will never be able to fully identify the problem or its root causes – or solutions. And until we are able to fully tell the truth about what we do to our own selves, the harder it will remain to ever convince anyone else that what we do is even remotely justifiable.
RACK is a great step in the right direction, going beyond SSC, but it’s time that we move on further still.