I came across a fantastic post the other day by Saynine about the problem of rape within the BDSM context entitled “This Isn’t Play…BDSM and Rape“, following on the heels of reports by my friend, the outgoing International Ms Leather, Mollena Williams, of her rape by a prominent member of the Dublin kink community. These are just the two latest posts I’ve encountered speaking out on this topic, and on the importance of reporting these rapes to the police, as well as publicizing them within the BDSM community.
Both posts and the ensuing comments discuss the potential implications of such reporting, both to the individual victims – and to the community as a whole. The conclusions drawn pretty much without exception in these posts and many others I’m seeing, as well as the opinions of numerous other concerned individuals with whom I’ve been discussing the overall issues of abuse and consent for several years, the participants in San Francisco’s recent RACK panel, etc., is that reporting is essential – and that not only are the overall community’s needs secondary to supporting the victim and ensuring as best we can that others are not also harmed, but that doing so can only serve to help our image in the world, by conveying openly to everyone else in the most obvious way possible that we not only do not condone rape, assault, etc., and that that is not what WIITWD is about, but that we stand behind those words with actions that support them.
The question of rape and consent is important, but it’s also important to realize that rape as legally defined (basically, any kind of vaginal, anal, or oral penetration without consent) is only one part of the consent and abuse puzzle.
The other big issue that we face is the problem of either ongoing abuse of various sorts in BDSM relationships, and both in that context or in individual, one-off scenes, the issue of assault and battery if anything other than vaginal, anal, or oral penetration are involved – the questions of other types of play occurring without consent, limits being violated in the process, etc.
What happens when other limits are violated, such as beatings that go beyond the physical limits of what the bottom can take, too much force is used and the bottom is injured even in the course of something she did basically consent to but not to that level? What about other situations such as if a knife is pulled nonconsensually, undesired cuttings, needles, or take your pick of various forms of humiliation play? Or you tell your partner (who has been injuring you repeatedly with impact play and ignoring both feedback and ultimately safewords) that you now have a new hard limit, that he absolutely may not hit you with any kind of toy again until he gets some formal instruction and practice with it – and less than a minute later he starts right out doing it again, with a different implement than before, coming out with some lame excuse like, “I didn’t realize that was what you meant” when you protest and safeword yet again? When even generally innocuous requests or demands happen to cause you intractable problems and yet he won’t relent and continues to demand that, throwing a fit when you object or try to stop it? Or any number of other possibilities of hard or even soft limits being violated?
Legally, most if not all of these kinds of things are actually assault and/or, in the case that contact is actually made and not just threatened, battery. (Disclaimer – I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.)
Different states have different laws that define each of these things (and domestic violence) differently, and laws and policies regarding arrests and prosecution vary even by jurisdiction within a given state, so it’s not possible to say what will or will not happen in each of these kinds of situations.
Another area that also seems pretty grey (although I’m sure the lawyers and police must understand it) is where the line is between domestic violence and assault and battery – and which one would apply in situations of the sort we kinksters often find ourselves in.
One thing I find particularly disconcerting is that much of what I’ve read about assault and battery seems to require that some sort of obvious and grievous injury occur in order for the concepts to apply and arrests to happen.
But what about those whose injuries never become visible? Does that mean that they will not receive the same protections as anyone else who is assaulted by a partner or stranger? I’ve been injured on multiple occasions where nary a bruise or mark ever showed up – but when I’m still in pain weeks and months later, I sure as hell considered myself just as injured as if some bone had been fractured or I’d been cut with a knife.
Regardless of the legal terminology, when limits are violated in any way, it sure still feels like rape. The feeling of violation is terrible, and the violation of trust is almost as bad and sometimes even worse than the actual event.
I’ve had things done to me that in and of themselves may not have actually been that big a deal, but when they were things that because of other issues in the relationship, or other personal or medical reasons, I had set as a limit, it is precisely that breach of trust of a partner going ahead and doing it anyways, despite agreement not to, and then his negative reactions to my protests, that has often been far and away the bigger problem.
I would add to what both Saynine, Mo, and many others are saying about the importance of reporting rape (as well as other types of violations of limits) is that you need to do it right when the assault or rape happens, or very shortly thereafter. Otherwise, the police are really unlikely to take you as seriously if you do it later. Even if you do wait too long and they tell you they will not investigate it as a result, still insist on filing a report, so that at least there is something on record about this person’s behavior to help establish the pattern in case someone else runs into trouble with them and seeks police assistence. There is also something very personally empowering to just tell your story to the authorities, to name what has actually happened.