Friday, 2 November 2007

WUT ABOUT THE ABUUUUUUUUUUZERS?

Every now and again in discussions of BDSM (especially discussions that some people deem "too" pro-BDSM), I see someone citing their personal experience, saying something like

"I wish I could be as optimistic as you that most people use/do BDSM positively. But I've simply met/run across/seen too many abusers in the community to think that your pro-BDSM position is anything but a 'head in the sand' stance."

(the latest iteration being someone who visited us, here.)

And the thing that always leaves me scratching my head is: I've not met many. I've been in the scene for, oh gods, seven years now? and I can think, off the top of my head, of all of three people I'd expect to abuse others. And a couple more who I'd think wouldn't go so far as abuse, but who might set up dynamics that would prove ultimately unhealthy (moreso than your average run of the mill bad relationship, I mean.)

Now, I couldn't tell you how many BDSMers I've met in all those seven years. And I'm pretty choosy in who I'm close enough to that I'd know how dating works for them. But all that said, I've met a pretty hefty number of people, and made a lot of friends.

Three out of (unspecified) really ain't bad, unless of course (unspecified) were, say, seven or something.

It's not. You meet a fuckload of people when you're interacting with large groups of BDSM folk minimum of once a week for a few years.

And yes, three is three too many. But I really don't think I've not met vanilla abusers, such that three is startling and horrifying and a reason to think BDSM has an inherent problem.

So what's this large proportion of abusers? Am I just odd, or particularly conscientious in choosing friends, partners, or community groups? Or are these "many abusers," as I sometimes suspect, actually a comment not on people one has interacted with but rather a comment on perusing clueless online websites. On which, as I'm sure we all know by now, anyone can assert that anything is "responsible domination?"

How about it, folks? How many abusers have you met? What enclaves have you run into, or not? Go wild. Let's talk. What's out there? How naive am I? I think of myself as a battle-scarred vet by now (and I gather that I'm actually more involved in larger orgs than most people here, even), but maybe not...

29 comments:

dev said...

I haven't been in the community very long, but I haven't run into anyone I could identify as abusive.

I have seen situations that I at first interpreted as unhealthy, but on subsequent occasions realized were just normal day-to-day variations in healthy relationships. It's easy to do that when you are new to the scene, I think.

The first time I went to our local bdsm club, for instance, I saw a couple playing. The man was beating the woman pretty hard. Afterwards, he came back into the social room. She came in a few minutes later and said, "I think I'm going to cry." She looked completely messed up. He (reluctantly, it appeared to me) went back into the other room with her.

I called them "creepy chuck" and "crying woman" and worried about her. I've since seen them play dozens of times, and I've never seen anything to suggest a real problem.

My point is that these things are not easy to interpret in the beginning, for some of us. It can be pretty shocking to see interactions that would be abusive in vanilla life.

And, of course, if you hang out on the Internet and read ads, you'll see lots that sound pretty abusive. ("I want a slave who knows her place as a woman is to be a filthy slut abused for my pleasure only. You'll eat, drink, piss, and shit when I tell you. I'll call you 'cunt' and you won't be allowed to speak..." etc.) But there's no telling whether the ads are fantasies or real intentions, and whether anything unhealthy comes of them. (Maybe the guy is a psycho who would never attract anyone. Or maybe he's just trying to attract someone who shares the same fantasy for a healthy relationship with some heavy roleplay. Whatever.)

I suspect most abusers don't need to claim they're doing BDSM. And I suspect if there are people doing really unhealthy BDSM, they're not out in the community.

ellefromtheeast said...

I suspect if there are people doing really unhealthy BDSM, they're not out in the community.

This is exactly how I feel. Man, oh man, do I stay the hell away from the major bdsm websites. My suspicion is the most of the worst stuff happens when people stumble into the online world and have no real-life basis for comparison; I can see how it would be all too easy to blur the line between fantasy and reality with no sense of realistic expectations and connection to community norms.

I don't know of any cases of ongoing abuse, but I do know of a few predatory older male tops with seriously bad protocol - pushing or disregarding limits, trying to renegotiate in the middle of scenes. I try to find the young, new female subs in the scene before they do, give them a heads up, and introduce them to nicer people.

Mighty Fast Pig said...

As Lady Heather said on CSI, "It's the people who don't come here I worry about."

SnowdropExplodes said...

The only abusive person I can think of off the top of my head wasn't someone I knew, but was the partner of Julie after she dumped me. Basically, he was stringing her along with promises he never had any intention of keeping about where their relationship was going - not that abusive really, but he was hurting her emotionally.

Cherry Torn said...

I have to agree with ellefromtheeast. I've been going to BDSM events for about 3 years now and I've never met anyone with a reputation for being an abuser, but there is always that older dude that makes a bee line for the 18 year olds. I personally don't consider that abusive.

People in "the scene" cheat and lie just like any human being.

Lisa Harney said...

"BDSM is full of abusers" is a stereotype based on the trappings (which aren't superficial). It's people who see the whips and the chains and the handcuffs (a stereotypical description, too!) and impose their own expectations.

Consider how MWMF allowed BDSM people into the Fest because they figured the subs would try to escape once exposed to true sisterhood? Didn't happen.

antiprincess said...

How many abusers have you met?

Just one. my exhusband.

I was a pretty hardcore bottom (occasional switch) at the time.

but here's the thing - I didn't sign up to be choked to unconsciousness, and beaten with closed fists, and have bones bruised and broken, and be humiliated - at least, not in the kitchen, in the living room, in public, or in the heat of an argument.

and when I said "hey, that's abusive!" he said "that's what a BDSM relationship is all about. don't like it? there's the door. if you think you can make it out there with nothing but the clothes on your back, go for it."

but, see, that's not what a BDSM relationship is all about. It's not a free pass to let your anger run rampant on your partner, and damn the consequences. If anything, you have to be more careful to treat your partner with respect and dignity, because the wheels can come right off your wagon if you don't.

It's not "the community's" fault he beat me. It's not the myth of female masochism's fault. It's not the patriarchy's fault. I'm not letting him off the hook that easy. It was nobody's fault but HIS.

antiprincess said...

and it's not like the idea that there's a difference between BDSM and abuse is a big new thing.

there's great long lists (say, for example, here: http://www.sscn.org/abuse.html), workshops, all kinds of opportunities for this information to be discussed.

which is not to say that it ever actually IS.

rock on, Trinity, for bringing it up. maybe people will listen this time.

Habu said...

Ok, I've been out Leather for 20 years now. Personal experience of kinky 'problem children'-

There's the asshole who raped me, and his girlfriend. She was there at the time, and I've come to terms with her as much as I probably ever will.

There's the ex that choked me non-consensually.

And there's a certain son of a bitch who thinks he looks good in a kilt, but is nothing other than a cowardly womyn beating son of a bitch.

There are also two other sorry asswipes who I've helped girlfriends get out of, one who was pointing a gun at my friend, and another in the dead of night as he pounded on my car hood and threatened her life.

That's the personal experience kinky abusive motherfuckers toll.

(But it should also be pointed out, the last two are because I, unlike many people am willing to be 'involved' rather than turn away when a friend is in these situations. So for some people, those would have been friends they knew of who reported such, but they'd have no firsthand knowledge.)

Other people in 'the scene' I have no direct experience with, but know womyn who have, 3 more.

That said, compared to the outside world? I'd actually say a SMALLER percentage- at least in terms of people who actually physically show up and are known to others.

(I'm not touching online crap with a ten foot pole, for the purposes of this discussion.)

Short answer is, any subset of people are going to have a percentage.

The difference is in Leather one's reputation in their communities matters deeply, and word (used to anyway)get(s) around. Which is one of the reasons to watch closely for people who used to run under one name in a community, and now run under something else.

Are there people here who are abusers? Yes. Are they the massive under every rock boogieman problem people external to the community think when they think of 'the scene'? No.

No more so, (and possibly less so) than the ABUUUUUUUUUUUZERS one could just as easily face for going about your day to day life, grocery shopping, going to work, shopping for Yuletide gifts... .

Trinity said...

"My suspicion is the most of the worst stuff happens when people stumble into the online world and have no real-life basis for comparison"

YES. That's my view as well. I just occasionally hear "Oh, I've met a *bunch( of submissive women, and it seems *every one* needs help getting out, so I worry about them" and I was just wondering if there were their own little "we're REAL TPE'ers" enclaves I just never stumbled into, or if (as I suspect) these are people on the fringes who either avoid the community or don't do their research, or...

Trinity said...

"if you hang out on the Internet and read ads, you'll see lots that sound pretty abusive. ("I want a slave who knows her place as a woman is to be a filthy slut abused for my pleasure only. You'll eat, drink, piss, and shit when I tell you. I'll call you 'cunt' and you won't be allowed to speak..." etc.) But there's no telling whether the ads are fantasies or real intentions, and whether anything unhealthy comes of them."

yeah. I've actually talked to some internet people who talk like that in the profile of their LJ comm or in their ads, but who act absolutely stunned if you take it literally, and answer with "Oh, of course this is fantasy! Are you crazy, that you'd think I was serious?"

which could be CYA behavior, but in a few cases I do think people are roleplaying and just, well, forgetting to mention they've begun doing so.

Trinity said...

"t's not "the community's" fault he beat me. It's not the myth of female masochism's fault. It's not the patriarchy's fault. I'm not letting him off the hook that easy. It was nobody's fault but HIS."

right on. what bakes my noodle about all this is, well, WHY SHOULD I SUPPOSE THESE PEOPLE WOULDN'T DO IT ANYWAY WITHOUT BDSM?

ellefromtheeast said...

Habu, I should say that I, like cherry_torn, have only been in the scene a few years. I'm sure that if I'm lucky enough to be in this community for 20 years like you, eventually those years will be marred by knowledge of abusers - and, I would hope, by my ability to help get the victims out.

As everyone has said, there are abusers everywhere.

SnowdropExplodes said...

I just occasionally hear "Oh, I've met a *bunch( of submissive women, and it seems *every one* needs help getting out, so I worry about them"

It occurs to me that if you're only interested in knowing about/hearing from/finding the ones who "need help getting out", then of course all the ones you know about will fit that description. Because the vast majority of subs, who are in healthy relationships, will look at you and what you're doing and back away slowly, never breathing a WORD about their kinkiness. Because they don't want to be "rescued" by the likes of you...

eboniorchid said...

Everyone's said it already, I think, but ...

A) Yes, there are abusers who are kinky or use kink as a cover for their problematic behavior. I have known at least two really horrible ones in my 6+ years being involved with kink. BUT I've known more than that number in the vanilla community, so I doubt that the percentage of abusers is actually higher in the kink community. They are likely about the same.

B) Cyberspace is a really tricky place to explore kink, but for many it's the only way, so I'm hesitant to say these spaces are chock full of abusers, because I don't think they are. You have to be really careful, but you're supposed to be careful in all explorations of kink with new partners.

C) I think it's important to note, though, that while I do believe that the percentages are likely comparable between abusers in the kink and vanilla communities, the added isolation of being part of a group that is outside the norm may contribute to silencing survivors of abuse/rape/non-consensual violence far more than the community would like. There are such trends in the nonheterosexual community and among survivors who were attacked/abused by someone of the same sex, because society already stigmatizes that activity, so speaking out becomes a process of revictimization. I mean, on the one hand, I feel like the BDSM community I'm apart of right now would be very supportive, but if someone from within the community wanted to go to the police about an abuse or rape situation, it would still be hard on everyone. What would it really be like to sit down in a room with a likely vanilla officer of the law and explain how you, as a submissive or dominant, had arranged for X potentially illegal, painful, or outside-the-norm activities, but are upset and feel violated by being made to experience Y and Z activities. I think the National Leather Association has a really interesting domestic violence project, but with the way the outside world already pathologizes our activities. I think we'll continue to have this dichotomy between people looking in who say "BDSM is all about abuse," and people looking around at their own circles and saying "I don't see any abuse." Neither is true and everyone has to own that. Crime happens in every human community and that's what abuse/rape/non-consensual violence is. We're not immune to it or above it, but neither are the people in the vanilla world, not even the high-and-mightiest of the holy roller communities.

EthylBenzene said...

I am not part of any formal large IRL community aside from just the fact that most of my friends have turned out to be kinky, but I was just thinking. It seems like if someone thinks that BDSM is "all about abuse," or if people who do BDSM are all in abusive relationships, then how do they explain vanilla abuse?

In any event, it sure seems like abuse happens in any and all kinds of relationships. Trying to pin it down to one "community" or situation sounds a lot like wishful thinking -- sort of, well, if all the abusers are over there at that weird leather bar or church or whatever, then that could never happen to me! Unfortunately, as we all know, that is just not true.

Trinity said...

Yeah. I think part of the driving force here is this idea that

1) BDSM involves power
2) power (tends to?) corrupt
3) abusive relationships are relationships in which a power differential is obvious and harmful

therefore

4) BDSM is more likely to include abusive relationships or abusers

Which may be logical, but the problem is that 2) is a moral rule of thumb, not a clear piece of theory.

What forms of power corrupt? How do they do so? Are there forms that don't? Does having or giving consent mitigate this? How, or why not?

And most importantly, is the type of power that corrupts not present or less present in vanilla? I'd argue that it might well be the case that similar power dynamics are often present in both, but in vanilla they are more covert.

Trinity said...

eboni,

your point 3) is absolutely true, and a great point. Sometimes counterculture communities become invested in protecting their members because of a perceived threat from the mainstream, and so don't "clean house" in ways they really should.

I did see this in one BDSM group I was part of. An overbearing asshole "dom" took a newbie young sub under his wing, and promptly made her life *hell*. She didn't like him or want to obey him, but she worried about being a bad submissive so she did it anyway. I and a few other tops tried to explain that he was a jerk, that she shouldn't do anything she feels bad about, that none of us would expect blind unhappy obedience, etc. but she refused to break her ties with him. I'm still not sure why.

We took it to the board of the local organization, explaining that while nothing more than some pushiness and insistence she call him Sir and let him call her pet and boss her around a bit had happened so far, we were uncomfortable. The gentleman (cough) in question had always been a pushy jerk no one liked, so we figured he'd get talked to or discouraged from coming back or get a bad name (worse than he already had) or even get kicked out.

The board did nothing, because there wasn't yet any serious reason to boot him, and they felt from what I remember that kicking someone out of the community was a serious punishment they weren't ready for. I think they hoped this girl would grow some smarts and learn from the many others in the community who were telling her to leave this guy be and find friends. But she didn't. She felt bad about refusing him, and his boorish behavior made her not want to make other friends.

I don't think anything worse happened -- I think they just had a falling out eventually and she left the scene. But it really bugged me that people were leaving wising up totally up to her, when she clearly wasn't going to do so. I feel like I and my friends did all we could to try and help and to try and show her what better dominant people wanted and acted like, but it wasn't enough. I still wish the community had picked up the slack.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

I think it's generally the case that the more 'underground' a practice is, the harder it is for people there to deal with abusive behaviours.

Reasons I can think of for this:

1) Lack of contact with other practitioners to provide a reality check. This can lead to abusive types redefining things to suit their desires, as antiprincess wrote about wrt her ex in the comments above.

2) Lack of contact with people outside the subculture or community who one can talk about the subject with. While I suspect a lot of people are reluctant to talk about their personal stuff -- like kink, say, or religious stuff, or various other things -- with people who don't share the experience, the fact of hiding the entirety of stuff from 'outsiders' still sacrifices a lot of opportunity to check perspectives.

3) Personal risk in looking for help. Given how much blame-the-victim crap there is out there for people trying to escape vanilla abusive relationships, someone who is interested in some non-mainstream stuff will certainly have to evaluate what the risk is of having their personal life gutted and spread out to read as an augury and whether the abuse of "what were you doing dressed like that anyway?" end of things outweighs the abuse of the relationship.

4) Community risk. People who are afraid of being outed might not be as helpful as they might prefer to be, because of the risks of consequences.

5) Community solidarity. The more "us-versus-them" feeling that's generated by social pressure, the more likely it is that an abuser will be able to appeal to, "Come on, I'm one of you guys" and get off some portion of the consequences for their actions. (This problem won't coexist often with #1, of course -- but I've seen it a hell of a lot with abusive situations in the extended pagan community.)


Recognising this stuff is one of the reasons that I am bloody insistent on treating all of my wacky stuff as pretty much normal -- partly to keep myself from getting isolated and remaining in a place with a variety of perspectives, and partly to fight against the ghettoisation of this stuff that provides places for abusers to get away with their stuff.

I don't think it makes them more common, but I do think it makes them harder to deal with. In that whole 'cockroaches scatter in the light' sense. The more areas that are socially well-lit, the fewer refuges there are for the vermin.

Trinity said...

You're right -- which makes approaches like Haitch's all that much *weirder* to me. How do you shine light on the cockroaches when you're claiming the subculture in question is supposed to be cockroachy and how dare people be so sunny?

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Betcha that was supposed to be a clever little, "Hah! But aren't you really a cockroach?" See! Surprised you with my flashlight! ... why aren't you running?

Trinity said...

yeah probably, especially given his screed about how no one should call herself "sadist." really how do you QUOTE ME, ME OF ALL PEOPLE, on that and say I'm smart and keen, and then assert that? would make sense if you were refuting me, here's why Trinity has it wrong, yadda ya, but he wasn't. He was just all over the place and not making sense and eventually concluding "real" sadist = bad.

which yeah, but the point of my gd post was what's a "real" sadist? what's the nature of the division? and i still think it's got to do with what people who lack the empathy to care what they're doing do with impulses to cruelty v what people who have it do with them.

Trinity said...

shorter version of above comment: sade was a git who knew how to spell and landed in literary history.

Harper said...

I think it's got a bit to do with the whole 'people who are different (and scary and strange and...!) broadcast that difference really loudly all the time and you can spot them a mile away' idea. People want abusers to be obvious, they want them to be scary and avoidable. If they can pin an assumption on one community, then they feel they have laid down the line of what is good and safe (vanilla) and what is bad and abusive (BDSM). It's scary to think that one could be making small talk or standing in line with someone who looks 'normal' and is an abuser. It's so much easier and so much more dismissive to say that abuse only happens or is very prevalent when you stray from the norm of vanilla. It validates the safety of being vanilla.

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Trinity said...

"People want abusers to be obvious, they want them to be scary and avoidable. If they can pin an assumption on one community, then they feel they have laid down the line of what is good and safe (vanilla) and what is bad and abusive (BDSM)."

YES.

Jemima Puddletwunt said...

The only person I've known in the scene who I could categorically identify as abusive was an ex of mine; a violent, emotionally and financially manipulative bottom.

Most of the tops I've known have been subject to a healthy degree of paranoia about keeping their bottoms safe and happy.

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