I wanted to take a moment while I’m thinking about it to blog about what I thought was kind of an astounding thing that happened during my panel at Momentum. First, here is how the panel was billed, direct from the Momentum website:

Being the Change you Want to See: Helping Stem the Tide of Silence about Sexual Abuse in Sex-Positive Communities

Nadia West, Kitty Stryker, Heidi Anderson, Nancy Schwartzman & Jane Duvall

A panel discussion on how sexual abuse/assault/rape have been mishandled by our communities in the past, and how we can stop the silencing that goes on and create positive outcomes in the future. How can we create change online and in the physical world?

I haven’t seen much discussion of the topic at conventions I’ve been to in the past. I vaguely recollect seeing Seattle’s Center for Sex Positive Culture having a regularly scheduled support group in the past, but as far as discussion goes, there isn’t really much of it, so I was heartened to have it embraced as a valid topic, and for me it was also healing to be a part of even if I did have a shaking voice during part of what I was saying.

At any rate, I was a little surprised when about halfway through an only hour-long discussion, what came up was how to help the abusers. I understand that this is a community that embraces a LOT of practices that the rest of the world considers beyond the pale, but still, really?! In a community where people who encounter abuse are afraid to talk about it, or even more insidiously, actively encouraged NOT to, I am a little more worried about the abused at this point.

Still, the conversation turned that way. It started out with something we all knew was coming. “But what about false accusations?” I don’t want to debate the percentage of false accusations statics and reporting here. If you look online, you’ll find anywhere from 3% to 40% being quoted, depending on what study you want to point to. It’s a valid question, but it wasn’t the point of the panel. The point of the panel also really wasn’t about how to punish abusers, all it was, was “how do we support women and men who have been abused in our communities.”

It was suggested, to my horror, that we need to do more to support the abusers. To make them feel safe in our communities by allowing them to acknowledge and apologize for their mistakes, and find support in changing their behaviors.

First, I will say that negotiation, consent, and other workshops on exactly these topics, are what the community is already all about. It’s about educating how to play as safely as possible with the risk factors involved. When almost every workshop I’ve ever attended has addressed those issues at least briefly, and many classes are devoted to nothing but that, I don’t understand how it comes up here. We need to quit apologizing for the abusers and start sticking up for the abused. Most of the people I know who have stories never were out to punish their abusers. They only wanted a voice of their own, and to be believed, or at the very least not discounted, shamed or silenced.

It is my contention that the BDSM community in specific has a real problem acknowledging the fact that there are predators who use organized community events for their procuring of victims. Lots of abusers are very smart people, and it makes sense to mitigate your risk factors and if assault is your kink to go into a community where the lines get very gray. That aside, abuse crosses all realms, it really doesn’t matter your religion, race, gender or socioeconomic status. It happens.

I understand WHY we don’t want to talk about this, cause guess what? I feel defensive and protective of BDSM too. I like to play, I like to be on bottom, and I hate that it’s misunderstood. The other night, there was a Criminal Minds episode about “The Company”. It had themes of nonconsensual bdsm and “slave contracts” and other such stuff. I found myself getting very defensive at first, although I will say they veered off to actually taking time to distinguish the criminal acts going on from actual consensual bdsm activity. Sorry, I know citing a Criminal Minds episode isn’t the best example. :)

My other issue of course is that if society at large equates bdsm with abuse, they’ll try to protect us from ourselves. I don’t want to be protected, I want to have the freedom to do what I want to do in the bedroom. But I understand the impulse to protect, it’s just easier than addressing the ugly bits. Problem is, abuse will happen anyhow.

Anyhow, I suppose if I had to put it in a nutshell, I’d say this: if BDSM is going to be a legal, respected sexual choice, then we have to acknowledge that the people who practice it are just as human as the rest of the population, warts and all – and then start addressing the warts.

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