On Rape Response

Since I have been the subject of a recent article about a fundraiser I hosted for a workshop that I give on sexual assault in sex centered communities, I thought I might write a bit about my mission statement around that workshop in particular.

For one, I am trying to get to the root of good faith and bad faith conflicts. As a trait found across human nature, we tend to attack easy victims. This goes for rape and this also goes for mob mentality. Let it not be said that I am a fan of lynch mobs. I am certainly a believer of self-defense. If you touch me sexually without permission, be prepared for an herbal refreshment of a caustic remedy I like to call pepper spray. That said, there is no feasible model I can conceive of for a community to retaliate in a formal and systemic manner without bias.

What I am looking at is very much the often cited Gift Of Fear by Gavin DeBecker. Often recommended to those concerned with being the victims of violence, it is also very much a book for bystanders that goes into why we so often have a very bad gut feeling about something we’ve observed but fail to act. I do not think that the BDSM community is exceptional but I do think it has unique barriers that faciliate assault and abuse that must be considered.

First and foremost, we have limited access to law enforcement and the judicial system. Those of us who have looked through assault and abuse trials have seen that even the most so-called perfect victim will go through the ringer. Most rapes aren’t prosecuted because they aren’t picked up by district attorneys and being someone in a sexual alternative community won’t do you any favors. Although we are working to improve conditions and they have gotten vastly better, we can at the least acknowledge that it’s easier to pick up the phone and call for help when you aren’t worried about whether or not you will be involuntarily committed into a psychiatric hold for being kinky or arrested yourself.

Secondly, shame is an isolating factor that facilitates abuse. Many people who are in a sexual minority may have a diminished number of social contacts to go to for help and support. So often we are advised to have our friends and families meet our partners but those rules change if you’re not in a traditional sexual arrangement. Being in the closet is a risk factor but not everyone is safe to come out. One of the major components that strengthens a community is looking out for those factors.

The fact that a lot of people are shit heads to sexual minorities is not the fault of any of these communities. Some would say I shouldn’t talk about the fact that yes, even here, there is a dark side lest the bad reputation get worse. A bad reputation won’t get better from a few human sacrifices in the name of silence. Recognizing that assault and abuse are exceedingly common in all communities including your local dungeon, YMCA, religious organization, knitting circle, and book club, or swing club and creating a system to respond to that is being pragmatic and realistic.

There’s more to responding to sexual assault than a mob with torches and pitchforks. There is also taking a look at the many dark corners we create and just how much it sucks when someone who does bad things to people is on your team.

Right now, I’m going through that feeling in San Francisco as Ross Mirkarimi faces domestic abuse charges. Mirkarimi was the candidate I wanted for sheriff. He is progressive in his politics and moreover I actually spoke to him face to face about sex worker issues and he listened. I felt that he was the best person for the job. Now he is facing multiple allegations of abuse.  It’s bad for politics. Part of me wants it all to be politics, to have it be some outsiders trying to keep a strong candidate away from this office. I mean, how often do you get a sheriff who has serious issues with the cops?

That’s wrapping myself up in my own agenda and my own disappointment at having publicly supported this individual. I don’t want to have put my stock in someone who does that. Then again, I have not been the recipient of these actions. They are complicated. They are complicated as fuck and it can never be said that I think it is simple.

What I do think is that it has to be discussed. My chief complaint with my particular community is the desire to keep the the bad faith as quiet as possible. There are people who speak up, rightfully, for those who are mislabeled as creepy for not fitting into the traditional mold for someone with good intentions and that statement is not inaccurate. We are prone to that kind of bias. What I notice, however, is that we go for those acting in good faith because they are safe targets for criticism. We are often dead silent for our worst repeat offenders.

My biggest outcry are about the people whose names you can mention in certain circles and get, at best, someone creating a defense for a destructive person that individual is and yet everyone will still promote that individual’s shows, work, and feeding grounds. Perhaps that is the biggest sign of the fear they inspire in others. I have literally run into individuals who have gone through scores of victims as a persistent repetitive behavior and modus operandi. I’ve also noticed that some individuals will move from one community to another with very little cross communication. The behaviors of the Catholic Church are not unique. We are often more afraid of the scandal than we are what occurred and that blinds us.

We pride ourselves in negotiation and articulating desire and yet we get into very mixed rhetorical language when it comes to some of our shadier characters. So often I hear something like, “Oh, that’s X and X is always an asshole like that. I mean, I’m not saying X is like, a rapist, but X is kind of rapey. Oh no, I’m not saying X would hurt anyone though. It’s just’s X’s style to be an asshole. That’s why we love X.”

What I’m saying is, if you make an honest mistake you’re likely to be publicly flogged and criticized. If you scream at more than a dozen fetish models and coerce them into silence instead of the no you just agreed on and then fuck them, you’re likely to be left in peace as a hard core edge player or something. That’s an imbalance. We need to look at who we scream at and brainstorm ways to be supportive of people without arguing over whether or not a tribunal would work.

I’ve been to sex community meetings. I am not suggesting this at all for a myriad of reasons.

I am saying, look at the language we use. Are we receptive to hearing the word, “no” or should we think at practicing some social decorum in that arena? When someone says no, they’re giving us a chance to play another day if we handle that situation with respect. Instead of arguing the legalese of what consitutes “technically touching someone” like a 7 year old in the back of Mom and Dad’s minivan on vacation with your siblings, think about respecting someone’s space and boundaries. It means checking our sense of entitlement to other people’s bodies and not making assumptions about free access.

Although many sex communities may have barriers to the outside support, sex communities are also known for the novel invention. What I’m calling for is dialogue around how to respond to assault and abuse and bring the numbers down. It doesn’t matter if sex communities are coming in at the national average for rape when the national average has been estimated to be at a 64% prevalence for women with 70-80% percent of sexual assaults coming from individuals that the victim knows.

It stands to reason that there is sexual assault and abuse occurring in a community where there is increased access with decreased outside support. Saying, “safe, sane, and consensual” is not the same thing as clicking your heels together and saying, “there’s no place like home.” Safe, sane, and consensual are a series of actions. What I’m working to do is isolate how to best respond to them when good faith and bad faith are indeed muddy concepts.

I’m looking to integrate rape, assault, and abuse training into dungeon monitor training along with promoting non-violent communication and assertiveness. I think in many communities, these things would be welcome because it’s more information and education to access. What isn’t going to solve anything is sweeping assault and abuse under the rug as “drama.”

At the same time, our inclination to avoid those who inspire the most genuine fear in favor of easier targets is exactly why I do not like the notion of the mob. However, asking folks to perhaps consider who they publicly endorse as educators at small local gatherings is not the same thing as calling for a black list.  So often I hear excuses like, “well, I know they aren’t so great at that part but they are so talented it would be rude not to promote them because that’s what community is for,” and I’m a little surprised by the cognitive dissonance at play.

Dave Chapelle perhaps best illustrated this cognitive dissonance in stand up with his big about being held hostage on a bus:

Although he is using comedy, what he’s talking about is the dark humor in the fact that he gets approached for smoking a cigarette and everyone is quick to chime in about how offensive that behavior is but everyone was suddenly silent when someone was inappropriately masturbating. Although the context is different, the sentiment is the same. Those who spark fear inspire silence.

My anger at the community comes from having finally figured out that the worse and more repetitive someone’s behavior, the more quiet and euphemistic we get about the situation. I have heard people articulate strongly worded opinions about people that have not held up in any logical way so it is not something to be relied upon as a sole calibrator. On the other hand, if people get quiet and hedgey about someone and offer quick and short forced defenses and mixed messages, that’s when my hairs start to stand on end. This method isn’t helping anyone.

One of the biggest focal points of basic self-defense classes is learning how to say NO loudly. In many ways, hosting these classes at dungeons and sex community spaces will help facilitate better sex negotiation in general because these classes provide detailed attention on asserting limits and boundaries verbally before a situation escalates. Sex spaces will hit demographics that might otherwise miss opportunities for this training or feel uncomfortable attending otherwise. Outreaching for educators who focus on these issues and hosting regular events like these can do more for empowering individuals in your community than coded mix messages will.

There is no acceptable number for assault and abuse. The status quo is unacceptable in this regard. We have all of the same mitigating factors for sexual assault that the mainstream has as well as a few beyond our control. We can answer that by making it a point of discussion and openly providing resources. I want to spend time on that discussion and work with people who are committed to finding what can be added to realistically acknowledge that it occurs and that these occurrences impact our community’s livelihood and growth and find ways to reduce the harm of those occurrences.

As a loud mouthed woman, I have justified concerns about people forming a crowd and calling for you to be burned at the stake. Allow me to repeat: I’m not a fan and I don’t think institutional violence would be helpful. I do think that our community needs resources on how to actively listen to these stories and where to direct people for support and action. We do have limited roles as community members but we are not fully absolved of any and all action or we should truly abandon the term.

Often times, people have a hard time with the conversations they want to have because they don’t have the tools. At the same time, like some of our best human invented tools, we get terrified at the shame of having to need them. We do have kink aware and poly aware professionals and we do have networks that are connected to one another. Being sexually different doesn’t mean that you’re abuser and as such you don’t want to stand idly by while it happens. Being opposed to sexual assault is not a sum zero game and it does not mean loss of liberties. It means being realistic about its occurrence and having a response to it.

We spend time learning intricate knots, we keep up on the latest sex gadgets, and we read books about communication, and we go to workshops on prostate play. We can hang some posters with some phone numbers. We can put sexual assault awareness in our first aid kits. It’s is not about rounding up the rapists and shooting them or dropping the issue entirely after saying “safe, sane, and consensual!” 30 times on the internet.


Filed under activism, culture

3 responses to “On Rape Response

  1. Very well-said on all counts, Maggie. I’m glad that more and more people are speaking out about this issue. It’s simply got to change.

  2. Pingback: Wordpress Link Digest 02/08/2012 « Meandering Vaguely Around Timnah

  3. Wow, Whoa-man!! You are beautiful (inside and out), bold, empowered and in my eyes incredibly brave for speaking up. I would love to interview you on Skype for my blog, http://www.tantrachick.com which received approx. 30,000 hits this month.

    I am not into BDSM myself, but it is a topic that is circulating through the Tantra world and I want to highlight the potential issues. Especially considering the fact that I already featured a positive post (The Ethical Pervert) about BDSM. I always try to be balanced and show both the light and the dark…

    If you’re interested, please check out my blog to see i it resonates with you. FYI – I am a Tantric Intimacy Coach, Monogamous Slut, Blogger, and a recently published author (the Guy’s Guide to Multiple Orgasms) and A Quick Shag: Random Raunch.

    Please let me know if you’re interested! joy@thepleasureactivist.com

    From my heart to yours,
    in sensual community,

    Joy Nelson a.k.a. Tantrachick

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