We can’t just rely on “tell rapists not to rape”. Not when we don’t recognise our own actions as abusive, not when we excuse the actions of others as “well they didn’t mean it that way” because we know them. Not when we only notice big-scale attacks and don’t recognise smaller acts of consent-breaking.
We can’t just rely on telling people to watch their drinks or not walk out alone at nights. Not when they don’t neatly correlate to safety numbers. Not when you can do everything perfect and still be attacked, or do everything OK and still be fine.
We can’t just focus on the victim and the perpetrator, not when there’s all the rest of society that intersects with both areas, sometimes both at once, and perpetuates behaviours and attitudes that allow these sorts of attacks to continue.
We all need to be responsible for each other.
The reason I put a focus here on alternative sexuality communities is that firstly: resources are bloody limited. Almost everything’s geared towards the most normative situations - mostly m/f date rape or random male attacker, or in rarer cases gay male rape.
There are even less resources for assault and rape that happens during such situations. What if you were assaulted at a BDSM munch? Raped in a swingers party (like me)? Felt coerced to do something you didn’t want to do at a porn shoot or sex worker appointment? How are you going to find support and assistance when resources aren’t written for you and people make assumptions about how those scenes are so sexually rampant anyway that just being there is “asking for it”, that it’s not possible to be raped or assaulted at a sex party or while working as an escort or stripper, that all BDSM is abuse so why cry?
So as a survivor - and someone fed up to the point of tears and anger - I want to put together a list of community and personal actions, geared towards everyone. Not so much “how to keep yourself safe for yourself”, but how to encourage a culture of safety and support rather than a culture of rape and victim-blaming.
This is only the beginning. Please pass this on, add your ideas, make something of it if you wish (this post is public domain; you don’t even have to credit me).
1. Acknowledge that power-based personal violence exists within the community. I’ve noticed such a tendency to fight the mainstream stigma by saying “NO WE DON’T HAVE ABUSE!” that when it does happen no one wants to accept it. It’s as though it’d ruin the party line. But this only serves to alienate and harm the victims further by cutting them off people who they felt may have accepted their weirdness before.
2. Acknowledge that anyone can be an abuser or perpetrator - including respected people, people who have done good, friends & family members, even yourself. No one is exempt from potentially being an abuser, and the sad thing is that because so many of us have had screwed-up education about relationships & sexuality and consent (if ANY) we’re probably being abusive without knowing it. Human beings are complicated, and rapists aren’t a separate species - denial or refutation (“but he can’t be a rapist! he’s an educated man/he runs the community/he created Wikileaks!”) isn’t going to help anybody.
3. Give the benefit of the doubt to the victim/survivor, even if the person being accused is a “good person” or - and especially - it’s someone you know. Yes, people say “but they could be making it up!”. Assuming from the get-go that they’re lying, though, does a disservice to everyone - no one gets heard and only assumptions linger. Work on the temptation to say “but I know them, it can’t happen” - hear them out, get the accused’s perspective if you can (recognising that people tend to retell stories in the way that suits them best), and remember that anyone can commit violence even if they never intended to or wanted to. Separate the action from the person, and it’ll be easier to manage cognitive dissonance.
4. Cease using “attention-seeking” or “drama queen” as an insult or something to look down on. Honestly, this goes in with slut-shaming as one of the big reasons power-based personal violence likely still exists. If anything deserved drama and attention, this would be it! So what if they’re being a harpy, or if they’ve been dramatic in the past over silly stuff? It’s still a serious matter, not something to be brushed off, even if it sounds to you like something trivial. (“He only said hi to her in the elevator!”)
5. Recognise that power-based personal violence can happen in a variety of ways, within various dynamics. It’s not just about a man jumping from the bushes. It’s a Dom expecting the sub to never safeword because that’s “not what subs do”. It’s between two women at a ladies’ only play party. It’s the client that shoves his finger up a stripper’s cunt. It’s the agent that sends their escort out to see a client that is known to be predatory. It’s the burlesque dancer that picks a non-consenting stranger to give a lapdance to, expecting them to enjoy it (this is really problematic, folks, but I know this happens a lot). It’s the newbie porn star pressured by their more experienced peers to do what they’re not comfortable with because it pays more. It’s the teachers yelling at their students whenever the student brings up a problem. It’s between a 40-year-long relationship, or between newlyweds. It’s so many things; things that don’t get discussed or talked about.
6. Respect the choices victims/survivors make with regards to reporting, self-care, or association. Not everyone is comfortable going to the police. Some survivors may choose to maintain personal relationships with their abusers for whatever reason (material survival, a decision to work through the issue together, anything). Some may disassociate from the community entirely. Some may indulge in activities that don’t look “typical” for a grieving survivor, such as partying or going on holiday or doing anything fun. Some may return to life as usual very quickly; some may never get over it. Even if their methods of coping seem idiosyncratic to you, understand that everyone has their own way of dealing, and respect that.
7. Talk about these things in the community, while respecting privacy, and acknowledge those that open up to you. There were a couple of people in the Brisbane kink scene who had talked about issues of abuse and how the BDSM scene was really close and etc, so I contacted them to share my story and get support. Until now I have not heard anything. Zilch. Nada. Crickets. It was very disheartening and added to my feelings of grief and shame. It takes a lot for people to reveal something so personal and painful to someone else; many go their whole lives without ever revealing such stories. Respect it for the honour that it is and respect any requests they make of you. As for community discussions - I’m not necessarily talking about Name’em and Shame’em, that depends on your individual communities, but definitely have discussions on how to deal with these things together. You may not feel like a community in the traditional sense, but we are all a community of human beings and it’s our responsibility to care for each other anyhoo, even moreso when we have things in common that others may not be able to understand (and so come to you for mutual understanding).
These are some of the ones I’ve come up with so far. If you have any other suggestions, stories, feedback, and so on, please comment and share.