The Truth about the BDSM Community’s ‘Consent Counts’ Project

Margie Nichols, Ph.D.by Margie Nichols, Ph.D.

Last November, Harvard’s approval of a BDSM club on campus sparked news stories about the prevalence of these organizations on college campuses, and the predictable backlash against them.  Some articles wrote of what seemed like an upsurge of rapes –non consensual BDSM sex, or kinky sex that violated someone’s ‘boundaries’ or wishesas a result of these clubs.

And a quotation of Susan Wright’s, the head of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, the advocacy/legal support group protecting the kink, swing, and poly communities, has been repeated as ‘proof’ of BDSM’s ‘violent nature.’  Susan was quoted as saying over 30% of the 5,000 reports they had so far from their ‘Consent Counts’ Project involved transgressions of consent.  The author used her quote as an example of the ‘prevalence’ of violence in the kink community.

In a blog I wrote at the time I pointed out that the percentages quoted put violence in the kink community at about the same or a little less than that of ‘vanilla’ people.  At the time, I wasn’t aware that the nature of the Consent Project, as NCSF calls it, had been distorted so greatly.

The Consent Counts Project isn’t really about nonconsensual BDSM sex, although last year there was a flurry of controversy surrounding the posting by women of those in the community they said had violated them during a BDSM ‘scene.’   Names were posted on FetLife, the kinksters social networking site,  and even the owner was implicated.  But this controversy doesn’t highlight the ‘prevalence’ of abuse – it highlights two essential things about the BDSM community that were completely overlooked by the press:

1) the controversy on FetLife was an example of how kinksters try to police themselves.  Many BDSM venues are safer than comparable ‘vanilla’ ones because leaders in the community promulgate- and largely practice –  the philosophy that BDSM must be ‘Safe, Sane, and Consensual.’

2) the community polices itself in large measure because it is DANGEROUS to report anything that involves BDSM to the police.

In fact, the primary purpose of  NCSF’s Consent Counts project is to point out how widespread legal persecution is against BDSM practicioners and to document cases and laws where these people have been jailed, and/or lost their kids, jobs, and housing  because of their (consensual) sexual practices.

The results are dramatic.  In 2011 there were 630 requests for help from NCSF. Only one sixth involved issues of violence or consensuality.  Most of the rest involved discrimination issues: arrest for consensual activities, child custody issues, loss of employment, etc.  Shockingly -To date, there is not a single appellate court decision anywhere in this country that has accepted consent as a defense in an assault or abuse prosecution arising from BDSM conduct.  BDSM practicioners are vulnerable if a call from a distressed neighbor, and responding police may be mandated to arrest if there is evidence of bruising or marks on the body.

So ‘Consent Counts’ was not designed to protect members of the BDSM community from each other – but from the law and from discrimination, now legal everywhere.  Kinksters do a pretty good job of enforcing the ‘Safe, Sane, and Consensual’ model within their own ranks.  It’s the rest of the world they need protection from.

 

 

 

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