Anti-BDSMers pretending to look out for us are dangerous

Clarisse Thorn's picture

Maymay, the brilliant BDSM activist who was recently attacked and labeled a pedophile on the Salvation Army’s human trafficking email list, has drawn my attention to another lovely little initiative from Citizens Against Trafficking: BDSM: A Case of Human Trafficking (PDF file), by Donna M. Hughes and Melanie Shapiro.

Firstly, the title. “BDSM: A Case of Human Trafficking”. What the paper actually outlines is one single abusive BDSM relationship — the famous Glenn Marcus case — that is, a sadist who seriously mistreated, raped, and threatened the family of a female submissive. So why does the paper’s title imply that BDSM is one huge crazy orgy of human trafficking? If the authors aren’t trying to convince us that S&M is dangerous and scary in itself, then why is the paper full of blanket statements like “A sadist’s goal is the progressive destruction of a victim”?

And what the hell is going on with bits like this:

One of Marcus’ other sex slaves testified in his defense saying that Jodi was a willing participant in sex games. She said that Marcus was harmless. When prosecutors showed a photograph of this woman’s breasts punctured with dozens of pins, she still insisted it was consensual: “I love being around Glenn. He’s a lot of fun.”

Well, the “sex slave” probably “insisted it was consensual” because it was, you know, actually consensual. I have consensually had pins stuck in me as well, so I can see how someone might “insist”. In fact, the first time I ever did piercing, I purchased the needles myself and explicitly propositioned my partner … then handed him the box.

But let’s get past the doubtful phrasing of those sentences, and start questioning why the authors included such explicit details. What, exactly, is the point of describing that piercing so carefully? Or the consensual floggings that the authors linger over? Or the cages and leashes they lovingly describe? These writers know that mainstream America is not remotely accustomed to this kind of imagery; sounds to me like they’re trying their absolute hardest to freak people out. They do thoughtfully include a “Warning the following includes extremely graphic descriptions of violence and abuse” … on page 6, after most of the descriptions of violence and abuse.

Chillingly, after flinging lots of stereotypes about, the paper ends with this:

If you have been involved in BDSM that went beyond consensual activity and someone was making money from your work, sex acts or images of sex acts, you may be a victim of human trafficking, either sex trafficking, forced labor or both. You can get help by calling the national 24 hour, toll‐free trafficking hotline at 1‐888‐3737‐888, or call the local FBI office or U.S. Attorney’s  Office.

Donna Hughes has spoken to the director of the national trafficking hotline. They are prepared to talk to victims of BDSM who may be victims of human trafficking.

This reminds me of those awful pro-life “clinics” that “counsel” pregnant women about abortion — you know, the clinics that pretend to have actual medical qualifications so they can pull in desperate women who want abortions and then lie to those women about their abortion options — preferably completely scaring the women away from abortion by means of slanted statistics, religious moralism, and outright lies. (Did you know that fake clinics often set up shop right next to actual abortion clinics such as Planned Parenthood, so as to dupe women who come to the area seeking the legitimate clinic?)

“Chilling” is a strong word, huh? But here’s what scares me about the Glenn Marcus case: Jodi went into the relationship willingly, after deliberately seeking out information about BDSM online. She went with Marcus after having two other BDSM relationships. And at first, she stayed with Marcus not out of fear, but because she enjoyed what he was doing.

I’ve often wondered what could have happened to me if I’d come into BDSM from a slightly different angle — if I hadn’t had the resources or the mentors or the education or even the just plain luck that have kept me from experiences like Jodi’s. I’d like to think that I would never get involved with a sadist who showed such obvious warning signs (Marcus did not, for example, allow safewords from the start) — and I think that most of the wider BDSM community would never enable such behavior — but we all tend to think we’re so brilliant and invulnerable and know exactly what we’re doing, now don’t we?

I recall this moment from my coming-out story:

Richard explained that he hadn’t particularly been satisfied with how he’d dealt with me before he left, but hadn’t had time for anything better. Now, he thought the situation was “healthier”. “What do you want from this?” he asked seriously.

I want the strength to walk away from you, I thought unclearly. I want you to actually care about me. I never want to see you again. I hugged my arms to myself, resting my hands gingerly on swelling skin. “Um,” I said slowly, “nothing in particular?” I took a breath and gathered the one overriding fact: I want you to keep hurting me. “I don’t expect anything from you,” I told him, “and I don’t want you to expect anything from me.”

I knew from his smile that my answer was the right one. I could only hope it was accurate.

Given that I recognized BDSM as something I wanted, desperately — what would I have tolerated in order to get it? Richard isn’t a bad guy, but what happened with him certainly wasn’t my ideal relationship. Could I have ended up in some appallingly abusive situation? I don’t know. I really don’t know.

But I do know one thing. The single biggest factor making women like Jodi (and, arguably, myself) vulnerable is lack of social acceptance for BDSM — fear of being outed, fear of associating too publicly with our desires. Note that the biggest method of control Glenn Marcus used was threatening to out Jodi. In other words, he was able to abuse her because she was afraid he would tell people (especially her parents) that she was a kinkster and porn star.

And the second biggest factor? Lack of freely-available information about BDSM, what makes a good BDSM relationship, and how to practice it safely. Jodi did not run screaming from a dominant who flat-out disallowed safewords … perhaps she didn’t have good community support?

Remember how I mentioned that I initiated the piercing scene with my first piercing partner? I basically read a few webpages, bought the needles, and dove in. And based on that limited information, my partner and I did a couple of things that I now recognize as dangerous — things we wouldn’t have done if we’d had access to better resources on piercing. “Better resources” might include the KinkForAll sexuality conferences that maymay pioneered, the same thing that then — oh yeah! now I remember! — got him labeled a pedophile and trafficker by Donna Hughes et al.

If people like Donna M. Hughes and Melanie Shapiro are so concerned about BDSMers’ safety, then they ought to be speaking out on behalf of S&M; they ought to be trying to create a safer social climate for us to explore and access our desires; they ought to support the free spread of kink-related information. Panicky reports like this “BDSM: A Case of Human Trafficking” are therefore doing the opposite of helping, as are insane crusades like this anti-maymay thing.

But methinks their actual goal has very little to do with protecting actual women, and everything to do with scaring the public into supporting their fundamentally conservative agenda — and also scaring people away from accepting or practicing BDSM. Hence, they offer “support” with one hand — support that would doubtless tell callers that kink is Bad Wrong Awful Must Avoid At All Costs Intrinsically Abusive! — while promoting awful stereotypes about kink with the other. Just like those horrible clinics. It’s chilling.

I wish I were in the States right now so I could call this human trafficking hotline myself — which has apparently been oh-so-well primed to talk to kinksters — and see what they really think about BDSM. If any of my readers have voice acting skill and time to kill, plus maybe a voice recorder standing by, I invite you to try it. I mean, they must be well-prepared to help all those “victims of BDSM”! After all, Donna Hughes talked to them! Even if no actual S&Mers did.

NOTE: If you are a BDSMer and think you might be in an abusive relationship, then I encourage you to seek support, but not from Donna Hughes and her ilk. There may be therapists listed in your area on the Kink Aware Professionals list, and sometimes feminist sex toy stores such as Chicago’s Early to Bed host kink-friendly workshops for abuse survivors (but you may want to call ahead to ensure that the workshop facilitator will be kink-aware). Indeed, your local kink scene may specifically have workshops for kinky abuse survivors (if you’re in Chicago, here’s a calendar of local BDSM events). For more on the subject of BDSM community anti-abuse efforts, see my blog post Evidence That the BDSM Community Does Not Enable Abuse.

(Posted at Clarisse Thorn)

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