Signal boosting: Everybody’s against rape as long as we’re not proposing to do anything about it

Content Notice: Abuse and sexual assault.

Yes Means Yes is a delightful blog, in part because it discusses the sort of 300-level feminist analyses that I don’t often get outside of school. As a whole, it covers a wide range of topics. Unsurprisingly, I found their BDSM posts and immediately exploded with glee–feminist kinksters write amazing stuff. I certainly wasn’t disappointed in Thomas’ series on the intersection of kink and rape culture.

It is a long read, but my gosh it is detailed and sharp and to the point. Check out some of these select quotes:

I say this because one sex educator I know said to me privately that they will take no part in this dialogue, because of the reaction they got years ago trying to have the same conversation: vicious personal attacks.  It’s easy to be against rape and abuse, you see, as long as it’s in the abstract, as long as the abusers are some nebulous other, as long as the proposed solution does not require any tough choices to be made, expose anyone with important friends to actual accountability or threaten to actually change the way things are.  Everybody’s against rape as long as we’re not proposing to do anything about it.

The Creepy Dom, the guy living in isolation and soliciting 19-year-old newbies to move half way across the country to be his live-in slave, that’s the easy case. Very few people are actually for that guy, and not many are friends with that guy or make excuses for that guy. The problem is that when that guy (on occasion not a guy — the trope is gendered and cis and het but the reality is more complicated) is good at manipulating people, everything changes, and suddenly, communities are not so good at dealing with it anymore.  There’s just enough underbrush to give these predators a slender [social license to operate] … but when they’re really good at manipulating people, and they move into the center of their communities, then they have almost unlimited freedom to operate.  Abusers that work their way into central positions in BDSM communities are almost untouchable.

Predator Theory, backed by empirical research, tells us that the bad actors, the repeat, deliberate, serial abusers, are less than 10% of the general population (depending on the population; the research is sketchy, but 4% or 8% depending on whether one looks at Lisak’s college sample or McWhorter’s Navy sample).  Four out of a hundred, one out of twenty-five: someone we know.  Someone we’re friends with.  Someone we trust.  Someone who is friends with our friends.  It may be worse in BDSM communities, nobody has any numbers.  Pedophiles try to become priests, teachers, coaches, run camps: places where their access to targets will be easy, where they can select and groom targets.  Given the way BDSM communities offer access to targets and unwittingly or even recklessly provide cover for abusive conduct, why wouldn’t predators who want adult victims gravitate toward BDSM communities?  Anyone who thinks that can’t be true is in denial.

There are stories that have me gritting my teeth, ones where I’ve talked to the participants and know what happened as well as anyone except an eyewitness can, stories where the abusers are very public, very well-connected, and where there have been attempts to tell people that a top is wildly unsafe and untrustworthy.  Those attempts resulted in no meaningful action against the tops, and a whole lot of personal consequences for the victims and other people who tried to speak out; so much so that in some cases the survivors have personally asked me not to be more specific because they don’t believe anyone will do anything about it and they just can’t go through it again.  It makes me sick and sad not to say what I know, but … I understand.  Some of the people who do very fucked up and wrong things are also the fixtures at some of the parties, or the hosts, or in the inner circle of organizations.

In the previous parts, I talked about what I call the “Social License to Operate,” and since I’ll now talk about it a lot, I’m going to abbreviate it “SL-Op.”  I repurposed the term from extractive industries like mining and oil, where it expresses the concept that aside from whatever formal regulations govern their operations, they have to maintain enough goodwill that forces are not mobilized to shut them down.  Which is not far from what I mean in the rape and abuse context.  Law and regulation and social structures are all dynamic systems through which power is exercised, and how exactly it is exercised is a social phenomenon.  If there is sufficient desire to make something stop, usually a society can manage to change the law of the interpretation of the law to at least make it much rarer and more difficult.  Conversely if there is widespread support of acquiescence, legislators and law enforcement will find that they are swimming against the tide to deploy effective measures against it.  In the mainstream of American society, and I can say the same at least for the UK, you can look at the infrequency with which acquaintance rape is successfully prosecuted and punished and simply say that it is not really illegal; not in the thoroughgoing sense where the society collaborates in deploying power against it.  It’s nominally illegal, certain kinds of rape are illegal, in the sense that they are often successfully prosecuted, but the most common kinds of rapes, those committed using intoxicants and no overt force, by a man against a woman he knows, are punished at such low rates that a would-be rapist is safe in concluding that if hefollows the usual protocol of repeat rapists he is likely to go unpunished.

I’ll take the first effect first.  In Part 2, I wrote about folks who were for “total power exchange” and fetlife groups about revoking women’s rights.  Well, in sexuality communities, if you criticize anyone for anything — anything — that turns them on, somebody is apt to say, “hey, you’re saying YKINOK” — Your Kink Is Not Okay.  Well, having ethical rules means that some people’s kinks are not okay.[1]  It should be pretty easy to agree that Jeffrey Dahmer’s kink is not okay; Dennis Rader’s kink is not okay, andJerry Sandusky’s kink is not okay.  I can hear the screaming now! You just compared me to serial killers and pedophiles!  Well, no, I am a BDSMer, so I just compared us to serial killers and pedophiles.  The similarity is obvious.  Their sexual self-expressions were outside the norm and stigmatized, too.  The difference between our kinks and theirs is just as obvious, too: consent.  If we don’t stand for consent, then there is no difference between us and the serial killers and child molesters.

(For BDSM Ethics According to Thomas, read Not What We Do.)

The second effect concerns the resolution of interpersonal conflict.  I’ve noticed a funny thing:  “I don’t do drama” is, in my experience, a contrarian indicator.  There is more drama around people who say they don’t do drama than those who don’t say it, IMO.  Why should that be?  Because “drama” isn’t avoidable merely by saying you don’t do it.  Drama isn’t actually avoidable at all, if we’re engaged in social interactions.  Here’s why:

Drama is the stress produced by resolving interpersonal conflict.  When people interact, there’s interpersonal conflict.  Nobody has found a way to avoid that yet, in about 10,000 years of compex human interactions.  People disagree about stuff, and resolving it produces stress.  Trying to avoid that stress means simply being in denial about the conflict instead of trying to resolve it.  That just increases the conflict, until it can’t be avoided, but the resolution then produces more stress.

Of course, like wealth and income, the stress is not evenly distributed.  A group of people can decide to resolve interpersonal conflict by ignoring someone’s grievance until they go away.  That’s what “I don’t do drama” means.  People who say it mean that if you have a grievance against someone they know, you’re on your own.

It’s a long read, but so worth it! Again, part one of the series is here.