Abuse in BDSM

Author: SilverOz ©

Used Here With Permission: © COPYRIGHT Zebee Johnstone - all rights reserved.
"If you want to reprint this or pinch bits, you need to ask me first."
Reposted from soc.subculture.bondage.bdsm (1998/06/09)
with permission from the author (zebee@zip.com.au.)



I wrote this after talking to people who had been in abusive or otherwise bad BDSM relationships, and I'd been in one that while not abusive was a severe mismatch.

Thing we noticed was that it took us a while to realise that what was going on was *not* normal, and we none of us could cope with others telling us "that person's abusing you".

For some bad relationships, "abuse" is too strong a word, but that doesn't mean that people shouldn't be out of them, and this piece may help such people come to that conclusion.

This is my take on it... As always, this is my own opinion, comments welcome.


One of the problems that pretty well any person interested in BDSM comes across soner or later is "When is it BDSM and when is it abuse?"

Most of us have a gut feeling about that but, BDSM being what it is, you may find your gut feeling and mine are not even close.

There is sometimes a confusion between personal limits "No way would I do that!" and objective limits "No way should anyone do that!".

So... somehow we need to find an answer to "when is it abuse?" an answer that can be used for all kinks and types of play.

Problem is that there are so many different kinks and level of play that coming up with objective limits is hard. Yeah, you can say "no amputations" but face it... plenty of people are being abused every day and not losing limbs or being killed. You can go on about standards at playparties and miss the interactions elsewhere. You can focus on physical damage and miss emotional abuse.

Remember also that tops can be abused too. They can be pressured into doing things they don't want to do, manipulated, made to feel guilty, not get what they need from the relationship... We usually focus on the sub because the top is seen as less vulnerable, but subs can be manipulative leeches, and tops can be prisoners of their role. So how to tell it's abuse?

And once you have decided there is abuse, what next? I think that you can't do anything but help the person involved think about their situation, and offer them help to get out or solve it if they decide they need such help. You can't "rescue" them, you can only offer them the means to rescue themselves and support when they are ready to do it. There are three main areas to think about:

  1. How to tell if you are being abused or abusing someone
  2. How to tell someone you think they are suffering or committing abuse, and what to do about it
  3. How to deal with someone telling you they think you are suffering or committing abuse, and you don't think they are right.

What is abuse in a BDSM context? I offer these possible guidelines. In no particular order. I'm not really talking about one-off meetings, but about relationships.

1) Is your play Safe, Sane, and Consensual?
Safe: both people know the risks and have minimised them to both people's satisfaction.
Sane: Both are capable of knowing what they are getting into, and are capable of informed consent
Consensual: Both consent to what is happening and have a reasonable idea of what they are consenting to. The consent is free and not coerced by fear of something nasty happening, whether that nasty is physical harm or the fear of the partner leaving, or of being called a wimp or an unskilled top or whatever.

2) Is your play informed by Trust, Care, and Respect?
Trust: Your partner behaves predictably, you aren't walking on eggshells around them not knowing if they will go ballistic at something that was OK yesterday. You know what they will do, and you are happy with what they will do.
Care: Your partner cares about your welfare, your emotional and physical wellbeing. Even "slaves" should be cared about.
Respect: Your partner respects you as a human being, they respect your choices, your abilities. They should value you as more than a convenient body.

3) Does the good outweigh the bad?
In any BDSM relationship there will be times when the bad feelings seem overwhelming. But if that seems to be always happening, then there is a problem. You may often have bad moments, bad days. But you shouldn't be having mostly bad times, and you should be getting enough good times.

4) Are you getting your needs met?
Each partner has the right to get what they need out of the relationship. Are you getting what you need? Not just BDSM needs, (although they are important) but physical and emotional needs as well. If you are getting almost all it may be OK, but if you look at what you need and you aren't getting it... then that's a danger sign. (Be careful about distinguishing desire from need)

OK... so you have watched someone and think that there is a problem.. How do you deal?

It's tricky. The person will likely not believe there is a problem. They may be quite happy, just playing at a level or with a kink you are not comfortable with. They may be convinced that they are "supposed" to feel that way cos slaves have no rights, or they may feel that they are a dom, and masters are always in control so they can't admit to feeling bad. Or they may be unwilling to face the idea that what was good is now bad for whatever reason.

This is especially difficult when someone is in a deep Dominance and Submission relationship. Many feel that because they have "accepted a collar" they have to take what comes, they have given consent in the beginning and everything else is just their lot, they must keep their word to keep their self-respect. Even if they are unhappy, they may find it impossible to deal with the idea of breaking that bond. They aren't being stupid or suicidal, they have a very real and difficult problem. Here are some ideas....

Don't be negative about either partner. Don't say the person *or* their behaviour is bad. You might think it is so, but attacking in that way is no way to get someone listening to you
Get them talking about how they feel. Get them thinking about the points above. The first thing someone who is truly being abused (or is abusing) has to do is realise it is going on.
Offer them help, no strings attached. Start with just a "if you want to talk it over, get your head straight about the things I've been saying, then you can talk to me *any* time. I will help you get it sorted. " Be very clear that you are not judging, not interfering, just offering an ear and help in sorting feelings. If you want to offer other help, then go for it, but probably best to wait and see how they go. don't overwhelm them, it's a difficult time.
Try and understand their state of mind. It can be hard to do, but you need to stand in their shoes, think with their emotions in order to communicate with them. A Dom whose sub is emotionally abusing them may not be able to deal wth the idea they are not in control for example. If you can get yourself into that mindset you may be able to offer help in a way that does not conflict with pride.

Lastly... someone has made you aware they think there is a problem. You think they have the wrong end of the stick, how do you cope?

I don't think a simple denial is useful. You won't convince them, you'll just make them think that you are not thinking properly.

Nor is it right to jump on them from a great height and tell them they are idiots for even thinking such things. They aren't idiots, they are just not fully informed. They want the best for you, so accept their concern.

Best bet is to show them where you fit in the abuse pointers above. If they think the play is risky, tell them what risks you see and how they were minimised. If they worry about whether you are getting your needs met, then reassure them by telling them about some. If they seem to have a feeling that your partner is a bit deficient in trust, caring, and respect, then give them some examples that show the solid basis you have.

And you never know.... you might then find that things are not as good as you thought. Which then gives you the opportunity to repair your relationship before it goes bad. Or get out if you suddenly realise your concerned friend was right.



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