Academic journal article Gender Forum

Effects of Usenet on Discussions of Sexual Assault in the BDSM Community in the 1990s

Academic journal article Gender Forum

Effects of Usenet on Discussions of Sexual Assault in the BDSM Community in the 1990s

Article excerpt

Well, without going into too much detail, it happened at his dorm room when they were beginning to experiment. He started to give her a back rub and she was falling asleep. He was a little more frisky. The next thing she knew, her hands were handcuffed and her face was in a pillow. She called the safeword but he ignored it. When he was nearly finished, he seemed to realize what was happening and stopped. However, he seems to have a memory block (according to her). Like I said earlier, I haven't had a chance to ask him about it yet. There was no physical harm but A LOT of emotional harm...

- Anonymous User,

You just described the worst nightmare of someone in the scene.

For a long time, I've had the notion that it's almost impossible for a person who's BDSM-aware to rape someone. We're too aware of consensuality, of communication, of safewords, to ever let it happen.

- M. Madeleine

- "Safewords and trust",, Google Groups, 22 August 1993

Why Rape and BDSM?

For decades, the U.S. BDSM community has struggled to define the idea they refer to as "What It Is That We Do" in contrast to rape and sexual violence. Historically, BDSM has been painted as inherently violent to women and tantamount to rape. In response, practitioners have heavily stressed the ways in which BDSM, when appropriately practiced, is safe and consensual. Amidst these debates, however, frank discussions about the reality of actual consent violations is often lost.

This misunderstanding has been compounded by a history of stigmatization from both mainstream and feminist commentators. Very recently, however, there has been an increase in analysis of BDSM coming from a feminist perspective (Deckha, Newmahr). Recent studies have specifically addressed, for example, the experiences of trans or disabled practitioners, whether kinksters can be feminist, and how class and race impact scene demographics (Bauer; Reynolds; Scheffand Hammers). In this spirit, this paper seeks to contextualize the BDSM community's response to rape and rape culture.

Historically, conversations around BDSM and sexual assault have been focused less on the behaviors and experiences of community members, and more on the perceptions of outsiders and the defenses community members construct in response to those perceptions. The idea that all BDSM activities may be inherently violent or akin to assault has been heavily explored by feminist and non-feminist writers.1 There is a well-documented set of defenses against these accusations that have been developed by both activists within the BDSM community and sympathetic researchers. Still, the question of how genuine sexual assault is experienced within the BDSM community-and how participants understand these experiences in dialogue with each other-is massively under-explored.

An understanding of Usenet, a popular Internet forum in the 1990s, is integral to exploring the changing discourses concerning rape within the BDSM community. The newsgroup (henceforth a.s.b) allowed users an anonymous, and therefore relatively safer space, in which to have some of the first documented conversations about trigger warnings, BDSM specific anti-domestic violence resources, and community wide conversations about the existence of rape and abuse in BDSM. This paper will document the shiftin the BDSM community's narratives around sexual assault in order to provide a useful foundation for other researchers and anti-rape activists looking to understand the history of the BDSM community and to further engage in present-day activism.

Brief Background on BDSM

BDSM is a "6 for 4" acronym; B/D is bondage/discipline, D/S (often written "D/s"2) is dominance and submission, and S/M is sadomasochism. The BDSM community (sometimes described as the 'scene', or a collection of regionally specific scenes; ie the 'New York Scene'3) is a diverse series of networks of people who associate with some or all of the sexual kinks included within these acronyms, and have the social privilege and/or ability to organize around them. …

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