Understanding and enforcing your own boundaries is necessary if you want to take part in the kink scene. Unfortunately, not everyone understands how boundaries and consent work. Specifically, people seem to be confused about whose job it is to make sure people’s boundaries are respected.
People, this is not fucking rocket science. It is your job to respect other people’s boundaries. It is your job to make sure that you’ve gotten consent for whatever it is you want to do to them. It is your job and no one else’s to make sure that you are not an abuser.
Above all, it is not the victim’s fault if they get abused. If someone is inclined to be an asshole to you, maybe you can avoid them if you’re lucky, but you can’t magically make them stop being an asshole. Saying that someone should have said no louder, or run to a DM (dungeon master) sooner is like telling a rape victim she shouldn’t have worn such a short skirt. It makes you look like an asshole, and does absolutely nothing to fix the problem. Unless your problem is that you need more people to despise you, in which case problem solved!
While there’s very little you can do individually to prevent any one asshole from being an asshole, there’s a lot we can do collectively. Abusers aren’t stupid. They aren’t slavering beasts who just can’t control themselves. They are rational people with an interest in not getting thrown out of their communities or arrested. They pick and choose what they do, when, and to whom to minimize their chances of facing any consequences for their actions.
What we as a community can do is refuse to allow anyone to be above accusations of abuse, and make sure there are no ‘safe’ targets. Many abusers get away with it because they’ve been in the community for years, and have made strategic alliances with lots of people who will then say ‘But Dennis is a good friend of mine, he’d never do that’, or ‘But Dennis is such a reliable volunteer, surely no-one who has given so much to the community could be a bad person’. Volunteering in particular makes community organizers reluctant to do anything about the odd accusation of abuse. When you’re worried about how you’re going to be in two places at once because you have more jobs than you have people, it becomes very tempting to let accusations against one of the few reliable volunteers slide.
As for ‘safe’ targets, some people are easier to get away with abusing than others. People who are new to the community may not know who to take a problem to even if they are willing to report it. New people and people who haven’t made many friends yet are also more likely to be accused of ‘stirring up drama’ if they try to tell people they’ve been abused.
The solution to both of these problems is simple. Not easy (very far from easy), but simple. Take absolutely all accusations of abuse seriously, and be as draconian as necessary when dealing with abusers. In the unlikely event that someone makes a false accusation, the truth is going to come out sooner or later. Personally, I would rather endure being falsely accused and shunned than have an actual case of abuse be ignored.
We also need to take victim blaming, boundary testing, and general disrespect seriously. Acting like that kind of behavior is normal and acceptable lets abusers feel safe. Making the entire community hostile to abusers, on the other hand, means they’ll choose to hang out somewhere safer for them.
On the subject of boundary testing, the idea that having your boundaries pushed non-consensually is an opportunity for you to practice defending your boundaries and is therefore a good thing is reprehensible. It is simply not okay to push people if you have not negotiated that kind of relationship with them. Saying that it’s okay because it’s a safe environment is just fucking stupid. As soon as my boundaries get pushed, the environment IS NOT SAFE. Why is that so fucking hard to understand?
To quote researcher David Lisak’s paper Understanding the Predatory Nature of Sexual Violence:
“In the course of 20 years of interviewing these undetected rapists, in both research and forensic settings, it has been possible for me to distill some of the common characteristics of the modus operandi of these sex offenders. These undetected rapists:
- are extremely adept at identifying “likely” victims, and testing prospective victims’ boundaries;
- plan and premeditate their attacks, using sophisticated strategies to groom their victims for attack, and to isolate them physically;
- use “instrumental” not gratuitous violence; they exhibit strong impulse control and use only as much violence as is needed to terrify and coerce their victims into submission;
- use psychological weapons – power, control, manipulation, and threats – backed up by physical force, and almost never resort to weapons such as knives or guns;
- use alcohol deliberately to render victims more vulnerable to attack, or completely unconscious.”
Boundary testing is what rapists do to find out how likely their chosen target is to fight back . When we tolerate that kind of behavior, we are telling abusers ‘Come on in, the water’s fine!’.
Remember, it is your job and only your job to make sure you don’t abuse people. Saying that it’s the bottom’s job to stop tops from violating their boundaries is saying that because you’re too fucking stupid to make sure you get consent before you do something, the entire scene should be baby-proofed for you so you don’t have to worry about the consequences of your actions. If you can’t handle the idea that you are responsible for the effects of your actions, you need to get the fuck out of the scene. Don’t come back until you’ve grown up.