BDSM vs. Abuse

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

At a recent munch, the discussion topic was “Abuse or BDSM; where do you draw the line?” The discussion was wrought with a lot of charged emotions — a lot of people in the lifestyle seem to have had some bad experiences early on with people masquerading as dominants and sadists, who were really just abusers.

So, where is the line between BDSM and abuse? What it really boils down to is the intent of the top. If the top has the wellbeing of the bottom in mind, then it is not abuse. If the top really couldn’t give a shit about the bottom or hir safety, then they are being abusive. While we might roleplay degradation, if the so-called top really doesn’t care about the bottom then it’s not BDSM, period. Even in a TPE situation the master should care for their slave — if the slave is property, they should be a prized possession, to be cherished and taken good care of. In regards to abuse, I heard the sentiment expressed, “That (abusive) guy cared more for his car than for his girlfriend.”

However, intent is an internal thing — looking at a situation from the outside (or even as the potential victim), it can be nearly impossible to decipher. So personally, I like to use the distinction of hurt vs. harm. Hurt is what we do in BDSM play — be it pain of a physical nature like that of the singletailed wihp, or pain of a mental nature such as humiliation and degradation play. However, this is pain of a temporary nature. If the top is doing something that causes the bottom harm, then it’s abuse.

So what is harm? When I say harm here, I mean making a person weaker. Physically, making them disabled (e.g. purposefully wrenching their arm out of its socket, causing a permanent physical disability). Mentally, making them less able to successfully interact with the world at large (e.g. robbing them of their sense of self-esteem and self-worth). I’d even go further to say that any good top should seek to make their bottom stronger as a person — stretching their limits, helping them overcome fear and anxiety, making them better able to cope with the world.

If you think a friend is the victim of abuse, my advice is to not step in directly, but to continue to be there for them, even if they say they don’t want you around. Abusers often cut off their victims from their friends, so if it is an abusive situation, then you could be their only lifeline. However, taking direct action like calling the police on the abuser has often ended in tragedy for the victim. The abuser goes to jail for a few weeks or months, gets out, and takes revenge on the victim. Not a pretty story.

As a closing note, I’d like to take a moment to point out that mental abuse is far more insidious, and (from what I’ve seen) common, than physical abuse.

3 Comments to “BDSM vs. Abuse”
  1. Did you catch my old post on BDSM community anti-abuse initiatives? Granted, it can be tough to figure out intent, but I hope that the community takes the question seriously and works hard on it.

    • Sammael says:

      I recall that post, yes. And in hindsight, me not mentioning consent here seems like a pretty big oversight. I suppose I take it so much for granted that if there isn’t informed consent, then it’s obviously abuse. Also, consent is a complicated issue.

      I can only speak for the community here in Atlanta, but we do watch after our own, and the first thing newbies are taught is that oft-used acronym SSC (and sometimes RACK), followed closely by the concept of negotiation, and safety (play with someone in public first, set up safe calls whenever playing in private, that sort of thing).

      There are certain people who are known to the community here to act on that edge of SSC/RACK, and newbies are warned before playing with them. The waters can be pretty muddy, though — what one person sees as being safe, sane, and consensual might be none of the above to another. So there’s a blurry line between warning people of dangerous players (e.g. people who get drunk and/or high and then engage in bloodplay), and the community being a high-school rumor-mill where people badmouth anyone whose style they disagree with.

  2. Claire says:

    I just wanted to thank you for explaining the difference so well. I haven’t heard it put that clearly before. That distinction can be a fine line that’s hard to see if you’re a newbie and don’t have a community to look to for guidance. I didn’t realize that my first BDSM relationship had crossed that line until a few years later when I entered my second, and saw what it was supposed to be like. Always a topic I like to see discussion on.

Leave a Reply

(required)

(required)


Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.