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BDSM vs. Abuse

Safe, sane and consensual play is the standard of the organized SM community; it relies on the use of a "safeword" that allows the bottom to stop the action at any time. Without informed consent, it is not SM, it is abuse.
SM always requires free, informed consent of all parties involved. A propensity to violence is therefore a fallacy, since the only time we engage in SM behavior is with our partners.
SM partners take great care to make sure that their activities are as safe as possible. SM does not feel like it looks.
SM partners do not have to apologize to each other. Instead, they are happy and satisfied. Unlike abuse or violence, where one party has not given informed consent to the activity. Children cannot give informed consent, therefore are never a part of SM activity.
SM happens in the context of an erotic relationship. Just as context helps differentiate between an organized boxing match and a street brawl.
Technical reference material and participation in organized groups provide the tell-tale signs for differences between SM and violence or abuse.

Tell tale signs of the differences between Probable Cause and Consensual BDSM:

a)      Signs of significant preparation. e.g.. Adult toys, music, bondage furniture, lubricants and safety supplies.
b)      Restraints. Abusers tend to restrain their victims with fear and intimidation, not safety clips and quick releases.
c)      We call 911 in a medical emergency, not when there are loud noises.
d)      The availability of mentors, reference materials and technical guides.

NOTE: The above information was gathered from the NCSF Law Enforcement Information Project of Consensual SM Activities. The purpose of which is to provide law enforcement with a basic understanding about adults whose sexuality and lovemaking includes SM activities and to provide them with information to assist when they encounter an SM event.

To further the idea of the differences between SM and abuse, I found other information that may also be useful when dealing with LE.

1.      SM rarely results in facial marks or marks that are received on the forearms (defensive marks).
2.      There is usually an even pattern of marks if it is SM, indicating the bottom held quite still during the stimulation.
3.      The marks are often quite well-defined when inflicted by a toy like cane or whip, whereas in abuse there are blotches of soft-tissue bruising, randomly distributed.
4.      The common areas for SM stimulation is on the buttocks, thighs, back, breasts, or the genitals. The fleshy parts of the body can be stimulated intensely and pleasurably.

Two Definitions of Abuse

"An abusive relationship is one in which substantial physical, mental, or emotional harm is inflicted, that is not temporary in nature, and is not clearly compensated for by positive and loving experiences over a long period of time." -- by louise, 1997

"Acts inflicted on a person without their freely given consent." -- Leather Leadership Conference III, Statement on Abuse, San Francisco, April 16-18,1999

D/s or Abuse?

D/s is about the building of a trusting relationship between two consenting adult partners. Abuse is about the breach of trust between an authority figure and the person in their care.
D/s is about the mutual respect demonstrated between two enlightened people. Abuse is about the lack of respect that one person demonstrates to another person.
D/s is about a shared enjoyment of controlled erotic pain and/or humiliation for mutual pleasure. Abuse is about a form of out-of-control physical violence and/or personal or emotional degradation of the submissive.
D/s is about loving each other completely and without reservation in an alternate way. Abuse is hurtful. It is also very damaging emotionally and spiritually to the submissive.
D/s frees a submissive from the restraints of years of vanilla conditioning to explore a buried part of herself. Abuse binds a submissive to a lonely and solitary life of shame, fear and secrecy... imprisoning her very soul.
D/s builds self-esteem as a person discovers and embraces their long hidden sexuality. Abuse shatters and destroys a person's self-esteem and leaves self-hatred in its place.

SM Abuse
An SM scene is a controlled situation. Abuse is an out-of-control situation.
Negotiation occurs before an SM scene to determine what will and will not happen in that scene. One person determines what will happen.
Knowledgeable consent is given to the scene by all parties. No consent is asked for or given.
The bottom has a safeword that allows them to stop the scene at any time they need to for physical or emotional reasons. The person being abused cannot stop what is happening.
Everyone involved in the SM scene is concerned about needs, desires, and limits of others. No concern is given to the needs, desires, and limits of the abused person.
The people in the SM scene are careful to be sure that they are not impaired by alcohol or drug use during the scene. Alcohol or drugs are often used before an episode of abuse.
After an SM scene, the people involved feel good. After an episode of abuse, the people involved feel bad.
This article is partially based on material produced by:
American National Leather Association
Dutch S&M Media Information Center
POWERotics

Feel free to redistribute, but please make reference to these sources:
Resources:
Safe Link
c/o The Domestic Violence Education Project
National Leather Association
548 Castro Street #444
San Francisco, CA 99114
1 415 863 2444 Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project
Hotline: 212 807 0197
647 Hudson Street
New York NY 10014
Kink Aware Professionals
DSAbuse
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1 800 799 7233

SSC

And since we say, "Safe, Sane and Consensual" so often, I figured I'd give you some background to what that means.

The community-wide standard of "Safe, Sane and Consensual" was codified more than ten years ago.
1.      Safe is being knowledgeable about the techniques and safety concerns involved in what you are doing, and acting in accordance with that knowledge.
This includes protection against HIV, STDs, and hepatitis. It also includes notifying your partner of any physical condition that may impact on the scene, like asthma, bad back, epilepsy, etc. It also includes psychological safety, such as you were abused as a child and don't like a particular part of your body touched.
The SM community concerns itself with safety issues by supporting educational and social organizations that teach people the proper way to use their equipment. Such as: how to tie wrists without putting pressure on the insides; how to properly clean equipment; which areas on the body are unsafe to stimulate.
2.      Sane is knowing the difference between fantasy and reality, and acting in accordance with that knowledge.
Sane includes being of clear mind, and the community strongly recommends that mind-altering substances should be avoided during a scene that impair judgment.
3.      Consensual is respecting the limits imposed by each participant at all times. One of the recognized ways to maintain limits is through the "safeword" .
If it's nonconsensual, then it's abuse or assault. SM must be consensual.

RACK

Another alternative for Safe, Sane and Consensual, is Risk Aware Consensual Kink, or RACK. RACK is used by some internet-based players, by those who don't necessarily agree with the subjectivity of Safe, Sane and Consensual, and certain others. Some people who are extremely"edgy" in their play habits also admit that they use the term "Risk Aware Consensual" in place of SSC. RACK's main focus is on pre-negotiation with detailed informed consent, rather than the focus on the safety issues at hand. Those involved in these risky play behaviors, consider themselves well educated enough that they are willing to overlook certain safety precautions in order to enjoy the pain and the danger. RACK assumes better negotiations, as well as more detailed informed consent, than concern over the safety of the play. Most well established BDSM groups, clubs and private parties consider SSC much more appropriate for SM play than RACK.

To determine if informed consent has been reached, you can ask the following questions:
a)      Was informed consent expressly denied or withdrawn? (similar to rape standards, if one of the participants withdraws consent during the activity, that must be respected)
b)      Were there factors that negated the informed consent? (alcohol impairment, drug use, underage participants)
c)      What is the relationship of the participants? (first encounter or long-term partner?)
d)      What was the nature of the activity? (did it cause permanent harm, was it unsafe, was it enjoyable?)
e)      What was the intent of the accused abuser? (to cause pleasure, to gain dominance, to hurt?)

The above information was gathered from various sources, including Tammad Rimilia's web site.

Sadomasochism Isn't What It Used to Be
or
Why Would Anyone Participate in S/M

Copyright 2000 by Keith L. Kendrick, RN, Ch.
NOTE: Keith Kendrick is a Portland, Oregon Top who wrote the following essay. Permission to reprint this is freely granted, but please email him at Keith and let him know.

In major American cities today small groups of otherwise relatively normal people get together to discuss, and to a lesser extent practice, S/M. But wait a minute -- doesn't S/M mean one person who enjoys deliberately inflicting pain on another person who, for some reason, likes receiving that pain?

The answer certainly is yes, but to understand why these people gather to discuss and practice S/M, you first need to understand the difference between the old, traditional mainstream concept of sadism and masochism and the newer concept of S/M that is currently being practiced in a healthy manner. In the old concept, a sadist was usually someone who enjoyed inflicting pain on a person who had not consented to it, and a masochist was someone who felt compelled to experience the pain though it was usually considered "sick" to enjoy it. Furthermore, these participants usually had a significant psychological imbalance or disorder, and their S/M activities quite often could easily cause long term harm, both physically and mentally.

The people who gather today to form small communities and even clubs devoted to S/M enthusiasts are very different from this old concept. Before discussing this difference though, let's examine the perception and image of pain. When most people think of pain, they attach very negative connotations to it, and the more negative the connotation, the more likely they are to think the experience of pain is awful. However, in some cultures the stoic endurance of pain has been viewed as a character builder, and consequently in such cultures it is not always thought of as something bad. In a similar vein, in medical "pain clinics" people are taught to change their thinking towards pain so that the "hurt" doesn't bother them as much. Many of these pain clinic patients also report that as a result of creating a new attitude towards dealing with physical pain, they have made similar attitude changes and corresponding improvements in other aspects of their lives as well.

Another facet of pain is found in the "runners high," which also occurs in some other sports activities. In this type of "high," as a result of exhausting physical exertion people experience muscle pain that causes the body to produce endorphins, which is a natural pain-killing response. Endorphins are similar to morphine and produce pleasurable euphoric feelings. They are also a significant factor in why some people can discover pleasure in feeling pain, but there are other factors as well.

Now back to the new versus the old concept of S/M. In contrast to the old concept, this new S/M has come to emphasize the motto of "Safe, Sane, and Consensual." This means that the S/M "play" is done in such a manner that will not cause or transmit any long term physically disabling injury or disease. Foremost is the concern with disabling muscle, skeletal or nerve injury, and the transmission of hepatitis and AIDS's viruses as well as other diseases.

Secondly, this means that the S/M play is to be engaged in by participants who are free of significant mental impairment, whether by psychological disturbance or disorder, or by mind-altering substances.

Then each participant must willingly consent to whatever S/M activity that is performed. If during an S/M "play scene" one person indicates he or she wishes to stop, whether through a prearranged signal or an outright request, then the other person must stop immediately. Of course this requires prior communication--and people who don't communicate well usually don't do well in this type of S/M.

One element of the contemporary S/M scene is also associated with the safe, sane and consensual motto: respect and tolerance for other people. Most people in S/M communities act with respect towards each other even though they may dislike certain aspects of some members-- this is what is meant by tolerance. Those who don't follow this implicit rule are usually quite effectively ostracized from the group. About the only time tolerance is not shown is when someone engages in activities that are not regarded as safe, sane, and consensual, or when someone expresses hate or hostility based on unjust discrimination.

Something else also occurs due to the growth of S/M communities: their members form close relationships and often these relationships become somewhat spiritual in nature, much as the bonds that develop between "churchgoers" can enrich their spiritual lives.

Another development in this new S/M is the spiritual growth from an individual perspective, whether from that of the giver (the "top") or the receiver (the "bottom"). This spiritual development occurs as a result of learning greater self-mastery, either in the sense of developing the ability to administer pain in such a manner that ultimately provides pleasure, or in the sense of learning to approach pain as a challenge to meet and come to enjoy. Sometimes these two perspectives will be combined in one person (who is indeed fortunate) in his or her ability to "switch" between "top" and "bottom" roles. And sometimes the development of this self- mastery becomes a varying combination of artistic and athletic expression, though it usually would be judged extreme by our cultural norms.

But regardless of whether one is a top, bottom, or switch, the accompanying inner growth brings a sense of satisfaction and sometimes real joy. Then when such personal growth is shared with someone of a similar mind in an S/M play setting, and you know you are enriching the other persons psychic/spiritual life, the energy between the two people is multiplied in a synergistic effect known as a "power exchange." This synergy is further enhanced when the power exchange takes place among like-minded members of the S/M community.

There are also other reasons why people are attracted to this relatively new style of S/M. Some people enjoy its rebellious quality of going against society's taboos and cultural norms. For many the allure of S/M would be significantly reduced if the majority of people were openly practicing it. But there probably isn't much need to worry about this happening in the near future. And by no means insignificant, the thrill of doing something that goes against cultural norms, as well as the stimulation of pain itself, can cause the body to produce extra adrenaline that can be very exhilarating.

Furthermore, for many people the practice of this contemporary S/M leads to what many psychologists refer to as "flow." This is a pleasurable and virtually universally sought after psychological experience in which a person is so immersed in his or her experience that to a great extent the "self" is forgotten and time becomes significantly altered, and the person feels enriched from the experience. This is similar to the flow experience that artists and athletes often experience. And just as extreme sports enthusiasts such as skydivers and motorcycle racers often experience this enriching state of being, so do practitioners of this new blend of art and sport called S/M.

Though this style of S/M may be an extreme in comparison to most of what society enjoys, rather than being "sick," as some people who have narrow minds would call it, it can lead to a multifaceted enrichment of one's spirituality. Lastly though, safe, sane and consensual S/M is simply fun--or at least it should be. If you don't enjoy it, you shouldn't be doing it. But if you don't enjoy it--which is fine, not everyone needs to--please be opened minded enough to allow others the freedom to enrich their lives with it. After all, the individual's freedom to pursue happiness is the foundation that our country was built on.

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