What is safety in BDSM? We have all heard the phrase from some vanilla we shared with- ‘As long as you are being safe.’ Surviving as a woman is an inescapable consideration for us all- even in the BDSM scene. How do we survive? Recently in the papers there has been an unfortunate case of a young woman killed while on holiday in New Zealand. She was strangled by a Tinder date. He then (according to the press) took photos of her lifeless body, watched some porn, and crammed her into a suitcase before burying her in a shallow grave and heading out on another Tinder date. The defence? That she was on some BDSM sites and had previously enjoyed some safe, sane and consensual breath-play with her boyfriend. That the death was accidental, and that all the acts thereafter were committed in a state of panic.
The papers? Headlines that the victim was on BDSM social apps.
What is safety in BDSM?
The sad truth is, that as a woman, on the swing scene, BDSM scene or elsewhere, you risk more than your reputation and a broken heart. Safety is a real issue. Yes, men too, and yes #notallmen, but the statistics speak for themselves: women, we are in constant danger. A global study on homicide, 2018 by the United Nations cites findings that 87,000 women were intentionally killed in 2017. 58,000 of these were by intimate partners or family members, and 82% of all people killed by an intimate partner were women. Only 42% of women killed were murdered by someone other than their partner or family. The study states that recent studies on homicide prove that, without exception, females run a greater risk than men of falling victim to intimate partner homicide. Our safety is not guaranteed by those we trust.
Why is there a problem for women and safety?
Intimate partner violence against women is rooted in widely-accepted gender norms about men’s authority within society in general and the family in particular, and men’s use of violence to exert control over women. Research shows that men and boys who adhere to rigid views of gender roles and masculinity – for example, the belief that men need more sex than women or that men should dominate women, including sexually – are more likely to use violence against a partner…United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2018
So we have two elements to be fearful of- ‘stranger danger’ – that we may be killed by someone unknown to us on a dark alley, or on a first date, and ‘intimate partner danger’ – that those we know and allow to be part of our lives will, at some point, end them. Nobody is a place of safety. Of these, intimate partner danger is by far the greater risk statistically.
What do we look for to determine our safety?
So how do you know if your partner is likely to kill you? Again, research and statistics show there are warning signs:
- Emotional abuse (84%)
- A history of violence. 3/4 of perpetrators have a history of domestic violence
- Separation. 70% occur just before or after separation
- Obsessive behaviour (54%)
- Perpetrator depression (50%)
- Prior threats/attempts of suicide (49%)
- Escalation of violence (48%)
- Victim feeling afraid of their partner (45%)
- Threats to kill (43%)
- Unemployment (40%)
- Perpetrator attempting to isolate the victim (39%)
Unfortunately, these markers of a bad relationship that one really needs to leave are ultimately what leads to a situation where a woman is at the greatest risk of murder- the point of separation and sense of loss of control by the perpetrator. Up to 75% of abused women killed by their partners are murdered after they leave them. Avoiding casual sex and BDSM is no guarantee of safety.
The vast majority of intimate partner homicides occur between heterosexual couples. Female sex workers have the highest homicide victimisation rate of any set of women ever studied. Female sex workers run a risk of being killed 60 to 120 times higher than that of non-sex workers. The vast majority of female sex workers are killed by clients. In the UK, between 1990 and 2015, an estimated 152 female sex workers were killed.United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2018
Is meeting new people a safety issue for women?
Surely we must have good instincts for safety? Surely, after a little while in someone’s company, we can feel safe and spot whether they are a psychopath, potential abuser or serial killer looking for a victim? Apparently not. Most sociopaths are very charming and have highly developed social skills. Rather than run away, we generally get to like them. How much more, when we have become close to someone and feel safe with them, do we fear strangers instead of our most intimate loves and connections, despite the fact that they are statistically much more likely to kill us?
Ultimately, what can women do to avoid always feeling like a potential victim from everyone we meet?
There are a number of things we can do for our safety, both with regard to meeting strangers and within our more developed relationships:
- Don’t allow yourself to be isolated. Keep your own source of income, your own bank account, passport, transport and social circle. Any man who isn’t okay with that is sending you warning signs
- Observe how your partner behaves when you are vulnerable. If, when you are sick, pregnant, feeling low or otherwise in a position where you need comfort and protection, they become hostile, jealous or selfish, you are getting warning signs
- Wholesome honesty. Although we are told not to ‘air our dirty laundry in public’, there is a sense of shame and stigma attached to being the victim of a controlling or violent partner. Be honest with your closest friends and family about what is happening to you and how they are behaving.
- When you first meet your partner (and it will be hard to do so if you really like them) look for warning signs in his attitudes (and I say he, because woman-woman relationship murders are virtually non-existent). If he shows signs of being controlling, violent, bullying to those he has power over or demonstrating stereotypical chauvinistic attitudes, he is statistically more likely to become your murderer. Be sure he meets your friends and family early on so they can give their opinion. You simply won’t be able to see the warning signs, because, at that point, reality will be clouded by your vision of the person you believe you want to be with.
- Don’t be afraid to be single. Nobody ‘needs’ a man, or a relationship. Though there are financial and social advantages to being paired-off, ultimately being with someone who will descend into your captor and abuser is no recipe for happiness. Keep your friends and family close.
- Have a plan. Meet in an area where there are other people around. Don’t be afraid to say no to getting into a car, having the venue changed or going back to his.
- Tell your friends. There are many free apps, all with different functions. Some allow you to fake a phone call, have your friends track your location, press a button to summon them (or the police) for help, or ask them to watch you if you end up, say, walking home alone at night. This won’t stop you being at risk, but it may help to minimise it if a situation gets out of control.
- Another top tip is to set your phone alarm to a ringing sound and have it go off a few times during your meeting. This allows you to pretend that your friends are checking up on you. It is okay to even tell your date that your friend will be calling in at a few points. If they aren’t planning to murder you in the woods, they shouldn’t be too worried by this. Why should having friends who value and respect you be a bad thing? If they are planning to murder you in the woods, it might just be enough to put them off
- Don’t wear heels. Sounds ridiculous, but the ability to balance, fight and run away is all better in flats. Most men aren’t going to complain about you being too short anyway.
- Take a self-defence class for women. These aren’t all punches and judo throws. There are quick, simple moves to break away from someone if they grab you. They will also help you to build confidence and psychological presence and mindset that will come across in your interactions. If you’ve ever been the victim of an attack of any kind, there is no need to shy away from these events. Although you might fear it will stir up some emotions, you can guarantee that pretty much every woman there has been some sort of victim at some point. It’s just statistically inevitable.
- Nobody is better at looking after you than you. Make smart choices.
How can men make women safer?
This is not to say that it should be women’s responsibility to stop themselves being attacked or killed, nor that anyone who becomes a victim had a way to avoid it. Far from it. Here is guide for men, on how to not be an attacker:
- When you see a woman, don’t attack her
- When you date a woman, don’t assume you have to demonstrate machismo or dominance over her physically or sexually
- When you have a relationship with a woman, don’t control her, isolate her or try to force her to do/be/think what you want
- When a woman tells you no, accept it
- When a woman rejects you, or you perceive that she has, it is not your job to teach her a lesson, prove yourself or have revenge. It is your job to be a man. By saying ‘okay’ and leaving it at that.
- If you see yourself in the risk factors listed, feel like you have negative thoughts about women, or see yourself losing control of your attitudes and behaviour, seek help immediately. There are lots of options for counselling that can help you reprogramme your negative trains of thought and stop you being one of the murder-suicide statistics.
Is dating on the BDSM/casual sex scene dangerous?
Well, yes and no. Meeting people is dangerous. Some men (or occasionally men aided by women) specifically use dating apps and similar to isolate women so they may be attacked, raped or murdered. Why else would someone meet you alone? It is one of the reasons that sex workers also have such a high rate of becoming murder victims. The nature of their work means that predators have an expectation that they will be able to get them alone. The stigma of their work also means that, if they survive, they are unlikely to be believed.
Ultimately, when is it safe to be alone with someone? First date? Third? After marriage? Since there is actually no point at which a woman can consider herself safe from violence, and the odds are actually worse the longer she knows her partner, maybe we should stop equating casual and niche dating sites with women taking a bad risk.
The history of predators and safety for single women
Though there certainly have been incidents where predators use them: some murders in Hampshire a few years ago (and the man was aided by his girlfriend) using a well-known vanilla relationship site, an incident where a man was killing gay men he met through a gay hook-up site, and this recent tragedy in New Zealand, with a vanilla dating site, the conflation of whether or not the victim was also on BDSM sites with attempted exoneration of her murderer is worrying. It is more than a handy excuse for the defence- it is a form of victim blaming and yet another smear against the much misunderstood world of the BDSM community.
Are there predators who use BDSM sites? Certainly. For this, and so many other, more pleasant, reasons, I would always strongly urge someone looking to get started in BDSM to become part of the community. Not to arrive and meet your soulmate, not to instantly give yourself to a dominant or mistress, but to talk to people and make friends. Make friends with people who have a lot of other friends on the BDSM scene. Why? Because when you first start, you will not know the danger signs. You will not know how to identify a predator. Or, much more commonly, someone who is capricious yet uneducated enough to do you harm by accident or misunderstanding the nature of safe, sane, continuous consent. Many people learn the hard way. After falling with keen interest for someone who seems to excite their interests, but ultimately breaks their heart, body or mind.
Red flags for safety
If I’m talking to someone on the BDSM scene (usually via an app) who opens with a presumptuous attitude, talks about how they are highly experienced, yet never attends events, isn’t part of the community or isn’t willing to put in the time to learn the numerous arts and skills safely, I will not meet them. Not any more. They are living in a bubble of what it means to be a dominant that exists only in their minds. One way or another, the encounters are usually tinged with abuse. Given how diverse, inclusive and respectful the scene is, there is no reason for people to practice in isolation. Isolation in BDSM makes you dangerous. I have yet to encounter anyone who was an exception to this rule.
It is worth noting, in the tragic New Zealand case, that nowhere does it mention whether the alleged perpetrator of the killing was on any BDSM sites, or had any history of practicing breath play with former partners. Given the BDSM community’s primary pillar of consent, and willingness to learn safety measures, one would assume he wasn’t.
What is a risk to safety?
Breath play can be a beautiful, intimate act of trust, submission and sensuality. Careful control of blood flow to the brain gives a heady, giddy feeling that aficionados find wildly erotic. It is usually done face to face. With carefully controlled and applied pressure, moderating the force with careful watching of responses, as well as pre-set signals from the person in your grip. If someone lost consciousness, which is a rather extreme version of this play, it is immediately easy to see and the pressure would be released, with that other pillar of BDSM community ethos – aftercare.
Aftercare would be everything from making sure your submissive is physically okay, to cuddles, emotional support, a glass of water, a quiet chat to bring them back to Earth. Nowhere does it involve leaving them unconscious, let alone continuing to choke them for several minutes more. Anyone can watch an instructional video and learn these fundamental basics. It is a difference as disparate as giving someone a massage and beating them to death.
Is accidental death from consensual BDSM a defence?
The ‘BDSM defence’ -or ’50 Shades of Grey defence- has been on the increase recently. Research currently list at least 59 women in the UK killed in such circumstances, the majority by strangulation, and for most there was also evidence of domestic abuse. Though currently the UK law does not accept consent to BDSM as possible, it seems to offer the double-edged sword of condemning genuine, responsible consent to potential legal action, while allowing men to kill women with minimal sentencing. The ‘We can’t consent to this’ campaign seeks to highlight the injustice. There are no cases of the ‘rough sex’ defence being used by women who have killed men.
Another case of a millionaire sentenced to a paltry few years (which he appealed) for the death of his 26 year old girlfriend, in which she died left alone on the floor, with a fractured eye socket, 40 separate injuries, facial lacerations, face sprayed with bleach, serious internal trauma and heavy bleeding, overnight after a drug fuelled violent sexual binge, was claimed to be an accident of rough sex.
Is consenting to risk consenting to danger?
At what point do we accept that even if someone consents to erotic asphyxiation, impact play, or other styles of BDSM, they did not consent to being killed? The very nature of BDSM is to place ultimate trust in another person. To give you a safe but exciting journey through your own fear. The responsibility, ultimately, for the death of a person, whether they are an avid BDSM-lover or not, is with the person who killed them. If a person is willing to take the safety of another in their hands, to take them to the brink of danger, they take responsibility. As with a surgeon, they need to know expertly what they are doing and pay the utmost care and attention to their well-being throughout. That is what a submissive consents to. Rough sex and BDSM is not, should never be, allowed as a defence for causing death.
We need to stop blaming and shaming the ‘accidental’ murder victims in these tragic cases. We need to place the responsibility firmly where it belongs- in the hands of the perpetrator.
A dark story, my darling libertines. No photos for this one.
Keep learning. Stay safe. Stay sane. Stay consensual.