One of the most challenging parts of running rope or kink based events is ensuring a degree of safety for the attendees and those working at our events. I have felt the pressure to conform to practices that have lead to people being harmed within the kink community and even at events themselves. I have also come across abusive people and their survivors. As someone with many years of experience in safeguarding within public institutions addressing these issues head on, and training around intimate partner abuse, domestic abuse, honour based violence and mental health challenges, I feel my opinions on this might help others. This is a sensitive and complex problem with lots of nuances, so this can only be taken as a guidance.
I have been running my own events for over 3 years and have supported other events previously. So, I have first hand experience of what is going on that is leading to harm. I teach and have consulted internationally on these themes, and I always learn something from those interactions, because there is always room for improvement in what I do. The more we learn, the more we realise there is to learn.
This writing is in no way intended to target any particular event or individual. I believe the problem is so systemic and far reaching, that it would be counterproductive for me to call out anyone publicly. This post is for educational purposes for organisers to use as a reflection tool to help make their events safer.
Disclaimer: This post is based on my opinions and professional experience and training. I am not a lawyer, medically trained nor trained in arbitration. It is the sole responsibility of anyone creating an event or kink based space to meet the needs of their attendees and staff. I take no responsibility for any consequences of advice taken from this post. You are responsible for your actions, your own training, guidelines and policy formation.
Content Warning: Descriptions and references to types of abuse.
In most parts of the world, kink play is illegal in some forms, and in other parts completely outlawed. If you are to hold an event you need to be familiar with the following:
- National laws affecting the activity that will happen at your events.
- Local restrictions on licensing and by-laws on public decency.
- What support is available from local law enforcement should criminality take place.
- How you can support any criminal investigation with information requested, and this requirement needs to be explicit in your policies.
I believe that we must not create kink spaces where we operate outside the law. No one should ever be above the law. This creates an unrealistic expectation that event hosts must act as law enforcement should abuse take place, when we do not have the right nor resources to do so. Some people need to see justice happen, and we must never put ourselves in the position of being Judge, Jury and Executioner. This is not our role.
In some parts of the world, what I have just written makes no sense. Being kinky in any way may land you in prison. I appreciate that I’m speaking from a liberal city in a democracy.
So, what should we do? We want our events to be safe. We want people to have a good time. We want to serve the needs of our community. But how?
Firstly, recognise the limit of your capabilities. Your responsibility is to try to keep the space you hold as safe as possible. Abusers and their enablers will access your events, no matter what steps you take to prevent that. If you ever find yourself believing that your event is safe, it tells me you do not understand the problem at hand. No event has ever been or is ever going to be 100% safe from abusers.
Be prepared for backlash when you take action against an alleged abuser. Some abusers are entrenched in the community, even running their own events and businesses, so people will not like you for taking action. Some abusers will move to a different territory and hide behind being “new”. Others will have very polished online profiles that look legitimate. Avoiding detection is surprisingly easy, unfortunately.
Event hosts need to keep up to date with the latest guidance within our community and in the wider community. It is important to access any relevant training for the role, particularly around health and safety, and how to address alleged consent violations, and domestic violence and abuse. I would recommend training in trauma informed care, so we understand how best to help a person who has been abused or triggered and where they can get help.
Have Clear Rules
The best way to guard against any unwanted behaviour at your events is to have clearly laid out rules and consequences for infringement of those rules. Events need to have rules around:
- Etiquette around the venue and equipment – who can touch and use what and when.
- Rules around approaching others for play and how this should be done, if at all.
- What sort of play is permitted and what is not (eg penetrative sex, nudity, propositioning/ flirtatious behaviour).
- How to engage with staff and where to get help.
Organisers can then rely on these rules and procedures to enforce the rules. Review the wording every once in a while with your team to make sure it is clear enough. Some people will need more explaining than others of the rules, but some will try to bend them. That is a red flag. These rules need to be consistently applied to be effective. Do not make excuses for some people.
Events need to have all staff trained in areas that affect their ability to carry out their duties, including health and safety, first aid, conflict resolution, as well as any training specific to the type of play that might be taking place. I hope this post highlights how important it is for all staff to be aware of issues around abusive behaviour and to access the training they need.
When an allegation of abuse is made, the temptation is to treat it like any other conflict. In conflict resolution, the aim is for both parties to take accountability for their behaviour by both expressing their views and then finding a path moving forward.
For example: say someone has used a hank of rope that belonged to another person at a rope event. This is clearly not OK and against the rule “Do not touch other people’s property without consent,” that exists in most events. So, it is appropriate for a discussion to be arranged to address any misunderstandings, issue warnings and enforce the rule.
Abuse allegations need to be treated differently. Before any assault has taken place, abusers will have emotionally and socially manipulated the situation to their favour. Equally, seeking “restorative justice” can be harmful and should be left to professionals in the criminal justice system.
For example: say a person said they used a safe word and it was ignored, resulting in them being touched inappropriately. That person needs protecting and support. It can take years for someone to recover from that trauma, if at all. Asking them to sit with the person that has just harmed them so they can excuse their behaviour will cause more harm. It is not your job to take sides or arbitrate in such a sensitive matter.
Some event organisers set up a vetting system to help keep away abusive people. They may look like the following:
- Some places require registration with legal documentation. Since many kinksters use aliases (my legal name isn’t Dea Nexa!), asking for government ID helps organisers know with whom they are talking.
- A vouching system – where someone wanting to go to an event can only attend if an existing member says they are “safe”, “good” or “who they say they are”.
- Police records checks – in some parts of the world, there are publicly available resources to find out if someone has a criminal record. There is a sex offenders register in the UK, for example.
- At my events, I insist on email or other tracable contact information, so that I can share that information with law enforcement should they require it.
You would be forgiven for thinking my approach does not look as stringent as the others. This is because my events are educational, not play based, and only 12 attendees are permitted at a time. This means my volunteers and I can see what is going on and support attendees as best as possible. I have banned attendees, because of abuse allegations and would happily do so again because I want my events to be as safe as possible. I want survivors to know I will believe them. I know how difficult it is to speak out.
If I ran play events where kink play or sex was occurring, I would need to think more closely on how to vet attendees because those sorts of events can be much more difficult to moderate.
That being said, no one vetting procedure will prevent abuse. There are plenty of ill-intentioned people seeking to cause harm (intentionally or otherwise), that are not on any criminal record or who had never been reported on within the community.
Alleged Consent Violations and Abuse
In my experience, the vast majority of abuse incidents do not get reported. Most victims remain silent or are so traumatised that going to event leaders is too much for them. A lot of abusers get away with it by having their own group of friends around them supporting and vouching for them. Reporting to the police is often futile because there is often a lack of evidence to prosecute, or the abuser has created an alibi/narrative that their victim is “mentally unstable” to excuse their behaviour. They hide behind “but I thought I had consent”, when they either know they did not, or think they did but did not.
This problem is not exclusive to the kink community. Society functions in similar ways, with similar power dynamics. People turn to those they trust, believing them over the accusations made against them. We live in a patriarchy that tells women to “behave and not complain.” We live in a society where “white is right,” or at least influenced by a white supremacist delusion from colonial mindsets. We live in a society where any form of queerness is seen as perverse and an abomination in the conservative political agenda. We live in a social media climate, built around division and unrealistic and unhealthy role models. The kink community does not exist in a vacuum away from all of these influences.
I am labouring this point because it matters. We need to understand the context within which abuse occurs. We need to face the reality that no matter how well we think we know someone, they could very well be hiding dark secrets and using us to enable their abuse. We need to resist blaming the victim because it is less disturbing than the fact that our events are not 100% safe, nor ever will be. And we need to create policies to reflect the reality, not the rose tinted version we see played out on the internet. (I get the irony. I’m posting this on the internet, after all. )
If someone comes forward alleging abuse, this is my advice:
- Do not question if what they are saying is the truth. Chances are they are only telling you a snippet of what happened, only revealing what they feel emotionally ready to tell you. Believe them.
- Signpost to relevant, professional, government funded (if appropriate) support agencies. It is not your job to counsel the victim. It is not your job to arbitrate between the abuser and victim. You are then exposing yourself to the risk of being part of the problem, since abusers will manipulate the situation.
- Understand that most victims return to their abuser because they have been emotionally manipulated to do so. Reconciliation is a cause for concern, not a signal that everything is now “fine”.
- Be willing to share contact information of the alleged abuser with the police. Inform the victim that you are willing to do so, but do not pressure them to go to the police or take any action.
- Remove the alleged abuser from your space. You may find this difficult, but this raises the bar of what behaviour you accept and what behaviour you do not accept as an organiser. Do not turn a blind eye, no matter what problems your action causes.
- Resist launching an investigation and seeking witnesses etc, because this is not your job. You may feel a temporary ban might help, but be mindful that if the abuse was true (most likely was), then you will need to keep a very close watch on them and be willing to share their history with others if asked.
- After that victim comes forward, you will most likely see others come forward, too. It may take months or even years, but as time goes by, you will see there has been a pattern for quite some time. Such is the nature of abusive relationships.
- This process can be hugely emotionally challenging and triggering for most people, so seek support from trained, kink aware therapists. Your welfare is most important. Do not isolate yourself, and make sure you have someone you trust who you can turn to for advice.
- Remember to preserve the privacy of everyone involved. It is not your job to “out” others. It is not your job to rescue, either. You may want to share the information with others, but only with the consent of the accuser(s) and stick to the facts.
How an event organiser responds to an allegation is up to them. These are guidelines only, perhaps something to use as a benchmark or starting point. So long as allegations are not ignored and action is taken, there is scope for improvements.
When One of Your Own is Accused of Abuse
This can feel hugely conflicting. Someone you have known for months, years, maybe even decades, has had allegations made against them and it is difficult to believe. Consistency is key here. Event organisers need to be just as scrupulous with staff as anyone else. Following the steps numbered above is a wise option. Do not allow them to represent your events.
When You are Accused of Abuse
Get help. Sometimes people misunderstand our intentions, so it’s really important to get this right beforehand. Not everyone is honest. Communication can be confused. Own the mistake you have made and do not ask the accuser for any time or energy they are not willing to offer. Stop running events if you need the break.
There is no quick fix to the problem of abusers accessing kink spaces. They are often attracted to our events because we talk about taboo topics and engage in some intense forms of kink. I do not think it is ever wise to label an abusive person with a personality disorder or mental health problem, because it deflects from the victim and their need to heal. Abusive people are that way for many reasons that we do not need to understand. Rather, I believe in focusing on the behaviour and the harm it causes, and setting high standards at our events to prevent it happening.
I hope this post helps. There will be other approaches and perspectives that might be worth considering also. We need to periodically reflect on how we run our events and continue to make incremental improvements.
Never assume any event is “safe.”
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