Spotting When Rope Becomes Abusive

Spotting When Rope Becomes Abusive

Whether you are in a relationship with someone or about to begin playing with rope with someone new, it is important to your personal safety to recognise if/when the dynamic is or becomes abusive. We sometimes ignore little signals that “don’t feel right” because we’re so happy and excited to be able to engage in rope play that we let them slide. But rope is inherently dangerous on many levels, it can cause physical and mental harm. And it is used by people with ill intentions to abuse others. Therefore, being aware of issues around intimate partner abuse is crucial to keeping safe.


Rope is only fun when practiced safely. You need to be informed on the physiological and emotional opportunities and restrictions each individual has in engaging with rope. You need to have a clear idea of the intentions you both (/all) have in why you are tying and the aims of the tie. You need to know that the person you are tying with is someone you can trust and openly communicate ideas and concerns with. A rope top/rigger may take advantage of a rope bottom’s vulnerable state or just be too ignorant to know if what they are doing is safe. A rope bottom may not be honest and try to manipulate a rigger to get what they want, without due care to the rigger. The potential for things to go wrong is huge because we often rush things or take unnecessary risks. Without appropriate safety steps people get hurt.


Ultimately, it comes down to our intentions. Are they to create beautiful mutually beneficial moments or an avenue to abuse? An abusive person will not walk up to you and say “hey, let me abuse you today!”. They will use strategies to create an environment where they can carry out abuse knowing you will not challenge it. They may even not realise they’re being abusive because from their perspective it’s totally acceptable to behave that way, even when they make shallow apologies.


In a BDSM relationship of any kind, the dynamic relies on mutual respect and communication. Nothing should ever feel forced or pressured. It should be creating a loving, nurturing environment where all parties feel safe and accepted, able to express themselves in a safe way. It is not an excuse to abuse. This diagram shows how differently the intentions and environments abusive relationships create, compared to healthy BDSM dynamics.

In long term dynamics, rope (and other forms of BDSM play) can be used as part of a wider structure to cause serious harm and even murder and rape. It is a slow, carefully planned procedure to make sure the victim, top or bottom, keeps in line and unable to seek help. Below is a diagram showing the many spokes to the wheel of abuse that are used by abusers.

Recognising the signs early on is the best protection we can arm ourselves with to prevent us from falling into the abusers trap.

These are the things I would recommend to look out for when using rope play with a partner:

  1. Do they come on too fast? Are they messaging you all the time and expecting you to be open too soon? Are they demanding of your time, wanting lots of new things? This is a sign that they are not considering your personal needs, they’re too focused on getting what they want.
  2. Do they ask about any health issues and needs that could affect your rope sessions? Are these then incorporated into the session you plan together? If not, then question just how informed they are about the safety aspects of rope.
  3. What is their understanding of consent? Have they asked what your understanding is too? Do you have a conversation about it, drawing lines around what you both feel is acceptable and safe for you to do? Consent is the bedrock of all physical and verbal interactions; if they’re not willing to discuss this, remove yourself from this person completely.
  4. Do they put other people down, including your family and friends? Do they try to convince you to ignore advice from others, because “they don’t know what they’re talking about”? Do they try to isolate you “for your own safety/well-being”? This is one of the most successful patterns abusers use, making you question your own judgement, laying the way for further psychological trauma.
  5. In any discussions you have, do they dismiss or trivialise any concerns you have? Do they try to explain away any feedback you give, rather than take the criticism head on and apologise for any mistakes?
  6. Do they touch you without asking first? If in rope, do they touch you without any forewarning BEFORE you started tying? Do you feel they’re too close in your personal space, or feel pressured to accept being in their personal space? It is not ok to touch someone without consent. If any touching happens around erogenous zones, that is sexual assault, do not accept it. Even if you were physically intimate five minutes before, consent should always be ongoing.
  7. Do they use harsh language or tones towards you? Do they call you names? Do they criticise what you wear or any choices you make? They’re showing you profound disrespect. Don’t tie or be tied by a disrespectful person.
  8. Is aftercare fully discussed? Have you thought through together any possible physical and emotional needs you BOTH may need in the immediate moments after a tie and over the following days? Rope play will be physically and mentally challenging to both of you. If this is not recognised, then walk away. Your needs matter.
  9. How well do they own their mistakes? Or do they try to deflect blame or minimise what has happened? Do you feel safe to criticise what they said or did?
  10. Do they recite horror stories of previous partners, discouraging you from contacting them? Or do they suggest speaking to various people to see if they are considered safe?
  11. Do they touch your equipment without asking. Do they not allow you to inspect the equipment before a tie, to see if it’s safe enough? Rope equipment is expensive, do don’t interfere with it, but do inspect equipment if you feel you need to.
  12. Have they discussed what recording will be taking place, who will hold copies and how it will be used before you engage in rope? No one has the right to take photos, videos or voice recordings of you without explicit permission.
  13. Do they threaten you with physical assault on you or others? Do they threaten or actually steal money or items from you? Do they threaten to out you to family and friends? Do they threaten or actually tell others in the community how bad a person you are, if you don’t do what they want? Find help to leave safely.

If you experience any of these, I would strongly recommend reaching out to others to find support and leave. Help is out there, you will be believed. And remember it wasn’t your fault they behaved in this way, no matter how much they deflect blame onto you. No one should feel frightened or intimidated by partner. No one should have to give up things they love in their life to keep someone else happy. Your safety and happiness is more important than engaging in rope. There are safer rope people to find, be patient.

Sources of support:

Call 999 in an emergency. If you can’t speak, tap the handset when prompted. Go to a safe room and try to lock yourself in. Do not go to the kitchen, bathroom or garage if possible, because weapons are easily at hand.

Speak to your doctor or other health care professional. They should provide support and information to get help.

Call the National Domestic Violence helpline on 0808 2000 247 or visit their website http://www.nationaldomesticviolencehelpline.org.uk/

Try the Freedom Program. A course to help you understand what domestic violence and abuse is and how it happens. It can now be done online https://freedomprogramme.co.uk/

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