Saturday, 3 December 2016

BiTastic! Consent Workshop Summary

Today, about 25 of us got together at BiTastic! to discuss consent. I put together a sheet of prompts, which you can find here – but it wasn't really needed, as the discussion flowed for the full hour with virtually no prompting.

We started off talking about ways you can improve safety when playing, unrelated to the larger community. All the topics you might expect came up - safewords, negotiation, references - but it was pointed out that a lot of these things might not be common knowledge to people who are exploring kink for the first time and aren't part of a kink community. I reckon that this probably isn't an issue for most of the community, but it's something I'd want to take into account during future kinky activism.

I asked what people thought that the commonly used statement that "the scene is self-policing" actually means. The common view was that it actually means nothing, because, well, the scene doesn't manage to police itself very well at all.

We discussed why this was so. One of the points I found the most interesting was about the lack of clarity from people who run clubs or events as to their rules and policies. It was suggested that it would be good for clubs to have their rules in clear sight, and to be open about what sanctions they impose for different violations. We usually assume any sanction will be a warning or a ban, but people suggested that only allowing people to play under DM supervision, or only allowing people to play with a written negotiation displayed where a DM could read it, could also be interim measures used for those situations where abuse allegations are flying around.

Another question posed: why don't we, as a community, get involved in the setting of rules and boundaries at our events? Why do we leave it in the hands of event organisers? I mean, I don't suppose that anyone has been calling for a community discussion on rules, but it is a way that people could have more power to determine what they consider acceptable behaviour in their community. Forcing event leaders to be accountable to a set of rules determined by the group isn't easy and certainly isn't something I expect will happen – but in the event that I'm hosting future munches, I will create and openly post a policy surrounding consent violations, and invite people to question/amend it to what they think is fair.

Before we left, I put this question to the group:
If your consent was violated by someone on your local scene, where would you go to report? What do you think the outcome would be and would this be satisfactory for preventing further abuse? Police? Rape crisis/third party reporting? People who run local clubs/munches? Your peer group? Friends or partners of the abuser? FetLife?
And for the first time in an hour there was complete silence in the room. Nobody had a good answer as to what they would do to report an assault. Only one or two people said they would feel comfortable with going to the police, and nobody had a good answer as to how they would report within the community. Which leaves abusers with a terrifying lack of accountability for their actions.

Some other really interesting things came out of the day. Notably, I had a really good talk with people from sexual health charities HIV Scotland and SX, and they're interested in doing talks specific to the kink community. We had a good discussion about transmission of STIs and blood-borne infections via toys. Would anyone be interested in SX doing a talk for the community on sexual health and kink?

BiTastic! workshop materials

Today, I facilitated a workshop at BiTastic!, about consent and safety in the kink community. I know some people didn't get the handouts I produced (too many people turned up - what a lovely problem!) so you can find a Word copy of the handout here, or see the text below.

BiTastic! Workshop - Safety and Consent Violations in the Kink Community


In this workshop, we’ll be discussing consent violation and abuse in kinky relationships and communities. We’ll talk about safety when playing and when interacting on the BDSM scene, examine the common perception that kink communities are “self-policing” and discuss whether communities could do more to protect their members.

House rules
  • Respect other people - this is a safe space to share ideas. Don’t interrupt others or use offensive language.
  • Some attendees may be using pseudonyms to protect their privacy. If you know someone’s real name/workplace/personal circumstances, respect their privacy. And remember not to acknowledge anyone you meet here if you see them out and about (unless you categorically know it’s okay to do so), as you may unintentionally out them.
  • Everyone in the room may have past experiences of consent violation. Please be considerate when sharing personal experiences. If you must illustrate a point with your own experience, preface it with a content warning. A copy of the agenda for this workshop is available so that you can check for potential triggers. Remember BiTastic!’s general rule: you can leave and re-enter the room at any time.
  • This workshop’s focus is consent; it is not a technical health and safety talk for risk reduction during different types of play.
  • We’re going to discuss:
    • The safeguards the kink community uses to ensure no limits are violated during play
    • How public spaces and interaction with the kink community factor into our strategies for staying safe
    • The “self-policing” trope - reasons why the kink community adopts this method of policing - does it work? How does it break down?

Personal Safety
  • Trust and consent during play:
  • Kink generates intimacy because it involves the shared transgression of boundaries - social norms, personal fears, physical limits.
  • What does a consent violation look like to kinky people?
  • The BDSM community uses lots of strategies for ensuring that participants in a scene are safe and consenting. What strategies do you use?
  • Additional handout: negotiation checklist

Safety on the Public Scene
  • What safety nets can socialising with other kinky people provide?
  • “The scene is self-policing”: commonly used line regarding the treatment of abuse on the scene. What do you think it means?
    • That people will call out abuse when they see it?
    • That abusers will be barred from events or socially stigmatised?
    • That others, especially new participants, will be warned about abusers?
  • Let’s discuss some hypothetical scenarios and see what you'd do in them.
    • You’re at a club and you see two people you don’t know doing a rope scene. The top grabs the bottom’s genital region. This is against club rules and a DM hasn't noticed. What would you do? What would you do if, at a later date, you saw a different bottom negotiating a scene with the same top? What would you do if the top was your friend? 
    • You’re at a club and you see two people you don't know doing an impact scene. The bottom’s body language suggests that they are having fun but the top is striking them hard in the lower back, which you know cannot be safe. What would you do?
    • You see someone at a fetish club squeeze someone else’s bottom outwith a scene. They look uncomfortable, and you don’t know if they know the person who squeezed their bottom. Do you say something, and if so, to whom?
    • You have started dating someone new you met on the scene. A friend tells you that your new partner has been accused of consent violations in the past. Someone told your friend about your partner’s history a long time ago, and your friend can't remember who told them. What would you do? Now, let’s say that someone close to your friend says your partner has assaulted them - what would you do then?
    • A friend has been accused of consent violations, but says that the person making the accusations is trying to falsely discredit them. You know that your friend has been involved in heated disputes on FetLife lately and that the attacks have become very personal. Who do you believe?
  • If your consent was violated by someone on your local scene, where would you go to report? What do you think the outcome would be and would this be satisfactory for preventing further abuse?
    • Police?
    • Rape crisis/third party reporting?
    • People who run local clubs/munches?
    • Your peer group? Friends or partners of the abuser?
    • FetLife?
The Kink Community and the Police Force
  • As a community, we need to be able to report the nonconsensual without fearing prosecution for the consensual.
  • Note that there is no case law on prosecuting BDSM in Scotland. Legally one cannot consent to assault. Waivers and written negotiations do not change this.
  • Is it all bad?
    • Rape Crisis Scotland are improving their understanding of the kink community and working out if there are gaps in their services.
    • Third party reporting is now available in Scotland. This means that a crime can be reported to staff who are trained to help you, but whom you may be more comfortable talking to than the police. The report is passed to the police but your details are not. If police databases turn up other reports on the perpetrator, you will be notified.
Other resources
  • Rape Crisis Scotland - you can find your local rape crisis centre at Free helpline is available to provide help for anyone who has experienced sexual violence at any point in their life. Third-party reporting of sexual assault can be arranged via the helpline. Helpline is free and open every day, 6pm to midnight, at 08088 01 03 02.
  • Third-party reporting is also available at adult retailer Luke and Jack, 45 Virginia Street 
  • Terrence Higgins Trust - charity for sexual health. They can provide STI testing in Glasgow City centre as well as a range of advocacy services. Find out more at

You can find this worksheet, a negotiation checklist and updates on my activities at

My thanks to
  • Sam Rankin and the Equality Network, for giving me the chance to produce this workshop
  • Sandie Barton and Rape Crisis Scotland, for their advice and support
  • Mistress Cordelia at the Glasgow Dungeon, for her help and input