Women in the bondage and kink scene are speaking out about sexual assaults in the community, and calling for change
Maggie Mayhem is dressed like a kinky dictator. Standing onstage at San Francisco’s Center for Sex and Culture, her olive-green military cap and knee-high-heeled boots belie the vulnerable subject at hand.
“The first time I was ever raped,” she starts, her throat tightening around her words, “it was actually on a date with somebody from my local S/M community.”
The 27-year-old sex educator and fetish model has never before publicly shared the story of her sexual assault, but the purpose of this evening’s event, a “consent culture” fundraiser, is so that she can start telling it, again and again. Her mission, along with fellow activist and sex worker Kitty Stryker, is to raise awareness about what they say is widespread abuse within the BDSM community and a tendency for players to either turn a blind eye or actively cover it up. They’ve developed a workshop meant to combat the problem and want to take it on the road.
We’re talking about real abuse here, not the “consensual non-consent” that the scene is built around, as Mayhem’s story of her first assault makes clear. As an 18-year-old member of a kinky student club at the University of California, Berkeley, Mayhem helped raise money to bring a prominent BDSM educator to campus for a workshop. Afterward, he singled her out for a private “play date” and she was flattered. “I thought this was the best person I could start to learn from,” she says.
The scene that they negotiated was “fantastic,” Mayhem says, but then things took a turn. “I found myself tied up and unable to get away when that individual decided that he was going to have sex with me,” she says, tears welling in her eyes, “even though we’d specifically negotiated against it, even though I was saying that it needed to stop, and even though he was not wearing a condom at the time.”
For the most part, she kept the experience to herself, but on the rare occasions when she did tell people in the community about it, she says, “I got one response … which was people saying [things like], ‘I don’t do drama. This is a respected person in the community. I’m very sorry that you had a miscommunication during your scene that made it not very fun for you, but I don’t want to hear about it.’”
As she pushed deeper into the scene, trying to put this experience behind her, she had countless more encounters where her boundaries were blatantly ignored. As she gained experience, she started to talk more confidently and openly about these experiences – but, again, she got the “I don’t do drama” line. At the same time, she realized that such abuse was prevalent: “It started to look more like a systemic issue,” she says. As Stryker wrote last year in an essay for Good Vibrations magazine, ” I have yet to meet a female submissive who hasn’t had some sort of sexual assault happen to her.”
BDSM has long been a target of criticism from outsiders, but these two are devoted members of the scene. Stryker argued in her essay, “I Never Called It Rape,” that the community is so “focused on saying how BDSM isn’t a cover for abuse that we willingly blind ourselves to the times that it can be,” she wrote. “How on earth can we possibly say to society at large that BDSM is not abuse when we so carefully hide our abusers and shame our abused into silence?” …