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NCSF's Violence and Discrimination Survey (1999)

PURPOSE:

  1. Gather demographic data on the SM-Leather-Fetish communities.

  2. Gain an understanding of the affect of social stigma on SM and fetish practitioners.

SURVEY INSTRUMENT - Paper and electronic distribution (see below)

PERIOD - April 1998 to February 1999

RESULTS:

  1. Useful demographic data on the SM-Leather-Fetish communities

  2. Sense of the magnitude of the problems arising from the stigma against SM

  3. Clear justification for a more professional survey

GENDER 

ORIENTATION

Men  51%  Heterosexual  40%
Women  46% Homosexual  22%
Transgender  1% Bisexual  36%
Intersexual  2% No Response   4%
EMPLOYMENT AGE  INCOME
Student 8% 18-22 3% Under $ 10K 7%
Part time 5%  23-29 15% $10-24K 17%
Full time 62% 30-44 49% $25-49K 37%
Self employed 22% 45-64 31% Over $50K 39%
Unemployed 1% Over 65 2%    
Retired 2%        

COMMUNITY ISSUES:

1. Have you ever experienced violence or harassment because of your alternative sexual practices?

36%   YES

If yes, what happened? (multiple responses allowed)

Verbal harassment  87%

Physical assault 

25%
Stalked  19%

Property vandalized 

19%
Blackmail  17%
Sexual harassment  13%

Rape 

10%
Other  7%

2. Have you ever experienced discrimination due to your alternative sexual practices?

30%   YES

If yes, what happened? (multiple responses allowed)

Persecution 40%

Loss of job or contract 

25%
Loss of promotion  17%
Loss of custody of child  3%

Refused membership 

11%
Unjustified arrest  5%
Other  36%

3. Did you press charges?

96%   NO

4. Do you freely tell others of your interest in alternative sexual expression?

72%   NO

If you're not out, why not?

Fear of disapproval  67%
Fear of repercussions  57%
Fear of persecution  34%
Fear of loss of child custody  13%
Other  16%

RESULTS

Only 28% of those surveyed were "out", while the vast majority don't tell other people about their sexual preferences. Some reported that "it's no one else's business," but many cited fear of job loss or child custody, or harming family relations. One respondent reported, "A formerly trusted confidant outed me to my family. As I am the primary care giver for my mother (Alzheimer's) my siblings feared that I would expose our mother to "dangerous characters". They considered making other arrangements for Mom's care and made me promise not to 'practice" my sexual preferences in our home."

Unfortunately, staying in the closet doesn't protect people - only one-third of those who suffered violence or discrimination reported that they are "out". The other two-thirds were minding their own business and keeping their mouths shut when they were either harassed or discriminated against.

Discrimination cuts very deep, in places we may not even realize. One respondent wrote, "My doctor called my desire for body modification 'sick'. Medical doctors have with held information of safe piercing practices from me because they consider all piercing to be 'self destructive', 'sick' and dangerous."

Other people are haunted by a fear of losing their jobs. Many who have answered the survey are educated professionals, and they can't afford to jeopardize their income. One University professor wrote, "We are very careful about outside appearance because of the fact that we live in a predominantly student section of town, where in fact several of my students live within shouting distance."

We also received a response from an ordained minister who has been involved in SM for several years. "I shared with my former roommate from seminary details about my lifestyle & interest. She took it upon herself to "save" me & report me to my superiors. I was up on a years leave of absence & required to participate in therapy."

There are many responses from people about being "ostracized... for getting mail that included SM/Leather/Fetish publications," or "harassed and threatened with being fired," or "laid off."

Of the violence that occurs against SM practitioners, there is an appalling amount of sexual abuse being perpetuated because someone believed they "deserved it". Many survey responses reported incidents of: "Simply; I was beaten up due to the jerk thinking that since I was submissive, that also meant free game to beat up and rape."

Despite the fact that 36% of the respondents reported being harassed or attacked because of their diverse sexual practices, 96% never reported the crime. Some of the reasons given were: "Didn't think authorities would believe me." "Chalked it up to ignorance & prejudice. "Wouldn't have been taken seriously." "Who would believe me?" "A waste of time."

NCSF hopes with the results from this survey, law enforcement officials will have to listen to the facts about violence taking place against people because of their interest in alternative sexual practices. NCSF hopes that media professionals will realize there are serious repercussions when SM and fetishes are sensationalized.

SURVEY INSTRUMENT

  • 645 hard surveys returned

  • 372 computer surveys returned

  • 1,017 total returned surveys

Respondents were actively encouraged to fill out the survey whether or not they had experienced discrimination or violence. Most of the survey questions were geared toward gaining demographic information on the SM-Leather-Fetish communities.

The computer survey form was posted on the NCSF website. Hyperlinks were sent through NCSF and other e-mail newsletters, and the URL was posted on various internet sites, bulletin boards, and chat rooms.

5,000 surveys were printed and distributed at dozens of meetings and events, including the following major community events:

  • Leather Leadership Conference, NYC, April 1998
  • IML, Chicago, May 1998
  • Folsom Street East, NYC, June 1998
  • IMsL, August 1998
  • Folsom Street Fair, San Francisco, September 1998
  • Living in Leather, Texas, October 1998
  • BR 98, DC, October 1998

The Member Organizations of NCSF mailed an additional 4,600 surveys directly to each of their members:

Member Organization
Society of Janus  700
GMSMA  1,100
The Eulenspiegel Society  1,100
NLA-I  400
Black Rose  300

Total 

3,600