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"SM vs. Abuse Policy Statement"

Guidelines intended to help law enforcement and social services professionals understand the difference between abusive relationships vs. SM. Drafted in 1998 at the second Leather Leadership Conference.


The following Principles and Guidelines are intended to help law enforcement and social services professionals understand the difference between abusive relationships vs. consensual sadomasochism (SM). SM includes a broad and complex group of behaviors between consenting adults involving the consensual exchange of power, and the giving and receiving of intense erotic sensation and/or mental discipline.


SM includes: "intimate activities within the scope of informed consent that is freely given."


Abuse is: "Physical, sexual or emotional acts inflicted on a person without their informed and freely given consent."




The SM-Leather-Fetish communities recognize the phrase "Safe, Sane, Consensual" as the best brief summary of principles guiding SM practices:


Safe is being knowledgeable about the techniques and safety concerns involved in what you are doing, and acting in accordance with that knowledge.


Sane is knowing the difference between fantasy and reality, and acting in accordance with that knowledge.


Consensual is respecting the limits imposed by each participant at all times. One of the recognized ways to maintain limits is through a "safeword" which ensures that each participant can end his/her participation with a word or gesture.



Informed consent must be judged by balancing the following criteria for each encounter at the time the acts occurred:


  • Was informed consent expressly denied or withdrawn?
  • Were there factors that negated the informed consent?
  • What is the relationship of the participants?
  • What was the nature of the activity?
  • What was the intent of the accused abuser?
  • Whether an individual's role is top/dominant or bottom/submissive, they could be suffering abuse if they answer no to any of the following questions:
  • Are your needs and limits respected?
  • Is your relationship built on honesty, trust, and respect?
  • Are you able to express feelings of guilt or jealousy or unhappiness?
  • Can you function in everyday life?
  • Can you refuse to do illegal activities?
  • Can you insist on safe sex practices?
  • Can you choose to interact freely with others outside of your relationship?
  • Can you leave the situation without fearing that you will be harmed, or fearing the other participant(s) will harm themselves?
  • Can you choose to exercise self-determination with money, employment, and life decisions?
  • Do you feel free to discuss your practices and feelings with anyone you choose?


These guidelines were created by activists and leaders at the Leather Leadership Conference in 1998.

Consent Counts

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Consent Counts: We're Making a Difference

  • Completed Federal and State Legal Research
  • Developed Educational Programs and Outreach Materials
  • Built Alliances With Sexual Freedom Advocacy Groups

About Consent Counts

NCSF is leading a major national campaign—Consent Counts—to change the laws and police practices that our communities now endure, and to establish that consent is available as a defense in criminal BDSM prosecutions.

  • BDSM is prosecuted as assault in the U.S., even when it is consensual.
  • No state or appellate court has allowed consent as a defense to assault in BDSM cases.
  • Consent Counts is a nationwide project to decriminalize consensual BDSM.
Program Goals:
Consent Counts
is a nationwide project to decriminalize consensual BDSM through education, advocacy, legal actions and lobbying.


Judy Guerin
Director, Consent Counts 
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