Mission: To decriminalize consensual BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Dominance/submission, sadomasochism) in U.S. law by ensuring that consent will be recognized as a defense to criminal charges brought under assault laws and other statutes.
Unlike most other sexual issues (rape, for example), BDSM activities—a “scene”, a dungeon party, a Dominant/submissive or Master/slave relationship—can result in a criminal prosecution and conviction even where the activity is entirely consensual. It’s important to remember that most BDSM activities are treated as violence and not sex. This is not speculation; in 2010, NCSF’s incident response help line received 204 requests for help concerning criminal prosecutions.
NCSF’s research of cases throughout the United States revealed that not a single appellate court decision has allowed consent as a defense to a BDSM-based criminal prosecution for assault, sexual abuse, etc. Even where a state law allows the consent defense in cases that do not involve “serious bodily injury,” appellate courts have ruled that the use of nipple clamps or hot wax produces “serious bodily injury”.
The realization that our communities are at risk of criminal prosecution led to the launch of the “Consent Counts” initiative in 2006 at a Leather Leadership Roundtable at NGLTF’s Creating Change. At this Roundtable and one held subsequently at the Leather Leadership Conference, decriminalization of consensual BDSM was determined to be the number one priority of the BDSM/Leather/Fetish communities. It was subsequently determined that NCSF would take a leadership and coordinating role. This is, with the related initiative to change the way BDSM is viewed by psychiatry in the DSM criteria, NCSF’s most important project.
Our “Consent Counts” initiative is multi-faceted. We have researched the statutes, court decisions and relevant law review articles in all 50 states, and the results of that research are available on the NCSF website. We are presenting programs and holding meetings with our communities across the country, to build understanding of the issues and to develop consensus on an effective approach to nationwide activism. A national discussion guide has been created to facilitate local discussions to assist in the drafting of a community-wide statement on consent at LLC at Seattle 2013 with the goal of decriminalization and to promote local and national activism. This aspect of our initiative also includes an EOP focused on Frequently Asked Questions about the criminal law issues and on Best Practices by which individuals and groups can reduce the likelihood of prosecution and—equally important—enable us to argue more effectively that what we do is mutually pleasurable erotic activity (not violence) and
that care is taken to ensure consensuality and avoid excessive stimulation or unintended harm. In addition, NCSF has published primers for both alleged victims and for those accused of consent violations.
The activism aspect of “Consent Counts” will be equally multifaceted. We have already begun reaching out to law enforcement, to legislators and to educators. In the coming year, we will be presenting continuing legal education (CLE) programs to lawyers, working with bar associations and law student groups, and participating selectively with “friend of the court” briefs in legal cases. Further down the road is the development of grass roots activism to change state laws and law enforcement practices.
In all of this, we need your help. You can report BDSM-related criminal investigations and prosecutions to NCSF. Your local groups can host “Consent Counts” presentations and discussions on activism strategies and on community practices that can help avoid criminal problems. As we go forward, we are seeking volunteers for various forms of activism and educational outreach. And, of course, your continuing donations to the NCSF Foundation (tax-deductible) and NCSF are essential for making this project effective.
In 2002, National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) once again took the lead in defending the rights of individuals and groups in the SM-leather-fetish, swing and polyamory communities. NCSF's coalition of 29 educational and social groups is committed to creating a political, legal, and social environment in the United States that advances equal rights of consenting adults who practice forms of alternative sexual expression.
NCSF's Incident Response team is directed by Leigha Fleming, who instituted new methods for tabulating responses in 2002. In total, nearly 600 contacts were made between NCSF and individuals, groups, attorneys, prosecutors, and businesses who requested assistance. Each incident sometimes required only one or two phone calls, but many evolved into much larger projects such as the series of attacks by religious political extremists against SM conferences in the midwest.
In 41% of the incidents, NCSF assisted individuals. The largest category of incidents involved parents who were engaged in child custody and divorce cases. Parents continue to experience difficulties gaining child custody due to their interest in SM, swing or poly activities. NCSF worked with a number of attorneys representing parents accused of being unfit because of their alternative lifestyle interests. In many cases, because of information we were able to provide, the courts decided that alternative sexual expression alone was not cause to impugn a parent's ability to be a good parent. Individuals also consulted with NCSF on a variety of other issues, including: the legality of obscene materials, guidelines for posting sexually frank information on websites, the law regarding private parties, and dealing with personal media exposure.
In 2002, NCSF also opposed zoning and other local regulatory measures against those who practice some form of alternative sexual expression. NCSF assisted the swing communities in Florida and Phoenix by holding open-forum discussions about how to affect zoning regulations and current litigation against lifestyle clubs. NCSF also worked with the Gay and Lesbian Activist Alliance (GLAA) to lobby against the Washington DC's Alcoholic Beverage Control regulation 905, which has been used to prohibit SM play in local establishments with liquor licenses even when liquor isn't being sold or consumed.
From February to May 2002, five SM conventions were targeted by Concerned Women for America, American Family Association, and the American Decency Association. NCSF worked with each event to counter sensationalized attacks in the media as well as resisting action by local authorities who attempted to shut down these SM conferences. The attacks took place in the midwest: My Vicious Valentine and International Mr. Leather in Chicago, Bound by Desire in Michigan, Tribal Fire in Oklahoma, and Beat Me in St. Louis in Missouri.
In April, Missouri State Senator John Loudon introduced a resolution to prohibit SM conferences from being held in that state. NCSF educated the Missouri State Attorney General about the educational benefits of SM conferences, and the state health department sent an observer who confirmed that all activities were safe, sane and consensual. Beat Me in St. Louis was held exactly as planned.
With two of these SM conferences, the host hotels canceled their contracts. However both conferences were able to re-locate to new host hotels. Cendant Corporation, the world's largest hotel franchiser with more than 6,400 hotels, bowed to pressure from religious political extremist groups and threatened its franchisees with reprisal if they booked "controversial" guests or groups that "national interest groups find offensive." NCSF conducted a successful media and write-in campaign that convinced Cendant Corporation to clarify its position, honoring the right of hotel franchisees to host the events of their choice.
In 2002, there were several police raids against alternative sexual expression clubs, including a raid that resulted in the closure of Behind the Scenes, an SM club in Philadelphia, PA. In July, a raid against Club Zinc, a swing club in Atlanta, GA, resulted in the arrest of patrons who consulted with NCSF. Another lifestyle club in Connecticut was raided and closed in June because they were improperly located in a residential neighborhood. In Phoenix, AZ, NCSF worked with several swing clubs that continue to be threatened with closure because of overly-restrictive zoning laws.
Spokesperson Susan Wright gave 81 interviews with the media in 2002 including print, radio and television interviews on national shows such as The O'Reilly Factor. Incidents such as the CWA attacks against SM conferences required extensive media contacts. In addition, the trial and conviction of serial killer John Robinson in Kansas City necessitated media work because Robinson met several of his victims in SM chat rooms. The witness who reported Robinson's theft of her toys to the police, resulting in Robinson's arrest, consulted with NCSF prior to her appearance in the trial.
The SM community rallied when Jack McGeorge's participation as a UN Weapons Inspector in Iraq was questioned by the Washington Post in a series of SM-negative articles. It was suggested that McGeorge should be dismissed from the UN weapons team because, among other things, McGeorge is a former Chairman of NCSF. Community members sent dozens of "Letters to the Editor" to the Washington Post, NY Daily News, CNN, and Fox News protesting the attacks against McGeorge, who received support from Hans Blix and remained on duty as a Weapons Inspector.
Clubs regularly contact NCSF to receive media training for incidents or events. In one media incident, a nonprofit club in Muncie, Indiana, was threatened with closure along with a nearby strip bar until the media was educated about safe, sane and consensual SM. NCSF also gave media assistance to a swing club in Connecticut which was closed because of zoning issues.
Job discrimination continues to be a problem for individuals. NCSF helped more than a dozen people draft and file formal complaints with their employers regarding employment discrimination claims. One Tennessee man lost his job because he belonged to a leather club. NCSF referred a Texas man to the EEOC because of racial discrimination. A California woman contacted NCSF when a job offer was withdrawn when her personal website was discovered. Another woman was dismissed from a private Catholic university because of her private sexual expression.
Discrimination complaints were also made about two Internet companies in 2002. In July, E-bay pulled all of its SM-related material for sale, while Match.com deleted a therapist's ad because it mentioned their poly therapy practice.
NCSF was contacted by individuals, attorneys and prosecutors on a variety of criminal cases, including: an exhibitionist arrested for public exposure, prostitution and obscenity charges against a pro-domme, and one individual cited for carrying SM toys in their car. NCSF also made referrals to resources and the appropriate authorities in several domestic violence incidents. In one case, a protective order was obtained.
In September, NCSF assisted in a behavioral forensic investigation concerning the alleged kidnapping of a Vancouver, Washington, man who was involved in master/slave relationship. NCSF worked with both prosecution and defense. The result was the dismissal of the unfounded charges of kidnapping and assault.
NCSF is here to help you -- the SM, swing and polyamory communities. If you have a problem with discrimination, persecution, or harassment because of your sexual expression, please call NCSF for assistance. You can visit our website on www.ncsfreedom.org or call our office at 410-539-4824.
And please support NCSF in our effort to change the political, legal, and social environment in the United States. We are a grassroots, volunteer organization committed to making a difference. Join NCSF as a member or please hold a fund-raiser and donate to NCSF!
The NCSF Incident Reporting & Response (IRR) program provides assistance to individuals and groups within the alternative sexual expression communities who become victimized because of SM, leather, fetish, or swing practices.