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"A BDSM blacklist"

on Monday, 04 June 2012. Posted in Front Page Headline, Media Updates

A Facebook-like site for kinksters stops users from naming alleged abusers, sparking debate over justice and safety

Salon

The accusations range from “he told me I didn’t need a safe word” to “[they] inserted a knife into my vagina without getting my permission.” In recent months, allegations of sexual abuse in the BDSM community have popped up on Fetlife, which is basically Facebook for the kinky community. But site administrators have begun to remove message board posts that actually name names, igniting a debate over whether it’s right to publicly reveal the identity of alleged abusers and about how to best deal with BDSM crimes that many survivors are resistant to take to police.

Earlier this year, I reported on recent attempts to raise awareness about what some say is widespread abuse within the BDSM community and a tendency to either ignore it or cover it up. As I said at the time, “We’re talking about real abuse here, not the ‘consensual non-consent’ that the scene is built around.” That means safe words being maligned or ignored, and boundaries being crossed. In the months since, the conversation has only gotten louder; and following the social networking site’s removal of posts that identify alleged abusers — most often by their Fetlife moniker only — a petition was started to remove a clause from the site’s Terms of Use requiring users to pledge to not “make criminal accusations against another member in a public forum.” Currently, the proposal has 864 “spanks” (the site’s equivalent of “yes” votes).

When I asked John Baku, the founder of Fetlife, for the reasoning behind deleting accusations, he let out a heavy sigh and said, “It’s definitely a tough situation. We see both sides.” Later, he adds, “There’s many reasons. We don’t really allow people to attack other people on the site.” Asked whether there are legal concerns behind it, as many in the community have speculated, he says, “There definitely probably is.” (In Canada, where Fetlife is based, laws are “much more friendly to plaintiffs” than in the U.S., where online publishers are protected from being held responsible for user posts, says Kurt Opsahl, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.) Baku, who rarely gives interviews, continued, “but our focus really is on trying to get people to speak to the proper authorities so that the people who have committed these horrible crimes get put away.”

When I asked whether the company is trying to protect users against false accusations, Baku spins a yarn: “Let’s say you and I — you do have a beautiful voice — I come to San Francisco and we go on a date. Hypothetically, I’m submissive, you’re dominant, and I ask you to tie me up,” he says. “You think we have a wonderful night, I think we have a wonderful night, and all of a sudden tomorrow I go online and say, ‘You raped me,’ and email your editors at Salon and say you raped me and go onto Twitter and say you raped me.” Falling for his role-play scenario and flattery, I offered that I’d want to talk to him to figure out whether I had unknowingly violated his consent.

Sure, that’s all good and great, he said, but what about the potential consequences? “The community’s very small, right? So you might lose all your friends,” he says. “You might lose your job.” Baku adds, “We live in a society where you’re innocent until proven guilty. ‘Proven’ is very important.”

Kitty Stryker, an activist and dominant who is campaigning to raise awareness about abuse in BDSM, doesn’t buy the argument that people’s lives might be ruined by being labeled as an abuser on Fetlife, particularly because real names are rarely used. “The debate is constantly about whether or not we should name screen names. It’s not like these are actually people’s legal names. Hell, on Fetlife you don’t even have to have a photo of your face. It’s really your own fault if you make yourself traceable.” So, in general, we’re not talking about a rape accusation that’s Google-able by a future employer. Within the BDSM community, though, these screen names are important: “It’s great for establishing some sort of accountability” — and for helping people avoid dangerous encounters. ...

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