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"Sexual abuse worse than kinky photos"

on Saturday, 14 July 2012. Posted in Front Page Headline, Media Updates

Victoria Times Colonist

RCMP Cpl. Jim Brown of Coquitlam is facing investigation for inappropriate conduct after pornographic photos of him were posted to a website last Thursday. In the same week, Const. Karen Katz filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the RCMP. That Brown and Katz's stories broke the same week seems to be an unfortunate coincidence at best, and an appalling trend at worst - for Katz's lawsuit is just the latest in a long series of sexual misconduct accusations against the force.

Yet, aside from the fact that both stories contain the words "RCMP" and "sex," how similar are they, really? A decade's worth of institutionalized sexual harassment is clearly not the same as two adults engaging in kinky sex acts.

Since last fall, the RCMP has been wracked by allegations of sexual harassment. The most prominent case has been that of B.C. Cpl. Catherine Galliford, who alleges that long-term sexual harassment at the hands of her colleagues resulted in chemical dependency, post-traumatic stress disorder and finally caused her to go on sick leave in 2007.

Galliford draws attention to the lack of functional mechanisms for reporting abuse within the RCMP, which results in an environment where there is no accountability for abusers, who are often senior officers. Police psychologist Mike Webster argues that this lack of accountability, in conjunction with the generally male-dominated structure of police organizations, creates a "culture of fear" where abuse is downplayed, ignored and dismissed if reported.

Take the case of Sgt. Don Ray, who was disciplined for sexually harassing subordinate officers in Alberta, but whose punishment was a demotion and a transfer to B.C. rather than being removed from a position of power. This is a culture that defends perpetrators rather than victims, even when the perpetrators are publicly acknowledged to be guilty.

So, at a moment when the RCMP is facing a PR nightmare on a massive scale (as well it should be), it's little wonder that Brown's involvement in a sexual-fetish site is garnering serious attention. But Brown hasn't done anything illegal. He was a member of an online community for people interested in bondage, domination, submission and sadomasochistic sex acts. The photos in question depict a man (who may or may not be Brown, according to the CBC) abducting and assaulting a woman, who is herself a fellow BDSM participant, as part of a fantasy scene. Not everyone's cup of tea, I know, but as long as the participants are consenting adults, sexual preferences are matters of taste, not morality, and certainly not legality.

Yet for some, these photos were reminiscent of the Robert Pickton murders, an impression that was compounded by the fact that Brown played a role, albeit a small one, in the botched Pickton investigation.

I have yet to be convinced that Brown's BDSM activity was a purposeful recreation of any aspect of the Pickton case, but when the RCMP as an institution has chronically failed to address systemic abuse within its own ranks, and when the Pickton investigation was a textbook case of marginalized women's voices being ignored to disastrous results, I can see why officials are worried about Brown.

Ironically, BDSM communities are often are bastions of safe, consensual sex. Despite sex fetishists' reputation in mainstream culture, if you're going to be tying each other up, conversations about consent, boundaries and gender dynamics are crucial. Webster gets it wrong when he argues that the images of Brown are "severely degrading to women," since he's ignoring the agency of the woman who chose to be a part of that fantasy.

When kink communities have problems, they're likely to be the same problems for which the RCMP is currently being investigated: lack of accountability, a culture of male entitlement, victim blaming and privileging abusers over survivors. Kink isn't the problem. ...

 

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