In Dutch, “geel” means yellow and “geil” means horny. Which means “yellow” as a safeword can be a bit confusing :P.
Although all kinksters agree BDSM should only be practised with consenting adults, consent violations still happen. In 2013 the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom published a worrying statistic, showing that almost one in three SM-ers had a pre-negotiated limit violated, and 15% even experienced their safeword being ignored. There has been a growing focus on and development of consent culture within the BDSM scene, which has included a tense but fruitful discussion of different types of consent violations. In most simple terms bdsm without consent is simply abuse, but the reality is often more complex and nuanced. Are all consent violations bad?
Reading about the NCSF study I found myself looking back on my own experiences with consent violations. I remember a scene where I gagged my partner and then hurt him. We had the type of relationship where I felt comfortable pushing the boundaries a little, so I went a bit further than I usually did. And then I crossed his boundaries but he couldn’t safeword and I had no idea, because I’d gagged him and forgotten to give him a non-verbal safeword. He was emotional afterwards but not upset with me at all. And I think this exemplary of how consent violations in the scene often happen. I’ve had my own consent violated more than once, but I never considered it a ‘bad consent violation’. Just an honest mistake.
A group of Dutch kinksters decided to find out. They set up a big survey, which over 350 BDSM-ers finished. Their data was analysed by someone who knows what she was doing, so if you’re into statistics go download the paper because it’s good.
A quick look at the characteristics of kinksters
Over half of all subjects were female. This is interesting because there’s still this prevailing myth that perverts are usually men. Over half were submissive, a quarter dominant and another quarter switch (which means they like both roles). As usual they found that men prefer the dominant role and women are more often sub. The age group 18 to 30 was the largest in this sample, though there were kinksters older than 61 as well. People generally had one to ten years of experience, about 10% of people had more than 20 years experience.
Almost 65% of kinky people have experienced some consent violation, often more than once. In this study they asked about pre-negotiated limits being violated, safewords being ignored and scenes that went too far, and all of those things seem to happen regularly. All numbers were higher than in the NCSF study, for example over 20% of Dutch kinksters have had their safeword ignored (compared to 15% in NCSF).
But how bad is it?
One of the great aspects of this study is the nuanced picture it shows of the seriousness of consent violations. They asked respondents about their experiences, how bad they felt it was on a scale from 1 (not bad) to 10 (bad) and their answers were so diverse. There were peaks around 1 to 4, even for the occasions they describe as the worst consent violations. There was another peak at 8 to 10, which shows really horrible consent violations happen.
When asked if they considered the consent violation a form of abuse, the majority of people said they did not. About 15% of all kinky people have ever experienced a ‘bad’ consent violation, and about 20% have had at least one experience they consider abuse. These numbers are, sadly, similar to what we find outside of the BDSM scene. So it seems kinksters are, yet again, not different from non-kinksters.
Kinksters and the police
People how have experienced abuse in a BDSM setting usually do not file charges, even if they did consider doing so. When asked why they did not file charges against their abuser, fear of not being taken seriously by authorities was recurring theme.
Consent at parties
Consent violations usually happened inside someone’s home. Under 10% of consent violations happen at a party. The relationship between severity of the violation and location was not investigated, so we don’t know if consent violations at a party are usually mild or bad.
Around 30% of kinksters have at least once doubted the consent of a scene they saw. Doms report having these doubts most often, subs least often of all. When doubting the consent of a scene nearly all consider intervening, and nearly all do. Most people who worry about a scene notify a DM, which is arguably the best way of intervening since you don’t want people butting in on each others’ scenes the whole time. Many people also talk to the players they’re worried about afterwards. Only 8.7% do absolutely nothing and simply walk away, so there’s no evidence of a massive bystander effect in the scene.
About 60% believe a Party Safeword can help prevent consent violations. Almost nobody has ever needed one, but we believe it might help others. About 44% believe a Party Safeword is very important, and about 28% believe it’s not important at all, so people are quite opinionated about this :).
The study is packed with more facts and figures, so go read it if you’re interested.