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This series of articles on consent and the lack thereof in BDSM communities is an incredibly important (but disturbing) read. Pair with the “Yes Means Yes” seven-part series “There’s a War On,” especially Part 6: Anti-Sunshine League, the prequel to M. Lunas’s trilogy. From M. Lunas’s post:
Here’s your tl;dr: FetLife, I will argue, does not respect consent. It actively seeks to silence victims of abuse, and also does not give you the ability to consent to how your information is shared and used. On the privacy front, FetLife does not provide meaningful internal user controls to protect users–since the biggest danger isn’t people outside the site, but within it. In this, FetLife represents a particularly egregious example of pervasive problem of Internet culture and structure, which is an environment where we don’t recognize that we have a right to say no to sharing information, much like many women were socialized traditionally to not recognize that they could say no to sex. On top of that, it makes it difficult-to-impossible to get your data out of the site, which, I will argue, puts FetLife in possible violation of the European Union’s Data Protection Directive. Furthermore, I will argue, perhaps provocatively, that there is a strong relation between FetLife’s for-profit business model and all their actions. Nonetheless, I will outline what FetLife could and should do. Fortunately, there are now a number of nifty tools available to get around some of FetLife’s problems. (Indeed, these tools are now expanding to other sites, like OKCupid: see the Predator Alert Tool for OK Cupid, which we may revisit in another blog post at some point.)
- What does consent feel like?
- National BDSM organization’s own survey admits consent crisis in BDSM Scene
- Submissive people don’t need dominants. Period.
- Never, ever assume you need permission from a dominant person to speak to a submissive person.
- The BDSM Scene is an abusive social institution. Let their world burn (they’re doing it already)
- School is prison.
Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory, perception and sanity. Instances may range simply from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.
The recently released Predator Alert Tool for OkCupid is an add-on for OkCupid that highlights Match Questions related to sexual consent and/or violence and flags users whose public answers to those questions might be cause for concern. Although the tool could be modified to use any number of “red flag” criteria, the current iteration uses a default set of questions from David Lisak and Paul M. Miller’s 2002 study “Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists.”
Although PAT-OKC has gotten a HUGE positive response from OkCupid users, a small but vocal subset has expressed concern about the choking question and another similar Lisak and Miller question: “Have you ever punched or kicked or repeatedly slapped with an open hand (e.g., two or more times in a single incident) someone who you were in some kind of intimate relationship with?” Their critique is that these activities — choking, punching, and kicking a partner — can be done consensually and that it is therefore unfair of the PAT-OKC code to tar consensual chokers, punchers and kickers with the same brush as people who commit domestic violence.
The conclusion some of these concerned users seem to draw is that PAT-OKC’s author, Maymay, “appears not to be very friendly towards the BDSM community.” Those making this critique seem to be missing some important context. (At least, some of them do. Others are very familiar with Maymay’s position within BDSM culture and appear to be simply concern-trolling.) Of course, there is a long history of consensual BDSM being conflated with abuse by antagonistic outsiders. Maymay, however, is themself a long-time practitioner of BDSM and, most importantly, a radical supporter of the rights of submissive-identified people. Within BDSM, submissives and many others are harmed by a cultural hierarchy that privileges dominant identities and dominant behaviors above all others. In other words, Maymay is not a BDSM outsider who’s attacking “kink”; they are an insider who’s fighting domism.
PAT-OKC is, first and foremost, a tool for fighting rape culture. Forced to choose, then, it makes sense for PAT-OKC to prioritize getting as much information as possible to potential rape victims over potentially mislabeling some dominants as “predators.” Especially given that the answers to any red-flag questions are displayed prominently at the top of a user’s profile where that user can address them.
This tool is an early contribution to the ongoing project of building feminist and anti-rape culture initiatives into the architecture of the Internet, rather than simply using the Internet as an additional platform for awareness-raising. Maymay has asked very widely for help and feedback with improving the tool. Having experimented with it quite a bit (and having been “red flagged” myself on the basis of the choking question), I think there is a lot of room for improvement. Which is to say that there are a ton of cool and exciting new ways technologies like this might be built-out to better fight oppression culture online. Better protecting the reputations of dominants on OkCupid is not one of them.
I could get into a contentious conversation here about the politics inherent to power play and the responsibilities that I believe come along with topping re: owning one’s shit, but that’s not actually germane to the point: Even if YKINMKBYKIOK, so what? PAT-OKC’s purpose isn’t to educate the OkCupid using populace about the difference between BDSM and abuse, nor is that Maymay’s or any other BDSMer’s job. (Unless that BDSM’er happens to be, say, a dominant-identified OkCupider who wants to choke a partner and isn’t sure how they’d feel about that. Then they can have a conversation about it with that person, perhaps instigated by the red flag that popped up on that dominant user’s profile!)
What’s important about PAT-OKC is that it’s trying to fight rape culture. Not just the sub-culturally specific microcosm of rape culture that takes advantage how it’s tricky to negotiate consensual non-con, but the BIG UMBRELLA of rape culture that says if you buy a girl dinner she owes you sex. To do that well, it needs your assistance, suggestions, testing, and feedback to improve. It needs you to talk about it to your friends, share it with your networks, and simply use it. When the thing that blocks you from doing that when you otherwise would is, essentially, a concern about potential “false accusations” of dominants, you’re putting the needs of dominants above the needs of potential rape victims.
Many, many people have expressed concern to Maymay about the choking question and Maymay has taken the time to respond in several places. I’m not surprised by the fact that their responses are getting more and more terse with repeated asking. I know that I, personally, as an avowed and red-flagged consensual choker, am sick of hearing about it. Prioritizing that issue is inherently domist. And taking a person who’s working hard to fight rape culture to task — especially if you know them to be a submissive-identified person — because they’re working in a way that isn’t attentive enough to the needs of dominants is, well, insulting.
So, if your first response to PAT-OKC has been a critique of the choking question, even a very politely phrased critique, you may have received a rather terse reply. Rather than wondering why Maymay is being so mean to you, your time might be better spent asking yourself: Why did the choking question feel like such a big deal to you in the first place?
If you’re involved with the BDSM scene, regardless of your role orientation, chances are that you’ve internalized some domist beliefs about the ego-needs of dominants being more important than the safety of submissives. You might not even be aware of them. You might believe that this hierarchy is the only way to think about BDSM.
This is wonderful. And you are wonderful. Thank you. ♥
Just in case you thought I was more interested in destroying FetLife than destroying rape culture, allow me to direct your attention to my newest project:
The Predator Alert Tool for OkCupid (PAT-OKC) is an add-on to your Web browser that alerts you of any red flags for a given profile as you browse OkCupid. A “red flag” is simply a public action taken by the given profile that is concerning, such as answering Match Questions in the same way an undetected rapist is statistically likely to answer them. For instance, given the following question, an answer of “Yes.” would be alarming:
Have you ever been in a situation where you tried, but for various reasons did not succeed, in having sexual intercourse with an adult by using or threatening to use physical force (twisting their arm, holding them down, etc.) if they did not cooperate?
This is not a hypothetical question, nor is the answer universally obvious. This is, in fact, the exact phrasing of a question used in a study called “Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists” by David Lisak and Paul M. Miller, published in Violence and Victims, Vol 17, No. 1, 2002 (Lisak and Miller 2002).
Tragically, a statistically significant portion of respondents answered in the affirmative. While much smaller than the portion of respondents who answered with a “no,” the fact that some people blithely answered “yes” makes these questions worth asking up-front, to everyone, all the time. The Predator Alert Tool for OkCupid automates this process and issues warnings if its heuristics find a concerning match.
This early warning system can help OkCupid users make better informed choices about what measures they feel they need to take to remain safe while using the service.
The following software must be installed on your system before installing the Predator Alert Tool for OkCupid user script.
To install the Predator Alert Tool for OkCupid, go to http://maybemaimed.com/playground/predator-alert-tool-for-okcupid/ and click “Download and install” near the middle of the page:
If you enjoy this script, please consider tossing a few metaphorical coins in my cyberbusking hat. :) Your donations are sincerely appreciated! Can’t afford to part with any coin? It’s cool. Tweet your appreciation, instead.
If maybemaimed.com is censored where you are, you can alternatively go to the Userscripts.org page for Predator Alert Tool for OkCupid and click on “Install”. If the tool is also unavailable there, you can alternatively download PAT-OKC from GitHub.com.
After installing the Predator Alert Tool for OkCupid (PAT-OKC), you will be presented with a welcome screen that describes the tool’s use, its limitations, and provides links to helpful safety information.
Click on the “Go” button and you’ll begin the installation questionnaire, modeled after the survey in Lisak and Miller’s study, cited above. It’ll look like this:
Complete the Match Questions in the PAT-OKC questionnaire just as you would an ordinary OkCupid question. When you submit your answer, you’ll automatically be redirected to the next required question. You’ll also be able to pause the questionnaire periodically and resume it later.
When you’ve completed all of the questions, you’ll be presented with a pop-up box that offers a brief summary of how to use the Predator Alert Tool for OkCupid:
If you encounter a profile on an OkCupid page whose behavior on the site is concerning, PAT-OKC will highlight links to that user’s profile in a red, blocky outline. Viewing that user’s OkCupid profile page will offer a full explanation of why that user’s profile was red-flagged.
Before you report a new issue with the Predator Alert Tool for OkCupid (PAT-OKC), please check to ensure your question is not already addressed in the list below.
The following articles are important reads that offer additional background and context for this issue:
- Meet The Predators
- Tracking rape culture’s social license to operate online
- Help dating websites’ Rape Culture FAADE Away
Each of the pages listed above also contain numerous additional links. I’d recommend reading them, too.
- Version 0.2.1:
- First public release.
- Version 0.2:
- Initial orientation path and installation questionnaire.
- Version 0.1:
- Initial working prototype.
P.S. Inquiries regarding the destruction of FetLife still welcome, of course.