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Are “We Can’t Consent to This” trying to Criminalise Pro Dommes and Kinksters?

Recently, I came across a campaign called We Can’t Consent to This, which purports to be ‘a response to the increasing use of “rough sex” defences to the killing or violent injury of women and girls’. But when I browsed the campaign’s site, it seemed somewhat familiar, and I started to suspect that the campaign was not what it claimed to be. British radical feminist campaigns tend to fit a particular pattern – a pattern with which I became familiar when I observed it over a number of years for my book Porn Panic!

For several years, a small, active (and hateful) radical feminist group called Object was a key driving force behind claims that pornography was harmful, and made repeated calls for porn to be censored. Additionally, Object was behind a number of other pop-up anti-sex campaigns. These included Stripping the Illusion (a campaign to get strip club licenses revoked by councils), Lose the Lads Mags (which attempted to stop supermarkets selling magazines such as Zoo and Nuts), and Rewind and Reframe, which called for the censorship of “sexist” music videos. Object may also have been influential in the No More Page 3 (NMP3) campaign, which called for the Sun newspaper to end its iconic daily topless model on page 3. The same groups of people are also behind anti-sex work campaigns such as Nordic Model Now. At times it seems there are more radfem campaigns than there are activists.

Each campaign had a set of common features, most obvious of which was the shallowness of their arguments. In place of evidence that porn (or lads’ mags, music videos, …) was harmful, the campaign would resort to fear-mongering and the vague insinuation that erotic imagery caused ‘objectification’ which in turn (somehow) caused men to harm women. The campaigns rarely, if ever, attempted to provide evidence of the alleged harm, and with good reason: there was none to be found. Instead they relied on moral panic, scary anecdotes, and the endless repetition of the word ‘objectification’, as if this alone was all the justification they needed. In the rare cases when the campaigns provided statistical evidence, it was often false or misrepresented. One such case was the use of the ‘Lilith Report’ to demonstrate that strip clubs contributed to the prevalence of rape in the local area. This report was mercilessly dismantled by Dr Brooke Magnanti, who showed that the Lilith result had been falsified by cherry-picking only the evidence that matched the claim and ignoring evidence that contradicted it. This did not prevent Object from quoting Lilith for years after it had been discredited.

These campaigns had a number of other things in common. First, they all received uncritical backing from the Guardian, sometimes in comment pieces and occasionally via editorials and planted ‘news’ stories. Second, they all drew their arguments from a small number of unreliable sources: often the leading anti-porn radical feminist activist Gail Dines. And third, they were supported by small numbers of MPs, generally from the Labour Party, and often including the veteran Labour MP (and radical feminist) Harriet Harman, who regularly lends her name to anti-porn and anti-prostitution lobbying efforts. The Guardian, Dines and Harman reappear regularly in support of anti-sex campaigns. All three appear in conjunction with We Can’t Consent to This, with the Guardian publishing a supportive piece, rich in anecdote and panic, on the subject.

We Can’t Consent to This makes the central claim that, increasingly, men accused of murder are using the defence that the death occurred during ‘sex games gone wrong’. It does provide some statistics in a briefing document. However, the statistics quoted by WCCTT themselves seem to suggest that the use of such a defence is extremely rare, and that in any case it doesn’t appear to be taken seriously by the courts. WCCTT’s own data suggests that the defence has been used in the killings of 57 women and girls since 1972 (a timeframe of 47 years), and never more than five times in any year. Furthermore, in almost all cases (51), the defendant was found guilty of either murder or manslaughter. One case has yet to reach court.

WCCTT is a strange campaign: not only is the problem it identifies (the use of a ‘sex game gone wrong’ defence) extremely rare, but the defence it complains of rarely, if ever, works. The briefing document does suggest that the defence has helped reduce charges or mitigate sentencing, but provides no evidence to support this. Most of the site is dedicated to the individual, harrowing, stories of women who have been brutally murdered. So given that murder and manslaughter are already illegal, what exactly is WCCTT trying to achieve?

The direct goals of the campaign are not stated clearly anywhere on the site, but are hinted at: “We do not believe that women can consent to their grievous injury or death, and will campaign until claiming this is no longer a useful defence”. WCCTT asks supporters to write to their MPs calling on their support for an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill. The content of the amendment is not on the WCCTT site; to find out what it actually says, one must visit Parliament’s website, and now we can finally see what the campaign’s true mission is.

There’s a subtle difference between this amendment and the wording on the WCCTT website. While the campaign refers to death and serious injury, the amendment also includes a third category: actual bodily harm. But ABH is defined as follows:

Actual bodily harm is a criminal offence in which someone gives another person a minor injury

ABH refers to bruises, scratches and so on. So this law is primarily designed to stop people causing minor injury to each other. It’s likely that 99% of injuries sustained during sex are both minor and consensual. And so here, apparently, is the big con: We Can’t Consent to This talks loudly about murders and horrific injuries, but actually is campaigning for consenting BDSM, fetish and kink sex to be criminalised.

Is this deliberate, or naive? Fiona Mackenzie of WCCTT contacted me on Twitter after I tweeted about the issue, and denied that the campaign was anti-kink.

I pointed out the campaign seemed to be linked with well known anti-sex campaigners.

Mackenzie is right. According to legal precedent, one cannot consent to being injured. In 1993, during the trial of R vs Brown (aka the Spanner case), a group of gay men were convicted of “unlawful and malicious wounding” after participating in a sadomasochistic sex party, despite the fact that all participants were consenting. However, the case was seen to be deeply homophobic as well as an intrusion into people’s private sex lives. It is unlikely, these days, that police would choose to arrest people for going to an S&M party. And yet, this is what Mackenzie, Harman and their supporters seem to want. I thought I should clarify this point:

She didn’t reply. I tried again:

Again, Fiona Mackenzie failed to reply. I have contacted her again, asking for comment, and will update this article if she responds further.

So We Can’t Consent to This is actually acting to prevent pro-dommes and lifestyle kinksters from enjoying perfectly consensual and (barring the odd bruise) harmless sex lives. The campaign should perhaps be renamed to We Don’t Approve of You Consenting to This.

If you are a pro-domme, or enjoy a fetish lifestyle, and would like to support my work, you can make a contribution here.

(Photo credits: photos courtesy Hyena Photography and Red Heaven Media)

Major kink site Fetlife Forced to Censor Content

We received news today that Fetlife.com, a cornerstone of the global kink community, has been forced to remove vast amounts of content in order to stay in business.

My book Porn Panic!, published last year, warns of an imminent attack on sexual freedom and free speech. These things don’t exist in a vacuum: they are proxies for liberties that have been taken for granted in the western world for decades. The sexual expression I defend isn’t that important in its own right: what’s important is that sexual expression is the stone on which wannabe dictators sharpen their knives.

Now, with the authoritarian Trump administration taking power, and the promise of Internet censorship coming to the UK this year, there can be little doubt where things are going. Only a couple of weeks ago, Backpage.com was bullied into closing down its adult services advertising in the United States. Now, the assault on Fetlife confirms the direction of travel. Hold onto your hats, because this is going to get very very rough, very very fast. To support this campaign against censorship, please donate or buy Porn Panic! and help spread the word.

Below is the full announcement issued by Fetlife this week:

John Baku @ Fetlife posts:

Changes
by JohnBaku

I have a lot to apologize for; I apologize for the cryptic announcement I made last Tuesday. I apologize for the deletion of 100s of groups and 1,000s of fetishes without any warning, let alone sufficient notice. I apologize for not making this announcement earlier and leaving everyone in the dark, and most importantly, I apologize for letting many of you down.

I wish we could have done things differently, but even upon reflection, I believe we did what we had to do to protect the community and FetLife with the information we had when we made each decision along the way.

Before making any decisions, we consulted with multiple parties. We consulted with the team, partners, financial institutions, the NCSF (National Coalition for Sexual Freedom), the FSC (Free Speech Coalition), lawyers, and anyone else we thought might have insight for us.

So, why did we make the announcement last Tuesday? Why did we remove some of the content we removed over the last 3-4 days? And, why didn’t we delete some of the content a lot sooner?

Everything falls under one of three categories: financial risk, legal risk, and community risk.

Let’s first talk quickly about the financial risk and get it out of the way because I don’t want it to detract from the high priority issues i.e. the legal and community risks.

The Financial Risk
A merchant account is what allows us to process credit cards on FetLife. The ads you see on FetLife covers the cost of approximately 1/2 the cost of our servers and bandwidth – that’s it.

Your support pays for the other half of the servers, plus the team that keeps FetLife up and running, lawyers, accountants, software, etc. So your support pays for the vast majority of FetLife’s monthly expenses.

Hence, without a merchant account, FetLife runs at a loss every month – and we are not talking a couple of dollars a month, we are talking significant losses.

Last Tuesday we got a notice that one of our merchant accounts was shutting us down. One of the card companies contacted them directly and told the bank to stop processing for us. The bank asked for more information, but the only thing they could get from the card company was that part of it had to do with “blood, needles, and vampirism.”

Like me, you are probably thinking, but they have to give you a good reason? No, no they don’t. The only thing they have to do is protect their interests sadly.

Because we couldn’t get any more information than that, we had to act quickly and preemptively protect our other merchant account by making changes to our content guidelines. But since we were very much in the dark, we didn’t think it would be a good idea to go into any more detail than we did at that point.

Three days later, we get another notice, this time from our other merchant account. They got a similar call from the same card company, and they were asked to close our account. This time they were told it was for “Illegal or Immoral” reasons.

Both of the bank’s compliance departments thought it was prudent to close our accounts down even though they were only contacted by one of the card brands so not to risk being fined from both card brands.

The banks maintain a shared list that contains all merchant account closings. The card brand also required the banks to add us to the list which will make it tough for us to ever get a merchant account again, at least for the foreseeable future.

Hence we can no longer process credit cards on FetLife and will most likely not be able to for a while.

The Legal Risk
Over the last five days, we’ve had the opportunity to speak to multiple organizations, each with part of the puzzle.

There are numerous things at play here:

A highly publicized rape case in Australia involving a member of the community;
An organization that participated in the anti-porn bill that wants to see sites like FetLife taken off the internet;
Talk of reviving the obscenity task force in the US;
The Digital Economy bill in the UK that’s being debated currently;
BPjM in Germany; and
We’ve been one of the most liberal, if not the most liberal, adult site on the web which makes us the perfect target;
We can put our heads in the sand, but that is both naive and irresponsible. All of the above have real legal risks attached to them with potentially equally real consequences. Maybe not to you directly but it does to FetLife, the team behind FetLife, and myself.

The Community Risk
The one thing that bonds us all together is our love for the kinky community. Without the kinky community, without sites like FetLife, many of us would not have a place to call home, a place in which we are accepted and understood, and dare I say a place in which we feel free to be ourselves.

If we hope to win the war, if we want our society to be more accepting of us, then we can’t give them a reason to vilify us. People always need someone to blame, and we need to stop making ourselves the easy target.

On what seems like a daily basis, we hear of another atrocious sex or hate crime committed against a fellow friend. And for every story we hear, there are tens of thousands we never hear about. As a community, we need to stop turning a blind eye.

One of the ways to do that is through defining a better list of guidelines that we live by as a community.

Changes Ahead
At first, it bothered me that we would have to tighten our rules because I felt I was letting people down. But after discussing potential changes with the NCSF, CFP, lawyers, and our merchant providers, I couldn’t help but be excited for the community and FetLife’s future.

Maybe I’m just a naive optimist, but I believe this is an opportunity for us to set the bar higher. These changes affect many of us, to one degree or another, but I think the sacrifices some of us will have to make will be worth it in the grand scheme of things.

Both FetLife and the NCSF believe that the proposed changes will give us the opportunity to flourish as a community while better protecting ourselves from outside attack.

With the help of the NCSF, lawyers, partners, and merchant providers, we came up with the following pillars that will make up our guidelines:

Nothing non-consensual (abduction, rape, etc.)
Nothing that impairs consent (drugs, alcohol, etc.)
No permanent or lasting damage (snuff, lacerations, deep cutting, etc.)
No hate speech (Nazi roleplay, race play, etc.)
Nothing that falls under obscenity (incest, etc. )
These guidelines aren’t intended to be a negative comment against your kink or your fantasies. Some things we believe can be done ethically, like CNC or hypnosis, but they can also be considered nonconsensual in a legal context, and we have to take into account the opinions of the authorities and merchant accounts as well to not only survive but thrive as a community.

Non-Consensual Deletion of Content from FetLife
Why did we act without first announcing changes and without first notifying anyone who would be affected? I know many of you might not believe me when I say this, but it was for our protection.

Yes, it was mainly for FetLife’s and my protection, and we had to act swiftly. One could easily argue that we didn’t move swift enough and that I shouldn’t even make this post because something in it might incriminate FetLife or me.

It’s always been a delicate balancing act. We try our best to balance the needs of individual members, the community as a whole, the team, and FetLife itself.

Everyone’s needs are not always balanced equally. Historically we’ve sided more with individual members needs, but what we’ve learned from recent events is that we need to start putting more weight on the safety of the community, FetLife, and the team behind FetLife – including my personal safety.

Next Steps
We are still going through FetLife to see if anything else needs to be removed or cleaned up. While going through this exercise, we are using the different situations we encounter to help us better define where we need to draw a line.

We hope to be able to publish our new content guidelines shortly as well as implement changes to caretaking so that we don’t ever find ourselves in a similar situation again.

After that, we need to work to repair any relationships we might have ruined with members both inside and outside the community.

B&Q Embraces Kinksters as 50 Shades is Released

Once upon a time, the fetish world was a dark, seedy place for the hardcore enthusiast only. Thanks to the Internet, kink has increasingly entered the mainstream, but we can thank 50 Shades of Grey for really bringing BDSM to suburbia.

50 Shades has outraged pro-censorship activists and the Daily Mail more than any porn ever could, because it has penetrated the reading lists and the bedrooms of respectable British housewives. Morality campaigners, horrified at the success of the books, have tried to link them to domestic violence, and have even called for book burnings. With the movie about to be released, the anti-50 Shades campaigners have launched a boycott, calling on people to donate to sexual abuse charities instead of watching it at the cinema.

None of this outrage has made a dent in public enthusiasm for 50 Shades, or the resulting interest in BDSM.

Indeed, BDSM is now so mainstream that the DIY chain store B&Q has jumped in on the act. In a “leaked memo to staff“, B&Q have warned employees to expect a surge of interest in BDSM-related products when the 50 Shades movie premières, including ropes, cable ties and tape.

It may be a surprise to B&Q staff that there are alternative uses for these apparently boring products, but the kink community is way ahead of them. London-based dominatrix Ms Tytania enthusiastically endorses B&Q’s products:

Every kinkster knows that their local DIY store is a treasure trove of pervertables: a term used to describe every happy find in its seemingly mundane aisles. This knowledge passes from kinkster to kinkster, and it’s a good thing, because along with the instructions, come the safety rules and common sense. Ever since I discovered the kink scene in London, I’ve been told of marvellous contraptions and materials that can be bought cheaply at B&Q, how to use them, and what to do with them, safely. If you know where to look, B&Q could be your favourite sex shop.

One of my favourite activities is japanese rope bondage: the art of tying people up, securely, inescapably and aesthetically. B&Q sell my favourite rope: 6mm, red polypropylene, in their rope & chains aisle. Well, I hope they still sell it, because it’s proven to be so hard-wearing and durable, that even though I use it to suspend 15 stone blokes from my ceiling suspension (made with concrete screws from yes, you guessed it, B&Q), it still looks as good as new after more than 8 years . It’s a beautiful, solid coral red and machine washable. Soft to the touch against the skin and cut in lengths of 4, 6 or 10 metres (anything longer would be too tangly), easily the best rope I’ve ever used for Shibari.

While enthusiasts embrace the convergence of BDSM and DIY, some strike a note of caution to inexperienced enthusiasts trying out kink for the first time. Sexpert Emily Dubberley says:

If B&Q staff are going to be given a memo on use of equipment, it is important they are aware of safety guidelines so they don’t put any customers at risk. There are many great books and websites out there exploring how to practice BDSM safely: 50 Shades wasn’t written as a sex manual, but a fantasy. As such, while it may inspire you, it’s not a good idea to assume you can use it as a ‘how to’ guide: as I’m sure even EL James would agree. BDSM is as safe as any sex, as long as conducted with informed consent and knowledge: while I applaud B&Q’s approach towards diverse sexuality, and celebration of customer satisfaction, they also need to consider customer safety.

Ms Tytania agrees. Noting that B&Q’s memo had mentioned cable ties, she provides the following advice:

Never use bungee or elastic rope, cable ties or binds. Gaffer tape is OK, but it can stick to hair or beards and result on the wrong type of pain. You only want the good kind of pain during play, the type that helps you space out and drift away into submission, not the one that snaps you out of it in agony. If you are planning to give rope a try, use 3 metre long lengths that are simple to unknot and tie up the limbs only, always above or below joints. Never put rope on the joints themselves. To ensure that the tightness is right, I slip a finger between the rope and the limb: if it fits, it’s neither too tight nor too loose. And have a pair of medical scissors at hand, the ones used to cut through bandages, in case you need to cut (in this case, Boots is your friend).

So there you have it, folks: go out there and enjoy yourselves. But be careful out there.