Introduction

Sphinx

Why Be Concerned About Safety?

The example of John Edward Robinson Sr. a.k.a. "Slavemaster":

    "The Texas woman who went on a kinky sex date with a suspected Kansas serial killer set up elaborate safety precautions that may have forced him to spare her life and ended his alleged 16-year murder spree, the Daily News has learned.
    "The Texas woman, a licensed psychologist whose identity is being protected, arranged to make coded phone calls to the leader of a Houston-based group of sadomasochists who was worried about her because she had met the man on-line. 'We have in our community what's called a safe call,' said Travis, head of the bondage group called People Exchanging Power. He did not want his last name used.
    "'If you are going to meet someone you're not sure of, you have someone sitting there waiting to hear from you.' Robinson, who is in jail after five decomposing bodies were found on his property last week, was angry when he learned the Texas woman had made sure someone knew exactly where she was. 'The gentleman in question was furious at her for setting up the safe call,' said Travis. 'He said this showed a lack of trust in him. What it really told him was that someone was paying attention.' The coded calls she made during their tryst at a Kansas City hotel did not prevent Robinson from brutalizing the woman, police said. But her precautions including insisting on meeting in a public place and giving his cell phone number to Travis may have ensured she was set free.
    "Robinson called himself Slavemaster while surfing the Web for sadomasochistic sex partners, police said. He lured the Texas woman to a Kansas motel by promising her 'lots of stuff,' said Travis. 'She would be his full-time sub[missive]. He was going to set her up in an apartment and help her find a job,' the bondage leader said. 'He was going to make her life easy.' But before she left to meet Robinson at the motel, Travis said, she asked him for some advice. 'I said don't go,' Travis said. '[Robinson] wouldn't give her his home number or home address. He said he was so wealthy that when submissive women found out he had so much money, they would stalk him.'"
    - HELEN KENNEDY and CORKY SIEMASZKO
    "Harrowing Tale Of S&M Escape: Woman's call led cops to slay suspect"
    New York Daily News, June 6, 2000

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More Examples

In addition to these major news stories, there are anecdotal accounts of stalking, rape, and abuse committed under the guise of consensual BDSM. I'm personally acquainted with several submissives who have been victimized by someone they meet on-line. And as in the example of Oliver Jovanovic, tops are also vulnerable.

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Key Point

You don't really know anyone on-line. Whether you're a top or a bottom -- be careful.

"The Internet is not some horrible, horrible place where nothing can ever go right. Wonderful love stories can and do happen. It's just that horrible, horrible things also happen, and are seemingly happening more and more because people aren't being smart."
- Beth Jenkins, Los Angeles Psychologist
"The thing with most Internet relationships is that it's a secret fantasy. The majority of people involved in Internet relationships are having a very profound romance with their own imagination. You have an internal image of the person (that you've created in your mind). Then you begin to relate to that person and convince yourself there's nothing to fear. People don't tend to tell their friends because...they might say to them, `What are you, out of your mind? He could be anything!'"
- Esther Gwinnell, psychiatrist
  Author of on-line Seductions: Falling in Love with Strangers on the Internet
"The Gorean is suspicious of the stranger, particularly in the vicinity of his native walls. Indeed, in Gorean the same word is used for both stranger and enemy."
- John Norman
Outlaw of Gor, pg 49

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Predators and their Submissive Victims

"In a dominant/submissive relationship, someone who is a con man has a very, very willing subject."
- Jes Beard, Tennessee kink aware lawyer

 
 

"Psychopaths have an uncanny ability to spot and use 'nurturant women' -- that is, those who have a powerful need to help or mother others. Many such women are in the helping professions -- nursing, social work, counseling -- and tend to look for the goodness in others while overlooking or minimizing their faults: 'He's got a problem but I can help him,' or, 'He had a such a rough time as a kid, all he needs is someone to hug him.' These women usually take a lot of abuse in their belief that they can help; they are ripe for being left emotionally, physically, and financially drained."
- Robert D. Hare, PhD
  Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us

 

The vulnerability in these submissives is not a lack of intelligence or knowledge. In the first example, it was a psychologist who traveled to Kansas to see Robinson. Of all the people to fall under a psychopath's spell, a psychologist should have been the least susceptible. But she was desperate and he offered her a simple, romantic solution to all of her problems. Predators are master manipulators because they are very adept at playing off the needs and desires of their victims.

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Some Perspective

"I don’t know anybody who does consensual sadomasochism who does it without empathy, without respect, without caring, and not infrequently without a great deal of love."
- William A. Henkin, Ph.D.
  San Francisco psychotherapist and co-author of Consensual Sadomasochism: How to Talk About It and How to Do It Safely

 

Despite my examples, the majority of people who practice this lifestyle are not serial killers.

However, there are dangerous predators on the periphery -- dangerous people who participate nominally in BDSM munches and support groups or cruise leather bars looking for fresh meat. But -- more disturbingly -- sometimes the predators are among us. Membership -- even leadership -- in the (Real Time/Offline) BDSM community is not a confirmation that someone is safe and honorable. For example:

Exercise caution when meeting alone or playing with someone you don't know well -- whether you've meet him on-line, through a R/T BDSM organization, or even if he's prominent in the community.

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In General

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Network

Join a local munch group and/or a BDSM organization -- by which I mean a group of people who meet face to face, usually in a public restaurant. It's a safe venue to socialize, to find people who interest you, way to discover people's reputation, and opportunity to create a safety network.

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Safety On-line

Discretion On-line

Don't give out personal information about yourself to anyone else on-line -- especially to a stranger. Don't give out ...

Even if you know and trust someone on-line, the Internet is not a secure venue for sharing this information.

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Caution On-line

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Email Account Settings

Whatever email account you use be sure that the settings will not display your real name. Sometimes people have the mistaken assumption that their user id will appear in the "From" field but what they enter as their first and last name won't. For example, in these screen shots, a woman named Beverly Quince is selecting "princess_boup_coup" for her user id and is entering her real name in her new hotmail account:

Hotmail User Id Settings

Hotmail Account Settings

Whenever she posts to a mailing list or sends a private email, her real name appears in the "From" field.

-----Original Message-----
From: Beverly Quince <princess_boup_coup@hotmail.com>
To: Lord Hughes-Coq <The_One_True_Master@hotmail.com>
Subject: RE: Natural Born Dominant Looking for vulnerable, submissive newbies

In this next screen shot however, another hotmail user is substituting a screen name -- "Lord Hughes-Coq" -- for his real name in his hotmail settings.

Account Settings for Another Hotmail Account

His emails look like this:

-----Original Message-----
From: Lord Hughes-Coq <The_One_True_Master@hotmail.com>
To: Beverly Quince <princess_boup_coup@hotmail.com>
Subject: Beverly Quince (was RE: Natural Born Dominant Looking for volunerable, submissive newbies)

Here's some instructions for changing the setting for a Yahoo email account:

  1. Login to your Yahoo email account
  2. Select "options" in the upper right corner
  3. In options, select "general preferences"
  4. Change the name which appears in the "From Name" field
  5. Click "Save"

And in Gmail:

  1. Login to your Gamil email account
  2. Select "Settings" in the upper right corner
  3. In Settings, click the "Accounts" tab
  4. On the "Send Mail As" line, next to your Name and Email address, click the "edit info" link
  5. Change the name which appears in the "Name" field
  6. Click "Save Changes" button

The other free email services should be similar.

Before you start posting or sending emails, be sure to send yourself a test message to be sure that your vanilla name does not appear in the "From" field.

NOTE: When using the email account that comes with an ISP account, your real identity is still somewhat vulnerable. The advantage of "disposable" (i.e. free) email accounts, is that the email providers don't need to know your real name. Whereas, your ISP has your billing information and it's conceivable that someone could hack their database or subpoena your account information.

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Internet Relay Chat (IRC)

Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is one of the earlier Internet applications. It followed the creation of email but predates the creation of the World Wide Web. It is a method to carry on real time "conversations" with other computer users over the Internet by typing text into a chat client -- a computer program such as mIRC or vIRC. The chat client relays the information to a chat server which relays the message to other users in the same chat "channel." In this way, people from all over the world can "meet" and "talk" in a "virtual space." For some it's an attractive way to meet people with similar interests. Here's a list of commands that are especially relevant to our topic. (Caution: Information gathered from IRC commands can very easily be falsified.)

/whois [nick]

used to get info on a nick.
example: /whois Ambrosio

/whowas [nick]

used to get info on a nick that has just left IRC or a person who has just changed their nick.
example: /whowas Ambrosio

/who [#]

shows nicks, addresses, and optional user info if available for users on a channel.
example: /who #txdungeon

/names

shows nicks of users on a channel.
example: /names #txdungeon

/msg [nick] [message]

sends a private message (whisper) to a user.
example: /msg Ambrosio hello there

/query [nick]

opens a new window for private dialog with a nick.
example: /query Ambrosio

/ignore [nick/address]

use to prevent someone from talking to you. The persons nick or address may be used.
example: /ignore Domlydom or /ignore *!*ambrosio_sa@prodigy.net

/mode [nick] +i

This is the invisible mode. You are not literally invisible on IRC. Users on the same channel as you still see you there. You are invisible to a user who does a /who or /names. A /whois nick, however, will show your user information and the channels you're on.
example: /mode Ambrosio +i
For a longer list of IRC commands, please read Internet Relay Chat Commands on this site. For a general overview of IRC, links for IRC client programs, and a short list of BDSM oriented IRC channels and Chat Rooms visit the "Internet Relay Chat and Chat Rooms" article at http://www.EvilMonk.org/A/irc_chat.cfm.

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Ask Questions

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Telephone Safety

Side Note: In case of emergency, store the word "ICE" in your cellular phone address book with the number of the person you would want to be contacted "In Case of Emergency." If you have more than one emergency contact use: ICE1, ICE2, ICE3, etc., In an emergency situation ambulance and hospital staff will be able to quickly contact your next of kin or designated emergency contact. (This practice was implimented in a national campaign in England launched by the East Anglian Ambulance Service following the London underground terrorist attacks.)

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Check Backgrounds

Google
 

SIDE NOTE: In a study released November 2004 by Harris Interactive and Dogpile, 23% of Internet users polled searched for information on coworkers, employees, potential employees, bosses, or clients. The study was conducted online, and based on responses from 2,266 people. (Source: Jason Tuohey, Medill News Service. Friday, December 03, 2004. Reported in PC World, Dec. 2004)

 
Wolf disguised as Grandma surprises Little Red Riding Hood

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A Contradiction

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On-line Stalkers and Harassers

On the topic of dealing with on-line stalkers, MsJ of San Antonio MsJ of San Antonio wrote the following:

Getting rid of an internet or phone harasser requires three simple steps. That is all. Do these three things and your pain in the ass will be gone. They work for any type of harassment, even people pushing their political views.
  1. Ignore them. This seems simple but I have not met one woman in my life that did this and it didn’t work. In fact, most women say they are ignoring it and they really aren’t. Ignoring means hanging up the phone without comment. You don’t yell at them, you don’t explain why you are hanging up the phone, you don’t do it nicely. You simply hang up, every time, as soon as you realize it’s him. For example, he calls, you chat for a minute figuring out who’s on the phone, you realize it’s him. At this point most women do something like say, “oh, I didn’t know it was you.” You don’t say anything, you simply hang up the damn phone, without emotion or passion, just hang it up. Ignoring also means you don’t tell people. When you post on a list then he gets to read it and he knows you are thinking of him. It is good to privately tell the list hosts about the person so they can watch him or ban him. If he IMs you, you simply minimize it and ignore it. I don’t recommend closing the IM because he’ll try a few times and if it’s just minimized then you don’t have to see a new window pop up every time. Do not write a single word onto the IM. Do not ask him to stop IMing you. The same if he e-mails. This seems simple and most women tell me that they have done this, but they haven’t really done it. In 99% of the cases it will work in two weeks. It may get worse for a few days because he’s going to try very hard to get your attention, but he’s a weak man and he won’t keep it up for long.

  2. The second thing you do is in case you have to do the 3rd thing. You document everything. Print out the IMs. Print out the e-mails. Keep a notepad next to the phone where you write down the times that he calls.

  3. If you try number 1 for a full month and he is still contacting you more than once a day then you file a police report with all of your documentation. You never tell him you’re going to file a police report, you just do it.

I will be the first to admit that while it is simple it is not easy. As a few will notice, I did not take my own advice. Perhaps ego just gets in the way.

It should be noted that this is NOT for any harasser that knows where you live.

I have no personal experience with stalkers, but I think Ms. J's advice is excellent.

Other measures to counter on-line stalking include:

(In situations where the stalking occurs offline or the stalker knows your home or work location, please read the Offline Stalkers and Harassers section later in this article.)

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Safety Offline

Meeting Offline

"If anyone is behaving in a manner that makes you uneasy, you should listen to your instincts."
Roger Shenkle, physical security analyst

 

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Meeting Someone in Another City

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Warning Signs

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Offline Stalkers and Harassers

In response to a thread on an email list about a stalking incident, Tura Belle Spankerstein wrote the following:

First off, ALL LADIES, in the future, if any of you are followed by anyone DO NOT GO HOME. Head to the nearest police station or hospital. Call 911 to tell them that you're being followed and tell them where you're headed. When you pull into the parking lot, if he's still following you, make a scene by honking your horn a lot. Most likely, he will run away once you reach the hospital or police station. If not, he's a total idiot, and the police can file a restraining order.

Second, ... I think this is the same guy that contacted me a few months ago. ... I told him I wasn't interested in meeting him and he bombarded me with abusive emails calling me a "crazy bitch". After a week of not responding to them, he stopped. This guy is PROBABLY just a reaction junkie. The more you respond to him, the more abusive he will be. Any response will only fuel his fire, like a playground bully.

None the less, you still need to protect yourself.

There's a good chance he is a sexual predator since he followed you. I STRONGLY urge you to report this to the police. They are starting to take these things more seriously as women are starting to be assaulted by men they've met on the internet. If (let's hope not) he does go farther than this, you will have history of his actions with the police. Another reason you should report it is that you are not the only one he's doing/done this to. I'd bet money on that. It's his M.O. He may already be listed as a sexual preditor who is one violation away from being locked back up. Guys like this KNOW that women will not report it to the police because they know you're thinking "Well, what are the police going to do? File a report? No harm, no fowl." There might be a woman that won't be able to get away in the future. If there are enough reports, the police will track him down. Yes, he can erase his profile but there is still a way to trace where they were sent from. Please do report it to police. Let them know about the woman you talked to.

Keep in mind that predators depend on women not taking action. I'd bet that of all of you on this contact list, there's at least one more who relate to this story. LADIES, stop playing the victim role here and do something about it.

In closing on the topic of stalking:

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First Scene

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Safe Call Definition

Safe Call:
a safety procedure where people tell outside parties where they will be and when they’ll be checking back in by telephone. If a person does not check in, the third party calls for help.

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More On Safe Calls

From "More on Safe Calls" (Author Unknown) and other sources.

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Safe Call Networks

While it's best to choose a friend that knows you and about your interests for your safe call, in some cases you might choose to use a Safe Call Network. In choosing a safe call network, bare in mind that these networks are all volunteer efforts and often there is no screening process for the volunteers. Hopefully their motives are pure but there's nothing to someone from volunteering in the hopes of meeting someone volunerable. I've also noticed that these organizations tend to disappear on a frequent basis. I am listing a few of the Safe Call Networks of which I am aware but I can not offer recommendations as to their reliability or effectiveness.

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Safe Word Definition

Safe Word:
A pre-arranged signal to notify the other play partner(s) -- usually the top -- if they go beyond negotiated boundaries, the sensations become too intense, or it becomes necessary to slow down a scene or stop it for any reason. One set of common safeword is "yellow" to slow down and "red" to stop. Some people use their own names as safe words. Some couples who have been together for years do not use safe words. It is generally recommended to use safe words at least when participating in BDSM for the first time or when playing with a new partner.

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Historical Note on Safewords

The use of safewords -- or at least the concept of safewords -- have been in the scene for a long time. As far back as 1975, Larry Townsend wrote in the Leatherman's Handbook:

As we progress toward the heavier action, it might be well to point out again that a true leatherscene is not merely an exchange where one guy binds the other and whips the shit out of him. Only a few Ms want this; most don't. For this reason it is always important that the M be given an "out." For example, in a situation where the M is gagged a blindfolded -- rendered almost incapable of expression -- it is still essential he be able to let the Topman know when he's had enough. It may only be a case of needing to take a break, or it may require a complete shift in the type of action. Regardless, if the S is worth his salt, he will have made some provision for this. It is much less disruptive of the role situation for the S to say, "When you can't take any more, do such and such," than for the M to set the signal. (pgs. 169-170)

At least one highly respected scene person has said that safewords originated with play "rape" scenes.

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Questioning the Benefits of Safewords

In the past 10 years has seen a marked re-evaluation in the value of safewords.  Back in the mid 90s I learned that safewords were de rigeur.  "Never, ever play without safe words" went the popular maxim.  "If someone suggests or even jokes about taking away your safeword" -- intoned one community elder and two year veteran -- "you should run away from him because he's abusive, dangerous, and eats unbaptized babies at the Black Mass."

(At the same time there were a lot of older, respected, and more established players in long term committed relationships who played without safewords but no one accused them of abuse because they were older, respected, and more established players in long term committed relationships.  However some of them no longer played publicly because their style alarmed most other party goers and DMs.)

More recently another view of safewords came to my attention: Safe words are over rated -- even dangerous.  It seemed heretical at first but the heresy had some good arguments that were hard to dismiss:

  1. Bottoms don't always use safe words when they should. Sometimes bottoms become non-verbal in subspace or become oblivious to the warnings that their bodies are sending them. Sometimes bottoms are too afraid to use their safe words out of concern for looking wimpish or they're afraid of embarrassing or disappointing the top.
  2. Tops may depend on safe words as a crutch instead of learning their techniques, negotiating thoroughly, and observing the bottom's non-verbal cues.
  3. The "consensual non-consensual" game isn't as much the norm as we might think. By "consensual non-consensual" I mean the type of scene role play where the bottom gives every indication of wanting to stop the scene EXCEPT using the safe word. "Oh Vishnu! For the love of goodness stop it you sadistic love child I can't take it anymore you're killing me! ... Why did you stop?!"  Maybe you've heard the joke that "Ouch is not a safe word" but for a lot of people it is. When they say "Stop!" they mean it.
  4. For some couples, safewords ruin the scene. They both find it more exciting to play without the safety net -- to "dine with tigers."

Despite those arguments, safewords have a place -- especially among novices, between players that are new to each other, at play parties, and for play rape or ravishment scenes. I strongly recommend that novices use safe words with new partners. But at the same time everyone needs to understand that they are not the final word in safety.

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Additional Reading and Postscript

Further Reading on BDSM

You owe it to yourself and all of your partners to read at least one book on the "Books for Beginners" list at http://www.EvilMonk.org/A/book.cfm#Books. These books go into greater depth and are more comprehensive than web sites. Plus, the publishing process encourages qualified, well written content. Sadly, unqualified, sloppily written content abounds on the net. The Internet is like the world's largest library where a copy of Gibson's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire sits right next to a self published pamphlet about the Illuminati's conspiracy with Martians to assassinate Mozart.

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Additional Reading on Safety

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Additional Reading on Finding a BDSM Partner

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Additional Reading on Abuse

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"Vanilla" Books: True Crime and Self-help

         

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Translations / Adaptations

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Postscript

An early draft of these notes was part of a handout for a class -- "BDSM for the 'Net Generation" -- that Cyne Enright and I presented at the Austin chapter of the National Leather Association's Texas Leather Pride XI. You're free to copy, distribute, and re-post it, provided you:

These notes are from Ambrosio's BDSM Site at http://www.EvilMonk.org/.

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