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BDSM vs. Abuse

posted and edited with permission from the author

Sir Bamm has been involved in WIITWD since approximately 1980. Limiting focus to the past decade, Bamm was involved in the formation of the Safe, Sane, and Consensual Network (SSCN) in NC and was on the original Board of Directors for that group. In 2000, he received a Merlin Award for Leather Activism.  He has served as the DM Captain for SSCN and for the School for Austin Area Dominants Education (SAADE). For a short time Bamm was on the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF)'s Incident Response Team, served as the Group With No Name (GWNN)'s DM Captain and in 2001 and 2002 he served on GWNN's Election Committee.

In 2002, he became the Chief Security Officer for SAADE and became a member of the SAADE Council, where he has also established the DM Certification Program for SAADE and the DM "Train the Trainers" program. Bamm served as a Mentor in the Austin Mentor's Program from 2001-2003. He has also had the privilege of being asked to give presentations on Old Style Submission, Signal Whips, Dungeon Monitoring, Negotiations and other topics at such groups as SSCN, SAADE, SAS/M, TOL, ALE, TLP and the Kinky Aggies.

Bamm presently holds certifications as a CPR instructor, a HazMat Technician, an Advanced Firefighter and as an EMT.  He has a Master's Degree in Religion and is the Training Officer for two organizations he currently belongs to and the captain of a local fire department. He is in an open, poly relationship with his 24/7 slave, terri, and can easily be approached for demonstrations, presentations, conversations or negotiations at .

His web site is at http://www.SirBamm.com.


Safe, sane and consensual play is the standard of the organized SM community; it relies on the use of a "safeword" that allows the bottom to stop the action at any time. Without informed consent, it is not SM, it is abuse.

SM always requires free, informed consent of all parties involved. A propensity to violence is therefore a fallacy, since the only time we engage in SM behavior is with our partners.

SM partners take great care to make sure that their activities are as safe as possible. SM does not feel like it looks.

SM partners do not have to apologize to each other. Instead, they are happy and satisfied. Unlike abuse or violence, where one party has not given informed consent to the activity. Children cannot give informed consent, therefore are never a part of SM activity.

SM happens in the context of an erotic relationship. Just as context helps differentiate between an organized boxing match and a street brawl.

Technical reference material and participation in organized groups provide the tell-tale signs for differences between SM and violence or abuse.

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Probable Cause or Consensual BDSM

Tell tale signs of the differences between Probable Cause and Consensual BDSM:

  1. Signs of significant preparation. e.g.. Adult toys, music, bondage furniture, lubricants and safety supplies.
  2. Restraints. Abusers tend to restrain their victims with fear and intimidation, not safety clips and quick releases.
  3. We call 911 in a medical emergency, not when there are loud noises.
  4. The availability of mentors, reference materials and technical guides.

NOTE: The above information was gathered from the NCSF Law Enforcement Information Project of Consensual SM Activities. The purpose of which is to provide law enforcement with a basic understanding about adults whose sexuality and lovemaking includes SM activities and to provide them with information to assist when they encounter an SM event.

To further the idea of the differences between SM and abuse, I found other information that may also be useful when dealing with LE.

  1. SM rarely results in facial marks or marks that are received on the forearms (defensive marks).
  2. There is usually an even pattern of marks if it is SM, indicating the bottom held quite still during the stimulation.
  3. The marks are often quite well-defined when inflicted by a toy like cane or whip, whereas in abuse there are blotches of soft-tissue bruising, randomly distributed.
  4. The common areas for SM stimulation is on the buttocks, thighs, back, breasts, or the genitals. The fleshy parts of the body can be stimulated intensely and pleasurably.

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Two Definitions of Abuse

"An abusive relationship is one in which substantial physical, mental, or emotional harm is inflicted, that is not temporary in nature, and is not clearly compensated for by positive and loving experiences over a long period of time." -- by louise, 1997

"Acts inflicted on a person without their freely given consent." -- Leather Leadership Conference III, Statement on Abuse, San Francisco, April 16-18,1999

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D/s or Abuse?

D/s is about the building of a trusting relationship between two consenting adult partners. Abuse is about the breach of trust between an authority figure and the person in their care.
D/s is about the mutual respect demonstrated between two enlightened people. Abuse is about the lack of respect that one person demonstrates to another person.
D/s is about a shared enjoyment of controlled erotic pain and/or humiliation for mutual pleasure. Abuse is about a form of out-of-control physical violence and/or personal or emotional degradation of the submissive.
D/s is about loving each other completely and without reservation in an alternate way. Abuse is hurtful. It is also very damaging emotionally and spiritually to the submissive.
D/s frees a submissive from the restraints of years of vanilla conditioning to explore a buried part of herself. Abuse binds a submissive to a lonely and solitary life of shame, fear and secrecy... imprisoning her very soul.
D/s builds self-esteem as a person discovers and embraces their long hidden sexuality. Abuse shatters and destroys a person's self-esteem and leaves self-hatred in its place.
SM Abuse
An SM scene is a controlled situation. Abuse is an out-of-control situation.
Negotiation occurs before an SM scene to determine what will and will not happen in that scene. One person determines what will happen.
Knowledgeable consent is given to the scene by all parties. No consent is asked for or given.
The bottom has a safeword that allows them to stop the scene at any time they need to for physical or emotional reasons. The person being abused cannot stop what is happening.
Everyone involved in the SM scene is concerned about needs, desires, and limits of others. No concern is given to the needs, desires, and limits of the abused person.
The people in the SM scene are careful to be sure that they are not impaired by alcohol or drug use during the scene. Alcohol or drugs are often used before an episode of abuse.
After an SM scene, the people involved feel good. After an episode of abuse, the people involved feel bad.

This article is partially based on material produced by:
American National Leather Association
Dutch S&M Media Information Center

Feel free to redistribute, but please make reference to these sources:

Safe Link
c/o The Domestic Violence Education Project
National Leather Association
548 Castro Street #444
San Francisco, CA 99114
1 415 863 2444>/p?

Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project
Hotline: 212 807 0197
647 Hudson Street
New York NY 10014

Kink Aware Professionals
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1 800 799 7233

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And since we say, "Safe, Sane and Consensual" so often, I figured I'd give you some background to what that means.

The community-wide standard of "Safe, Sane and Consensual" was codified more than ten years ago.
  1. Safe is being knowledgeable about the techniques and safety concerns involved in what you are doing, and acting in accordance with that knowledge.
    This includes protection against HIV, STDs, and hepatitis. It also includes notifying your partner of any physical condition that may impact on the scene, like asthma, bad back, epilepsy, etc. It also includes psychological safety, such as you were abused as a child and don't like a particular part of your body touched.
    The SM community concerns itself with safety issues by supporting educational and social organizations that teach people the proper way to use their equipment. Such as: how to tie wrists without putting pressure on the insides; how to properly clean equipment; which areas on the body are unsafe to stimulate.
  2. Sane is knowing the difference between fantasy and reality, and acting in accordance with that knowledge.
    Sane includes being of clear mind, and the community strongly recommends that mind-altering substances should be avoided during a scene that impair judgment.
  3. Consensual is respecting the limits imposed by each participant at all times. One of the recognized ways to maintain limits is through the "safeword" .
    If it's nonconsensual, then it's abuse or assault. SM must be consensual.

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Another alternative for Safe, Sane and Consensual, is Risk Aware Consensual Kink, or RACK. RACK is used by some internet-based players, by those who don't necessarily agree with the subjectivity of Safe, Sane and Consensual, and certain others. Some people who are extremely"edgy" in their play habits also admit that they use the term "Risk Aware Consensual" in place of SSC. RACK's main focus is on pre-negotiation with detailed informed consent, rather than the focus on the safety issues at hand. Those involved in these risky play behaviors, consider themselves well educated enough that they are willing to overlook certain safety precautions in order to enjoy the pain and the danger. RACK assumes better negotiations, as well as more detailed informed consent, than concern over the safety of the play. Most well established BDSM groups, clubs and private parties consider SSC much more appropriate for SM play than RACK.

To determine if informed consent has been reached, you can ask the following questions:

  1. Was informed consent expressly denied or withdrawn? (similar to rape standards, if one of the participants withdraws consent during the activity, that must be respected)
  2. Were there factors that negated the informed consent? (alcohol impairment, drug use, underage participants)
  3. What is the relationship of the participants? (first encounter or long-term partner?)
  4. What was the nature of the activity? (did it cause permanent harm, was it unsafe, was it enjoyable?)
  5. What was the intent of the accused abuser? (to cause pleasure, to gain dominance, to hurt?)

The above information was gathered from various sources, including Tammad Rimilia's web site.


[WEBMASTER'S NOTE: Sir Bamm!'s orginal version of this article included the full text of "Sadomasochism Isn't What It Used to Be" by Keith L. Kendrick, R.N., C.H. That article is located at http://www.EvilMonk.org/A/why-sm.cfm.]


[WEBMASTER'S NOTE: Sir Bamm!'s "Safecall Guide" has been moved to http://www.EvilMonk.org/A/bamm02.cfm.]

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Additional Reading on BDSM and Abuse

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Additional Reading for Law Enforcement

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