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Thoughts on Safety

© 2001 Mistress Constance

Posted with the author's permission
May be reproduced in whole with credit to the author.

Ms Constance

Ms Constance has been actively involved in the BDSM/Leather community since the mid-1990’s.  She is the Founder of the Louisville Munch as well as its hostess for ten years, from 1997 to 2007, and was christened as "Louisville's First Lady" by her community.  As a member of various BDSM/Leather organizations, she has been nominated for a Pantheon Lifetime Achievement and Woman of the Year awards, and has been nominated with her slave, drew, for Couple of the Year.  She and slave drew hold the titles of Great Lakes Master and slave 2003.

She serves as Special Events Director for the Great Lakes Leather Alliance and produces the Bluegrass Leather Pride Contest in March, which sends contestants to GLLA.  She was Presenters Committee Chair for Leather Leadership Conference 2010 Great Lakes/Ontario, has recently formed the first MAsT chapter in Kentucky, MAsT: Derby City.  She is the Executive Director of Fringe Elements, a queer community center forming now in Louisville.

She has produced and judged Leather events and contests, been instrumental in the organization and creation of various groups and clubs, advised and encouraged other communities and endeavors, and produced a performance by a BDSM comedian.  Groups around the country use her writings in information and introductory packets, and she contributes occasional columns elsewhere as well.   Her blog, Ms Constance Explains, can be found at http://msconstanceexplains.wordpress.com.

I've read a number of postings regarding safety, and I wanted to offer some thoughts on the subject.  So often, when we talk of safety we mean how long we can leave clamps on or how safe suspension is or the precautions required for fireplay.  While it's certainly necessary to understand the safety of the mechanics of the things we do, I think it's more important to remember that the first rule of playing safely is to know the people you play with.  That rule applies to both Tops and bottoms.  We sometime focus so much on the submissive's safety that we forget that the dominant, particularly a female dominant, can be put in a threatening position as well.

The wonderful new Dom you met online says he's been playing for years, the submissive you're talking to assures you that she is experienced?  Then they should be able to provide references to you that confirm those statements.  A reference is NOT an email address to which you can send a note, nor is it a screen name that is not known to you.  If I wanted to set up false references, it would be easy enough to create both an email address and a screen name for that express purpose.  The fact that the other "identity" might be online at the same time proves nothing, either.  It's easy enough to use AOL to sign on under one identity and AIM or one of the other instant messenger services to sign on under another.

An experienced dominant or submissive should be able to provide you with a real person to whom you can speak.  You may correspond with someone via email and set up a phone call or a face to face meeting to confirm those references, but you have to have some assurance that this is indeed a different person from the one to whom you've been speaking.

References are, in fact, one reason that attending munches and local events can be so worthwhile.  If someone tells you they're active in the community, you should be able to check it out.  It's a valuable thing to have a network you can use to confirm that the person you've been speaking to is what they say they are.  It should also concern you if no one in that network or community knows this person.  Perhaps they're not as active or as experienced as they say they are.  Being a novice is nothing to be ashamed of, whether you're a submissive or a dominant, but we have a right to expect that we'll be told truthfully what that level of experience is.

I encourage people to utilize munches for one of the main reasons they exist, to offer a safe environment for meeting others who share your interests.  If you want to meet someone for the first time, do it at a munch.  It's safe, it's open, and you can see how this person reacts to the community and how the community reacts to him or her.  If you feel uncomfortable with this person, you are not alone.  You can, and should, go to the host and let them know.  Ask to be walked to your car.  Speaking as a munch host, please don't ever hesitate to let us know if you have a problem.  Don't worry that we'll think you're being silly or overreacting.  Prevention is always infinitely preferable to damage control.  If you're uncomfortable, that's reason enough.

I am always wary of someone who will not come to a public function, like a munch.  Some people do have valid concerns, but they should be able to tell you what those concerns are.  "I'm in the middle of a divorce and my ex could use this against me."  Valid, maybe, but do you want to be in the middle of that situation if it is true?  "I'm too prominent in the community."  Possibly valid, but bear in mind that this is likely to mean, too, that this person will always be unwilling to be seen in public with you.  And if they ARE truly prominent, they should be willing to explain to you how and why they're prominent.  Is he the dean of students at the local university?  Is she a physician?  A politician?  This is a person who wants to establish a relationship with you that requires an enormous amount of trust.  While they may have valid reasons for not wanting to identify themselves to you before meeting, trust is a two-way street.

If, for whatever reason, meeting at a munch is not workable, meet at a public place.  I avoid bars, or restaurants attached to hotels because of the message both send to the person I'm meeting.  I like restaurants that are not particularly "romantic," though an art exhibit or a craft fair would do as well.  Pick a place that offers you a chance to talk, not a movie or a concert.  Some people prefer lunch or coffee over dinner, because it's more likely to limit the length of time the meeting can last.  It guarantees that if your companion is deadly boring, you'll not be committed to two or three hours.

Meet at the location you've chosen.  Do not give out your home phone or your address until you're at a point where you would be truly comfortable with that person in your home.  You ARE inviting them there if you give them enough information.  Caller ID, reverse directories, white pages, etc., all make us much less anonymous than we might choose.  When you leave an initial meeting, make sure you're not being followed.  If you have any doubts whatsoever, take a somewhat circuitous route home.  If you do believe you are being followed, go directly to the nearest police station.  If that isn't practical, go to a shopping center or a well-lit parking lot and call the police.  You needn't explain the details any more than to note that you were meeting someone you'd only known online.

Please be sure that someone knows who you're meeting and when and where and when you'll return.  Give someone you trust access to any files and emails that might deal with that person.  The Internet provides a certain amount of anonymity, but only a certain amount.  The person you trust with that information also needs to know enough about you to be able to contact you and then the authorities if you don't return when expected.  Your best friend from the Internet who lives on the other coast may have the best of intentions, but dealing with a missing friend from two time zones away is a difficult proposition.  Yet another reason to be active in a local community, or at least have contacts that are relatively close geographically.

I suggest making it clear that the first meeting is just that, a meeting, that there will be no play, that it will be a chance to talk, nothing more.  Obviously, if you're meeting someone several hundred miles away, that may color your expectations, but make sure that both parties understand that play is not a given, that you are either one free to decide that you do not wish to proceed to that level at that point in time.  Holding fast to that rule will often save you from mistakes.  Some people are very appealing on first contact, and later turn out not to be so appealing for whatever reason.  Abiding by that rule may well save you from doing something you might regret.  I also find that, by stating very clearly that the first meeting is no more than that, it allows both to concentrate more on the conversation, on the process of getting to know each other, as opposed to wondering about what happens next.  If things progress well, anticipation can be a very good thing.

Remember that if a dominant pushes you to play before you're ready, they're unlikely to respect your limits later on, and you'll be less able to effectively object if you're bound and gagged.  By the same token, if a submissive pushes you to play before you're ready as a dominant, it's likely this is someone who will be quite accomplished at manipulation and topping from the bottom.  Set the tone early, make it clear that you do, indeed, respect yourself and expect the same from others, as well, whether you're a dominant or a submissive.  A good dominant is not a bully and a good submissive is not a doormat.  The relationship is a partnership, regardless of how you agree to handle the power dynamics.

Male submissives often seem to forget that they are just as vulnerable as female submissives.  Men are not taught to be wary of their physical safety in the same way women are, to see the potential physical threat from others.   A man who is 6'4" and weighs 250lbs sometimes forgets that once he is bound, he is absolutely at the mercy of the other person.  Once he's allowed another to bind him, his size and strength advantage vanishes and he is utterly vulnerable.  It's wise to know the person you allow to put you in that position fairly well, for obvious reasons.

While I don't think this lifestyle attracts more than its fair share of untrustworthy people, the nature of what we do makes the potential for abuse, both physical and mental, particularly serious.  It's possible that the blind date that your sister sets up for you will turn out to be someone who lies to you about what he does for a living or how well he treats his mother, but the Dom/me who lies is a much more frightening proposition.

We all like to think that our instincts and ability to read others is infallible, that we would somehow KNOW that we were dealing with someone truly dangerous.  I would imagine that everyone who ever ended up buried in a field somewhere thought precisely the same thing, and while I have no desire to be overly dramatic, those tragedies DO happen.  You owe it to yourself to do everything reasonable to make sure they don't happen to you.

Don't forget that being a dominant does not make anyone immune to danger.  Recognize that caution is warranted in dealing with someone who is essentially a stranger.  If the person you're meeting is exactly what he claims to be, he will understand why you take precautions.  If he isn't what he claims, then it is especially important to take those precautions.  Don't allow yourself to be rushed into anything before you're ready and know the person you're playing with before you begin to play.  That's the best kind of safety to practice.


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