Law Enforcement and Erotic Power Exchange (Part 1)
This section of the professional information, deals with the tension between law enforcement and concensual erotic power exchange. It covers four equally important parts. ALL this information can be very important to YOU, enforcer of the law, and can help you to act/be even more professional in your job. This information is based on material, used during workshops at various Dutch police academies and also contains information from actual cases, from various parts of the world.
Erotic power exchange is any situation where adult partners, of their own free will and choice, actively and willfully incorporate the power element in their lovemaking (and usually for a great deal in their relationship). Erotic power exchange is best known as either BDSM, S&M, D/s or sadomasochism, but these terms are all too limited, incorrect and too often confused with stereotypes and mental illnesses, which is why we like to call it Erotic Power Exchange (EPE).
Erotic power exchange can take any shape or form within a relationship. From little things like blindfolding a partner when making love to anything like 24 hours a day, 7 days a week dedication.
The shape and form it takes totally depends upon the fantasies, situation and boundaries of the partners involved. As long as it is informed consensual, safe, sane and voluntary it is called erotic power exchange. If any or all of these four elements are missing, it is called abuse.
The following statement may sound tough: "hardly anywhere in the world legislation specifically prohibits erotic power exchange activities between consenting adults". Tough, yes, but true too. Check your instruction manuals and your lawbooks. You will soon find it is almost impossible to find any real, explicit and clear reference.
The first problem is this: there is no legal definition of consensual erotic power exchange. There are only descriptions of the mental illnesses sadism and masochism or relevant - yet medically related - descriptions. Because this material is either outdated and to large extent of no or very little legal relevance, both sources are next to useless for law enforcement purposes. Besides, because it is largely outdated scientific material that, for various reasons in many cases is also of questionable nature from both a scientific and/or a legal point of view, such descriptions and the needs of law enforcement do not match.
The second problem with sexual legislation (in the area of sexual acts between consenting adults, non-concensual and criminal acts such as rape, sexual activities with minors and child-abuse/child-pornography are excluded here) in almost all countries is twofold: it is often vague and limited to more or less specifically mentioned and described activities, in general outdated and usually based on a morality and circumstances, that no longer fit in this day and age. And it lacks solid and workable definitions (often deliberate or the result of the fact that the activity as such is impossible to describe in clear legal terms).
As a result, in almost all countries the first determination between consensual acts and criminal activities is left to the individual police(wo)man and/or aid worker. Neither has been trained or informed on the subject and has little else to go by but his/her own perception and information. That is a serious problem and a substantial lack in legislation as well as in training and support. Next - depending on the legal system in the area - the evaluation of any activity - brought forward as offensive, illegal or damaging - is left open for personal interpretation by prosecutors, judges and/or juries, who again have hardly any solid information to go by.
Strong statement #2: A law enforcement officer - whatever his or her rank, position or job-description - has only TWO professional goals, derived from "upholding the law": to serve and protect. Interpreting, judging or even laying out social morality does not fit either of these goals, neither should this be left to law enforcement professionals. That is the specific task of legislators.
Next to that, in almost all cases where erotic power exchange and law enforcement meet, there are either alterior motives - such as in the case of divorce and custody, political motives or job-related conflicts - or various different levels of legislation are involved. Frequently criminal and civil law are mixed up in court cases, involving erotic power exchange activities, as well as confusion between protection of the weak (such as minors or women) and the interests of society.
The bottom line of all this is that de facto very few criminal cases ever make it to court and when they do, even fewer will result in a conviction of any kind. We will not enter into the debate about the functionality of sexual legislation and normative government regulation as such, but will try and stick to the practicalities here.
Lack of definitions
Most sexually related acts that might be considered an offense are very hard to proof. That is a direct result of the lack of definitions. For example: if pornography is illegal it may be very hard to actually proof that something is pornography, since hardly any law gives a clear definition of pornography. Convictions in this area are usually not the result of clear proof, but of defendants pleading guilty as a result of social stygma and pressure and maybe commercial interests. It is very hard and requires a lot of courage (and in some countries, such as the USA or the UK, a lot of money) to stand up against such accusations because of the social pressure and the potential implecations. "Prevention measures", such as the temporary removal of children from their parents as is frequently done in the USA, will complicate the situation considerably.
In the event of erotic power exchange that is even more difficult. Strange as it may seem, defending oneself against accusations in the event of erotic power exchange in fact is very simple in most countries and regions. The plain lack of clear definitions and the fact that almost all opinions and external (expert) advice will be based on predominantly outdated scientific material (material that in other cases would probably not be accepted by any court because of exactly that reason) make it relatively simple to build a solid defense case. However, people forced to build such a defense usually lack the courage and support to do so.
The most powerful example of exactly HOW outdated some of the information, used in erotic power exchange related cases is, is the basic definition itself. Frequently the original definitions of "sadism" and "masochism" will be used, as provided by Krafft-Ebing in the "Psychopatia Sexualis". This book - unfortunately STILL in use - was published in the late 19th (!!!!) century and has not been revised since. Other, frequently produced, definitions are the ones provided by Freud (dating from the early 20th century). The current, more modern scientific approach is that Freud (a) was solely promoting his personal therapy that in fact is only based on ONE individual case and (b) can hardly be seen as a scientist since most of his "work" was inspired by alterior motives: impressing women. For more information on this please look here.
The lack of clear legal and/or scientific definitions is "Damocles' Sword" in this case. On one hand the erotic power exchange community, trying to provide accountable information, cannot do so, simply because it is not available and cannot be produced easily either. As a result, the "community" itself heavily contributes to the fear and to the uncertainty when it comes to prosecution or even investigation. The considerable amount of incomplete information or total misinformation, assumptions and "interpretations" again contributes to the darkness and in fact rubs in the stygma, even within the community. As a result, in many areas people are driven by fear and assumption, not by information and they may hide their emotions and activities, rather than being more or less open about them and confident with themselves. The lack of research and the fact that scientific research is usually limited to individual cases, therapies and prejudged assumptions by therapists (that usually are only seeking to promote their "therapy"), is at the root of all this, leaving the erotic power exchange people and the entire law enforcement field in the dark, with little other than their own assumptions and gut-feeling to go by.
Perception as a motive for prosecution
Starting at the beginning of the process (disregarding civil law for the moment): you, as an individual police officer have little other but your own perception, norms, values and experience to rely on when it comes to interfering with anything, that may look like erotic power exchange. As a result, your upbringing, education, personal background and experience and maybe even personal emotions will be at the root of your actions, not the legislation, nor your instructions or professional education. Furthermore, incidental motivations - such as the perception of your commanding officer, political motives or for example media hypes - heavily interfere when it comes to setting priorities in this area.
A good example of how political motivation can seriously interfere in this area can be found in the Netherlands (a country that does not have specific normative sexual legislation and has a general liberal attitude towards sexual behavior). As a result of reorganisation the traditional "vise" departments and squads within the Dutch police force where abandoned several years ago and the police force in general was expected to deal with sexual offences and crimes. To a certain extent this was the result of "political correctness", i.e one particular form of crime should not be singled out from general crime. As a result, quite a lot of expertise was lost, as well as specific knowledge and the ability of individual officers to judge and evaluate specific situations and cases. This has proven to be a major set back, especially in the area of fighting child-abuse and child-pornography and it is expected that the "vise" departments will be reinstated soon.
Hence, you - law enforcement officer - are pretty much on your own here and faced with several problems. Apart from lacking clear legislation and instructions, you, when confronted with anything that might be erotic power exchange, will first of all have to judge the situation as such and usually all your instincts will be drawn to pointers you have learned to distrust: appearance, people being tied up, traces that would normally indicate abuse or a fight, kidnap or rape and possibly an atmosphere that signals danger. That is not an easy situation to deal with, especially when placed in the normal stress of every day life police work, the limited time the individual officer can spend on individual cases and the need to - generally speaking - make fast judgements and decisions. And, you may have to rely on the information of someone, who - placed in other circumstances - would be considered a victim or perpetrator. Combined with the natural inclination and mindset of every police officer to choose the side of what appears to be weak (the obligation to protect), this puts you in an awkward situation.
At the same time, you are confronted with people who will not see their act as criminal, but instead are dealing with - often intens - feelings and emotions that are also not easy to explain and certainly not in a few words. The person(s) involved will usually feel trapped in the situation, possibly betrayed and in almost all circumstances humiliated, vulnerable and victimized without reason. As such you, officer involved, are not seen as "neutral" but as an intruder in a very private situation.
A dominant, after the act for whatever reason accused of abuse or rape by a submissive who may have been disappointed, will feel just as vulnerable. A submissive, abused by what she thought was a love partner, will feel even more vulnerable since she usually actively allowed the abuser to enter into acts that turned out to be abuse and may even have been the "inviting partner". She will feel humiliated, vulnerable, foolish and naive - and will usually come to realize that she herself has neglected her own warning signals for whatever reason and self-blaming and guiltfeelings are certainly not unusual in a situation like this.
Bottom line: making the right judgements is difficult and in fact requires two resouces you in this case have very little off: time and adequate knowledge. That is the main reason why real abuse cases, connected to erotic power exchange, seldomly make it to court and unfortunately often the wrong people - the ones that merely entered into a concensual act - get prosecuted or at least will be faced with the rather humiliating and scary process of a police-investigation. Last but not least,: such investigations frequently turn out to be a complete waste of valuable time and resources (both items no law enforcement professional ever has enough of).
Leaving the area of criminal law and concentrating on civil law it becomes obvious that the vast majority of court cases that involve erotic power exchange activities and/or emotions in any way, are found in the following fields: divorce cases, custody cases and (sometimes) employment-related or political cases. The problem here is predominantly in the fact that in such cases erotic power exchange is almost always brought up because either of the parties has alterior motives: one wants the marriage to end, wants to gain sole custody, seeks a financial arrangement of any kind, tries to do as much political and media damage as possible or either wants to end or keep the employment.
The erotic power exchange related "facts" as such in these cases are usually not studied and have little or no relevance to the case, but are merely used to create a certain atmosphere to the benefit of the party bringing them up and will serve as "character arguments" (in many cases plain character assassination).
Magistrates, lawyers and juries would do wise to disregard the subject entirely in cases like these. Unfortunately that is usually not the case. Assumptions and stygma again - unfortunately also often used by "external experts", such as childcare institutions and individual aid workers - play the predominant part here and again - since the motivation for the entire case is a different one - will usually not be investigated or judged on its merits and relevance to the case but will only serve as character-motives.
With respect to civil cases it becomes even more important to emphasize the social implecations, people "accused" of entering into erotic power exchange activities or even nurturing such emotions will face. There is a substantial fear in the entire erotic power exchange community that one may lose custody over ones children - or may never see them again - and that jobs and careers are at stake. Not to mention family relations, neigborhood "popularity" and such. In many cases that fear is very real. People - especially those in high profile jobs - have lost careers and jobs if there is even a hunch of erotic power exchange activity. The same goes for people who have jobs that are in anyway related to children, such as social workers and teachers. Because the social stygma will often brand them as a potential bad influence to say the least. When investigating such cases one often finds that erotic power exchange was not the direct motive for letting people off, at least it did not say so in the letter of resignation, but that such motives and assumptions were at the root of the decision.
First contacts and response
When confronted with an actual erotic power exchange situation you will find yourself faced with several dilemmas. Conflicts between your training and the actual situation. That may make things difficult for you. For this reason, on this page we will try to follow the standard procedure and standard report system, most police organisations use.
There may be minor variations of course, due to local differences in training and procedures, but most officers will recognize the format.
If you follow the line of thought, layed out on this page, you should be able to make the correct judgements in an erotic power exchange situation and you will be able to deliver a report that will support your decisions, should this be required, in standard format.
The first thing you may be confronted with is a series of both personal and profesional dilemmas that require you to make decisions. These are the dilemmas and the logic behind each of them.:
- If you run into a active erotic power exchange scene there is the risk that what you see may be shocking to you. It may not be in line with your own vision of what lovemaking should be about or you may be offended by it. It is not unlikely that, what you are confronted with, triggers your natural responses. Such as people in leather jackets, chains and attributes that may be potential weapons. We will repeat this a few times here: there is nothing wrong with your responses and reflexes. Law enforcement professionals are trained that way and for very good reasons.
- These responses are logical, but the ONLY question you have to ask yourself in an actual situation is: is this (potentially) illegal or harmful to the people involved or to third parties, such as - for example - children.
The most recent American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic Manual (known as APA IV - 1994) - the basis for every psychiatric/psycholigic diagnostic process - acknowledges consensual erotic power exchange activities between consenting adults as a totally harmless sexual activity. Harmless to both the partners taking part in it as well as harmless to any third party. As a result, people involved in erotic power exchange qualify as perfectly normal, mentally healthy people. The APA is very clear about that and there can be no misunderstanding. Hence: there is no medical scientific proof for any claim that erotic power exchange people are potential rapists or bad parents for example. So the question "is this harmful to others" can be answerred with a firm NO, provided the situation you are confronted with is consensual and carried out responsibly (so, for example, not in front of or involving underaged)
- The next question will face you, as a law enforcement officer "on the street", with two dilemmas:
- First: is what I am confronted with a CRIMINAL act and...
- if this is NOT explicitely criminal are there other laws broken here (such as forms of domestic violence). But .... it might just as well be consensual lovemaking.
Plus, what you see may be consensual, but still be potentially dangerous. For example: someone standing on a chair, hands and feet tied and a rope around the neck may just be the pre-negociated fantasy of the people involved but it is totally UNSAFE, hence you should terminate that scene immediately (and explain the obvious dangers involved).
Excess behavior, such as (auto)asphynxation or (self)mutilation, is NOT consensual erotic power exchange play.
Very important: the differences between consensual, kinky, lovemaking and other - criminal - scenarios are usually easy to spot. We will get to how to do that in a moment.
- We have already pointed out that it is VERY unlikely that erotic power exchange activities are illegal. However, there may be areas and even countries - such as all South-American countries - where there is at least sufficient ground to assume they are. In most European and Asian countries and in the majority of the USA states they are not.
- Still, to the untrained eye it may still be a problem to determine if what you see is abuse, violence or consensual lovemaking and OTHER offenses may cause you to act (such as illegal bars and other retail/liquor related legislation, for example during parties).
- Drug abuse. Erotic power exchange activity triggers the production of endorphins and/or serotonin. Endorphins are a natural opiate, produced in the human brain. Endorphins have a morphine-like structure and produce similar physical effects. Serotonin is produced in various places in the body and is likely to be found in high quantities in dominant males during active play. Hence, it is not unlikely you will find signals that - in other situations - might indicate drug-abuse: "distant" behavior and widened pupils. In cases of erotic power exchange drug-abuse can ONLY be determined through physical testing. Unless you find other evidence (such as packages, needles or needle traces) assume there is no drug-abuse and the signals are the result of hormonal activity.
The differences between abuse and concensual lovemaking
ANYTHING involving underaged is ALWAYS illegal in all countries (although the definition of underaged may be very different in different countries) and we are certainly not going to tell you different.
ANYTHING done against the free will of the people involved as well as any situation where what the police officer sees as "the victim" is obviously intoxicated is ABUSE and even if it is not - such as in the case of drug abuse or excessive drinking - what is happening is unsafe and you will do well to end the situation anyway, if nothing else in the best interest of the people involved.
In the event you are confronted with a private situation, the first thing to consider is WHY you are there. Did you just happen to trip on something or - for example - is your visit the result of complaints from neighbors who overheard someone screaming? In any case, be careful. First of all make sure if the partners, involved in the situation, are indeed partners or friends of any kind. If they are - unless there are obvious signals for abuse, domestic violence or criminal intent - this is likely to be a consensual situation.
What you are confronted with may look like domestic violence, probably even before you arrive, for example because you are responding to a call from the neighbors about "funny noises", "cries" or "people being beaten".
Always remember this: when in doubt - assume non-consensual.
From a police(wo)man's point of view the general advice is better be safe than sorry. Misinterpretation of the situation in the sense that what you are confronted with turns out to be consensual and perfectly legal may be embarrassing for all parties involved, but very little real harm is done, other than a few bruised egos. A dead body as a result of an abusive or criminal situation can NEVER be corrected.
Signals that will help you to evaluate the situation
Be aware that what you observe may not exactly be what you think it is (and that goes both ways). It may be consensual, but it also may NOT be. Genuine erotic power exchange people are safety aware. Observe the materials used and most importantly the way they are being used. Especially observe what you think may be the victim. If (s)he is tied down carefully and with a certain skill and dedicated restraints or ropes, you are likely to find yourself in a consensual situation.
If for example wire of any kind is used to tie someone up or whip someone, you have a ten to one chance the situation is an abusive or criminal one. Plus - in any case this is dangerous behavior, consensual or not. As a general rule: if you find dedicated cuffs, whips and such that are well-maintained you are likely to be in a concensual situation. If sticks, branches, wire and such are used you may be (but careful, not necessarily) confronted with abuse and further investigation is the wise thing to do.
Physical signals are a lot more difficult to judge, but again, there are a few things to look for and some others to disregard. Bruises (for example on the buttocks, legs, back and breats) are not unlikely to be the result of consensual erotic power exchange activity but a black eye or drawing excessive blood is NOT. Hitting with a full fist is NOT consensual erotic power exchange activity, but abuse. A bruised head, face or kidney area are abuse signals, so are broken or otherwise damaged bones.
Look for the signals of domestic violence. If for example the women involved runs away to protect her children, if she is visibly scared (more than she should be under the circumstances) and not just embarressed, if she voluntarily, uninvited or out of impuls declares she will not press charges you are very likely to be confronted with domestic violence. Specific signals of a fight or outrage, such as broken or damaged furniture or dishes also do NOT belong in a consensual erotic power exchange scene. They are the signals of abuse and domestic violence.
What you are confronted with may be the result of ignorance. Although people in the erotic power exchange community are usually very safety aware, they also experiment. Such experiments may get out of hand, maybe unwise or maybe completely unintentional.
If the situation you are confronted with has to do with a party or an event, it is HIGHLY unlikely what you will see there in non-consensual. Most responsible party-organizers and groups will have appointed one or more supervisors (frequently called dungeon masters). Do relate with them. They are almost always experienced people that can answer your questions. Dungeon masters will be the ones that will take charge over the situation. They are very likely to introduce themselves to you (possibly by a nickname, which is not uncommon within the erotic power exchange community).
If the party or event itself is an illegal activity in your area, relate with the organizers or the owner of the establishment. If this is the case, allow the participants sufficient privacy (for example to get dressed or change into something more casual). The better you understand their position (it is very likely they will not have been aware of these facts), the more likely they will be to help you later. The erotic power exchange community usually will only be too happy to help out banning illegal activities.
Real life example: Florida police recently raided a club where BDSM parties were organized. Consensual BDSM activity is not illegal in Florida. However, the people present in the club at the time of the raid were extremely frightened, mainly because they soon found out - as a result of the investigations - their activities had been videotaped by the owners of the club, without their permission. Originally these people were afraid the police would use these videos against them. Fortunately an experienced consultant was brought in almost immediately after the raid. He was able to make two things clear: (a) that the BDSM-activity as such was not illegal, hence the police had no case ..... but ..... (b) the videotaping WAS illegal. As a result a case that could have turned into a police disaster actually suddenly became a case - against the club owners. And the other people involved suddenly felt protected and not threatened by the police.
Webmaster's Links: Additional Reading for Law Enforcement
- An Open Letter to Law Enforcement by Ambrosio
An open letter to law enforcement from someone in the BDSM community who wants to explain some ways in which BDSM is not domestic violence.
- "Information for Professionals Confronted with Erotic Power Exchange" -- "Serious background information for people, confronted with erotic power exchange in their profession" -- from the POWERotics Foundation at http://www.evilmonk.org/A/pro01.cfm
- Information for Media: part two of eight in the BDSM Background Information series of articles from the POWERotics Foundation
- EPE and law enforcement 2: part four of eight in the BDSM Background Information series of articles from the POWERotics Foundation
- "Law Enforcement Field Guide to SM" at http://www.ncsfreedom.org/eop/files/fieldguide.pdf from The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom: http://www.ncsfreedom.org/
- Is Masochism Addictive?
- About Dawn Perlmutter and her claims about "dark subcultures":
- Dawn Perlmutter's "Dark Subculture" Witch Hunt by Ambrosio
- Sheldon LaGrange's Amazon.com Book Review of Investigating Religious Terrorism and Ritualistic Crimes
- "Dawn Perlmutter and her Institute for the Research of Organized and Ritual Violence" by Diane Vera: http://www.theisticsatanism.com/asp/people/Perlmutter/
- "Dawn Perlmutter's claims about various 'dark' subcultures (Goth, Vampire, Fetish, BDSM, Body Art)" by Diane Vera: http://www.theisticsatanism.com/asp/people/Perlmutter/dark.html
- Dawn Perlmutter's Symbol & Ritual Intelligence (formerly The Institute for the Research of Organized & Ritual Violence): http://www.symbolintelligence.com/
- The Abuse vs. BDSM section of this site
- BDSM vs. Abuse by Sir Bamm!
- Why Would Anyone Participate in Sadomasochism? by Keith L. Kendrick
- "Some Notes on Safety for Meeting Online and Off" at http://www.evilmonk.org/A/safenote.cfm
- "Ten Tips for the Novice, Single, Heterosexual, Submissive Woman" by Jay Wiseman: http://www.EvilMonk.org/A/10femtip.cfm