What Happens When S&M Sex Clubs Sprout Up on Ivy Campuses and Coercion Becomes a Problem
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“The types of abuse that happen when you are new and vulnerable are happening to us now,” Andy said. It was a fall afternoon, and he was sitting in an East Village cafe, wearing a fedora, white suspenders and a black Janelle Monae shirt. “There are people in the New York scene that everyone knows are bad news, and people tell you but no one does anything about it. Since FetLife has emerged, we’ve had this giant influx of young people coming into the scene who haven’t been around long enough to hear the whispers.”
As word spread about the multiple accounts of consent violation, the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) launched a survey. “We haven’t closed it yet, but so far we have 5,000 responses, and over 30 percent of them had have their previously negotiated limit violated, which I think is horrific,” said spokesperson Susan Wright. “There is still confusion between consensual BDSM and assault.”
As the debate around naming abusers wore on, FetLife stuck to its policy.
Things got more complicated when Mr. Baku himself was accused. The story came to light on the personal blog of a woman named called SinShine Love. “Let it be clear,” she wrote, “the reason John sees no problem with any of this rape apologist bullshit is because he has a foggy ass notion of consent and acceptable behavior himself. And because he personally benefits from people like me staying silent.”
Mr. Baku issued an apology for his behavior on FetLife, stating that he was drunk the night in question, though he didn’t specifically admit to abuse.
“We enforce the idea that you can say no to anything,” said Holli, a leader of Columbia University’s BDSM group, Conversio Virium. “There are a lot of young, inexperienced people that come to us for guidance and an introduction to the scene. A lot of them become easy targets for people to prey on at play parties. Sometimes young people like to say ‘Yes, yes, yes’ to everyone they encounter at a fetish party or event, but if you say ‘yes’ when you mean ‘I’m not so sure about this,’ the lines about whether actual consent was given start to blur.”
Samantha Berstler, a student at Harvard who describes herself as “kinky,” supports Conversio Virium but questions the group’s willingness to admit non-students. “Why not just put a big neon sign on the door that says, ‘Vulnerable young nubile college students, many without strong support networks in the city yet, please come take advantage of them?’” she wondered.
Every time she logs into FetLife she sees the same story, Ms. Berstler added. “Someone else I know is writing that a relationship was completely abusive, and of course she was young and a college student and pretty and new.”
Consent is paramount at Harvard’s BDSM group, Munch, said the group’s leader, who asked to be identified as Michael. Right now, the university is considering giving the group its official backing, provided it adopts specific policies to educate members on how to deal with abuse. “We are working on developing standardized policies,” he said. “Right now that mostly exists with the function of an email list—anyone who joins the list gets a spiel.”
Victoria could have used the support of a good student group. After she and Eric broke up, she told her friends about the darker elements of their relationship—how he would repeatedly threaten to rape her and how maybe sometimes what he did actually seemed like rape, and how he once casually suggested he might be a serial killer. She said she had sometimes felt forced into sex acts, including electrocution and “fire play.”