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"Recognizing that important fact, please bear with me as I write about an important, but seldom discussed issue: Domestic Violence. October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. "

Let's Dare Talk About It
by Jack Rinella

Non-violence is fundamental to good leather sex.

That statement is enough of a sentence to be its own paragraph. If there is anger, intimidation, coercion, or permanent injury in a scene, then I don't want to be part of the action. It is more than semantics to write that the attributes of safe, sane, and consensual easily separate fantasy from fatality.

Leather folks aren't wimps. My recent (and very happy) experience at Hell Fire's annual Inferno Run was ample demonstration that at least some leather men are able to give it and/or take it. In this case, "it" is pretty heavy action. Heavy action isn't violent.

Violence, on the other hand, doesn't have to appear "heavy" either. The continuous or long term application of even minor forms of pain (psychological or physical) can be detrimental and injurious. Unfortunately, it's a fact that there is violence and we need to work to eliminate it.

Recognizing that important fact, please bear with me as I write about an important, but seldom discussed issue: Domestic Violence. October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

If you're anything like me, you don't know a lot about domestic violence. In all my years, I've only met one person caught in that kind of ugliness. Bound to a lover by financial, physical, and career ties, Rich (not his real name) was harassed, beaten, berated, and practically enslaved. He saw no way out of his prison: trapped by drugs and alcohol, beaten by an over-powering lover, coerced at times at gun point, he was depressed but saw no where to go.

I offered a safe haven for him, but was turned down because of his fear of retribution against him and against me. Part of the following information comes from a recent press release from the National Leather Association. For further information or help, contact Beth Zemsky of the Gay and Lesbian Community Action Council (800-800-0350) or the National Leather Association at 584 Castro St, #444, San Francisco, CA 94114, 415-863-2444) or any of the hot line services in your neighborhood.

Domestic violence is not an easy topic to deal with, in so far as it can bring up a lot of complicated emotions in all of us -- pain, shame, betrayal, guilt, or fear. But we need to understand and recognize the signs of abuse, the cycle of abuse (build-up, confrontation, and honeymoon), and know what resources are available to us. Anyone can be subject to abuse: a person's size, gender, or specific sex role (e.g. top/bottom, butch/femme) is irrelevant.

Domestic Violence is a pattern of intentional intimidation for the purpose of dominating, coercing, or isolating another without his/her consent. Abuse tends to be cyclical in nature and escalates over time.

What are the signs of domestic violence? "Physical:" Does your partner ever hit, choke, slap, or otherwise physically hurt you outside the context of a consensual SM scene? Has he/she ever restrained you against your will, locked you in a room, or used a weapon of any kind? Are you afraid of your partner?

"Sexual:" Rape and forced sexual acts are not part of consensual SM. Battering is not "agreed" upon; there is an absence of "safe words." Are you confused about when a scene begins and ends? Does your partner ever ignore your safe words or pressure you not to use them? Has he/she ever violated your limits? Do you feel "trapped" in a specific role? Does your partner constantly criticize your performance, withhold sex as a means of control, or ridicule you for the limits you set? Do you feel obliged to have sex? Does your partner use sex to make up after a violent incident?

"Isolation:" Does you partner isolate you from friends, family, or groups?

"Property:" Has your partner ever destroyed objects or threatened pets?

"Economic:" Does your partner limit access to work or to material resources? Has he/she ever stolen from you or run up debts?

"Emotional/Psychological:" Are you or your partner emotionally dependent upon one another? Does your relationship swing back and forth between a lot of emotional distance and being very close? Is your partner constantly criticizing you, humiliating you and generally undermining your self-esteem? Does your partner use scenes to express/cover up anger and frustration? Do you feel you can't discuss with your partner what is bothering you?

Answers to those questions can help put your relationships, or those of your friends into proper perspective.

If you are a "beaten partner" there are things that we'd like you to know as well: No one has a right to abuse you. You are not responsible for the violence. You are not alone. Connect with other survivors.

There are many reasons for staying in abusive relationships -- fear of (or feelings for) the abuser, and a lack of economic or emotional resources. If you stay, help is still available.

Find out about shelters, support groups, counselors, anti-violence programs and 24 hour crisis lines in your area. Ask a friend to help you make these calls. Plan a strategy if you have to leave quickly. Line up friends and family in case of emergency.

Battering is a crime. Find out about your legal rights and options. You can get the court to order the person to stop hurting you through an Order for Protection (OFP) or a Harassment Restraining Order. You do not need a lawyer.

The majority of us aren't involved in domestically violent relationships, but that doesn't mean that they don't affect us. Here's what you ought to know and do:

Realize that domestic violence does exist, and exists in the SM community as well. Don't blame survivors for the violence. Hold barterers accountable. Listen to any person who has the courage to talk about his/her experience. Keep all information confidential. Be supportive. Understand that leaving is difficult. Let the person make his/her own choices.

Support the process of making choices, even if you don't agree with the person's choices. Be a resource -- help find safe housing and legal advocacy, contact community resources, and offer emotional support.

Let me add to that list: Be a responsible and responsive friend. It neither costs nor hurts to listen. This isn't my usual SM style, but it is important information, if not for you, then perhaps for someone you know. If I can help, let me know.

Copyright 1999 by Jack Rinella. This material may not be copied in any manner. For permission to reproduce this essay, contact

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