Consent Incidents and Presenters: What we're currently doing isn't working

One of the ideas going on throughout the community, especially the rope community, right now is the idea that presenters should be held to a higher standard when it comes to safety and consent than those that are not presenters. While I agree in general with this sentiment, I think that we need to be careful when it comes to how we actually implement this.

I have spoken before about how putting presenters on pedestals and treating them as gods of knowledge is highly problematic for a variety of reasons. I worry that this idea that of expecting them to be perfect human beings with no history of consent or safety issues actually is another way of putting them on a pedestal. If we expect them to be perfect, they may start feeling as though they are perfect.

I think that there is a better way. More important than expecting perfection from our presenters, I think that we should start looking at how they handle any incidents that they are involved in. As a top I have made mistakes. I am not perfect. And I’ve spoken before about a consent incident that I caused a few years ago. Rather than pretend that it didn’t happen, I chose to own it and do some work on myself to prevent myself from ever making a mistake like that again.

With the ousting of so many high profile people from the rope community, I think that we need to start looking at the punishments that we are dealing out. While there are some actions that certainly deserve harsh punishments such as a lifetime ban, I truly don’t believe that most do. I also think that we need to seriously think about the positivity that could come from presenters being able to speak openly about the mistakes that they have made without fear that doing so is going to lead to an automatic ban or removal of their ability to share what they know with people. Knowing how to handle a mistake when it happens is valuable information that I hope that presenters can share with others because life happens and so do mistakes.

Here is my proposal. I think that we need to look at a few different things from a variety of perspectives before we decide what the proper course of action is.

     1.     Does this person have a pattern of issues? If someone has a long pattern of issues, particularly the same issue; that suggests that they are not committed to changing their behavior to prevent that from happening again. This is a red flag on booking them as a presenter for sure. And may be a signal that stronger sanctions need to be made.

     2.     What is the nature of the issue? I hold a very unpopular opinion here but I do not believe that all consent incidents are created equal. A case of rape to me is a much more severe problem than a case of touching someone’s breasts while applying rope in that area. Both certainly are types of consent issues but I honestly do not believe that they deserve the same type of punishment.

     3.     How did the person respond to the issue? Potentially the most important out of the considerations is how the person responds to being confronted with an issue. If they take ownership, apologize appropriately, and make a commitment to change, I think that should not prevent them from presenting permanently nor should it result in a lifetime ban from the community.

     4.     What does the injured party want? I think we forget about this, particularly in the age of internet justice. Finding out what the injured wants and needs is so important. If they feel that an apology was enough for them to move on, as a group, we need to respect that. If they feel something more severe is warranted, we need to listen to that as well.

I don’t think that any of these four things can be taken independently of one another but all of the facets need to be considered when making a judgment on how to proceed from an incident. I also believe that, as a community, we need to figure out a system of sanctions that is more than either do nothing or lifetime ban from the community. There is so much space between those two things that I think that we need to start considering.

     -       Private apology
     -       Public apology
     -       Restitution (something that fits the crime)

           o   Injury – take an anatomy class and explain what they learned and how they will apply it
                to their play
          o   Consent issue – consent class and explanation of how they will change their behavior

     -       Short term presenting ban (6 months - 1 year)
     -       Long term presenting ban (1 year – 5 years)
     -       Permanent presenting ban
     -       Short term community/event ban
     -       Long term community/event ban
     -       Permanent community/event ban

Those are the ones that I can come up with off the top of my head. And they could easily be combined into making something that everyone involved is comfortable with.

Overall, what I’m trying to say is that our current method of dealing with injury in the scene currently isn’t working. Trial by Internet is wildly problematic. What I propose here is not meant to be a “THE solution”. It is a suggestion that we, as a community, start looking for a more nuanced way to deal with problems. We need to keep in mind that presenters are human. They are going to make mistakes and if they are truly committed to growing and learning from their mistakes, those are valuable things for them to be able to talk about to help other people not make the same ones. In the current climate where every incident is treated like rape, no one can talk about their mistakes in a productive way out of fear that they will be the next Fetsplosion and kicked out of the community forever.