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Reality Bites Back

Because headlines are confusing (looking at you, Armie Hammer and Marilyn Manson), let’s have a chat about BDSM, consent, and abuse.


In recent weeks, two high-profile individuals (actor Armie Hammer and musician Marilyn Manson) have been accused of horrific and graphic instances of domestic partner violence, both claiming these alleged abuses were part of consensual BDSM relationships. As additional accusers come forward, the themes of these allegations have become even more startling: Hammer has been repeatedly accused of being a cannibal, and Manson of being a torture pornographer. 2021 is coming in with no chill whatsoever. 


In the allegations leveled against Manson, he is accused of (among other things) binding the hands and feet of a domestic partner, restraining a partner with his body, impacting a partner forcefully with his hands or other instruments, and shocking a partner with a violet wand. Any and all of these actions can be done consensually: bondage, impact play, and electrical play are mainstays of the BDSM lifestyle. However, to enact any of these on a non-consenting individual constitutes criminal behaviour. 


The charges against Hammer are arguably stranger than those against Manson. He’s been accused—multiple times—of wanting to eat parts of his romantic partners. While tabloids get very excited about incendiary taboos, other allegations include coercion, manipulation, and grooming, which are arguably more serious, if less exotic.


Both Manson and Hammer (and Shia LeBeouf, fwiw) have been accused of grooming—utilizing patterns of behaviour and power to manipulate a person, leading them to believe even the unseemliest desires of the groomer are valid and worth entertaining. This is a horrific, insidious form of abuse. It’s important to understand just how unsafe, how toxic, and how NOT a part of genuine BDSM this practice is.


In the BDSM world, we abide by a tenet: Safe, Sane, Consensual. Any play must be safe: one party must be in full control of the situation—and themselves—at all times, and be prepared to end the scene at any moment if needed. Any play must be sane: involved parties must be mentally, physically, and emotionally prepared and balanced for the scene about to take place.  “Consent” is defined by Merriam as, “To give assent or approval: agree.” Unfortunately, this particular definition is vague. It does not account for critical aspects of consent—the words “informed” and “enthusiastic,” words that help demarcate the line between kink and crime, are missing.

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