Abuse vs. Consensual BDSM

some ways to tell the difference

Although discriminatory legislation sometimes likes to let you believe otherwise, there are fundamental differences between erotic power exchange and domestic violence (abuse). Erotic power exchange should always be based on the "VICSS" concept. Anything else is abuse.

What is VICSS?

VICSS is an acronym whose letters stand for these concepts:

Moral or ethical code

Although the majority of the people involved in erotic power exchange usually have very high moral and ethical standards, there's no standard moral or ethical code when it comes to erotic power exchange. Since EPE is such a personal and intimate activity it's questionable if such a moral code can be produced at all. This means that people who are into erotic power exchange activities very much depend on their own judgment, often without references.

Seeking advice is difficult, since it may be very hard to find a reliable source - in general terms as well as with respect to your own personal situation. However, there are some general rules of thumb to go by when evaluating your personal position or a situation you are about to enter:

It's a mistake to think only the submissive can be "persuaded" into something s/he does not want. It happens to dominants as well - submissives can sometimes be very persistent.

Recognizing domestic violence

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. By asking yourself the following questions and watching for the following signals you can evaluate the situation you're in (note that evaluating anyone else's situation is often nearly impossible):

Physical signals





Abuse within an erotic power exchange relationship

Although it doesn't occur often, abuse within an erotic power exchange relation does occur. Rape and forced sexual acts are not part of consensual S/M. Battering is not "agreed" upon. Domestic violence is not the same as consensual S/M. As a result of their sexual orientation, abused persons who are in an erotic power exchange relationship may suffer additional isolation and may hesitate to turn to available resources for fear of rejection or of giving credence to stereotypes. These are question that may help you evaluate whether or not your situation is an abusive one:

General reflections

No one has the right to abuse you - and you're not responsible for the violence. You're also not alone. If you feel you're in an abusive relationship or situation interact with other survivors. You'll find them in local or regional support groups.

There are many reasons why people stay in abusive relationships. Fear of or feelings for the abuser may be one of them. Lack of economic or emotional resources is another. 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.

And, if you are planning on leaving, plan a strategy if you have to leave quickly. Line up friends and family in case of an emergency. Battering is a crime. Find out about your legal rights and options.

Abuse in an erotic power exchange relationship can have an even greater impact than if it happens in another relationship. The amount of trust given can have been extremely high, thus the aftermath, the disappointment and the guilt feelings can be enormous. One word of advice to aide workers: someone who's been in an erotic power exchange relationship did not bring the abuse upon him or her self. Especially in an erotic power exchange relationship, the breech of trust by the abuser is enormous.

If you're a submissive - man or woman - confronted with abuse: you did NOT bring this upon yourself. You showed your trust and submissiveness and what happened is that both your trust and your body have been abused. Yes, you may even have been naive, you may have disregarded the warning signals and you may be partially responsible for the situation but still ... NO ONE has the right to abuse you, not for ANY REASON and abuse is ALWAYS wrong. You deserve to be helped and supported, no matter what exactly may have "caused" the situation. And you have the right to be respected.

This article is partially based on a document produced
by the American National Leather Association and material
produced by the Dutch S&M Media Information Center.