Law Enforcement and BDSM
first contacts and
When confronted with an actual erotic power exchange situation you will find yourself faced with several dilemmas. Conflicts between your training and the actual situation. That may make things difficult for you. For this reason, on this page we will try to follow the standard procedure and standard report systems many police organizations use. There may be minor variations of course, due to local differences in training and procedures, but most officers will recognize the format. If you follow the line of thought layed out on this page, you should be able to make the correct judgements in an erotic power exchange situation and you will be able to deliver a report that will support your decisions, should this be required, in standard format.
The first thing you may be confronted with is a series of both personal and professional dilemmas that require you to make decisions. These are the dilemmas and the logic behind each of them:
If you run into a active erotic power exchange scene there is the risk that what you see may be shocking to you. It may not be in line with your own vision of what lovemaking should be about or you may be offended by it. It is not unlikely that, what you are confronted with, triggers your natural responses. Such as people in leather jackets, chains and attributes that may be potential weapons. We will repeat this a few times here: there is nothing wrong with your responses and reflexes. Law enforcement professionals are trained that way and for very good reasons.
These responses are logical, but the ONLY question you have to ask yourself in an actual situation is: is this (potentially) illegal or harmful to the people involved or to third parties, such as - for example - children.
The most recent American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic Manual (known as APA IV - 1994) - the basis for every psychiatric/psychologic diagnostic process - acknowledges consensual erotic power exchange activities between consenting adults as a totally harmless sexual activity. Harmless to both the partners taking part in it as well as harmless to any third party. As a result, people involved in erotic power exchange qualify as perfectly normal, mentally healthy people. The APA is very clear about that and there can be no misunderstanding. Hence: there is no medical scientific proof for any claim that erotic power exchange people are potential rapists or bad parents for example. So the question "is this harmful to others" can be answered with a firm NO, provided the situation you are confronted with is consensual and carried out responsibly (so, for example, not in front of or involving underaged).
The next question will face you, as a law enforcement officer "on the street", with two dilemmas:
First: is what I am confronted with a CRIMINAL act and
if this is NOT explicitly criminal are there other laws broken here (such as forms of domestic violence).
But the fact is it could just as well be consensual lovemaking. Of course, what you see may be consensual, but still be potentially dangerous. For example: someone standing on a chair, hands and feet tied and a rope around the neck may just be the pre-negotiated fantasy of the people involved but it is totally UNSAFE, hence you should terminate that scene immediately (and explain the obvious dangers involved).
Excess behavior, such as (auto)asphyxiation or (self)mutilation, is NOT consensual erotic power exchange play.
Very important: the differences between consensual, kinky, lovemaking and other - criminal - scenarios are usually easy to spot. We will get to how to do that in a moment.
We have already pointed out that it is VERY unlikely that erotic power exchange activities are illegal. However, there may be areas and even countries - such as all South-American countries - where there is at least sufficient ground to assume they are. In most European and Asian countries and in the majority of the USA states they are not.
Still, to the untrained eye it may still be a problem to determine if what you see is abuse, violence or consensual lovemaking and OTHER offenses may cause you to act (such as illegal bars and other retail/liquor related legislation, for example during parties).
Drug abuse. Erotic power exchange activity triggers the production of endorphins and/or serotonin. Endorphins are a natural opiate, produced in the human brain. Endorphins have a morphine-like structure and produce similar physical effects. Serotonin is produced in various places in the body and is likely to be found in high quantities in dominant males during active play. Hence, it is not unlikely you will find signals that - in other situations - might indicate drug-abuse: "distant" behavior and widened pupils. In cases of erotic power exchange drug-abuse can ONLY be determined through physical testing. Unless you find other evidence (such as packages, needles or needle traces) assume there is no drug-abuse and the signals are the result of hormonal activity. You can find more detailed information on this subject elsewhere in this section.
THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN ABUSE
AND CONSENSUAL LOVEMAKING
ANYTHING involving underaged is ALWAYS illegal in all countries (although the definition of underaged may be very different in different countries) and we are certainly not going to tell you different.
ANYTHING done against the free will of the people involved as well as any situation where what the police officer sees as "the victim" is obviously intoxicated is ABUSE and even if it is not - such as in the case of drug abuse or excessive drinking - what is happening is unsafe and you will do well to end the situation anyway, if nothing else in the best interest of the people involved.
In the event you are confronted with a private situation, the first thing to consider is WHY you are there. Did you just happen to trip on something or - for example - is your visit the result of complaints from neighbors who overheard someone screaming? In any case, be careful. First of all make sure if the partners, involved in the situation, are indeed partners or friends of any kind. If they are - unless there are obvious signals for abuse, domestic violence or criminal intent - this is likely to be a consensual situation.
What you are confronted with may look like domestic violence, probably even before you arrive, for example because you are responding to a call from the neighbors about "funny noises", "cries" or "people being beaten".
Always remember this:
when in doubt - assume non-consensual.
From a police(wo)man's point of view the general advice is better be safe than sorry. Misinterpretation of the situation in the sense that what you are confronted with turns out to be consensual and perfectly legal may be embarrassing for all parties involved, but very little real harm is done, other than a few bruised egos. A dead body as a result of an abusive or criminal situation can NEVER be corrected.
SIGNALS TO HELP YOU
EVALUATE THE SITUATION
Be aware that what you observe may not exactly be what you think it is (and that goes both ways). It may be consensual, but it also may NOT be. Genuine erotic power exchange people are safety aware. Observe the materials used and most importantly the way they are being used. Especially observe what you think may be the victim. If (s)he is tied down carefully and with a certain skill and dedicated restraints or ropes, you are likely to find yourself in a consensual situation.
If for example wire of any kind is used to tie someone up or whip someone, you have a ten to one chance the situation is an abusive or criminal one. Plus - in any case this is dangerous behavior, consensual or not. As a general rule: if you find dedicated cuffs, whips and such that are well-maintained you are likely to be in a consensual situation. If sticks, branches, wire and such are used you may be (but careful, not necessarily) confronted with abuse and further investigation is the wise thing to do.
Physical signals are a lot more difficult to judge, but again, there are a few things to look for and some others to disregard. Bruises (for example on the buttocks, legs, back and breasts) are not unlikely to be the result of consensual erotic power exchange activity but a black eye or drawing excessive blood is NOT. Hitting with a full fist is NOT consensual erotic power exchange activity, but abuse. A bruised head, face or kidney area are abuse signals, so are broken or otherwise damaged bones.
Look for the signals of domestic violence. If for example the women involved runs away to protect her children, if she is visibly scared (more than she should be under the circumstances) and not just embarrassed, if she voluntarily, uninvited or out of impulse declares she will not press charges you are very likely to be confronted with domestic violence. Specific signals of a fight or outrage, such as broken or damaged furniture or dishes also do NOT belong in a consensual erotic power exchange scene. They are the signals of abuse and domestic violence. Elsewhere in this section we provide information on domestic violence and erotic power exchange as well as on the subject of cults, which is another thing to be very aware of, especially in the United States and Great Britain.
What you are confronted with may be the result of ignorance. Although people in the erotic power exchange community are usually very safety aware, they also experiment. Such experiments may get out of hand, maybe unwise or maybe completely unintentional.
If the situation you are confronted with has to do with a party or an event, it is HIGHLY unlikely what you will see there in non-consensual. Most responsible party-organizers and groups will have appointed one or more supervisors (frequently called dungeon masters). Do relate with them. They are almost always experienced people that can answer your questions. Dungeon masters will be the ones that will take charge over the situation. They are very likely to introduce themselves to you (possibly by a nickname, which is not uncommon within the erotic power exchange community). If the party or event itself is an illegal activity in your area, relate with the organizers or the owner of the establishment. If this is the case, allow the participants sufficient privacy (for example to get dressed or change into something more casual). The better you understand their position (it is very likely they will not have been aware of these facts), the more likely they will be to help you later. The erotic power exchange community usually will only be too happy to help out banning illegal activities.
Real life example: Florida police recently raided a club where BDSM parties were organized. Consensual BDSM activity is not illegal in Florida. However, the people present in the club at the time of the raid were extremely frightened, mainly because they soon found out - as a result of the investigations - their activities had been videotaped by the owners of the club, without their permission. Originally these people were afraid the police would use these videos against them. Fortunately an experienced consultant was brought in almost immediately after the raid. He was able to make two things clear: (a) that the BDSM-activity as such was not illegal, hence the police had no case .. but .. (b) the videotaping WAS illegal. As a result a case that could have turned into a police disaster actually suddenly became a case - against the club owners. And the other people involved suddenly felt protected and not threatened by the police.
HOW TO ACT
Allow us to repeat this once more: your (police officer) initial reflex (this looks like violence, rape or something similar) is NOT the wrong reflex. You have been trained to think like that and for very good reasons. Never ever try and think otherwise. But .. there is probably no need for immediate action, hence there is time to think.
If you have the possibility (yes we know, this is probably impossible, but we'll mention it anyway), for example in the event of complaining neighbors, plain clothes are the preferred dress. This will avoid the nasty situation for the people involved. Secondly, again if you have that possibility, a male/female police team is the absolute success formula in cases like these.
You (police officer) have been trained to distinguish violence from other - similar - behavior and to control the situation and to "downgrade". That is exactly what will help you here. Sit down and talk. You will find out soon enough if the situation is non-consensual and there will be enough time to respond to non-consensual acts if you need to. Let people talk. The normal reaction will be that the dominant partner will be the one trying to do the explanation.
However, he or she will have one other moral obligation as well, which is to protect his/her submissive partner. Allow for time to do this. It is important to both and will help both to settle down. Even better, let them know you understand this and simply tell the dominant to take care of the submissive first and - if there is no need for that - do not interfere, not even if you just want to be helpful. Let the dominant untie the ropes, unfasten the cuffs, etcetera and only assist when asked or invited to. At best, leave the couple a bit of privacy while going through this process. This includes re-assuring the submissive partner, who is the most vulnerable one in such a situation.
Depending on your area it may very well be possible some offence has been committed. Some areas, especially in the United States, have extremely weird sex laws (would you believe that some towns and states still REQUIRE women to wear corsets - at least technically - while in other states and towns the corset is illegal). We are in no position to tell you what to do - that is up to your superiors. However, you may want to think twice before booking people for something that only happened in the privacy of their home, did not involve or harm others and has little or no public relevance. Do take a bit of time - even if it only five minutes - and let the dominant explain the situation. Nine out of ten times that will save you the trouble of having to go through a lot of paperwork that will not lead to any relevant court case, but instead will only - and probably seriously upset the personal lives of people. Whatever your personal opinion may be: you are entitled to them, but these are of no legal relevance. And you will not be the first law enforcement professional to get yourself into serious trouble because of this. There are various examples of detectives that completely lost a case AND their career because they let their personal opinions overrule their professional position.
Whatever people may say or think, the work of social workers is THEIR job. Leave it to them to decide what should be done, for example in the case of children or domestic violence. You may want to alert - or standard procedure may require you to alert - social institutions. In any case: explain such a situation to the people involved, if this is relevant.
If, after all the above, you feel you have an obligation to make a report or even book people, you will do well to explain your position as well as the position of the people involved (which is not the same as reading them their rights). And it is only decent to allow people to change clothes first. And finally, some erotic power exchange people have a weird sense of humor. Cuff them and you are VERY LIKELY to open yourself up to some of that. That is not offensive behavior, just people dealing with the stress of the situation.
SIX EASY STEPS TO EVALUATE THE SITUATION
On your way to the scene first of all try to evaluate WHY you are going there and prepare yourself accordingly. For example: if it is an illegal or just noisy party, treat it like any other illegal or noisy party and disregard the BDSM-aspects, they are of no relevance.
Yes, we know it is tempting but try and AVOID the obvious jokes and remarks on your way to the scene. They will cloud your vision and judgement when you arrive.
Upon arrival, check according to the VICSS concept, i.e.
is what is happening the Voluntary choice all parties informed,
is it Informed Consensual - in other words does it look like people know what they are doing and what they entered into,
- is what is happening Safe to the people involved,
- is it Sane - no your are not a psychiatrist, but roughly speaking, someone who has just cut off the nipples of his/her partner can hardly be considered sane (you'll catch our drift, but remember: sane is not the same as "I would never do this myself").
If VICSS does not apply, act accordingly. You are NOT in a consensual erotic power exchange situation and you should deal with things the way you would normally do.
If the situation falls into the VICSS category, you can safely assume nobody is going to harm anyone, nobody is going to run away and you can allow partners to do what they need to do, as described above and - if no law has been broken - you probably might as well leave and forget the incident.
- If VICSS applies and some law has been broken all you now need to do is leave it to a detective to deal with it, the way you normally would.
If you are a law enforcement officer - even better if you are in the management of a law enforcement organization: campaign for education on the subject within your organization. In several European countries such education has already become a normal and integrated part of the standard police education and has proven to be effective in many areas. First of all it saves a lot of precious time, but more importantly it helps apprehending and convicting real offenders, especially abusers.
Secondly, work with specialized organizations. For example the International Maledom/femsub Guild - an organization of responsible BDSM-related Internet sites - in co-operation with the EPEIC has set up a system to help fight child pornography on the Internet (and in the process prevent a lot of false alarms). This system closely co-operates with specialized law enforcement organizations in both Europe and the United States and has already proven to be effective.
This article continues on the next page with
"Investigation and prosecution information."
Based on materials from the POWERotics Foundation
© 1996-2001; republished here with their permission;
see the Contributors page for contact links.