A friend of mine recently suffered through a breakup with her boyfriend. He was your typical schmuck–he belittled her, demeaned her in front of his friends, make her feel cheap and unloved. She kicked him to the curb.
Not that unusual, except theirs had been a BDSM relationship. The boyfriend had been her Dom. And that’s where the lines get blurred (any references to Robin Thicke are coincidental). What had been consensual? What had been abuse?
In The Bequest, Mac–the Lawyer to the Doms–has to explain BDSM to Cal Raynes, the book’s hero. Cal’s vanilla, raised by a single mother to be respectful and considerate of the women he dates. As far as Cal’s concerned, when kinky sex goes far enough to be called BDSM, it’s just a license for the Dom to abuse the sub.
Mac sees it differently. He explains it to Cal this way:
“Just because millions of wives are the victims of domestic abuse, we don’t outlaw marriage—we outlaw the abusive behavior. Are there dominants who abuse their submissives? Yes. And as a community, we ensure that those crimes come to the attention of the authorities, the subs get help, and the community gets educated.”
“How can someone who’s submissive say that it was abuse? Isn’t it consensual?” Cal asked.
Mac smiled. “You’d be surprised how assertive a submissive can be when he or she knows a dominant has overstepped the terms of the consent.” He took a sip of wine. “Your point is still valid. Some submissives get wrapped up in a relationship, giving away more and more of their power. That’s pretty analogous to domestic abuse. We watch for that, and intercede when needed. It helps that we’re a community.”
Remember, though–this is a work of fiction. In real life, people like my friend find themselves in bad relationships because their dominants are schmucks, assholes, criminals, or just plain bent. Mac’s assurance to Cal is perhaps too optimistic, just as the rest of the story is a bit too vibrant and glittering to be realistic.
At the same time, I agree with Mac. We don’t outlaw marriage–an institution that works well in a lot of cases–just because some marriages are crappy, scary, abusive, or otherwise criminal. We outlaw the abuse. That’s because we, as a society, see the advantages to marriage outweighing the risk of domestic abuse.
For the bad cases–for women like my friend–we all need to step in and protect them from the schmucky boyfriends. Even when they claim it was consensual. We need to remind people that “submissive” doesn’t mean “doormat.” Even in the most extreme power exchange, abuse is a crime. Yes, I know life isn’t that black-and-white. I know my friend struggled to see what she had consented to and what she hadn’t.
That’s just like a lot of domestic abuse–the victims often think they agreed to the abuse.
They didn’t. But sadly, the responsibility for getting out of the relationship still rests with them. They need to be strong even as they believed they could trust their partner.
And that’s like BDSM.