“On the Handling of Disputes Between Members and/or Participants
5. I understand that The South Bay Spot will not be put in a position to mediate disputes among members and/or participants. Therefore if I have a problem with another member and/or participant which results in either (a) uncivil behavior on either of our parts; or (b) any legal requirement that one of us stay away from the other, that in either case, both of us may be banned from the premises and/or suspended from membership. I understand that such ban or suspension can be done without any regard to fault.
I verify this statement by placing my initials here: _______.
This is being put in the Membership Application to alert those who wish to join The South Bay Spot that bringing deliberately bringing incivility and extreme, open drama to our club is not only not desired here, but may, in egregious circumstances, lead to suspension of membership and/or expulsion.”
This is the (new) policy of local BDSM venue “South Bay Spot”. It’s not currently in their Code of Conduct on their site (which does include “I shall also endeavor not to bring
physical or reputational harm to either through my purposeful and
deliberate actions,” which sounds to me like “I won’t call out people who are harmful publicly and I’ll be very careful who I talk to privately or I might lose access to this venue”). It’s been declared by one of the board members as being to prevent “extreme drama“. The Code of Conduct emphasizes that everyone is an adult multiple times, as if to suggest that discussing issues of consent, abuse, and BDSM is a childish, melodramatic thing to do.
Like it’s not fucking vital.
As one of my friends put it:
“So, basically, you can go to the club, and be assaulted, verbally abused, or threatened in a completely unwanted, unprovoked manner… and that is justification, at the South Bay Spot’s discretion, to kick you out, suspend your membership, and ban you from the club forever.
I mean, it’s really standard for everything from public businesses to online services to reserve the right to boot you, period. You have those sorts of protections, because weirdness can and does happen, and, well… liability. But usually, they don’t spell out the fact that they reserve the right to boot you for potentially being victimized.”
Many of the members have recoiled, rather understandably, against this policy, saying that it will potentially silence victims of abuse, leading them to not pursue legal action because they may be expelled from their community for doing so.
Some folks have clung to the fact this policy says “may” be banned, not “will” be banned. I’m going to remind the reader that most of the stories of abuse I have received in my 3 years running this project have been involving “pillars of the community”. If your policy says something like “may”, what I hear and what I’ve seen practiced is “we will side with whomever we like best and/or is more useful to us”. This is not a good strategy and not very transparent for enforcement, though why it came to pass is shockingly transparent in this case, particularly as this policy came into being after a friend of the board was served with a restraining order.
DID I SHOCK YOU I KNOW I KNOW WHO WOULD’VE SEEN THAT COMING
Now, it seems like the Board of the SBS (all white, cis, and over 45) decided on this policy thanks to their attorney, who is unnamed and therefore I couldn’t follow up with them to ask some questions. But any attorney would say that their prior policy, which said simply They also say this is because they “don’t want to take sides” (though as we know, refusing to take a side is actually taking a side with the abuser). They enacted this to apply retroactively to people who were already members, which also seems sneaky when they didn’t allow the members to discuss/critique it before it was laid out.
Another defense of this policy was that another local dungeon, the SF Citadel, has a similar policy. I couldn’t find an online code of conduct for the SF Citadel on their site- I did however find what looks like an older version here. I didn’t notice any clause for banning both parties in a restraining order situation- it has happened in the past but as far as I know its currently regarded as a terrible way of handling situations of abuse in the community.
Side note: most of the Citadel’s policies are pretty standard, but I did find this, which was one reason I stopped going to the Citadel:
“Use safewords. At SF Citadel, the house safeword is “SAFEWORD” Dungeon monitors and other experienced players will come to your aid when they hear it. We ask that all players use this word as a call for assistance from outside your scene. Don’t misuse this call for help.”
“Don’t misuse this call for help”. Creepy, no?
Who decides what is “misuse” of a safeword? How many people push themselves past where they would like to safeword simply because they don’t want to find themselves accused of “crying wolf”? Don’t you think that socially pressuring someone to stay in a situation that feels unsafe until their need for it to end overwhelms their fear of being called “dramatic” is intensely fucked up and an abuse of power?
I think this sort of reasoning similarly reflects poorly on the SBS’s choice of policy. Knowing that a friend of the board was served a restraining order, the SBS won’t want to ban their friend- and, as they’re a private business, they can reject whomever they choose, legally. The law may even lift a restraining order if the protected person goes regularly to a place where the served person will be- so if you get a restraining order, and your local dungeon decides to support your abuser, you may get penalized for continuing to go to that local dungeon. This might lead to a victim second guessing if they want to pursue legal action against an abuser, as they can very clearly be labeled “drama” and tossed out.
If the venue doesn’t step in at all, then the restrained party is, I believe, the one who has to leave, legally speaking. The onus is on them to stay away from the protected party. Now, the protected party would have to call the police to have the restrained party removed, and I did see some worry that calling the police to the venue would potentially shut SBS down… yet another reason why BDSM venues need to find better ways to self-police. The prison-industrial complex is not only dangerous for marginalized people, who are often the victims of the violence committed, but also for kinky people generally.
If the venue decides they want to protect the restrained party, though, there’s nothing saying they can’t effectively ban the protected party. Well, nothing except ethics, but who cares about that!
What may the consequences of such a policy be? Well, by making your silence and complicity part of the entry fee for the venue, the SBS has made it clear that they are more invested in making a space that’s safe for their buddies than focused on consent or the safety of the rest of their membership.
Basically, this suggests that 3 years out from starting Consent Culture as a project, we’re STILL fighting the same victim blaming, silencing crap we did in the beginning.
There’s a bright side to all this shit, though. These policies have been subject to some hot internal debate among the Citadel community, and after an email I received from a staff member there that validated my concerns, was totally not defensive, and outlined some plans they’re putting into place, I believe that clause may be getting removed (and about time). The Citadel doesn’t have an Official Policy, but if X has a restraining order against Y, I have been reassured that now Y gets banned, not both, not X.
I hope that the South Bay Spot will similarly reflect on these policies, and perhaps ask one of the three consent in BDSM projects, two of which are local, to advise them. The critics were told not to “grab the torches and the mob”, as well as use of my favourite phrase (and incidentally my Halloween costume this year) “kangaroo courts”. I’ve written this up to the best of my knowledge, and will update with any further details.
The SBS have said they are going to review the policy, and I noticed the owner of the venue was joining the NCSF Consent Counts groups (not the best one, as they are pro-cops and don’t recognize the intersectional reasons why someone may not want to get the police involved- an interesting combination with a venue where one member said they couldn’t get the cops involved, because they would potentially lose the space).
Time will tell.