Rape or “Bondage Session Gone Haywire”? Rape Apologists Speculate.

by Cara on July 20, 2011

in assholes, media, misogyny, objectification, patriarchy, rape and sexual assault, sex and sexuality, sex work, slut-shaming, violence against women and girls

Trigger Warning on post and links for graphic descriptions of sexual violence against sex workers, including sexual torture; rape apologism

This past April, a woman who was doing sex work was picked up by one John Hauff and driven to his home to engage in a pre-negotiated sexual encounter. Hauff requested some bondage elements in that encounter — to which the woman agreed, while setting strong limits.

John Hauff allegedly violated those limits wildly. Instead of loosely tying her to the bedpost and stimulating her with a vibrator, as she says she agreed, he allegedly chained her to the ceiling and forced painful sexual acts on her involving extreme bondage, paddles, electrical shocks, speculums, and catheters.

The first page of this article in the Seattle Weekly offers a lengthy, extremely explicit description of the allegations in question.

The second page goes on to begin (technically in the second paragraph down):

But is John Hauff a monster? Or is there, as some in the bondage community suggest, another way to interpret what happened between John Hauff and the woman he picked up on Aurora Avenue on April 2—one that makes Hauff less a cruel and sadistic rapist than a participant in a bondage session gone haywire?

Rape is not BDSM1 gone wrong. And what has been alleged is not “BDSM” or “bondage” but rape and sexual torture. Anyone in bondage/BDSM communities making the argument that there is only a thin line between BDSM and rape is doing themselves an incredible disservice. They serve not to speak for the rights of those who wish to engage in consensual, non-mainstream sexual behavior, but for rapists. To conflate BDSM enthusiasts with rapists is to wrongly vilify BDSM and its participants, the vast majority of whom don’t rape people. And it is to suggest that anyone who agrees to any BDSM elements in a sexual situation is more or less requesting to be raped.

As it turns out, though, this article ends up splitting very neatly among gender lines. All of the women consulted in the piece — one who previously engaged in consensual BDSM scenes with Hauff, and the executive director of the Center for Sex Positive Culture — absolutely agree that the allegations as described constitute sexual violence and are utterly unacceptable.

The men who weigh in on the subject are, shockingly, a little bit less sure. One of them is Master Ray, a man who makes his living doing BDSM trainings, and who seems to have rather antiquated views on gender roles.

The other is Jonathan Kaminsky, the author of the piece himself, who sets up this absurd, rape apologist framing on the basis of nothing more than the word of one BDSM practitioner (against the word of two others), and seemingly his own gut instinct about how rape allegations just can’t be trusted. This is despite the fact that Hauff admitted to police that he did not stop the first two times the woman told him to.

The article is supposedly intended to interrogate whether or not Hauff’s “fetish will set him free.” It’s a real possibility, with both rape culture and mainstream views and misunderstandings regarding BDSM being what they are. But Kaminsky doesn’t explore the prejudices of the average public. He doesn’t consult lawyers regarding defense tactics, or speculate on what “expert” witnesses may be called to the stand to act as apologists. He just asks some people who also engage in BDSM what they think of the case. Most of them say “this sounds like rape.” One reads from a rape apologist script. And suddenly, we’re supposed to believe that there is meaningful “controversy” here and reason to entertain the possibility of a gray area.

We’re not supposed to notice that this angle was manufactured by the author, who turned “one guy I talked to” into “some in the bondage community” and closed his article like this:

Only two people know what happened the night of April 2, what boundaries were drawn, what deals were struck, and how, when, and to what degree they were breached. It is possible that their understanding of what happened on that night differs. It’s possible we’ll never know the truth.

What we do know is that no bodies were found in his yard, and no other women have come forward with terrible stories of kidnap and rape. We also know this: The events of April 2 have marked a dark chapter in the lives of prostitute and client alike.

Indeed.

Of course, anyone with the slightest familiarity with rape culture will know that “only two people know what happened” is the classic way of saying that we better take the alleged rapist’s word for it. And anyone who knows anything about alt-weeklies that do their damnedest to seem street-smart will also know that the Seattle Weekly editors have absolutely no excuse to not know the term “sex worker” or how the unnecessarily repeated references to the victim in this case as a “prostitute” (instead of a rape victim) are incredibly stigmatizing towards her in the current U.S. cultural climate. And anyone who knows anything about life will know that not having decaying corpses on your property or a long line of highly marginalized victims who are willing to step forward and involve themselves in a very public case hardly means that you didn’t rape that one woman who says you raped her.

But surely we can all agree that this sucks as much for the rapist as it does for the rape victim, can’t we?

Frankly, if this is what passes for objectivity and journalistic ethics these days, I don’t want it.

But back to Master Ray. Well, some of his own views are as terrifying as they are long-winded:

When the subject turns to John Hauff, Master Ray’s face hardens. He’s never met the man, he says, pausing to sip from his glass of milk. He knows only what he’s seen on TV and heard on the radio. Because he doesn’t have all the details, Master Ray cautions that making a judgment “would be improper and foolish.” Still, he says, there’s something about the young woman’s story that troubles him. She acknowledges negotiating up front for a certain amount of bondage, Master Ray points out. She got in his car willingly, and they drove to his place. There was no threat of brutality in the car.

“It wasn’t a kidnapping,” Master Ray says. “It was a negotiated sex scene between a hooker and her client. And somewhere along the line, she crossed her own panic line and cried ‘Help!’ ”

As for her texting of Hauff’s license-plate number, Master Ray points out that this is standard operating procedure in the fetish community, and doesn’t necessarily mean the young woman was unusually leery of Hauff. “We call that a ‘safe call.’ It’s perfectly legitimate and normal,” he says. Once she’d revealed the text message to Hauff, Ray continues, “What happened next? She got dressed. He took her back where she belonged. He dropped her off. There was no threat. No murder. No ‘Keep quiet or I’ll come get you.’ ”

During a bondage session in which the rules have already been agreed upon, a dominant partner’s saying something to arouse a submissive partner is as common as flirting, Master Ray says. If, during a bondage scene, Master Ray were asked by a submissive he didn’t know if he planned to kill her, he would read it as a sign that this type of talk turned her on. “So I’m going to smirk and say something like ‘We’ll see,’ or ‘Maybe later,’ or ‘Only if you’re not pleasing to me, only if you don’t satisfy me,’ ” explains Master Ray. “Call me a smart-ass, but I’m going to say something that is going to elicit a response from her.”

When the prostitute asked Hauff if he was going to kill her, Master Ray says, “We don’t know what tone of voice she used.” Her question, he says, could have been understood as a clue that this form of “danger” was a turn-on for her. “And the worst part of it is that between the time it happened and when she finally decided to report it, her feelings, her thoughts, can change,” Master Ray says. “Shame can set in. And then he gets punished because now she’s feeling bad about it.”

Still, Master Ray acknowledges, Hauff’s alleged use of such techniques as bladder manipulation and electric shock, which are at the outer edges of the bondage-play repertoire, give him pause. “If he did spring this on her, then he crossed a line,” Master Ray says. “That would not be tolerated in the [fetish] community.”

There’s something about the woman’s story that bothers him: namely, that he doesn’t seem to think a woman (let alone “a hooker”) who agrees to any kind of sexual contact can then be raped. The fact that she admittedly cried “Help!” doesn’t count. After all, her rapist didn’t kill her. (Master Ray is wrong about her not being told to keep quiet; Hauff allegedly told the woman to not involve the cops, easily understood as a threat in itself.)

His argument seems to be “this would have been completely consensual, if both parties consented.” Which, obviously. The very point is that one party explicitly says she did not consent. But Master Ray asserts that we don’t know the tone of voice she used when asking if Hauff was going to kill her, so the consent was probably implied.

Personally, I’d say that Master Ray sounds like an incredibly irresponsible and dangerous dom, if his portrayal of how he treats partners he does not know and has not negotiated said elements with in advance is accurate. And yet, we are supposed to respect him as an expert not only in BDSM, but also in consent as it relates to BDSM. As if BDSM communities are somehow uniquely immune to rape culture.

According to Master Ray “the worst part of it” is not that a woman was allegedly raped and tortured, but that she might be lying about it. Which alone should tell us all we need to know about him. The myth that women quickly become “ashamed” of their sexual activity and then falsely claim rape in order to protect their patriarchally-approved virtue is a pervasive if widely debunked one. The fact that said myth is able to be twisted and applied to sex workers — the same women who are routinely portrayed as having no virtue left in a world that judge’s women’s virtue on the basis of their chastity — is nothing more than evidence of how far misogynists are willing to contort their own logic to support men’s right to rape (at least certain) women with impunity.

Indeed, one of the truly remarkable things about this case is that the police care at all. One could indeed speculate that the particular amount of violence used and the non-mainstream sexual acts allegedly forced are likely the reason. In a culture where consensual kinky sex is vilified, rape involving elements that would be considered kinky in a consensual setting will always be more severely demonized. In a culture where sex workers are routinely raped by police, where sex workers are almost always too afraid to report their rapes to police, where judges call the rape of sex workers “theft of services,” it’s not a stretch to imagine that we wouldn’t be seeing the same amount of resources or outrage applied had the woman consented to one kind of sex and then forced into another, with no BDSM elements present. We’d be hearing choruses of “what did she expect?”

Clearly some commenters aren’t content to entirely avoid those choruses now. Some people can’t get past the idea that a woman who agrees to any kind of sex deserves whatever violence might be inflicted on her. This is far more so when the woman in question is a sex worker.

But no matter what the Seattle Weekly or Master Ray sees fit to either imply or outright say, there is no such thing as blanket consent. Every person has the right to say no, to set limits, and to have those limits respected. When those limits are violated, it is assault. No matter what other acts they may have agreed to. No matter who they are.

Thanks to Una Feral for the link.

  1. I’ve chosen to use the term “BDSM” in this post as the sexual acts in question, both consensual and non-consensual, include far more than “bondage” (the term of choice in the article) alone. I am not, however, a member of a BDSM community and am open to suggestions on better phrasing.
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{ 13 comments }

1 Gomi July 20, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Speaking as someone in the “BDSM community” (hardly a unified and homogeneous group anyway), kink tends to be a highly negotiated thing. Given the risks inherent in tying someone up, hitting them and generally playing with issues of violence, violation and consent, it needs to be very carefully navigated.

However, I think it might be easier to cross that line in kink. It hardly excuses when that line is crossed, and any kinky player should be responsible and aware of limits to know. But the “oops, I just went too far, didn’t I?” kind of mistake is much easier to make in BDSM than vanilla sex.

But that just reinforces why negotiation and awareness is so important, and why this guy seriously violated trust and any standards of civilized living in doing what he did.

2 Cara July 20, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Speaking as someone in the “BDSM community” (hardly a unified and homogeneous group anyway)

You’re right, I should have been more careful with my wording! I have changed instances of “the BDSM community” to “a BDSM community” or “BDSM communities” as is appropriate. Thanks for pointing it out!

3 Jadelyn July 20, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Y’know, when the “expert” of the community introduces himself as and is called “Master ___” throughout the piece, well…better than even odds that he’s one of *those* doms. I’d bet he probably expects all sub women to be totally deferential to him at all times, whether they’re playing together or not. Ugh, I hate that type.

But what gets me about the quoted bit is his attitude of “Well, *these* actions being sprung on her is too far.” So it’s only assault if it’s edge kink of some kind? Would he consider it not really assault if, say, a woman agreed to a bare-handed spanking and then the top grabbed a paddle or cane and started using that? Those are both fairly mainstream kink implements, and using them on the ass is fairly standard. So would that be okay even though the bottom didn’t consent, because they’re not “extreme” or “advanced” techniques? Fuck that. I hope word of his attitude spreads through the local community and “Master” Ray can never find a play partner again. If he would defend that kind of violation of consent, un-negotiated pushing or violation of boundaries with a new partner, he is a potential *danger* to sub partners.

4 Crainial July 21, 2011 at 9:09 am

Anyone that has entered into the arena of Domination, knows there is a “safe” word that when the action goes to far that you say the “word” and the Dom, stops. Now if he or she didn’t stop when the “word” was said, then the “Dom” has no business being such! They are just looking to inflict punishment or pain, which then becomes abuse!

5 Andrew Pari, LCSW July 28, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Great post. Though, I want to address this point:
“Anyone in bondage/BDSM communities making the argument that there is only a thin line between BDSM and rape is doing themselves an incredible disservice.”

Many feminists argue that BDSM IS rape in a patriarchy that values and reinforces submissiveness in women. That there is no such thing as “kink culture” but simply another level of rape culture that many women have bought into.
This situation points up how far people will cross that line and still have “questions” about which category we should put it in.

6 Alex July 29, 2011 at 8:53 pm

To be fair, I do use the “only two people know what happened” argument, but for an entirely different reason. People seem so damned sure all the time that the victim is lying and that I’m presuming guilt, that I say, “Look, I don’t know what happened, but neither do you. Only two people know what happened: the alleged victim and the alleged rapist, so while you and everyone else presumes the alleged rapist as innocent until proven guilty of rape, I presume the alleged victim as innocent until proven guilty of perjury.” Often, they still don’t get it, but whatever.

7 Emily July 31, 2011 at 12:58 pm

@Andrew Pari – The ‘many feminists’ you are quoting are conveniently ignoring the voices of many kinky people, feminists and non-feminists, tops and bottoms, submissive men and women, dominant women and men, switches and LGBT kinksters who have been clearly asserting for years – we can tell the difference. We can tell the difference between consensual play and rape, we can tell the difference between subverting or playing with patriachal tropes and blinding following them. We can tell the difference between sex that is life-affirming and strengthens us and abuse that destroys our lifes. Many of us have experience of BDSM and abuse and WE CAN TELL THE DIFFERENCE.

The BDSM community/ies have problems with rape and rape culture, we are all drinking from the same poisoned river. But consensual BDSM is not rape, any more than consensual vanilla sex is rape. The key word in both cases is ‘consensual’.

8 Emily July 31, 2011 at 1:02 pm

@Cara – I am horrified by this crime and by the cavalier response from Master Ray. The BDSM community/ies are pretty strong on responding to external accusations that BDSM is rape by default, there is also a huge need to get our own house in order so that reality matchs up to the rhetoric about consent.

9 Katrina August 12, 2011 at 11:22 am

This has been driving me crazy. Just as I can separate rape from vanilla sex, I have no problem calling this rape even if bondage was involved. I also have no problem considering BDSM as consensual sexual intimacy when both partners have each other’s consent from beginning to end. In the full article one of John Hauff’s exes listed all the boundaries she put in place and Hauff’s experience with respecting those boundaries. Hauff was not careful with setting up boundary and safe words with the sex worker even with all the experience he has as a dominate partner.

If Hauff seriously wanted a consensual evening with the sex worker, he would have at least told her about the green, yellow, and red code words (mentioned in the full article) so he would know when to stop or move forward. Hauff set up the scene and was not honest with the sex worker about what he wanted and how long he wanted the scene to last. Nothing was in control to begin with since the sex worker had no means to communicate her level of enjoyment or distress. This article is extremely biased in Hauff’s favor and it still doesn’t look like an accident.

Kaminsky and Master Ray should just toss this guy to the wolves. They are not protecting the BDSM community by sugar coating what this man did. They should just admit that once a partner says no to a BDSM act and the other partner doesn’t listen, its rape. Vanilla sex verses vanilla rape has the same guidelines and Hauff has experience properly gauging his partner’s level of comfort through safe words. In fact, common sense should let a complete novice who cares about his/her/hir partner know when a boundary has been breeched and the scene should stop early. There is no excuse for Hauff’s actions.

Sorry if this is rambling a bit. It just ticks me off when people think they are protecting a community by not revealing and tossing away the bad apples. The police have a similar problem with bad cops. Arresting a bad cop for his crime doesn’t mean the entire police force is behind his criminal activity or commits the same crimes without being caught. It just means one bad cop was removed so the good cops can to their jobs. I seriously doubt the BDSM community’s reputation will be stained if this nut receives justice.

10 Una August 18, 2011 at 8:47 am

Thank you so much for this!!!

11 John August 23, 2011 at 12:16 am

I debated for quite some time whether I should post this or not. Cara, I love your writing. Your posts are always well thought out and are some of the most balanced and fair writing that I’ve seen. I respectfully submit that you consider making a modification to your post. You said,

The other is Jonathan Kaminsky, the author of the piece himself, who sets up this absurd, rape apologist framing on the basis of nothing more than the word of one BDSM practitioner (against the word of two others),

He actually took the word of two BDSM practitioners as opposed to two. The other is John Hauff, who was quoted as saying, “I’m not guilty of what they’re saying,” I’m still not completely convinced that what you said was factually incorrect. I just think you should reconsider.

It is important to note that Hauff is a BDSM practitioner who should have known the importance of a safe word, yet purposefully failed to establish one. This is an indication that he did not intend to stop. Couple this with the fact that he only stopped after she told him about the text. Luckily, she established her own safe word.

12 Julia Greenwood August 30, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Speaking as a submissive woman, this is abhorrent to me. I’d never surrender to anyone for money, or anyone I didn’t know. The risks are far too high. Safe, sane, and consensual ,please.Unfortuately since kink has come ‘out of the closet’ there are a lot of crazy people running around feeling it’s an excuse. It never is – if you can’t negotiate with and love your bottom within the confines of a consensual relationship, you don’t deserve to top..

13 Cara September 3, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Unfortuately since kink has come ‘out of the closet’ there are a lot of crazy people running around feeling it’s an excuse.

For the record, it’s my understanding that a vast majority of rapists are either not mentally ill or have a mental illness that is incidental to their sexual violence. I believe that rather than “crazy,” you probably meant a word like “malicious” or “unethical” or “predatory.” Since people with mental illnesses are actually far likelier to be the VICTIMS of sexual assault than others, I think it’s important to not get those concepts confused.

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