English Professional work Sexual politics

Discrimination and violence towards the SM/fetish population (Revise F65, 2004; NCSF, 1999)

See also: NCSF 2008: Second National Survey of Violence & Discrimination Against Sexual Minorities
NCSF’s Violence and Discrimination Survey 1999.



(Some more discrimination cases are included under “Discrimination and stigmatization” on the full index page: Site map!)

På norsk
A lot indicates that the instances of violence, harassment and discrimination in connection with work, home and custody of children that we are aware of are just the tip of the iceberg. As the situation stands today, it is often spokespeople for SM interest organisations etc. that by the power of their visibility experience discrimination. The pathologising and diagnosis of the World Health Organisation (WHO) are often the direct or indirect cause of these attacks.

As a person interested in SM/fetish, you risk losing your job, custody of your children, problems with neighbours, your innermost circle of friends and your closest family members. This then means that we might not have so many sources of support left in our lives. Many people therefore choose to keep their orientation hidden because of the fear of what could happen if they disclosed this.

As a consequence, many individuals do not report being attacked because of the fear of being further harassed by the police. Even if 36 percent of respondents in the American study described below experience violence and harassment, 96 percent of these didn’t report this. As a taboo minority, SM ers and fetishists also experience a significant degree of suppression and invisibility in society, including in the press. When we are referred to, this is usually in connection with “scandals” where the people in question’s sexual orientation is used as a piquant detail to spice up the story for readers.

Violence and harassment

A study (n=1017) undertaken by the SM rights organisation The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF), shows that belonging to the SM community and SM sexual orientation generally speaking means that an individual exposes themselves for being socially stigmatised.

Thirty-six percent of subjects had been subjected to violence or harassment because of their SM/fetish orientation. This included verbal insults (reported by 87%), physical violence (25%), stalking (19%), damage to property (19%), blackmail (17%), sexual harassment (13%), rape (10%) and other types or violence or harassment (7%).

The swedish police department Säpo point our that lesbians and gay men are the group that is exposed to most violence and persecution in Sweden. The worst attacks have happened at events with a theme of SM and fetish. See: [Norwegian text only]

In Norway, the newspaper Klassekampen (27th July 1990) and the monthly publication Blikk have documented how in 1992 a van with nazi symbols drove round the centre of Oslo threatened and shot at gay leather/SM men.

Nazi attack against RFSL
Nazist violence and murder of homosexuals is a large problem in Sweden. Leather- and SM- gay men are hardest hit.
Source: Qmagazine October 13, 1998 [Swedish text only]

Neo-nazis screamed, “bögjävlar” (“fucking buggers”) and made Nazi salutes to SM/fetish gay men. Nazi vandalism to the offices of the gay organisation RFSL has set off a debate about the risk level, with RFSL demanding that homosexuals should be covered by the law on hate crimes towards minority populations.
Source: Qmagazine October 19, 1997. [Swedish text only]


Thirty percent of individuals in NCSF’s study had experienced discrimination because of their SM orientation, preference or method of expression. Forty percent had experienced harassment, 25% loss of job or contract, 17% loss of promotion, loss of custody of children 3%, denial of membership to an organisation 11%, unauthorised arrest 5%, or other forms of discrimination.

Discrimination by official bodies

Lack of legal security for SM-ers
Denmark: Attacker escapes prosecution. By Ole Martin Larsen. Police in Copenhagen have refused to prosecute a man for rape because the victim is a masochist. The woman herself raised the alarm to police from the man’s home. She was found there by a police patrol, dissolved in tears, chained with both foot- and handcuffs and with blood streaming from cuts in her thighs. Despite this, the police consider that there is not sufficient evidence to convict the man.
“Even if I am a masochist, no still means no, and that should be respected. And I said this clearly, amongst other ways by calling the police. What is my legal security worth if this cannot lead to a conviction”, said the woman, a female doctor, to Berlingske Tidende. She has appealed to the public prosecutor about the police’s decision. According to the sadomasochist’s organization SMil, the case is unique, and raises a fundamental question of whether a no from a masochist has the same value as a no from others. Because of this, SMil considers the matter to be concerned with the legal security o f sexual minorities.

Source: Berlingske Tidende/Arbeiderbladet 22th October 1994.

Murderer goes free because victim was a sadomasochist
In August 1993, an American court of appeal let a brutal murderer free because the victim had written a sadomasochistic fantasy in their diary. In this way, people’s right to consent is placed outside the law because of their sexual orientation, even to the extent that their death has been involved.
Leitner v. State (1983) 631 So. 2d 278-9.

The “sadomasochist” is often seen as having given up h/er rights to protection from violence or abuse. It is clear that homosexual men as prosecution witnesses face similar difficulties in credibility as heterosexual women. In August of 1993, an appellate court released a man convicted of murder because the murder victim had written a long sadomasochistic sexual fantasy in his journal and the trial court had refused this journal entry as evidence at trial. The fantasy is reproduced for the delight of the court in its entirety in the published case. The unspoken implication here is that a man who fantasizes about homosexual sadomasochism has somehow consented to a brutal murder: “The journal excerpt was essential to the appellant’s defense. It suggested Craven may have desired to be involved, and may have been involved in voluntary sadomasochist sex when he was killed. If he suffered from these desires, then he might have sought out an amenable partner”[20] who eventually killed him. (That wasn’t very “amenable” of the partner if you ask me). Again, the law has constituted the sadomasochist as an always-already willing victim, even to the point of death.[21] This opinion also highlights the idea of “voluntary sadomasochistic sex” as a “desire” that one “suffers from,” a common thread in much of this discourse. The official status of “perverse” desire is thus situated as a medical and psychiatric condition that places those “afflicted” beyond the protection of the law and unworthy of inclusion in “civilized” society.

English rapist freed because of victim’s SM orientation
In a rape case heard at Leicester Crown Court in England on 29th November 1994, the defendant was freed even though rapist Ben Emerson had admitted the attack. The discovery of SM toys in the woman’s flat, together with her sexual leaning, led to the rapist being freed. Do we see any similarities here to the general debate concerning rape about “loose” and scantily clad women who are not taken seriously when they say “no”. It is actually the woman’s sexual leaning that stands in the dock, not the perpetrator’s acknowledge attack.
Source: Press Association Newsfile 30th November 1994; “Student Cleared in Body-Piercing Rape Case”.

1994: The “crime” of being a pervert: Despite of a self identified rapists confession, on 29 November 1994, a man was found “not guilty” of rape at Leicester Crown Court, because SM-toys was found in the female victim’s apartment. “There can be no doubt from the evidence that what was really on trial during this event was the prosecution witness’s sexuality — the mere existence of an interest in kinky sex made her charge of rape untenable”, writes Ben Attias at the California State University of Northridge, USA. “A woman’s privilege to say “no” to sex is here circumscribed by the discursive apparatus invoked by her sexuality — a woman with an interest in sadomasochism, rubber skirts, and body piercing, judge and jury seem to have reasoned, cannot be raped. Her sexuality implicitly predisposes her to consent to sex — she is inscribed as always already willing.” [Ben Attias] [“Student Cleared in Body-Piercing Rape Case,” Press Association Newsfile, 30 November 1994].

Rape Defendant Ben Emerson

Despite this frank confession, Ben Emerson was awarded a verdict of “not guilty” of rape on 29 November 1994, after a two-minute jury deliberation at Leicester Crown Court. The judge commented to the jury, “I wholeheartedly agree with your verdict.” The judge had actually recommended to the jury that it render a quick decision before even hearing the defense’s case: “At the end of the prosecution case the judge summarized the alleged victim’s evidence and reminded the jury how she and Emerson had oral sex without her objecting at her home….the judge told the jury: ‘When he went to get some baby oil to massage her body, what is this young man to think when he finds in the drawer artificial penises, magazines designed to excite sexually? He finds a riding crop near her bed and chains on the bed,” (ibid). After the trial, a friend of Emerson stated, “Justice was served in the end.”

“Justice,” in this case, meant the release of a self-identified rapist because the “alleged” victim had committed the prior crime of being a pervert. There can be no doubt from the evidence that what was really on trial during this event was the prosecution witness’s sexuality — the mere existence of an interest in kinky sex made her charge of rape untenable. A woman’s privilege to say “no” to sex is here circumscribed by the discursive apparatus invoked by her sexuality — a woman with an interest in sadomasochism, rubber skirts, and body-piercing, judge and jury seem to have reasoned, cannot be raped. Her sexuality implicitly predisposes her to consent to sex — she is inscribed as always-already willing. Ben Emerson, quoted in “Student Cleared in Body-Piercing Rape Case,” Press Association Newsfile (30 November 1994).

USA: Released after multiple rapes
Donald Kekich, Bruce Battista, Harold Phillips and Daniel Phillips were found not guilty by Ohio’s court of appeal of having carried out rape and mistreatment throughout the night of 14th July 1977. The victim Jane Lucas had been careless enough to write a birthday card to Kekich from which her masochistic interest was clear. By the force of her sexual leaning she was seen as “always willing” and prepared for sex and in practice declared to without the legal capacity to oppose the attack.
Source: [17] State v. Battista, Case Nos. CA 4815 & CA 4816, Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fifth Appellate District, Stark County, Ohio, Slip Opinion 8th November 1978.

On 8 November 1978, an Ohio appellate court handed down a similar verdict to two men accused of rape, felonious assault, and felonious sexual penetration. The court included a detailed description of the events of 14 July 1977 in the court transcript, providing an account of victim Jane Lucas’ testimony “[a]t the risk of memorializing the conduct of the Defendants for the future delight of the sexually perverse.”[17] This invocation of a notion of potential prurient interest in the testimony of the victim is characteristic of the Court’s treatment of the issues involved — outright violence is sexualized and treated as potentially “nonserious” in the serious context of the courtroom.[18]

According to Lucas’ testimony, she drove to Donald Kekich’s apartment with the intention of having sex with him. When they got there, Kekich told her to undress and asked if she needed to use the bathroom. In the bathroom, she was grabbed by a naked man (Howard Phillips, another of the defendants), raped, and severely beaten. Kekich and Phillips continued to rape and beat her for hours, later taking her to the apartment of other friends who joined in her torture, which lasted all night and included being threatened with a shotgun, which was then shoved inside of her while pictures were taken.

The defendants were convicted of “felonious sexual penetration,” but were acquitted of rape and assault on the basis of the discursive apparatus mobilized by the following testimony: “She asked for everything. She asked to blow you, she asked to go to bed with you. I mean, every sex act that happened was through her. I mean came out of her mouth and with each and every guy,” (Bruce Battista). The appellate court vacated convictions on rape and assault charges based on testimony from a friend of Lucas’ that she had overheard Lucas express masochistic fantasies, and the following birthday card sent by Lucas to Kekich, with whom she had a sexual relationship prior to the assault:

“I think you’re a brute, an animal and a Sex Fiend! — And I want you to know I appreciate it! Happy Birthday! To a man who won’t stand anything he doesn’t like, do without anything he desires, or even be polite to people unless they please him. As mean as you are – you will live a century & then some – Happy Birthday, Turkey!

…Love, Janie Lucas”

According to the appellate court, “It is evident in the instant case that Jane Lucas who accompanied Donald Kekich, Bruce Battista, Harold Phillips and Daniel Phillips initially by invitation got much more than she bargained for. However, it is equally obvious from evidence of record and especially from the birthday card admitted as Defendants’ exhibit, supra, that had acts which followed been limited to sexual conduct it would not have been necessary to compel Jane Lucas to submit by force or threat of force and that no charges would have been filed with nothing further being heard of such occurrences.”

Here the mere suggestion that Ms. Lucas might have consented without force to a sado-masochistic sexual relationship is taken as a priori evidence that she cannot legally be raped. Again, her sexuality inscribes her as always-already willing. The appellate court’s conviction of the defendants on charges of “felonious sexual penetration” further indicates that what went wrong on July, 14, 1977, was not so much the violence and terror to which Ms. Lucas was subjected, but rather the introduction of a foreign object into one of her orifices — the defendants, in other words, were convicted of violating a dildo law. (The relevant portion of the law states as follows: “No person without privilege to do so [it is unclear who has this privilege] shall insert any instrument, apparatus, or object into the vaginal or anal cavity of another, not the spouse of the offender, when any of the following apply: (1) The offender purposely compels the other person to submit by force or threat of force…”)


The Spanner case
A hundred years after the case against Oscar Wilde, England has been the only land in Europe to criminalise safe, sane and consenting SM-sex between equal gay partners. Heterosexual sadomasochists have been found not guilty for similar activities. In the European Commission of Human Rights, seven lands voted to free the Spanner gay men, while 11 wanted to convict them. Subsequently the court unanimously followed the majority vote in 1997. The tragedy here is that the Nordic lands would have counted in the balance of votes. If they had supported the Spanner gay men, then the opposite outcome would have been achieved. The Norwegian representative didn’t even turn up to vote. In the English highest court of appeal (1993), the Spanner men were sentenced by three votes to one. The convicted men have received moral and economic support from a collective Norwegian and international gay movement and a range of Norwegian political organisations with many hundreds of thousands of members from both the political left and right. This was a broad mobilisation of people for important principles such as freedom from harassment and not being allowed to work in the public sector, the right to free expression and adult individuals’ right to take their own decisions regarding their bodies and sexuality.

An official appointed British Law Commission in 1995 came to the conclusion that SM or sadomasochism, short of causing serious or permanently disabling injury, should be no crime between consenting adults. – Under the Law Commission’s new proposals, the Spanner men would never have been prosecuted, according to the director of the civil rights group Liberty, John Wadham (Pink Paper December 22, 1995).

Discrimination on the internet

AOL discriminates against gay SM people
Gay rights organisations threatened to boycott internet service provider AOL because America OnLine discriminated against SMers, whilst racists’ and homophobes’ expressions are tolerated. On Monday, demonstrated outside the town hall in San Francisco because AOL had removed the user profile of a SM gay man which included the words “submissive” and “bottom”. Activists warned that this would be just the first in a series of protests if AOL didn’t stop the censorship or throw out the homophobes.
Source: Wired News 25.10.1999.,1367,32106,00.html

SM-censorship on Geocities
The Swedish website Robin1 for lesbians and gay men was censored by Geocities after Robin1 posted up theme pages on fetishism. There was no pornography on the pages. Here, you can read Robins story about the censorship and about his own coming out process as a leatherman. Skeive nyheter December 1997. [Sorry, only in Swedish]

Scandalisation in the press

“Sado-murder” and “sado-rape” are usual headlines when the tabloid press want to bring out the spicy details that are supposed to send a shiver down reader’s spines and sell more papers. Despite modern research having shown that SMers are no more likely to commit crimes, the person’s “sadomasochistic” learning is used as an obvious explanation for why the attack took place. The media do the same as they used to with homosexuals in terms of how they build up stereotypes. It is exactly this kind of media blunder that was in our time the reason that in 1981 an anti-discrimination law was passed in Norway relating to gay men and lesbians (Else Bugge Fougner and Berthold Grünfeld in Norway’s Offentlige Utredninger (NOU) om strafferettslig vern for homofile, 1979).

One of many possible examples, the case described here is the witch hunt against the SM-er and weapons inspector Harvey McGeorge.

Witch hunt against human rights activist
The American weapons inspector Harvey McGeorge (53) was scandalised and ridiculed in the press throughout the world because he had worked to inform people about safe, sane and consenting SM sex. The weapons inspector’s Swedish boss, Hans Blix, stated however that McGeorge’s private life was not relevant to his position as a weapons inspector. Source: Smia-info 30th November 2002. [mostly Norwegian. One English link]

Loss of job

There are many examples where fetishists and SM-ers lose their jobs because of their SM interest and orientation. Others are threatened with dismissal if they continue to inform people publicly about the group’s human rights.

A survey among readers of “The Leather Journal” in 2001 could indicate that one in four fetishists experiences discrimination at work.

A study undertaken by the SM rights organisation The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, NCSF, shows that one in 13 SM-ers had lost their job because of their orientation.

Threatened with dismissal
”Lasse”. In 1996, Oslo local authority threatened to dismiss a 22 year-old Norwegian bisexual male musician from his job in a free theatre group for children if he did not stop giving out information about fetishism in the media. The man was at this point a committee member in the Norwegian fetish organization Colorful People and had taken part in a debate on fetishism on ZTV. The man chose to sacrifice his freedom of expression in order to keep his job.
Source: Personal documentation.

Dismissal of temporary worker
”Kjersti”. In December 2000, a 26 year-old Norwegian heterosexual woman lost her temporary job as a salesperson in an insurance company in Eastern Norway because of her openness about her SM-orientation. This occurred despite the fact that she had completed internal training with the best results of the entire new intake of temporary staff. At a teambuilding seminar, participants were invited to tell their colleagues something about themselves that the others didn’t know about. The woman wondered whether to tell them about her interest in SM, but felt that this would not be quite right and therefore chose to contribute something else. Later the same evening, after dinner had been eaten and the atmosphere was more relaxed, she opened up to two or three of her colleagues and told them a bit about her interest in SM. This was met with good humour and taken as something “cool” by the colleagues, and in the first couple of weeks back at the office, this was joked about with “kinky” jokes in breaks, especially between the woman and these colleagues. The team leader heard the jokes, but did not share in the humour. Two weeks later, the woman was dismissed. The boss blamed this on the firm’s financial situation and said that he had taken on too many new employee s. However, the consultant in the deputy agency that had sent her to the firm in the first place afterwards gave her a friendly hint not to be so open about private matters in her next job. Two months later, the insurance company advertised again for new temporary staff for its sales team – temporary work with the possibility of permanent employment. The woman chose not to fight for her job, in the belief that she was only a temporary worker and therefore did not have the same rights as a permanent employee. Additionally, she would have been labeled as a troublemaker and would perhaps have missed out on the possibility of getting work through the temping agency in the future.
Source: Personal documentation

Dismissal of teacher at primary school
“Eros”. Norway, place unknown, 2003. A person of unknown sex, aged between 20 and 40 years. The person worked as a teacher in a primary school and is active in the Norwegian SM scene. In the course of the first few months in 2003, members of the local community around the school worked became aware of the person in question’s SM preferences. The person in question had not “come out” by themselves; this knowledge being made public was due to gossip behind their back. The gossip reached the school’s administration and the person received a sharp reaction from the school’s leadership: they were dismissed from their position at the school. It is hopeless to take up the fight again a dismissal like this. Such dismissals are clearly against the law, but should a person win a case against their employer, it would be just about impossible for the person to return to their workplace. The possibilities are all too great that the remaining employees would be in possession of misinformation and prejudices which would mean that they would not look upon that person as unsuitable to work with children, and as a result would “freeze” them out within the workplace.

Lost children because of SM diagnosis
“Hilde”. In 1997, a 42–year-old Norwegian woman in Eastern Norway let herself be pressured by her own lawyer to give up her custody of her two daughters after her divorce. The lawyer considered that the woman had a poor legal case because SM is defined as a psychiatric illness in Norway. This happened after her ex-husband got hold of the woman’s holiday photographs which showed her interest in SM – sado-masochism. He passed the photographs on to his lawyer. The children were also informed about the woman’s orientation. Today, the woman lives almost 40 Norwegian miles (400 kilometres/248 English miles) away from her children, but has partially regained contact with them after many years without contact.
Source: SMil-bladet, no. 2, 2002.

Children lost their father for 10 years
“Severin”. In 1983, a 39-year-old Norwegian man, who had been open with his wife of 12 years about his homosexual SM-orientation, lost shared custody rights of his three children (6, 10 and 12 years) because of his fetish- and SM-orientation. The smallest details of the man’s private sexual life was described by his ex-wife and her new husband in the court case (with jury). After this, he did not see his children for 10 years, until them became old enough to themselves make contact with him. Today, the man has a good relationship to them. An important element of the case is that the man was granted visitation rights to the children, something that was sabotaged by his ex-wife throughout the years of separation from his children.
Source: Personal documentation.

SM-preference does not affect caring ability
“Janne”. A 28-year-old Norwegian heterosexual woman had her parental rights to her two small boys under the age of six withdrawn in 2000 after she had asked the Child Protection department for help after the break-up of her partnership with the children’s father. Her ex-partner later became aware of her new interest in SM via an unknown source and informed the Child Protection department of this. SM-orientation was taken as a sign of illness and that the woman was not fit to be a parent. She was also reported for inadequate parenting of her children. The ”judgment” on the loss of parental rights including the woman’s SM-orientation, was announced by the Child Protection department in the presence of the children. After this, the woman was only allowed to have the children for between one and a half to two hours, one or two times a month, under supervision. She was not allowed to see the children in her own home. It became clear in the time following the judgment that the children had not received inadequate parenting from the woman, but instead one or both were born with a mild learning difficulty, which made him/them somewhat more demanding than unaffected children. The woman has employed a lawyer who is pursuing the case. The woman also wishes that something good should come out of the whole affair; namely that experts used in comparative cases in the future should intuitively know that the sexual preferences of adults – what one enjoys together with one’s partner – has nothing to do with a person’s qualities as a parent.
Source: Personal documentation.

Trashing: SM women harassed by other women

As with other types of attack, it looks as if women are especially vulnerable. According to the Jad Keres report from 1994, 56% of lesbian or bisexual women have experienced discrimination and violence from other women in the lesbian scene because of their interest in SM

One quarter of the sm women surveyed were physically assaulted by members of the lesbian community.

Discrimination within the lesbian community affects 30% of the women surveyed because of their sm orientation, including being ejected or refused admittance from a public accommodation, denied housing, and/or refused membership in a social, recreational, political, educational or spiritual lesbian group.

The lesbian author Pat Califia (Patrick Califa-Rice) in an interview with the Swedish paper Homoplaneten describes the harassment “trashing” of American SM activists:

“SM lesbians are beaten up and closed out from women’s social meeting places. Our literature is burned, they call our employers and say that we are perverts so that we lose our jobs”.
Source: “Samtaler med Pat Califia” [Talks with Pat Califia]. RFSL 12.10.1998.

Things show that trashing where the most radical feminists harass women also happens in Norway. SM lesbians here too are denied entry to women’s social meeting places.

“Banners that express support of SM go against the basis guidelines for
having banners and the “8th of March”- days intentions and are therefore unacceptable in the parade.
Decision of the 8th of March committee in Oslo on 20th February 1997.
Source: Letter and telephone call from 8. mars-komiteen 1997.

A 32-year old lesbian woman was in 1997 outed and publicly exhibited as an SM‘er at her place of work by a Norwegian extreme radical feminist. The 32-year-old had taken part in a newspaper debate on SM and arranged a meeting on this theme. The feminist participated in a educational gathering at the woman’s workplace. The 32-year-old was not at the gathering, but figured as a therapist on a video used in the session. The feminist recognised the lesbian women on the video and said in front of the victim’s colleagues, head of department and representatives from other institutions “It is shocking that this woman works as a therapist when she is an SM-er”.
When the lesbian woman came back to work after the weekend, shocked colleagues told her what had been said. The victim felt that she had to turn up at a meeting of all the employees and prepared herself for the fact that she might no longer be able to work there. After this, the situation calmed down and the woman no longer works there.
Source: personal documentation

It can seem as if certain feminists systematically teach women to fear SM women and SM lesbians. The same 32-year-old mentioned above also experienced in 1995 that a colleague at an institute for outreach work with young people refused to work with the SM woman “because she couldn’t feel safe with the woman’s attitude towards violence”. The woman was called in by her boss in connection with the matter, but he didn’t have any problems with the SM lesbian’s sexual orientation. Neither did the third person in the team, a muslim American, have problems with this. The woman was at that time the leader of an SM rights organisation.
Source: personal documentation.