I wrote a while back about how the media have got all excited over 50 Shades Of Grey because it portrays a view of sexuality which is not too far removed from the patriarchal norm, yet is a little bit titillatingly different. With the book having sold approximately 19 billion copies, and it having been read by everyone who has ever lived or died, from the smallest amoebae to sentient gas nebulae, this media dribbling is showing no sign of abating.
This week, I have seen two stories about legal cases, where the words 50 SHADES OF GREY have been breathily splashed in a headline-grabbing bonanza.
First, there is the case of Steven Lock, who was cleared in court of actual bodily harm for whipping a sex partner. From what information is available about his defence, it seems that he and his partner read the book, and decided to play in a Master/slave relationship. In the incident brought to court, he beat the woman with a rope, and she did not safeword, saying:
“I knew there would be pain involved and I knew I wasn’t going to like it but I’d agreed to it and had to follow it through.”
Two problems spring to mind here, neither of which is being discussed at all by the mainstream press as they’re a little too excited by throwing in pop cultural references wherever they can. First and foremost is a possible issue surrounding safewords: sometimes people don’t feel able to use them. Of course, sometimes people don’t want to use them, and playing without a safeword can be very fun with a trusted partner. However, it’s also very important to build an environment where the bottom can choose to end the encounter if they want to, when they want to. That consent can be withdrawn whenever a person wants to withdraw consent. Anything other than this is abusive.
The second issue here is that it has not been reported who brought the complaint. Unfortunately, apart from that one quote, it’s not been possible to discern the woman’s side, with much of the information being provided coming from Lock and his legal team. As I understand it, the charges don’t have to be brought by the survivor of actual bodily harm, but by someone else. The implications of whether the woman or someone else brought the charges are stark: were it the woman, it’s a fucking travesty that this guy got off. Were it someone else, it’s entirely possible that this is a problem faced by the kink community: criminalisation of consensual sexual behaviour. Even consensual bruises can be criminal if someone chooses to police it. [EDIT: comment from jemima101 provides more information, which suggests that this is a plain old abuse case, and not the latter. So it's a fucking travesty of justice that the state thing someone asked for due to not understanding the issues at hand.]
It would be far easier to formulate an opinion on this case were the media bothering to ask these questions and address these issues rather than focus on a popular book.
Still, at least that case was actually tangentially related to 50 Shades of Grey, unlike this horrible thing which happened in Sweden, where a woman died during an SM session. From her diary, it appears that the play that she and the man accused participated in was not consensual on her part. At no point in the story is that popular book mentioned, yet this is inexplicably the headline, the first line and the picture of the report on the story in the Independent.
Abuse in kink is an issue which needs to be addressed, just as abuse in any community needs to be addressed. By the looks of it, this woman’s death was an instance of abuse which had nothing to do with 50 Shades of Grey and everything to do with plain old abuse that doesn’t sell newspapers.
Unfortunately, to the media, kink and that fucking book are inextricably linked which means that an opportunity for honest discussion of issues within a community in the mainstream is sacrificed at the expense of a desperate attempt to be relevant. They ignore the diversity of sexual experiences–both positive and negative–at the expense of something which they know will grab attention.
It’s only on the fringes that the discussion of experience, unclouded by sensationalism can take place. This is hardly just true of kink, it’s an entrenched problem as the traditional media becomes increasingly irrelevant to many. To save itself, the media must catch up and try to listen to the voices of those who have greater knowledge of the issues at hand.