A Conflict Prevention & Navigation Guide for Kink Event Organizers
If you're reading this, I'm guessing you've taken on the task of organizing events (munches, play parties, workshops, or what have you,) within your local BDSM community. I'm also guessing you're volunteering your time out of the goodness of your heart and no one has miraculously shown up to hand you a million dollars for it yet.
Bless you, friend! I appreciate you! Your efforts have the potential to do wonders for fostering support, safety, sex positivity, accountability, and confidence among the kinksters around you. You're doing a wonderful thing and the world needs you!
As fulfilling as organizing can be, it's also challenging, particularly when it comes to inter-community conflicts. These problems can relate to consent violations, creepy/uncomfortable behavior, kink shaming, or general personality clashes. This is normal and happens in every kink scene I've ever been a part of.
Luckily, there are things we can do as organizers to help manage conflicts and/or prevent them from occurring in the first place. This guide is meant to help you do just that.
I. Setting your own boundaries
II. General points to keep in mind
III. Laying out policies to prevent conflict
IV. Not allowing lone guests
V. Steps for handling complaints
VI. Dealing with problematic guests
VII. Reforming transgressors ... or not
VIII. Warning others about predators
Before all else, set boundaries to protect your own mental & emotional health.
It's common for organizers to get burnt out after dealing with personal politics within the kink community. This sucks for everyone. If organizers aren't enjoying their (unpaid, voluntary) work, they're likely to step away, meaning no more events/meet-ups.
What then, you ask? Well, then we're all back to square one, wishing we could meet other kinksters in person, but having no safe means of doing so. And who wants to be at home weepily whacking off to Eyes Wide Shut like, "Fuck you, Tom Cruise! Where's MY kinky underground orgy?!" NOT ME, FRIEND. Not me.
Boundaries are paramount in BDSM and you can set a great example for your guests by communicating your own. It helps to be clear with others about your purpose/goal as the organizer when necessary.
"I'm here to provide a safe forum for kinky adults to meet and explore together. I'm not here to act as a relationship counselor, therapist, police officer, lawyer, judge, jury, moral authority, bodyguard, etc. I'm simply not qualified or equipped to fulfill those roles."
That statement will vary depending on you and how much you're willing to take on. The point is that your guests will be looking to you for leadership. We've signed up to lead, but can't possibly take full responsibility for handling the ins and outs of every potential problem. Your feelings are just as important as those of your guests. Decide your level of involvement and be equipped to express your limits if you're feeling out of your depth in any situation.
Also, ask for help from trustworthy friends/regular guests within the community when you need it. Be as specific as possible about how people can help you, rather than just throwing your hands up and screaming "FUUUUCK!!!" at the sky like it'll fix the problem. For instance, if you're too busy to make a reservation for your munch group, kindly ask someone if they can call and do it for you. These requests aren't a sign of incapability on your part. In fact, having guests get involved helps build community and connection. No organizer is an island!
General points to keep in mind about 'these types of things':
1. In a worst-case scenario, a guest may come to you to report non-consensual behavior, sexual harassment, or even sexual assault. You're not obligated to make a judgment call in these cases. However, people who behave in non-consensual ways usually do so habitually. If you're getting multiple complaints about one person, it's likely that their behavior is problematic (or perhaps even illegal) and will continue to threaten the safety and comfort of your group.
2. Laws regarding libel and slander vary depending on location. While accountability is crucial in the kink scene, engaging in an unsubstantiated, public smear campaign against an individual can land you in legal trouble, even if you weren't directly involved in the conflict. Feel free to remind your guests about this if necessary because the same applies to them.
3. Many people aren't publicly "out" about their kink due to personal and/or professional reasons. It's important that you keep people's identities and sensitive information private.
4. You're likely to vibe with some of your guests more than others. That's fine, you're human! However, playing favorites as the organizer will create a toxic environment and possibly make people question your intentions/trustworthiness. Do your best to create an atmosphere that's inclusive/respectful to everyone. Be polite, respect your guests' gender pronouns, don't take part in rhetoric revolving around misogyny/misandry, etc.
5. We event organizers, despite our best intentions, are just as capable of unethical or creepy behavior as anyone else. We have to be willing to check ourselves and one another in order to sustain a safe and respectful environment for our guests. It's not a fun conversation, but you may have to say to one of your friends or co-organizers, "Hey, I got a complaint about you from a guest at our last munch. They said you made them feel uncomfortable." Also keep in mind that the same could potentially be said to you at anytime. If serving the community is your main priority, (rather than finding play partners, for example,) this is unlikely to happen to you. Remember, false accusations of sexual harassment/assault are far far far far FAR less common than legitimate claims. Speaking up about problematic behavior is difficult for victims in these situations. Usually, it's such a pain in the ass that no one says anything at all. You don't want that to be the status quo in your community.
Lay out policies designed to prevent conflicts.
Kinksters looooove rules. (They also love breaking them, but that's what paddles are for. Phew!)
Joking aside, creating and communicating rules/policies for your events will save you and everyone else a ton of headaches. Your guests will feel safer if they know exactly what's expected. You'll also be able to hold violators accountable and help educate people who are new or simply a bit clueless regarding kink-community etiquette.
You can communicate your rules by, say, writing them at the bottom of your munch announcements on Fetlife, or having a quick 5-minute intro chat at your play parties before everyone dives into the fun.
Your policies should focus on keeping everyone safe and happy. Here are some examples of common rules at kink events:
Ask before touching anyone you're not already familiar or intimate with, whom you have explicit permission from, even when it comes to non-erogenous areas of the body.
This applies both during and outside of play. "Can I touch your shoulder?" This may seem like overkill, but it goes a LONG way to help guests who may be nervous or who are survivors of sexual harassment/assault. No one is entitled to touch anyone else or invade their personal space and that needs to be crystal fucking clear.
When it comes to inviting others to play: "No" means no. No exceptions. "Maybe. / I'm not sure. / Ummm... / Perhaps another time. / etc." ALSO MEAN NO until the person turning down the invite explicitly says otherwise. The only answer that means YES is an enthusiastic, direct, risk-informed "YES." Encourage your guests to respond to requests to play based on how they truly feel and to only agree to play when they feel ready. If you see anyone getting pushy at your event, talk to the perpetrator about their approach. Pressuring people to play, either directly or indirectly, amounts to coercion and creates a breeding ground for consent violations. This includes guilt tripping people for saying 'no' or pouting upon being turned down. Don't allow it.
Negotiate with every single person you play with beforehand.
Here is a link to a detailed guide on negotiation for those who may benefit from it.
Don't pull out or use your cell phone during the event.
This is especially important at play parties but may apply at munches or workshops as well. As all phones have cameras these days, it's in the interest of everyone's privacy to keep them stored. This type of rule will also encourage guests to be present and socialize. If people want to take sexy pics, make sure they've got enthusiastic permission from everyone in the photo, either in the foreground or background. Specify agreements about whether those photos can be posted online or shared with others.
Have a house safeword, like "safeword," or something equally effective. Saying this word during play will be a signal to other guests to intervene and stop the scene.
Having one house safeword for all guests to use if necessary keeps everyone on the same page and helps us avoid the worst of emergencies.
Don't play intoxicated.
It's generally dangerous to engage in BDSM while drunk or high, for a number of reasons. This goes for both doms and subs. You may choose to ban drinking altogether at your events. If you don't, you might specify a 1-2 drink limit or assume the task of pulling guests aside for a chat if they seem too fucked up.
Don't interfere in other people's scenes without prior permission from EVERYONE involved.
It's rude and unsafe to jump in and attempt to participate in a scene if you weren't involved in the negotiation process, even if the participants are your friends. Never interfere unless the house safeword is called or you observe unsafe behavior unfolding. When in doubt, grab a DM (Dungeon Monitor).
You may skip these or add other rules based on your event/venue/participants. Common sense is key.
Consider not allowing lone guests at your play parties.
The 'buddy system' is a popular policy at some play parties here in California. Guests must show up in pairs, triads, etc. in order to get into the event. These buddies can be romantic partners or just friends. The point is that every attendee has someone in their life willing to vouch for their character and attend together. Buddies of guests shouldn't just be randos from the internet.
If one member of the pair/triad gets kicked out of the event, both or all of them will be required to leave. Buddies are expected to hold one another accountable for following the rules during the course of the event.
This might seem discriminatory or unwelcoming toward lone individuals, but it goes a long way. Think about it. Predators thrive in environments where they perceive they can get away with shady behavior without consequences. They might even think, "Well, if I get called out and/or kicked out, no harm no foul. I'll just leave."
That's a very different mindset to, "I'd better make sure not to cross any boundaries. I don't want my friend/partner to get kicked out of the event due to my behavior. That'd be shitty and embarrassing for us both."
It's all about accountability. If your guests are in the mindset of holding one another accountable, you'll be less likely to have to step in.
Steps for handling complaints from guests
1. Sincerely listen to the person making the complaint and let them know you hear them. You don't need to pass judgment or agree with them. Acknowledge their feelings no matter what.
"I hear you."
"I think I understand how you're feeling and why you're upset." (Repeat what they've said back to them to confirm, if necessary.)
"Thank you for trusting me with this information." (Appreciate that it probably took a lot of courage for this person to approach you for help.)
"I'll try to help however I can, within my power."
"Your safety, and that of everyone else, is my main priority."
The worst possible thing you can do here is brush off or minimize complaints, especially where creepiness or consent violations are involved. It will discourage your guests from trusting you or speaking up about problems or dangerous behavior. It will also send the message that predators will be socially protected at your gatherings.
It may be the case that the person making the complaint has a reputation for creating unnecessary drama, handling safewords badly, or failing to communicate clearly. This matters, but don't allow it to cloud your thinking. Anyone can be a victim of sexual harassment/assault, regardless of personality, reputation, gender, age, orientation, kink identification, culture, etc.
2. Ask questions to understand how the person making the complaint has handled the problem so far.
Them: [Name] touched me without asking and it made me uncomfortable.
You: Did you let them know how you felt?
Them: ... no.
This happens quite often. Many people freeze when they feel uncomfortable or violated and don't react until a later time. It takes practice, courage, and the right state of mind to speak up in the moment in situations like this. If the accuser is afraid for their safety, speaking up can even feel dangerous and very well might be risky.
Once you know the present state of the conflict, you'll be able to suggest possible ways to move forward. Consider repeating what the person making the complaint said so they can correct anything that may be unclear.
"If I'm hearing you correctly, [Name] touched you without permission and made you uncomfortable, and you didn't say anything to them about it at the time. Is that right?"
Again, avoid making judgments, but get all the details you need to fully understand what's going on.
3. Ask the person making the complaint how they'd like to proceed.
"Ok, gotcha. Ideally, how would you like to handle this?"
It's important for us to understand what kind of resolution the person making the complaint is seeking before we make any suggestions. Potential answers might be:
"I'd like you to talk with the perpetrator about their behavior."
"I'd like you to ban them from future events."
"I'd like you to help me talk with the police."
A note about that last point: If a guest comes to you with an accusation of sexual assault, you might feel tempted to push them to call the police. I don't recommend this. Survivors of sexual assault choose not to report these incidents for a plethora of reasons. They may fear violent retaliation, threats, or other consequences we can't possibly be aware of. If you have witnessed a crime between your guests and the victim says they want to file a police report, assist them as a witness. However, the decision to file is completely up to them, so leave the ball in their court.
4. Tell the person making the complaint where you're coming from as the organizer, if necessary.
It will be easier for them to work with you if they know what it's like to be in your shoes and understand the limits of your involvement. Remember, your feelings and safety are important too. For instance, you might say something like this:
"I'm here to help, but I can't set your boundaries for you. You've got to be able to clearly communicate your own boundaries."
"I hear what you're saying, but I wasn't there when this happened. I'd like to hear both sides before proposing a solution."
"The person you're accusing is a friend of mine. I'm more than happy to mediate and help clear things up to ensure your safety, but I just want to let you know that this is the case. I'll do my best to be objective."
Being an organizer doesn't entitle others to unlimited amounts of your time or energy. If you're feeling taken advantage of, let the limits of your willful involvement be known.
5. Offer options for ways that you're willing to help.
Then, the person making the complaint can choose how they'd like to move forward. Some options might be:
Being close by or across the room while the accuser talks about the problem with the accused
Being right there to directly mediate while the accuser talks with the accused
Speaking with both parties separately about the problem
Speaking only with the accused party about the complaint on behalf of the accuser, without revealing their identity
Only offer to help in ways that suit your comfort level. Remember, however, that accountability is one of the main ways kinksters benefit from community support. If we provide a forum for kinksters to meet, but act disinterested in helping when times are tough, guests aren't likely to keep showing up and I wouldn't blame them.
6. Once the person making the complaint has specified how they'd like to deal with the situation, follow through as promised.
Do your best to make sure everyone is heard and solving the problem remains the goal/focus. Be as objective as possible and try not to make judgments about anyone's value as a person. It's you and the involved parties versus the problem, not the involved parties versus each other (or you).
Dealing with problematic guests
Despite our best efforts to keep things peachy keen at our events, you may occasionally have guests whose behavior is simply too offensive, dangerous, or problematic to merit conflict management. If you deem that a particular guest is a threat to the comfort and safety of your group and they're likely to keep showing up, it's best to deal with them individually as soon as possible.
Some organizers take a zero-tolerance policy to guests who violate rules or make others uncomfortable. (As in, one complaint and the offender is banned.) You may choose to be more lenient depending on the situation. Here are some possible solutions for handling these cases:
Provide the person with a warning.
Ban the person temporarily.
Ban the person permanently.
Allow them to attend and watch your parties, but not play until they've gotten a better sense if ethical kink etiquette and behavior.
Ask the person to write an apology to whomever they've hurt or pissed off.
Require the person to read up on a certain facet of BDSM safety/etiquette and report back on what they've learned.
Ultimately, as the organizer, you reserve the right to disallow anyone you want from your event. No one is entitled to be there just because they want to be.
If someone is causing everyone grief and you're thinking, "I really hope they never show up again," then just bite the bullet and tell the person they're not welcome in the future. It sucks, it's uncomfortable, and most people don't handle such feedback with a smile. So be it. Setting boundaries will always piss off certain people, and they're the ones we don't want at our events. It's the price we pay for ensuring that we and the people we care about can have nice kinky things.
Does the BDSM community have a responsibility to reform transgressors?
Are you, as an organizer, obligated to guide your most problematic guests toward better behavior? We could go around and around on such philosophical matters over more than a few cups of tea. After all, there's a learning curve when it comes to kink etiquette, and BDSM-event protocol can feel counterintuitive for beginners. One of the main purposes of having a sex-positive community is to promote understanding on matters like safety and consent.
My experience is that people only change based on their own desire to do so. If the person you're banning from your events is acting like a straight-up cockadoodle shitbag fuckrocket, there might not be much you can say to help pull their head out of their ass at that point. (And forcing people to do things goes against responsible BDSM ethos anyway.)
However, if the offender truly shows concern, remorse, and a desire to improve their behavior, you might wish to pass on resources that will help them learn from this unfortunate experience.
There are tons of great books and blogs on ethical kink out there. Why, you could even point them here, to Kink Out Loud!
("SHAMELESS plug, Molly, you naughty minx!" M'yesss, heheheh.)
You could also recommend a local munch or workshop that covers topics like consent and/or kink-scene etiquette. Here in the Bay Area, Wicked Grounds is a fantastic hub for such events.
Warning others about predators
It's not uncommon for predators who have been banned from one kink community to go searching for another. You may wonder whether you have a responsibility to alert other organizers in these cases.
Again, we're not obligated to make definitive judgments about whether guests who have been accused of consent violations are guilty of a crime. We also don't want to run around contributing to unsubstantiated rumors.
However, there's no harm in passing on factual information, especially if it has the potential to save unsuspecting victims from harm in the future. If someone I banned from my event was planning to attend an event run by another organizer in my kink community, I might reach out with a private message to report what happened.
"Hi, I'm Molly, organizer of the illustrious Fuck You, Tom Cruise! play party. I saw that Benedork Cumberbuns is planning to attend your upcoming event. I'd just like you to know that one of my other guests accused them of continuing play after a safeword was called. Cumberbuns has been officially banned from all future Fuck You, Tom Cruise! events. Hopefully this information can help you avoid such problems at your kinky party.
If, in the future, you see any of your blacklisted guests on the list for my events, I'd really appreciate a heads-up, if you're keen. Thanks and have a fabulous day laced with coffee and rainbows and crack cocaine!!!1!! (Ok, mayyyyybe not that last one. Whew!)"
Or whatever sexy text floats your boat.
Also, please don't mistake Benedork Cumberbuns for Benedict Cumberbatch, whom I understand is a fine upstanding citizen. Sure, he may appear to be one of our pale reptilian space overlords in disguise, but I trust him. He can't help it. (I can only assume. Shapeshifters are sneaky bastards.)
I hope this guide has been helpful! My parting thoughts in conclusion:
Avoiding conflict does nothing to build trust or create a safe atmosphere.
However, indulging in conflict for ego-driven masturbatory purposes destroys communities, isolates people, and contributes to terrible overall mental health in society.
Acknowledging, preventing, and managing conflict in ways that are respectful and strategic allows us to handle situations with clarity, honesty, and maturity.
This will help your wonderful kinky guests relax, shed their fears, find their boundaries, communicate their feelings without shame, and get into the beautiful and fluid headspace that makes playtime so fucking fun.
SO: Be the type of person you hope to find in your local kink scene.
Good luck and don't let the fuckrockets get ya down, friend-o.