Do you worry about false accusations? Maybe you’ve seen someone get drummed out of some kinky community with no trial, no police report, no physical evidence, and maybe even with no chance to tell their side of the story—just because someone accused them of violating consent. What if the accuser was just making it all up, or if it was a misunderstanding or an accident, or if maybe they said they consented at the time and then changed their mind later? We might never know. Does it seem like maybe that could happen to any of us?
The preponderance of the evidence suggests that false accusations are quite rare, but they’ve certainly happened more than once or twice in the history of kink. So yeah, there is a non-zero risk. But there are also some straightforward things that any of us can do to reduce that risk.
Here are four ways to reduce your risk of being branded a consent violator.
Play to Your Level of Trust
If it’s possible for an unstable or delusional partner to destroy your reputation by accusing you of violating their consent, then it’s clearly in your best interest to make sure that the people you play with are not unstable or delusional. That means getting to know your partners before you play and exercising good judgment about their character and their experience, not just their looks or what fetishes they’re into.
I know it’s tempting to pounce all over that hot new meat who just appeared in the dungeon for the first time, or to respond to that FetLife from someone looking to fulfil their fantasy of being kidnapped and abused by a stranger, but what do you really know about these people? How can you be sure they really know what they’re getting themselves into? Maybe they’re exaggerating their level of experience to try to impress you. Maybe they’re going to have a meltdown two days after you play with them, feel traumatized, and tell everyone they know that you’re an abusive monster.
Take your time and get to know a person before trying to get them naked and tied up. Learn about their past play and past partners. Are they a stable and grounded person who knows what they want, or are they a hot mess who’s constantly diving into things they later regret? Are their desires realistic and consistent, or ping pong back and forth between sometimes wanting to dive in to over-the-top play and sometimes denying that they would ever want any such thing?
If you are playing with someone new (whether that’s new to kink or new to you), keep that play light, limited and carefully negotiated. New folks often have tons of enthusiasm and huge fantasies that they’ve kept bottled up inside for years, so they might be champing at the bit for deep, heavy, hardcore, no-limits play right off the bat. But new folks also tend to have eyes way bigger than their stomachs and a limited understanding of what they really want and how much they can really take. So while it may be easy to get them to consent to all kinds of delightfully fucked up shit, it’s also extra likely that they’ll find themselves regretting it later.
Dip a toe in the water with them, rather than jumping into the deep end. Pick one or two kinky elements to try with them, discuss exactly what you’re going to do together, give them plenty of time to think it through and come up with questions or concerns, then do exactly what you discussed doing and no more, with plenty of checking in to make sure it’s going well for them. If they’re hungry for more, let `em hunger! It’ll leave them excited for next time.
Build up gradually, as you gain trust in one another, understanding of one another’s reactions, and confidence about what you really want to share together.
Break up With Care and Respect
Other than being outright delusional or changing their minds, the other reason that we often hear for why someone might make a false accusation is that they’re a bitter ex lashing out at the person they broke up with.
If you’re following my first piece of advice, you’re already doing a lot to protect yourself from this kind of false accusation too. By getting to know the people you play with, and by choosing partners based on who they are as people and not just how juicy they look in latex, you can make sure that you don’t play with bitter, vengeful people. Are they full of stories where they’re the victim and everything that happens to them is someone else’s fault? Do they have a lot of enemies? Do they have a pattern of traumatic breakups or horrible, evil past partners? Odds are good that you’re about the become the next in that series.
Beyond that, though, you can also take care to keep from creating a bitter ex, by being honest, communicative and considerate through the end of a relationship.
If you think playing with someone might be a one night stand, make sure that they know that and aren’t expecting that it’s the beginning of a relationship. That way they won’t feel betrayed if you don’t want to play again.
If playing with someone is just play and not leading to a relationship, let them know that. Let them know whether or not you intend to be moving toward exclusivity. Be honest about how you feel for them. Treat your partners, even casual ones, like human beings who you love and respect, not like sex dispensers who you use for your own ends (except within the confines of a mutually desired, consensual dynamic where you intentionally treat them like sex dispensers who you use for your own ends, but I digress).
If you are, for whatever reasons, no longer interested in continuing a relationship, it’s a wonderful idea to sit down and consciously remind yourself of all the reasons why you got into that relationship in the first place and all of the value that partner brought into your life, and then proceed accordingly.
One very wise person, with whom I was privileged to be in a relationship, called a meeting after that relationship ended. Hard words had been said and both of us were feeling hurt, and I was honestly not entirely sure what what she had in mind for this meeting. I thought maybe I was going to get another earful about everything I’d done wrong, or maybe she had some kind of apology for me about everything she’d done wrong. But it wasn’t either of those. Instead she sat and told me about all the things she appreciated about our relationship—not to try to get us back together, but just to remind us of what was good between us and to ease our parting.
If it’s your partner doing the ending, respect their decisions and their wishes. If they don’t want to talk, don’t keep contacting them. If they don’t want to see you, don’t force yourself into their presence. If they want to leave, let them go!
And for us toppy types: don’t cling to power. That can be hard. Or I find it hard, at least. I like power, and I get used to holding power over my partners. But when they decide that power is over, it’s over. And the more gracefully I can accept that, the better things will go for both of us.
Trying to dominate someone who no longer wishes to be dominated is both abusive and pathetic. It never works, it’s a creepy and awful experience for your ex partner, and it’s a great way to get branded as a stalker and consent violator.
Hold Out For Enthusiastic Consent
Another way that people get labeled as perpetrators isn’t because of a false accusation, but because of a misunderstanding. They did something that they thought they had consent to do, but the person they were doing it to saw things differently.
That kind of mistake is easy to make when you’re basing your consent off of some kind of subtle signals or intuitions, or when someone is playing hard to get and you’re aggressively pursuing them. It’s much harder to make when you’re playing with someone who’s enthusiastically asking for everything you get up to together.
So if you want to minimize your risk of being accused of violating consent, don’t pursue aggressively, don’t rely on “signals,” and don’t play the hard to get game. Play with people who know what they want and are able to express it clearly. If someone is confused or hesitant about what they want, talk it through with them. Answer any questions they have, find out if there’s anything you can do to resolve their hesitation, and give them time to find clarity. If someone’s coming on to you while they’re drunk or high, flirt up a storm, swap dirty fantasies, let them know you’re interested, and then wait for them to sober up and talk it over again before doing anything. If someone’s saying “Make me take it!” say “Beg me to give it to you.”
Sometimes people are shy or afraid or otherwise reluctant to clearly express their consent. Sometimes they’re turned on by the idea of being pursued, or they’re trying to find a way to have a dirty, naughty, shameful experience without having to admit to themselves that they are the kind of person who wants that kind of thing. But none of those reasons reduce the risk of a miscommunication about exactly what they’re consenting to, and none of them mean that you have to play along.
A big part of the motivation behind the hard to get game is fear of being vulnerable. It’s a vulnerable thing to directly admit your deep, dark, powerful kinky desires and to ask someone to indulge in them with you. Way less scary to beat around the bush, play games, and try to get the other person to say it first.
Often you can short-circuit this game by setting an example, and stepping into vulnerability yourself. Just say “I think you might be hinting that you’d like to do X with me, and if that’s true I am all kinds of interested. Shall we talk about it more?” That can be a butterflies-in-the-stomach kind of a thing to come right out and say; because what if you’re wrong, right? If you’ve been misreading their signals, they might laugh at you or be offended or shoot you down hard.
But think about this. If you were misreading their signals, and you didn’t speak up directly but kept covertly maneuvering to get this thing you thought they wanted, or pressuring them to do it, or just went ahead and tried it… then you’d actually be violating their consent. Not on purpose, but violating it nonetheless.
Don’t Be A Predator
“Predator” or “rapist” or “consent violator” are some of the worst things that it’s possible to be called in our culture. We tend to depict them as evil, subhuman monsters. That’s why everyone’s so surprised every time some pleasant-seeming, friendly fellow is revealed to have violated someone’s consent: we subconsciously expect a predator to have horns and fangs and red, glowing eyes.
But that’s not the way it really works. Most people who violate consent aren’t evil monsters. They don’t wake up in the morning, brew themselves a steaming hot cup of infant blood, and think “how can I violate someone’s consent today?”
What they’re thinking is more like “Well, she didn’t explicitly say that I couldn’t choke her, and asking wouldn’t be very suave–maybe if I just try it she’ll like it.” or “God he’s so uptight about bruising. A few little bruises never hurt anyone! Once I give him a couple he’ll realize it’s no big deal.” or “I know it wasn’t part of our negotiation, but now that I’m her Master I ought to have the right to fuck her if I want to.”
Most consent violations happen not from malice, but from someone taking what they want with insufficient consideration of what the other person wants. When we look at those violations, we don’t find any evil monster with glowing red eyes. We see a person, a lot like us, who maybe acted arrogantly or callously, or was a bit too entitled or too oblivious, or maybe just made a mistake.
And if someone accuses us of violating their consent, most of us have a tendency to think “I’m not a monster and I never meant to hurt anyone; I’m being falsely accused!” But violation is not about the intent of the violator, it’s about the effect on the person who was hurt, and—especially with the deep dark games we like to play in kink—it’s all too easy to hurt someone without meaning to.
So before getting defensive, before calling your (ex)partner a crazy liar, before worrying about false accusations: stop. Breathe deeply. Sleep on it if you can. Talk it through with a trusted friend if you can. And then, after the initial holyfuckingshitsomeonejustcalledmeaviolator!!! has subsided, summon all the empathy that you can for the person who’s saying they were hurt by your actions, and try to understand where they’re coming from.
Maybe you actually did violate their consent. Or maybe you didn’t technically violate their consent, but you can still imagine a way that you could have acted differently that would have spared them the hurt they’re feeling now.
That doesn’t make you a monster; it makes you a person who has some apologizing to do, some changes to make to do better in the future, and maybe some consequence to face.
But really those consequences usually aren’t that drastic, especially for people who own their actions the first time and learn from their mistakes. Those people who you see publicly denounced, shamed and hounded from their communities? That doesn’t tend to happen on a first offense. With very few exceptions, those are the ones who took the other road. They brushed off complaints. They made excuses. They defended their right to do whatever they could get away with, regardless of the effect on others. They focused on protecting themselves from accusations, rather than protecting their partners from harm. They established a pattern of leaving people feeling violated, whether they had intended to violate them or not. So when one of partner finally went public, there were others from their past who chimed in to say “yeah, that kind of shit happened to me too.”
So if you’re really worried about false accusations, the single best thing you can do to protect yourself is to worry less about false accusations and more about not violating people: paying close attention your partners’ needs and boundaries, making amends for your missteps, learning to do better, and making it a priority to leave the people you play with happy to have played with you.