rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Feminist Current

Feminist Current's picture
Feminist Current was founded by Meghan Murphy, a freelance writer and journalist who has been actively engaged in the feminist blogging community since 2010 and has been producing feminist radio since 2007. Meghan is from Vancouver, B.C., Canada, holds a Masters degree in Women's Studies from Simon Fraser University and is completing a graduate degree at the University of British Columbia's School of Journalism. You can find more of her writing in Ms. Magazine, Herizons Magazine, The Tyee, Megaphone Magazine, Good, and at rabble.ca.

Private fantasy, public reality: The RCMP, BDSM and violence against women

| July 7, 2012

Photos of a member of the RCMP, Cpl. Jim Brown, engaged in BDSM scenes were discovered online recently. The scenes were violent, degrading, according to many news reports, “reminiscent of [serial killer Robert Pickton's] crimes.”

The fact that Brown played a role in the Pickton murder investigation was particularly upsetting to the public.

How could a man who so clearly enjoys degrading women fairly assess a case that is explicitly about violence against women, about dehumanizing women, and that played out as it did (in that the disappearances of women from the Downtown Eastside were ignored by the police for years) because the women who were going missing were viewed as worthless?

 

                 

The photos discovered of Brown on fetlife.com included, for example, images of him holding a knife to a woman’s throat, another where he is binding a woman’s hands and feet, another where his boot is placed on the back of a woman who was wrapped in saran wrap. The photos posted by news sources online are much more tame, the reports say, than others they saw that were deemed too violent to be made available to the public.

BC Almanac, a show that airs on CBC Radio, featured a number of experts and call-ins on their show on Thursday (you can listen to the segment here) to discuss the discovery of the photos and the significance of an RCMP officer, in particular, engaging in this kind of behaviour.

While the majority of responses seem to be of shock, anger, and disgust -- most people viewing the images as very clearly violent and degrading to women, one guest noting that there is a fake murder scene wherein a woman is placed in a body bag, the focus of many of the conversations was around ‘private’ behaviour vs. ‘public’ behaviour.

The RCMP, for example, tried to excuse Brown’s behaviour and their decision not to investigate when they first were made aware of the photos back in 2010 because he wasn’t wearing his uniform in the images, one report stating:

Supt. Ray Bernoties replied on June 27 that Brown’s involvement with the website, “was deemed to be adult consensual activity during which the implicated officer was not representing himself as a member of the RCMP, thus it did not meet the threshold for a code of conduct investigation.”

Essentially the RCMP viewed this as a private issue rather than a public one, since Brown wasn’t working or representing public interests at the time.

People chastised Brown for posting the photos online as well. As though he would somehow be less guilty had he hidden his behaviour better. And yes, of course it is beyond stupid in this day and age to post photos that you would prefer to remain private on the internet. But is our anger or disgust justified only because Brown was caught?

The recent push of a ‘sex-positive’ ideology which has permeated our discussions of sex and sexuality in North America says that anything goes so long as it happens in the privacy of our bedrooms and is ‘consensual’. It’s how we defend pornography, prostitution, and of course, things like BDSM. And while I wouldn’t go so far as to argue that our individual sex lives should somehow be regulated, the whole hands-off, libertarian, ‘whatever happens between consenting adults’ party line we must all toe as progressive, politically correct people makes it next to impossible to address behaviour like Brown’s when it comes to light.

Cries of ‘don’t judge us!’ are always what inevitably follow when we imply that perhaps a fantasy is not so tidily separated from real life actions and beliefs or that perhaps our fantasies are shaped by our reality and vice versa.

We’re only permitted to say ‘he should have kept it hidden from public view’ because to say anything else defies the modern ethos, post-sexual revolution, that says: Sex is always good. Erections are always good. If it turns you on, so be it.

But the line between fantasy and reality is not so firm and the divide between public and private is not as unmovable as we pretend it is, as we are witnessing now.

When the VPD were found to have been watching porn on the job instead of investigating the missing and murdered women, what we pretend is ‘private’ became public. When Catherine Galliford came out about the years of sexual harassment and sexual assault she faced while she was a member of the RCMP, what was once ‘private’ suddenly became ‘public’.  We’ve long treated abuse as a ‘private’, ‘family matter’. We know better now. Brown’s ‘private’ life, wherein he fetishized the abuse and degradation of women, is not *just* a private issue. This is a case where what one does ‘in private’ clearly has a public impact. The ‘private’ behaviour of misogynist men is not simply a private fantasy, but it is a public reality -- whether or not the men are outed about their behaviour.

Now why are we pretending that fantasy has no association to reality? Do we really believe that any man who gets off on degrading women in his ‘private life’ somehow doesn’t bring those views into any other arena? Is his fantasy of abuse and domination erased the minute he shuts off his laptop or leaves the brothel? Based on the upset and the level of disgust coming from the public with regard to Brown’s behaviour, the answer is ‘no.’ If we truly believed that what happens behind closed doors has no real social impact, I doubt that people would be so upset.

The fact that this man is in a position of power, is meant to represent someone who exists to ‘protect’ the public, and that this was a man who took part in an investigation into the missing and murdered women, a case that is representative of how deeply racism, classism, and sexism is entrenched in our society is appalling, no doubt. But as much as we seem afraid to say it, lest we be perceived as ‘anti-sex’, as ‘prudish’, or as advocating for the state to exercise control over our bedrooms, I’m not sure we accept this kind of behaviour as truly ‘harmless’, regardless of who holds the erection and whether or not he is in uniform.

An article was published on Thursday about Terri-Jean Bedford, one of the women who brought forward the challenge to Canada’s prostitution laws (Bedford v. Canada) in an effort to legalize brothels. It noted her desire to open another house of bondage (the last bawdy house she ran was raided and shut down, leading her to file the case). The article touches on Bedford’s history of abuse, which she endured for much of her early life, beginning from the time she was a young child, but making no outright connection between her history of trauma and her life-path. Her private life, the abuse that was inflicted upon her, is a public reality. Many, many women have similar histories, hundreds of thousands of girls experience sexual assault and abuse throughout their lives. This is not a ‘private’ issue. This is a public reality. When abusing women is legitimized as a legal ‘business’ (which it would be were brothels to be legalized in Canada), those women’s histories of abuse is capitalized on. Prostitution sexualizes abuse. Fantasy becomes reality. Men’s ‘private’ fantasies are a reality for the women they abuse.

Our culture is sick. When men are getting off and getting away with abuse, with rape, and with assault, it’s time we stop pretending as though what we claim to be merely ‘fantasy’ is separate from reality.

Bedford’s story isn’t an anomaly. Many women who are prostituted have histories of abuse and many were pimped out as children. Male ‘fantasies’ -- the things that happen supposedly in the ‘privacy of their own bedrooms’ -- are our reality as a culture. The disrespect for women that exists within a man’s mind doesn’t just stay there. It isn’t just about him and his individual desires. A man who buys a woman on the Downtown Eastside is likely buying a woman who has been abused for much of her life. He is building on a history of violence.

We all have pornographic images built into our psyches. It’s all but impossible to avoid in this day and age. We learn what turns us on based on these images and based on our realities, living in a culture that is both built on, and fetishizes, inequity.

What is our fear around Cpl. Jim Brown’s ‘private’ behaviour? That it will bleed into reality? That perhaps a man who enjoys abuse fantasies ‘in private’ doesn’t care about the abuse of women in ‘real life’? Well I think those fears are justified. The cycle of abuse has roots.

embedded_video

Comments

I highly recommend everyone read this post: http://haifischgeweint.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/with-all-due-respect-cpl...

*trigger warning

Meghan,

Please don't listen to the idiots who have posted here. Clearly, they haven't even read your article, which I think is brilliant!

Most of them are just self-centred twits who think they are super cool and "transgressive" because they have taken the patriarchal ideal of domination and subordination in sex to the extreme. Guess what, half-wits, you are nothing but predictable products of the man-chine!

Do you know what kind of sex IS actually transgressive in a patriarchal society? Having sex with someone you think of and treat as an equal! Oh no, that's not cool is it? Because that might mean people would actually respect each other and see one another as  fully human. Well, that can't be sexy, can it?!

"When the VPD were found to have been watching porn on the job instead of investigating the missing and murdered women, what we pretend is ‘private' became public."

Sorry folks. Party's over.

Maybe you and your partner(s) are the exception, but BDSM is not quite a gender-neutral utopia. When you're at a fetish event how many female-identified doms are there compared to female-identified subs? At play parties, do gender roles tend to get reversed during play or are they reinforced? At a munch, do folks fall into a heternormative gender binary or not?

Sometimes safe words get ignored. Sometimes sex/gender is used as a tool of, or the reason for, humiliation. Sometimes consensual non-consent turns into abuse. And just like in any community - there is controversy when accusations of sexual assault get raised. General (vanilla world) stats have only 1 in 8 sexual assaults being reported to police. Any idea what the stats are for the BDSM community?

50 Shades of Grey is turning a whole new audience on to BDSM. What are these new people going to find? More of the book's gender-role snoozefest or a utopia in the making?

 

Its an interesting issue. To what extent do we create the world through our desires and to what extent is the does the world create them? Once it gets to sex of course--the capacity of people for rational reflection goes into freefall.
So, a quick reality check along the lines of a less controversial fantasy (now) is called for. Way back in the day was a game called Dungeons and Dragons that was held as responsible for murders, suicides and all sorts of ills. Two teenagers had killed themselves. They had D & D books in their rooms. D & D encouraged fantasy. QED. Except--among the huge number of teenagers who played D & D at the time (some couple of million) a suicide rate of 2 (per million) was way way lower than the base rate. So could we argue that D & D actually prevented suicide?
The BDSM community is public in a lot of its play, its clubs are typically matriarchies and women talk. A lot. Not only people's personal reputation but their online conversations ( and lists of whinges against previous partners who did not "measure up") are public documents. Genuine psychopaths stay away or get chased away from these scenes--leaving a trail of bitter online conversations that will warn off any other potential partners.
It's a lot like prostitution--open brothels (also matriarchies) are the best protection for working gilrs. Marginalised secret populations are what psychopaths want.
Murphy's brilliant solution--pretend that sex is different from what it is. Too bad. It isnt. A lot of our fantasies have dark edge because our history has a dark edge. Objectification is part of sex--for women too--or else is 50 Shade of Grey the most profitable ebook by accident?
These things can be explored in safe sane and consensual ways which maximise safety or they can be marginalised and stigmatised in a way that increases danger. This is a deeply irresponsible article.

Ms. Murphy, you *artifically* introduced the concept of gender inequality to the conversation when you said, "Brown clearly enjoys degrading women." for most of us in the BDSM community, this is an inaccurate statement born of your own ignorance. An image of a man holding a knife to a woman's throat is not a statement about degradation, it's a fantasy about fear and control. I don't know Brown nor am I familiar with his images, but the ones you describe all fall into this category.

I already addressed the distinction between fantasy and reality. Are there some sick people in BDSM? Of course there are - in exactly the same probabilistic distribution there are in any other random sampling of society. Brown *might* be one of them, but a feminist painting BDSM practitioners with the "you're a sicko misogynist" brush is no better than any man painting women with the "you should be in the kitchen" brush. Do you really want to lose all your progress as a feminist by indulging in the very kind of discrimination you want to see abolished?

It's strange to me that you obviously chose either not to look at FetLife, or to avoid the strong women featured on the site, because they are there. And they create images like Brown's, with the roles reversed. Would you equally acuse them of an inability to objectively do their job investigating crimes if they had images of tied up men on their fantasy wall?

If you want to find real gender inequality issues, BDSM is not the place to look. The members of this community have considered their roles and responsibilities much more carefully than your average sexist. Look for the insane people, those that can't distinguish fantasy from reality. They are probably less likely to be hiding in a self-policing pro-sexuality community than you think.

Wow, I loved the article and I'm just sorry that so many of the responses to it, from feminists, exited prostituted women and others who have been tortured and maimed or had loved ones killed by sadists that ended up on the blog site don't show up here. Different audience I guess. But I thought that rabble was a progressive left kinda alternative newsy place - looks like feminists don't show up here much any more though.

I actually DO care what people do in the privacy of their homes - because it's affected by public life and public representations of women whether some people want to think so or not. I knew this when I was thirteen and my high school had a day of seminars on the influence of the media. Do we think that only stupid people are affected now?

If women were socially, politically and economically equal to men and had equal power in the world and were not debased and degraded on an incalculable level every single day in advertisements, television shows, films and both soft and hard core porn I might be more inclined to believe both that women are able to make real choices about their sexuality and that men mean no harm by theirs. Unfortunately, that's not the case.

And as someone who has worked with women who've been sexually assaulted, tortured, raped and maimed and the families of those murdered for a very long time, I can assure you that the content of many of those rapes and assaults and maimings and deaths comes straight from the land of porn. I can also tell you that most women dealing with cops and other male justice system officials and male doctors etc are not wrong in thinking that those who are paid to help them go and jerk off to the details of these assaults after they finish chatting. So it's no surprise to me that Officer-Creepy-and-Stupid made pics of what he'd heard about Willie Pickton (and others) doing, or that it shocks and offends women who might need his help one day or have already to think that they might be talking to someone who enjoys hurting women, watching others hurt women and/or simply likes losing some semen over play-acting such roles. It's not so much that one guy wanking in his bedroom or two supposedly consenting adults acting out the exploitation of women is harmful in itself to anyone but the people participating (and, of course, that's a matter of opinion) but that the constant representation of women as flesh-objects to be scorned, punished and consumed meets reality in the exploitation of women in and making pornography and also in the sexual exploitation of women around the globe.

You can take it all personal and see this column as an attack on your personal sexuality - which it isn't - or you can have an eye to and a heart for the people it harms so much. So hey, by all means, enjoy your dominance, submission, sadism and masochism but please don't pretend you came up with these ideas all by yourselves or that standing up for your right to express yourselves sexually has nothing to do with the lives of others or with malenviolence against women.

Ah well, I know you'll still do that anyway ... just thought I'd say.

 

 

I have zero problems with people who are 'into kink' and I don't care what any of you do within the privacy of your own bedrooms. However, you have completely removed all context of gendered inequality from this conversation. There is a larger context to that which I am discussing - that is the eroticization of violence against women. And to equate having a critical conversation about BDSM, from a feminist perspective/addressing images that eroticize male dominance over women and violence against women does not equate to homophobia. We can't simply individualize every act, every behaviour, every interest. That doesn't mean that we must make sweeping statements - BDSM is neither 'bad' nor 'good' - but to say that there are no aspects that are problematic is disengenuous. Our sex lives, our fantasies, our sexualities are formed by the culture we live in and we live in a patriarchy. My understanding of sex and sexuality did not come out of nowhere, but was shaped by the world around me and the images I see onscreen. I understand that some of you are defensive and taking this conversation personally, but that does not mean that the conversation should not happen.

-Meghan

I tie people up, and sometimes I have sex with them. I do this in my private, personal life, with a great deal of care, education, and understanding of the psychological fantasy game I am playing. I do this with people who want to experience this *with* me. Sometimes people take pictures of me playing my game, and vice versa. Some of the pictures that come out of this community are art.

I am not a misogynist. I have fantasies that an ignorant person might view as misogynistic, but what I do with rope emphasizes and compliments the body's form, and ultimately the experience is a pleasurable one for everybody involved. Otherwise they would not come back.

And yes, it *is* a fantasy game. Just as Grand Theft Auto is a game on my Xbox, and the stories of Hannibal Lecter are a fantasy. And yes, it borders on dangerous behavior that would be harmful *IF* it was real. Just as a skydiver plays a fantasy game of being able to fly.

The logical argument you are making here is that our personal fantasy sex lives are not distinguishable from our professional career paths and public personas. The very nature of that statement should be immediately suspect. But don't stop at sex fantasies, look at every aspect of every person.

Should anybody who plays a driving game on a computer console be prohibited from driving? After all, they go 200MPH and crash into things all over the place in their fantasy game world. Should we even allow players of "Saints Row" to walk on the streets?

Should anybody who reads a book or watches movies be prohibited from working in social security or medical professions? Who knows what horrors they've imagined. What if they watched "Dexter", or (gasp) "Hobo witgh a shotgun"? And they are responsible for the well being of so many people...

What about that skydiver? Should somebody who is so willing to take such a (calculated) risk be allowed to work in an engineering field, or in the banking industry? Do you want to walk on the 50th floor of the building that skydiver designed, or buy into the hedge fund s/he created?

What fantasy worlds do you venture into during your off hours, Ms. Murphy? How does it affect your professional path? Can *you* separate the two?

In sum, the very nature of fantasy is that it *is* fantasy. It is well established that normal, healthy people are perfectly able to separate their fantasies from reality. We call people who can't distinguish those things, "insane". Those are the people that you need to worry about.

It's really telling that Megan Murphy uses the phrase "political correctness." If that's not a giveaway of regressive, reactionary thinking, what is?

This article reminds me of the same sort of infantile "reasoning" that led to the Butler decision, the primary victims of which were of course the LGBT community. It's funny how pathologizing alternative sexualities ends up with more oppression. Heaven forbid that we should judge people as individuals and not just their sexual orientation or their sexual proclivities. Of course, as a member of the LGBT community, I'm to used to hetersexuals doing that to me, so when Megan Murphy does it, it's just more of the same.

I would love to read what Megan Murphy would have written if Terri-Jean Bedford had become a child psychologist or sexual abuse counsellor. Surely we'd be about how child abuse led her down the dark path of psychology and counselling. Because the life choices we make because of trauma that happens to us must always be bad, right?

At least that's how it is in where Megan Murphy lives, in a land where we can't look past our own viewpoint; where we can dismiss others as nothing more than the abuse they suffered, where everyone else's wants, needs, and desires are swept away because they might require us to reevaluate our own viewpoint and realize that no, we don't have all the answers.

Megan Murphy, you disgust me. You're no better than what you claim to be against.

 

It is so unfortunate to see an 'article' like this, that cannot (or chooses not to) separate the distinction between what people do in their bedrooms from what they do in their lives, their jobs and their careers.

As many posters have already indicated, what we do in private for pleasure has no bearing on how people govern their relationships, and govern themselves in their jobs. We have theoretically stopped discriminating on race, on sexual orientation (apparently you can be gay, just don't be kinky?) and religion. And yet, when it comes to other aspects of sexuality, this passes as acceptable and reasoned discourse? This is sophistry and rhetoric; arguments and facts twisted to make an ideological point with no reference to facts, research or statistics.

I have made my views in more detail here, and will let them stand on their own.

I'm so gratified that everyone who has commented before me has the same opinions as me! 

I must add my two cents though. Your site bio makes you out to be a hardcore feminist. There is nothing wrong with this, women should absolutely be equal to men in every way, and I will continue to fight for equality for my sex until this is the case. 

Funny thing though; as well as being a feminist to the core, I like to be tied up and beaten. I have never in my life been abused, raped, or suffered any kind of sexual (or indeed non-sexual) trauma. I am not in any way mentally ill. I also enjoy tying up men and beating them. They aren't mentally damaged either. So where do these perverted desires come from? Am I a bad person because of the things I enjoy? Well according to your article and one sided, sensationalist opinions, it would seem so. 

 

Yet here I am to tell you that I am a passionate supporter of womens rights, feel every sympathy towards people who have been sexually abused (you seem to have conveniently forgotten that men are abused too, sometimes even by women who have not been abused themselves), and would like to see the perpetrators of such abuse punished to the full extent of the law. 

These two things are in no way in conflict with each other. Abuse is when one person in some way hurts another WITHOUT that person's explicit consent. 

BDSM, kink, our perversions, are when one person says, 'hey, I have this really hot fantasy where someone ties me up and holds a knife to my throat, would you help me make it a reality?' and their friend, or trusted partner says, 'sure thing sweetheart, that sounds really hot to me too.' (this next bit is key) 'How would you like to do this?' Then, having NEGOTIATED this scene, they enact it.

Notice the difference? CONSENT! If those photos are found to have been Jim Brown after all, he didn't kidnap that woman against her will and tie her up and hold a knife to her throat, because you're right, that would have been illegal, and bad, and wrong, and all us BDSM lovers would have nothing to do with the man because guess what? THAT'S NOT BDSM. 

If those photos are found to be of Jim Brown after all, then we fully support him, because that situation was not only consensual, but negotiated. I can say this without knowing the man because I know that it was BDSM. 

To say that being involved in BDSM makes a policeman unable to take a rape victim's statement effectively is quite simply the absurd, or possibly just the completely uneducated, ignorant and horribly lopsided argument of someone who has read '50 Shades of Grey' and come away with the view that we are all sick in the head. The kinky policeman who takes a rape victim's statement will probably have a more balanced view of the situation, he won't say 'what were you wearing when it happened?' he won't ask why she consented to being tied up and then got upset when the man tried to have sex with her. He has a more thorough understanding of consent and nonconsent than the vast majority of non kinky policeman, because the line between consenting to kinky things and not consenting to non kinky things is so clear and defined in his mind. 

Please take the time to research your subjects in future. Good journalism starts with good research. I will invite you to pass judgement on me when you've actually done some research rather than posting the first enraged thoughts that came to mind when you heard that a mountie had been cutting up women and it was a terrible thing like some amateur sensationalist forum poster. 

I would be a hypocrite if I didn't defend his right to have a private life. And to act out scenarios with a severe power imbalance, where all participants are eager and willing and free to use a safe word at any time... is that not far safer than trying to purge a fantasy or trying to make it happen without consent?

But I think where it steps over a line is that he's taken his eroticization of a very public scenario that he personally was involved in investigating, and brought it into a public forum.

Imagine if one of the investigators, lawyers or judges in the Paul Bernardo trial had written a play about it, staged it in public and charged admission. Would this be seen as appropriate conduct? If the playwright were merely any other private citizen, we could say it's art written about how a horrible well-known event impacted the public psyche. But to make personal gain out of one's involvement would be the violation.

It might have helped if you had checked your facts before writing your screde.  The knife pictures were found to be someone else, not him.  As for the rest of your article, you take all the bad things about some people in BDSM, and put them on EVERYONE.  BDSM is a consensual activity.  The woman (or man) being acted upon WANTS it to happen.  That's how it works.  If you don't want it, it doesn't happen.  The submissive (or Bottom) has the actual power in the situation, because they can stop things literally with a word.  Learn something about what you are going to write before you write it, please.

This post is idiotic.

I am a woman, I like to be tied up.

I also do business negotiation.

 

Does my liking to be tied up and spanked make me less effective of a negotiator?

No it does not.

 

These assertations of "abuse" etc, are nonsense.

If I want to be handcuffed and spanked, that's my own business.

These very same assertations have been leveled at Gay people, Trangender people, and others.

"Oh if they're "gay" then who knows what else they get up too..." (I.E, Child molesting or some such).

Such accusations are and were nonsense with Gays and Transgender people and they are and have been nonsense with Kink and BDSM people too.

Being Kinky is a sexual orientation.

You need to grow up and stop hating on people who have a different sexual orientation than you.

Or maybe what you fear, is a part of yourself, you are afraid to express.

There's nothing wrong with being tied, sweetie, It's quite liberating, you should try it some time...

My fiancée is my "mistress" we just began engaging in 24/7 play. She beats me and degrades me and I live for it. We do it for fun. The first time I remember feeling "special" about seeing someone tied up was on TV at the age of four. The situation for my fiancée was similar. This was long before we became pathological sexists, mutually despising the other gender as well as each other. It has nothing to do with love and we find ourselves unable to separate it from reality. She ISN'T the most kind, caring, and compassionate woman I've met. I am NOT highly active in a feminist organization. 

Well, that's about all of the sarcasm I can handle to write for one day. Please think through the logical Conclusions of your harmful mindset before you publish them for the world to read. 

Login or register to post comments