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Is Consent Enough?

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October 3, 2012

 [Trigger warning: sexual violence]

Part of the reproductive justice movement is a belief that all persons (of legal age) should be able to consent to any form of sex as they please. With this comes the understanding that these acts will not bring foreseeable bodily or emotional damage. I hold these beliefs to be true and I consider myself to be open-minded when it comes to the kinky side of things. So what made me reevaluate this belief?

It was just an average Sunday morning when I woke up and checked the news for the day when something grabbed my attention – “BDSM Assault Trial to Take Place in February.” Naturally I investigated further… what I found was this

  • The case centers around a young woman, known as FV, who was 16 in 2002 when this all began, then at the age of 23 after 8 years of living with the Bagley’s the case came to light after she was hospitalized “after Ed Bagley allegedly suffocated and electrocuted FV during a torture session to a state of cardiac arrest on Feb. 27, 2009. FV, who was 23 years old at that time, received emergency medical treatment…”
  • AP reports that the Bagley’s said that FV came to them and asked to be a part of their “lifestyle”
  • Ed Bagley and Marilyn Bagley are charged with 11 counts of abuse, including sex trafficking, forced labor trafficking, document servitude…
  • Ed Bagley is also accused of administering drugs while sexually abusing her as a minor and after turning 18, abusing her

I’ve mulled over this for the past few days and I can’t seem to get myself to find a clear position. Perhaps because it’s not my business and I acknowledge that while that is true, I also believe that we will be seeing more cases like this to come in to future thanks to the sensationalism surrounding the BDSM lifestyle.

Doing what any rational person might do, I consulted the BDSM community section of reddit.com. Most of the commenters wished that there was more information presented, but with the information available they would lean towards abuse and “lack of on-going consent”. One commentator pointed out that in Missouri, the legal age of consent is 17, so she would not have been legally able to consent to sex at the beginning. This is different than in my home state of Kansas, so it again it leaves me questioning the evidence of consent.

cwm44 commented:

“I think it comes down to whether she was legally able to consent in that state at the time in question, whether she did, and whether any deliberate maiming sort of injuries were involved. Broken bones can occur during the most vanilla of activities if somebody falls or something, which does happen, so because a relationship is kinky is no reason to punish for that sort of thing IMO.

The crux of the problem is how to show whether or not she did in fact consent to whatever activities took place, and how the fuck to figure that out accurately is not something I know. I just hope the court sincerely tries to.”

His point that accidents can happen in “vanilla” sex, which I, being clumsy in and out of the bedroom, can attest to, in that case we would never think to press charges as long as what we were doing was consensual. People consent to risky sex every day when they choose not to use a condom or some sort of protection. (Hint, hint) I would find it hard to believe that he intended to cause her serious injury and from what I can tell it appears that the state is pressing the charges against the Bagley’s and not the young woman. This also might be elusive because of victim protection. Something I recently learned as a rape survivor advocate is that rape is a crime against the state, not against the person, so it would allow greater leniency as to who could press charges.

So, my lovely Choice USA readers, what do you think? When is consent not enough? Do we need contracts? Is one type of sex more punishable than another? Will this case set a standard for any BDSM related accidents in the future?

Let me know what you think, and I’ll follow up with another commentary once (if) the trial starts.

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4 Responses to “Is Consent Enough?”

  1. Kate

    This is really interesting. It reminds me of the argument that some rape-apologists always say that "once the train leaves the station" as in, when you consent to one sex act, you are really consenting to everything.

    I would be interested to know what sort of consent she gave. When she consented to the original arrangement, did she know that these sorts of dangerous acts would be involved?

  2. Sarah

    I'm inclined to blame misinformation about BDSM and everything that it entails for instances like this. While BDSM has been sensationalized to all hell in the past year thanks for the 50 Shades fad, you can't just jump into a sadomasochistic sexual relationship overnight. First and foremost, one must have an iron grasp on the concept of consent. Many people don't even have that.

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