Saturday, April 24, 2010

Guest Blogger: Safecalls

Trigger Warning

I sat in silence at the LGBTQ Center, hands sweating, and listened to a woman named Tami tell her story of survival. Unfortunately, thanks to the rape culture we live in, these stories are far too common--though both the circumstances and the aftermath of this particular woman's rape are highly unusual. The purpose of this article is not to suggest that rape, like a hurricane, is more likely to affect those who live in disaster-prone communities and don't put up shutters--or to imply that it's your job to prevent someone from raping you. Like a self defense class, this article will give you another tool in your arsenal for protecting yourself by explaining what a safecall is, why safecalls are important for the mainstream dating community, and how safecalls can potentially help you detect red flags when interacting with someone.

Several years ago, a man who identified himself as a Dominant raped a woman who identified as a consensual "slave"; they met at a hotel after several months of online and phone conversation. Rather than enact the Dominant/submissive scene they had planned, this man put something in the woman's drink, moved her to an unknown location, tied her up, and beat her so thoroughly that she became convinced that she was not going to get out of his basement alive. She was able to escape after over 24 hours only because the man passed out from drinking, and she was able to slip out of the restraints because they were slick with her own blood. Despite the trauma, this woman, who calls herself Slave Tami, went on to win the Pantheon of Leather “Community Choice Leather Woman 2009” award for her work founding and maintaining the National Safecall Network, a BDSM community service that puts people in touch with pre-vetted "safecall" volunteers. Tami now speaks around the world promoting the NCSN and healthy relationships within the BDSM community.

Safecalls: A Definition

A safecall is an arrangement that you make to check in with a trustworthy person when you're meeting with an acquaintance or someone new with whom you haven't yet developed trust. Your trustworthy person should know where you're going to be (specific addresses), who you're going to be with (real names), and what time(s) you will be checking in. If you don't check in, they'll assume something has gone wrong and will contact the local authorities. While the concept of safecalling has become popular in the BDSM community, in no small part thanks to the efforts of Slave Tami and community educators, I believe that safecalling is just as important for the LGBTQ and straight dating worlds. Predators do not just target kinky people any more than muggers only pick on old ladies. While kinky people, especially submissives or consensual slaves, may seem like a more vulnerable target due to social stigma or predators’ preconceived notions about ‘natural dominance’ and the proper place of women, predators target people who they think they can get away with raping. The system for safecalling is flawed because the justice system is flawed (thanks to various iterations of classism, racism, sexism, and transphobia, people may not get the help they need from the police)--but right now, it's what we have.

The Silent Alarm

There are several ways that a safecall can be executed. If you want to use a "silent alarm", you can set up a code phrase beforehand that will get your person to contact the authorities. For example, you could agree beforehand that "can you please feed the cat" means "'I'm seriously afraid for my safety" and that "yeah, I picked up your mail" means "all clear". This is the most subtle and least confrontational way to use safecalling. The benefits are that your date doesn't know that the safecall is in place, so zie can't try to circumvent it if zie does turn out to be a predator. However, with a silent alarm, you also lose the element of potential deterrence that a safecall can provide.

Safecall as Deterrence

One way to use safecalling to actively deter predators is simply to tell your date that you have a safecall, and that if you don't take (or make) a phone call at a prescribed time during or after the date, the police will be summoned. Also, make sure to mention that your friend is waiting to hear that you got home safely after you leave the date. While this may seem like the most major buzz kill on earth, it's something that can be explained through email before your date--and anyone who cares more about your personal safety than their own feelings will understand that. This type of safecall is a good litmus test to see whether your date is actively on your side--a considerate (or halfway intelligent) date will remind you to make (or take) your safecalls. It also creates a sense of dual accountability: you both have to make sure someone's phone is charged, make sure you're not too drunk to make the call, and keep track of the time on the date—and you may even bond over the shared task. Lastly, anyone who you don't know very well or trust very much who protests against the idea of you keeping yourself safe is raising a big, shiny red flag.

So how do you implement a safecall in the mainstream dating community? If you have a friend that you feel comfortable asking, you can have them be your safecall. If you have an iPhone or use Facebook, you can use Plerts to let a trusted friend know what you're up to. If you feel comfortable using the National Safecall Network's contacts (entirely grassroots and prescreened only by local BDSM and Sex Ed groups) you can do so. However, there are surprisingly few resources for safecalling: there's a real need for a hotline or text service connected to a database where you can sign up for safecalling services. In the meantime, use your friends, use your family members, use the NSN, and if you can, be a nonjudgmental safecall resource to your friends, too. Making safecalls a regular practice in mainstream dating is another way that we can come together to support each other--and work to expose the small percentage of predators who perpetuate most rapes.

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