The Difference between S/M and Abuse

Presenters: Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project

SM vs. Abuse

The following Principles and Guidelines are intended to help law enforcement and social services professionals understand the difference between abusive relationships vs. SM. SM is a complex group of behaviors between consenting adults involving the consensual exchange of power, and the giving and receiving of intense erotic sensation and/or mental discipline.

SM includes: "Intimate activities within the scope of consent that is freely given."

Abuse is: "Acts inflicted on a person without their freely given consent."


1. The SM-Leather-Fetish communities recognize the phrase "Safe, Sane, Consensual" as the best brief summary of principles guiding SM practices:

Safe is being knowledgeable about the techniques and safety concerns involved in what you are doing.

Sane is knowing the difference between fantasy and reality.

Consensual is respecting the limits imposed by each participant. One of the recognized ways to maintain limits is through a "safeword" which ensures the bottom/submissive can end the activity with a word or gesture.


Consent must be judged by balancing the following criteria for each encounter at the time the acts occurred:

a) Was consent expressly denied or withdrawn?

b) Were there factors that negated the consent?

c) What is the relationship of the participants?

d) What was the nature of the activity?

e) What was the intent of the accused abuser?

Whether an individualís SM role is top/dominant or bottom/submissive, they could be suffering abuse if they answer no to any of the following questions:

1. Are your needs and limits respected?

2. Is your relationship built on honesty, trust, and respect?

3. Are you able to express feelings of guilt or jealousy or unhappiness?

4. Can you function in everyday life?

5. Can you refuse to do illegal activities?

6. Can you insist on safe sex practices?

7. Does the relationship interfere with your interaction with family and friends?

8. Can you leave the situation without fearing that you will be harmed, or fearing the other participant(s) will harm themselves?

9. Can you exercise self-determination with money, employment, and life decisions?

10. Do you feel free to discuss your practices and feelings with anyone you choose?

The following resources can tell you more about safe, sane and consensual sexual expression:

Leather Leadership Conference


plus, any group who wants to sign onto the statement can insert their contact information here

The following resources have been educated about safe, sane and consensual sexual expression and will not be judgmental about your lifestyle:

Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project
Hotline: 212 807-0197
647 Hudson St.
New York, NY 10014

Kink Aware Professionals
The resource for people who are seeking psychotherapeutic, medical, dental, complementary healing, and legal professionals who are informed about the diversity of consensual, adult sexuality.







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