Partner abuse is a systematic pattern of behaviors where one person non-consensually uses power to try to control the thoughts, beliefs, actions, body, and/or spirit of a partner.* Partner abuse is also called domestic violence, battering, intimate partner violence, and/or dating abuse. Partner abuse happens in all communities. It crosses all social, ethnic, racial, age, and economic lines. Size, strength, age, politics, gender presentation and expression, or personality does not determine whether someone can be abused or an abuser. Abuse is NOT more or less common in LGBQ/T relationships.

*By “partner,” we are referring to a range of intimate relationships including but not limited to play partner; date; primary, secondary, or other non-monogamous partner; spouse; sexual partner; boyfriend/girlfriend; boo; hookup; life partner; lover.

Types of Abuse:

  • Emotional Abuse
    • Threats of suicide or self harm and/or child or pet custody threats
    • Constant blame, name-calling & put downs
    • Breaking into social networking accounts
    • Re-defining reality/dismissing feelings
    • Isolation from LGBQ/T social spaces, groups, family, and friends and sabotaging relationships
    • Controlling rules of relationship
  • Sexual Abuse
    • Forcing/prohibiting monogamy or non-monogamy
    • Not allowing partner to negotiate limits and boundaries by forcing partner into a specific sex role and/or violating safeword agreements
    • Using wrong language to describe body parts
    • Unwanted PDA or withholding affection
    • Rape and/or sexual assault
    • Refusing safer sex practices
    • Exposure to STIs and STDs
  • Physical Abuse
    • Homocide
    • Sleep deprivation
    • Destroying property
    • Driving fast/recklessly
    • Intimidating look/gestures
    • Not allowing partner to heal from surgery
    • Throwing objects and/or threats to hurt/kill
    • Withholding medications, accessibility aids, etc.
    • Using technology/social media to monitor whereabouts & communications or stalking
  • Cultural/Identity Abuse
    • Objectifying culture/identity
    • Controlling identity and gender expression and/or using the wrong name/pronouns
    • Outing/threatening to out around HIV, SM, polyamory, gender identity, sexuality, (dis)ability, immigration status, etc.
    • Preventing association with community and culture by forbidding foods, language and spiritual practices
  • Financial Abuse
    • Jeopardizing public assistance
    • Making late for work/school or forcing to leave early
    • Forcing or prohibiting employment including sex work
    • Living beyond means and/or running up debt
    • Preventing access to income and/or insisting all money be shared
    • Tracking and/or withholding money
    • Harassment at work/school
    • Identity theft/stealing

It is estimated that 1 out of 4 LGBQ/T youth will experience abuse from a dating partner. Dating abuse affects all youth, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, class, race, or other identity lines. However LGBQ/T youth may not know they are experiencing abuse because much of the information about dating abuse is specific to straight and cisgender (not transgender) relationships. If you would like someone from The Network/La Red to come and speak to your organization, group, school, or friends click here to request a training.


What is SM?
SM is an umbrella term for many different behaviors that involve the consensual giving and receiving of intense erotic sensation. The behaviors used in consensual SM are negotiated and involve the communication of limits and the use of a safeword that can stop all action at any time. SM is often referred to as BDSM, which stands for Bondage & Discipline (B&D), Dominance and Submission (D&S), and Sadomasochism (SM). SM can also be called Kink, Leather Sex, Fetish, Leather, and SM/Leather/Fetish. The way that someone identifies is very individual and not everyone chooses the same term to self-identify their interests. Interest in SM crosses race, ethnicity, ability, socioeconomic status, educational level, sexual identity, and gender identity.

Some Important Definitions:

  • Scene: Describes the negotiated interaction that takes place between two or more consenting individuals. This is very much like a scripted role-play.
  • Play: The specific action that occurs during a negotiated scene.
  • Safeword: A word or phrase that is agreed upon prior to the beginning of the scene. In instances where a person is temporarily unable to speak, a hand signal may be used. When this word is uttered or this signal is given, all play is stopped immediately. It is very much like saying “time-out”.
  • Negotiation: Communication between SM participants that occurs prior to a scene in which participants discuss their interests, set limits, and communicate the safeword to be used.
  • Limits: The boundaries that are discussed and set during the negotiation. These limits are set in order to make sure that the scene is pleasurable for all involved.
  • Top/Dominant: The person responsible for orchestrating the interaction. This is the person who administers the negotiated stimuli and sets the mood of the scene.
  • Bottom/Submissive: The person who receives the stimuli that is administered by the Top. Although outwardly it may look as though the Bottom gives up control to the Top they actually maintain control by setting limits and by using a safeword that can stop all play.
  • SM is Safe, Sane, and Consensual: Over 20 years ago, the SM/Leather/Fetish Community established a community-wide ethic known as “Safe, Sane and Consensual”.
    • “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 most easily recognized ways to maintain limits is through use of a “safeword” — whereby participants can withdraw consent at any time with a single word or gesture.

Just because you consent to play does not mean you consent to everything. You have the right to set limits. SM is not Abuse. The most basic difference between SM and abuse is consent.

It is not consent if…

  • You did not expressly give consent.
  • You are afraid to say no.
  • You say yes to avoid conflict.
  • You say yes to avoid consequences (e.g. a fight, losing a job, losing your home, being outed).

SM is…

  • Always consensual.
  • Done with respect for limits.
  • Enjoyed by all partners.
  • Fun, erotic, and loving.
  • Done with an understanding of trust.
  • Never done with the intent to harm or damage.

You might be abused if…

  • You cannot withdraw consent and stop what’s happening at any time.
  • You cannot express limits and needs without being ridiculed, criticized, or being coerced into changing them.
  • Your partner threatens to out you for being into SM or being polyamorous, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer and/or transgender.
  • You do not feel as though SM play enhances your relationship.
  • You cannot refuse to do illegal activities.
  • You are confused about when a scene begins or ends.
  • You are afraid of your partner outside negotiated scenes.
  • Your partner tells you that they have the right to control your behavior by virtue of gender, income, or other external factors.
  • Your partner prevents you from interacting in the SM community or learning more about SM.
  • You feel trapped in a specific role (i.e. submissive or dominant).
  • Your partner ignores your safewords or tries to convince you not to use them.
  • Your partner does not respect your safer sex practices.
  • You do not feel free to express your personal beliefs, religion, sexual preference, gender identity, or interest in SM without fear of ridicule.

Click here
to request copies of this information in brochure form, as well as other materials.

  • A guide for people who practice SM: Is it SM or Abuse?
  • A guide for professionals: SM is not abuse – Understanding consensual SM and how it differs from abuse

For more information about SM, contact:
The New England Leather Alliance
PO Box 51361,
Boston MA 02205-1361
Office: 857-293-9502



  • Same-Sex Domestic Violence: Strategies for Change
    Beth Leventhal & Sandra Lundy, Sage Publications, 1999
  • When Violence Begins at Home: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Ending Domestic Violence
    K.J. Wilson, Hunter House Publishers, 1997
  • The New Bottoming Book
    Janet Hardy & Dossie Easton, Greenery Press, 2000
  • When Someone You Love is Kinky
    Dossie Easton & Catherine Liszt, Greenery Press, 2000
  • Different Loving: The World of Sexual Dominance and Submission
    Gloria G. Brame, Jon Jacobs, & Will Brame, Villard Book, 1996.

This portion of the webpage was written by Sabrina Santiago, MSW; and was developed through collaboration between The Network/La Red and The New England Leather Alliance. Portions of this webpage were adapted from:

  1. The “SM vs. Abuse Policy Statement” created at the Leather Leadership Conference in 1998.
  2. “When Someone You Love is Kinky” by Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt, Greenery Press 2000.
  3. “S/M is Not Abuse”– Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization (BRAVO).
  4. “What is S/M?” by Susan Wright and Charles Moser, www.ncsfreedom.org.