Voodoo Leatherworks has always been committed to providing a safer space for our members and their guests to explore this lifestyle and part of that support involves education and increased awareness of the Community around you. Please take some time to read through the material below.
First and foremost, it's important to note that Voodoo Leatherworks, it's owner, the leadership, membership, volunteer staff or other affiliates make no claims here about the guilt nor innocence of the people associated with the described behaviors unless it has been documented in a court of law. Our intention here is to provide examples of real experiences from which members may identify destructive, abusive and predatory behaviors that can exist in Communities such as ours. It is not our intent to defame or otherwise cause harm to anyone.
What is a Red Flag?
A red flag is essentially a behavior, an action or an attitude that may indicate a disregard for the health and welfare of a potential partner and their inalienable rights to establish and maintain personal boundaries and to determine what actions and behaviors they choose to consent to.
These behaviors may be obvious - like disregarding a safe word or more subtle - like "love-bombing" or gaslighting. The Red Flag in and of itself is not necessarily hard evidence that someone is being abusive, but it should, at the very least, encourage you to be more cautious and aware as you make decisions about the risks you are and aren't willing to take.
Red Flag Behaviors:
There are many different tactics that manipulators may use to get what they want, which is the primary reason manipulative people manipulate. To be fair, we have all likely done *something* in our lives that was designed to increase our chances for success. For example, you may have spent more time getting dressed for a big job interview so that you could impress your interviewer. You may have told a joke at the beginning of a speech to lighten the mood and to make your audience more receptive. You may have worn a perfume, cologne or a really sexy outfit to attract a potential partner. All of these things are common, but benign manipulations that may improve our chances for success in whatever we're trying to do. We're also aware of these behaviors and for the most part, accept them as part of our social and professional culture.
What we're most concerned about, and the purpose of this section, is to identify the manipulations that are more deceptive and potentially malicious in nature. While the presence of these behaviors are cause to raise a flag, they don't always mean that the individual is acting consciously or with malicious and harmful intent. Some of the behaviors are listed below and are from the GoodTherapy website on Red flags and emotional manipulation:
- Using intense emotional connection to control another person’s behavior. For example, an abusive person may try to manipulate a person by moving very quickly in a romantic relationship. They may overwhelm their victim with loving gestures (AKA-Love-Bombing) to lower their guard or make them feel indebted.
- Playing on a person’s insecurities. This is a popular tactic among advertisers, such as when a cosmetic company makes a person feel unattractive or “old.” It also works well in interpersonal relationships. For instance, someone may make their romantic partner think no one else could ever possibly love them.
- Lying and denial. Manipulators may bombard their victims with lies. When they’re caught, they may deny the lie or cover it up with another falsehood.
- Hyperbole and generalization. It’s difficult to respond to an allegation of “never” being loving or “never” working hard. Specific details can be debated, while vague accusations are often harder to dispute.
- Changing the subject. In an argument about one person’s behavior, the individual may deflect attention from themselves by attacking their critic. The deflection often takes the form of, “Well what about [X]?” For example, when a submissive or bottom expresses concern about their Top’s failure to respect their safe word, the partner may attack the bottom's "depth of submission" or lack of experience.
- Moving the goalposts. This happens when a manipulative person constantly shifts the criteria one must meet in order to satisfy them. For example, a bully may use their target’s clothes as an excuse to harass them. If the individual changes outfits, the bully may claim the person won’t “deserve” respect until they change their hairstyle, their accent, or another miscellaneous trait.
- Using fear to control another person. For instance, a person may use threats of violence or physically intimidating body language.
- Using social inequities to control another person. For example, a neurotypical person might attempt to use a cognitive disability to demean another person or dismiss their experiences.
- Passive-aggression. This is a broad category of behavior that includes many strategies such as guilt-tripping, giving backhanded compliments, and more. Passive-aggression is a way of voicing displeasure or anger without directly expressing the emotion.
- Giving a person the silent treatment. It’s fine to ask for time to reflect on an argument or to tell someone who deeply hurt you that you no longer wish to speak to them. But ignoring a person to punish them or make them fearful is a manipulative tactic.
- Gaslighting. Gaslighting involves causing the manipulation victim to doubt their own understanding of reality. For example, an abusive person might deny that the abuse happened, telling the victim there’s something wrong with their memory.
- Recruiting others to help with manipulation. For example, an abusive partner might appeal to Community members to remind their target about how much the abuser has sacrificed for the target. The social pressure may convince the target to stop complaining about abusive behavior.
Protecting yourself from Emotional Manipulation:
If you have fallen for manipulative tactics in the past, know that you are not at fault. Nearly everyone is manipulated at some point. There’s no way to prevent all manipulation.
However, a number of strategies can reduce the impact of emotional manipulation and help you set clear boundaries. These include:
- Communicating in direct, clear, and specific ways. Direct Communication models the behavior you hope for in your relationships and can make it easier to identify manipulation.
- Understanding when manipulation is normal and when it’s not. Most people occasionally make passive-aggressive or manipulative comments. Manipulation is more problematic, and may even be abusive, when it is part of a systemic attempt to control or harm another person.
- Setting clear boundaries around manipulation. When a person attempts to manipulate you, tell them how you want them to treat you and then follow your own guideline. For example, “Sir/Ma'am/Master/Mistress, I understand that you sacrificed a lot for me, but that doesn’t mean you get to belittle me. I can’t talk to you about this until you’re willing to stop changing the subject.”
- Asking for insight from trusted third parties. This can be risky, since manipulative people sometimes recruit outsiders. But if you have a spouse, friend, or family member whom you can trust to be objective, they may offer helpful insights.
When a partner attempts to control your interactions with the outside world and access to information, especially when you're new and inexperienced, this should raise a flag. Some examples of what this looks like:
- Mentor - A Mentor is usually a trusted and well-respected teacher who you have established a teacher/student relationship with. Often, but not always, these relationships will mirror some of the ethics you might see in a professional or academic setting in which there is no sexual or romantic relationships between the student and the teacher. If this Mentor demands or expects that you only get information from them and that reading books, attending classes or meeting with others in the Community is somehow damaging to their teachings, you may want to consider the possibility that they may not have your best interests at heart.
- Protector - While sometimes it is a good idea to have someone you trust to keep an eye on you at events or to be your safe-call when meeting or playing with someone new, a complete stranger or someone you've only met online isn't someone you should trust in this regard. Some bad actors will use this role to "protect" you from all the dangers that exist in the Community by not allowing you to meet others, attend events, attend classes or otherwise learn for yourself about your Community and this Lifestyle by taking some acceptable risks.
- "Hermits" - When you find someone online that you're interested in, but they refuse to meet in public, don't belong to any in-person organizations or groups, don't play in public and don't have any references from which you can get a sense about the person and their character from others in the Community, that should at least get you to start asking "why?". To be fair, there are plenty of introverted and very private people who are great humans and top-notch players. With recent pandemic concerns, the desire for less exposure to the public is reasonable. Even so, you should at least pay close attention to the reasons they choose to isolate themselves and if they have similar expectations of you.
No Respect For Boundaries
In this Lifestyle, we absolutely rely on clearly-stated and well-respected boundaries in order to develop and maintain happy, healthy and fulfilling relationships and experiences with one another. When those boundaries are not respected, those behaviors are major red flags. Some examples of these behaviors:
- Toe-Sticking - These are seemingly small and insignificant infractions that may be brushed off with a laugh or some other dismissive comment. The person is testing how far they can go beyond the boundaries you've already stated. For example, if you say that you don't want to have your face touched, but they touch your ear, your nose or other places that might be considered a part of your face, but not exactly your face.
- Buffoonery - This person will repeatedly violate your limits, but will consistently claim that they didn't know or that they didn't understand that what they were doing was inappropriate or in clear violation of your boundaries. They play dumb, try to laugh it off and offer an insincere apology.... and then they do it again...and again. It's reasonable that sometimes, people do forget things, but when it happens on a recurring basis and especially when multiple people have had similar experiences, it's time to really start paying attention.
- Douche-baggery - This is a flat-out, blatant and willful disregard for your boundaries and your rights as a human. This could be a disregard for your safe word, "stealthing" (taking a condom off without your knowledge during sex), and violations of hard and/or soft limits. Sometimes the excuse will be tied to a power dynamic in which they feel justified in the violation. Whether you are a Dominant, a submissive, a Master, Mistress, slave, Switch... whatever you are and whatever your dynamic may be, you always have the right to set and hold your own boundaries.
How they speak about others
How someone talks about other people or past experiences often says more about them than it does about the person or the experience they're referring to.
- Gossip - It's absolutely reasonable to vent about things that frustrate us sometimes and within trusted groups of friends who can understand the difference between processing a difficult issue or venting out of frustration amid a small group of trusted, reliable friends and manipulative triangulation with intent to harm. The latter is a form of bullying and can be harmful and even toxic to a Community.
- Trash-talking previous partners - We've all likely had a bad break-up at some point, but (barring abuse) it is likely that we contributed *in some way* to the end of the relationship and the events that occurred throughout the course of that relationship. So when you meet someone and it seems as though every single partner they ever had was a horrible, toxic, abusive, narcissistic, sociopathic, psycho-drama-monster, you may want to consider how this person will talk about you if and when your interactions end. You may also want to ask what the most common factor in their past relationships might be. (Hint - it's them. *They* are the most common denominator in that equation)
Social Media Capitalism
With the invention of the Internet and the emergence of Social Media, anyone can be anything and there's really no way to know until you are able to verify for ourselves about what is true and what is not. Social Media allows us to open a window so that others can see what we want them to see and the number of friends and likes we gather, becomes a commodity that some will use to reinforce their self-fabricated reputations. Some things to watch for:
- Friending EVERYONE - It's absolutely true that venues, businesses, public figures, etc will accept Social Media friend requests from thousands to millions of people. But the average person? You may want to ask yourself about what they are trying to gain from adding people en masse. There are groups like Fetlife's "Add me" group that encourages people to rack up thousands of friends in a relatively short amount of time. Bottom line - don't trust someone just because they have a lot of friends or a lot of mutual friends.
- Obsessed with image - It's also true that we, in our Community, generally live and die by our reputations and so it's very important to protect those. So how does someone develop a good reputation? By doing good things, through positive experiences and positive interactions with the people in and around the Community. They've spent time getting to know people and helping people get to know them. If their Social Media is simply a bunch of statements and pictures about themselves and how great or sexy they are, start asking what they're trying to sell you. How defensive do they get when you want to talk to someone that might not speak favorably about them? How do they feel about being vetted by people they've actually met in person? Trust... but verify.
Again, we're all human and seeing a singular behavior or flag shouldn't necessarily cause you to run from the person in terror. These things are items that might be cause for concern and are reasonable to investigate further. If you'd like to learn more about ways to mitigate risks a bit more, check out our page on Risk Mitigation. Remember that no situation in this Lifestyle will ever be completely safe, but there are things you can do to make things a little safer for yourselves.