Ask Janus: "No! Stop!" and the SF police

I'm under the impression that in some jurisdictions, all suspected domestic abuse *must* be prosecuted, and I'm worried about how that interacts with rape play and things like it. Going to jail for making my partner happy would be annoying, to say the least.

I'm specifically worried about SF and Oakland, as that's where we are. Any pointers you can give would be appreciated.

Thanks for the interesting question. It's a subject that comes up periodically in Janus and we've presented programs on the subject. (And will again soon)

Some of the things that we do as part of "normal play" can be viewed as abuse, domestic violence (DV) or even worse by others. In a likely scenario, a neighbor hears some screams, some pleas or what sounds like a DV situation and calls the police. They show up at your door. Now what?

We spoke with an Officer with the SFPD on this today and here is a synopsis of the conversation:

While there is no "must prosecute" to the above, there is a "must arrest" factor that comes into play when the officer or officers who arrive on the scene sees evidence of "unwarranted abuse" and believes there is "more to the situation." Officers are trained to recognize abusive situations and if there is the suspicion of DV or something is just not right, they are likely to arrest you and let the DA investigators and DA's office either press or drop charges later on. With that said, what should you do?

Dr. Charles Moser and Janet Hardy wrote a great book called "Sex Disasters (and how to survive them)." It's got a great chapter on what to do when the cops are at the door.

Most of this is common sense, but it's worth repeating. Be calm. If an officer knocks, don't keep them waiting. Be polite. Be cooperative. There are also some mentions that it helps to have a scene *look* like a scene (i.e., candles, music, toys laid out neatly). Keep a couple of good nonfiction "how-to books" in your library; they can serve as evidence that you care for your partner's well-being. You are not compelled to have the officer come inside, but you also stand the chance of making the officers suspicious (see above) if you persist in not allowing them in.

A criminal attorney we talked to says that if the officer is genuinely concerned about the other party being abused, s/he may want to question the parties separately. Cooperate fully with this.

It's also suggested that you limit jargon such as "BDSM" or "impact play" and use phrases such as "My partner and I enjoy sex in which someone is tied up or spanked."

Finally, we are aware of a "Consent and Release of Liability" form that one SM event producer uses. It clearly states that all parties are willing participants and spells out consent, awareness of risk and release of liability. Wikipedia mentions a "Dungeon Negotiation form" which may do some of the same. Some may see this as a bit "over the top" for private play, but it's one more thing that could indicate the consensual nature of your activities.

Going back to the conversation with the SFPD Officer, he said that domestic violence is a real problem and it's often a challenge to sort the dangerous from the not. If the police have been called, something is out of control (i.e. noise) and it's up to them to "stand in" and do something. Erring on the side of caution and making an arrest is much better than facing the consequences of leaving the parties and finding out someone being hurt or killed afterwards. We've all heard the stories. To the police officer, it is not worth trading his/her job for someone who is getting his/her rocks off. In the past, police have been held responsible and civil lawsuits filed for not stopping an abusive situation that went quite wrong.

In a place such as San Francisco or Oakland it's more of a likelihood for a police officer to encounter a play situation because BDSM/leather/kink is so mainstream here. We live in a strange and wonderful place for kink. But the SFPD officer said that kink and BDSM are *not* covered at the SF Police Academy. There is no formal training. That's a good thing to remember.

As you may have heard in BDSM presentations, there is no risk-free sex. What we do as responsible players and sexual explorers is limit our risks and become aware of our surroundings.

Hope this helps. Thanks for the great question.

The Ask Janus Team

P.S. Here are a couple of links to good articles about kink and abuse. Enjoy

Gloria Brame website article (it's slightly dated):

An article on domestic violence and mandatory arrest laws, nationally

And a page from the SFDA's site:


Very good advice

You have done an excellent job of covering the subject. As a criminal defense attorney I have been involved in a number of DV (domestic violence) cases. The police will do what ever they think necessary if they suspect there is any DV. Since by definition this is consensual play, the police have been called by a neighbor who heard your scene.

Think about it from the officers point of view---- screams and yells, and possibly the sounds of blows were heard. No one knows it is a bdsm scene. When they knock on the door, they expect it to be opened. If you do not, they may decide they have exigent circumstances and will force their way in. If you do answer the door, they will want to talk to your partner. I would suggest putting on a robe that covers any areas that may show the fruits of your play. If they see any bruises or marks, they may well arrest despite anything either of you say. It is very common for actual victims of DV to tell the police nothing happened, so don't expect that they will believe your sub.

I agree that anything that you can do to show it is preplanned, consensual play will be helpful. If things are neat and tidy as opposed to looking like a fight took place, so much the better. The bottom line is, in a worst case scenario be prepared to let the police in and look around. Be cooperative, and follow their instructions. Yes, you may feel they are violating your right to privacy. The last thing you want or need is a few days in jail while the DA decides if there was any DV.