Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Criminal Justice


David Brotherton

Subject Categories

Criminology | Criminology and Criminal Justice


harm; sadomasochism; victimization


This study sought to gain insight into the attitudes, beliefs, and values that shape Bondage/Discipline/Sadomasochism (BDSM) activities and how participants negotiate and maintain boundaries in order to engage in mutually satisfying BDSM activities. Additionally, this study explored the degree and consequences of unintended or non-negotiated harms, including physical, emotional, and sexual coercion. A qualitative approach consisting of semi-structured interviews and ethnography was used in order to develop an in depth exploration of the lived experiences of participants. Grounded theory was employed to reveal common themes which all supported a symbolic interactionist / dramaturgical understanding of the protective and predatory processes involved in BDSM behaviors. The BDSM community has both predatory and protective elements, or characteristics that facilitate or protect from harm. . The predatory can lead to a greater likelihood of harm occurring which include debuting performances (naivety or inexperience), scripting victimization (relying on past scripts of traumas no matter what the performance), lacking a company (lack of support system), lacking stage presence (low self-esteem or self-worth), failing props or blacking out (mistakes that lead to negative consequences), reprising roles (relationships with blanket consent), and the casting couch (the nature of BDSM contributes to attracting predators). Protective elements are comprised of setting the stage (defining of terms, negotiations of play), auditioning actors (individuals freely choosing to engage in play and creating their roles), delivering lines (communicating needs, wants, and desires to partners and open dialogues with self and community), illuminating the sightlines (the notion of responsibility and transparency among community members), and ghost lighting (safety and ensuring protection from harm). The BDSM community, as a deviant and marginalized group, understands the risks inherent in their actions, are cognizant of the stigma associated with these behaviors, and therefore implement strategies to reduce risks and manage stigma. Most individuals did not report experiencing harm, those that did tended to have a history of abuse or victimization. Implications are discussed.