Experts don’t buy Rep. Fansler’s ‘BDSM kink’ defense in assault case

Consent, communication critical to all relationships, they say

The office of Alaska state Rep. Zach Fansler is shown in the Alaska Capitol on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018, in Juneau. The door to the office was locked Monday morning. State House leaders have asked for Fansler’s resignation following a report in the Juneau Empire in which a woman alleged that Fansler hit her during a night of drinking. (Becky Bohrer | The Associated Press)

As the Juneau Police Department continues to investigate an alleged assault by Rep. Zach Fansler, D-Bethel, experts say Fansler’s text-message apology to the woman and excuse of a “BDSM kink” isn’t convincing.

 

Sarha Shaubach, owner and operator of the Alaska Center for Alternative Lifestyles in Anchorage, has worked for years to promote the mainstream acceptance of sexual kinks and fetishes in Alaska.

There’s no question in her mind that what Fansler allegedly did wasn’t BDSM.

“That’s like comparing sunshine to darkness. His actions absolutely aren’t even close,” she said, based on what she’s read of the allegations in the news. “What that man perpetrated was assault, and what we do isn’t assault.”

[After assault allegation, Fansler says he won’t resign. Will the legislators expel him anyway?]

On its website, ACAL uses the most common definition of BDSM: “An overlapping abbreviation of Bondage and Discipline (BD), Dominance and Submission (DS), and Sadism and Masochism (SM).”

Over the phone, she explains it more simply.

“It’s a negotiated power exchange,” she said, and it doesn’t necessarily involve sex.

Someone might lead their partner around with a leash and collar. They might be tied to a bed with silk scarves. The book and novel series “Fifty Shades of Gray” have brought BDSM ideas more into mainstream society, but they are still not widely known.

Above all else, Shaubach said, is the idea of consent. Both people must consent and understand each other’s limits.

“In the community, we don’t consider BDSM if consent is not part of the deal, and abuse is not what we would call play. It’s not rough sex, it’s abuse,” said Hardy Haberman, a longtime author, educator and filmmaker in Texas who explains BDSM culture.

“In BDSM, the intent is always pleasure at the end of it. Mutual satisfaction is how you describe it. Not abuse,” he said.

On the night of Jan. 13, a Juneau woman said she took Fansler to his hotel room after a night of drinking. The woman said Fansler was heavily intoxicated, and after they kissed, he struck her hard enough to rupture one of her eardrums. She became frightened and made an attempt to leave before succeeding.

In a text message the next morning, the woman wrote, “I want to make it clear that being slapped was not the problem. I like that. You were too drunk and you weren’t listening to me. That’s why it was upsetting.”

The next day, after the pain from the slap didn’t go away, the woman said she went to Juneau Urgent Care, where she was diagnosed with a ruptured eardrum.

In a subsequent interview with the Empire, the woman said the slap might not have seemed bad in the morning, but it became a problem when she realized the extent of her injury. After she was diagnosed by an ear, nose and throat specialist, she filed a complaint with police.

Asked by the Empire whether she consented to BDSM, the woman said no.

“I certainly at no point in that evening was asked for my consent or gave my consent,” she said.

After additional questions from the Empire, she said the topic came up briefly in June, but they did not have sex at that point in the relationship.

“I don’t know if he had assumed I was into it,” she said. “Calling it a conversation might be a stretch.”

Saralyn Tabachnick is director of Juneau’s Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies, or AWARE. While she was unwilling to comment on this specific case, she said, “Both parties have to consent to sexual behavior of any kind for it to be consensual.”

She said it isn’t unusual for someone who has been through an assault to diminish it to their partner.

“People minimize. People who use violence minimize it, and people who are victimized by violence minimize it, and it doesn’t serve either, or the community,” she said.

Why would someone minimize their assault?

“We don’t want to believe that someone we know and care about is an abuser, number one, and we don’t want to believe that we’ve been abused or someone we potentially care about has hurt us,” Tabachnick said.

Tabachnick said anyone who thinks they have been abused or just wants to talk to someone anonymously about their relationship can call AWARE 24/7 at 586-1090.

“It’s OK to call or just talk,” she said.

In Anchorage, Shaubach said the right way to do BDSM is the right way to build any relationship: Communicate.

“It’s not some secret society. It’s exactly the same way anyone else starts a relationship: With good communication,” she said. “You plan your beginning, your middle and your end, and negotiate, and then you do it. It is not beating some woman when she’s trying to leave your hotel room while you’re drunk.”


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


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