From Issue 3.3 - February/March 1997
The leather community was dealt a blow February 19 when the European Court of Human Rights ruled unanimously to uphold the verdict in the Spanner case, known officially as Regina vs. Brown.
The Spanner case involved fifteen men in the U.K. who were arrested in 1990 for practicing consensual sadomasochism (SM). A three-year police investigation -- code-named Operation Spanner -- uncovered private videotapes showing the men engaged in sadomasochistic activities, for which some of the men were arrested, tried, and sentenced to prison. The judges in the initial court case ruled that consent was immaterial in cases of bodily harm. In an bizarre twist, the men who participated in the activities as bottoms were accused of aiding and abetting assaults upon themselves.
The Spanner defendents brought their case before the Law Lords, the highest court of appeal in the U.K. In March 1993 that court upheld the original verdict in a split decision, ruling that the government has a right to intervene in private behavior in defense of "health and public morals." Three of the original defendants -- Roland Jaggard, Tony Brown, and Colin Laskey -- then appealed the case to the European Court in Strasbourg, France last October.
Countdown on Spanner/Spanner Trust was organized to call attention to the case and raise money for legal expenses; several such fundraising events have been held in the Bay Area in recent years. After more than a year of preparation, the court proceedings lasted only three hours.
The nine judges ruled that "the state has an uncontestable right to regulate through the penal code practices which can harm the body. The determination of what level of harm to tolerate when the victim consents is first and foremost up to the state authorities." The court agreed that it was "unquestionably one of the roles of the state to regulate activities which involve the infliction of physical harm," and that it is "the prerogative of the state on moral grounds to deter acts of the kind in question." The defendants had engaged in activities that included whipping, piercing, and genital torture. None of the men sustained permanent injury or even required first aid.
In a concurring addendum to the ruling, Judge Pettiti stated that "the concept of private life cannot be stretched indefinitely. The dangers of unrestrained permissiveness, which can lead to debauchery pedophilia and torture of others, has been highlighted at the World Conference in Stockholm [on the commercial sexual exploitation of children]. The protection of private life means the protection of a person's intimacy and dignity, not the protection of his baseness or the promotion of criminal immoralism." He concluded that the convictions were "necessary in a democratic society for the protection of health." Pettiti further suggested that the ruling in this case should lead to an expansion of Paragraph 43 of the European Charter to allow national governments "to regulate and punish practices of sexual abuse that are demeaning, even if they do not involve the infliction of physical harm."
As the Spanner case wended its way through the appeals process, substantial changes have occured in British public opinion and official attitutdes toward consenual SM. As Kellan Farshea, organizer of Countdown on Spanner stated, "the climate of opinion in Britain regarding SM has changed immeasurably" over the past five years. "This decision may once have had a mandate in public opinion, but it does not now. We have seen a marked shift away from pure condemnation towards a laissez-faire attitude. What we do in private; and what we do with our own bodies, is a matter for us to decide." Even the Times of London asserted in an editorial that the ruling of the Law Lords in the case was "illiberal nonsense." Since the original convictions, England's Crown Prosecution Service has changed its guidelines such that the arrests in the Spanner case would be unlikely to occur today. In addition, the British Law Commission has recommended that the laws on consent be amended to permit SM activity that does not result in serious or disabling injury. At the same time, however, U.K authorities have moved against several SM-related events and organizations over the past two years.
The European Court grew out of the European Convention on Human Rights in 1950. In recognition of the diversity of values and legal standards in the signatory countries, the convention embodies the principal of non-intervention in the affairs of nations. The European Court is a political court, and does not focus on ensuring the human rights of individuals. It is not expected that the Spanner ruling will have sweeping implications, since it essentially reaffirms the principal that decisions regarding whether and how to regulate individuals' private behavior are largely under the jusrisdiction of the country in question.
The defendants in the case attempted to argue that their right to a private life had been infringed by the British court's ruling. Article 8 of the European Convention states that "everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence," and that "there shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others." The British government based its counter-argument on the "health and morals" clause. In general, the legal system in Europe does not manifest the strong emphasis on individual rights and civil liberties that is the basis of much U.S. jurisprudence.
The Spanner defendants also claimed that they were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. As evidence, they cited the case of "the bottom branding couple," which involved a Doncaster, U.K. man who was arrested and convicted after a doctor reported to police that the man had branded his wife's buttocks at her request. An appeals court overturned the conviction, ruling that the private sexual activities of a married couple conducted in their own home was not a matter for the law. The Strasbourg judges rejected the bias claim, stating that the cases were not comparable because the injuries sustained in the branding case were "less serious."
The criminal case against Steve and Selina Houghton finally ended on January 3. The Houghtons are the New York couple that had their children removed from their custody in January 1996 after police were given a videotape of the couple engaging in private, consensual SM. Steve and Selina accepted a plea bargain in which Selina pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and Steve pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of endangering the welfare of a minor. The couple received no jail time; Selina was fined $125 and Steve was fined $590 and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service.
The Houghtons accepted the plea bargain in order to end the criminal case and focus on the family court case to regain custody of their children; that case began February 13. Authorities from the county Children's Protective Services and an appointed guardian have stated that the children would be better off with their parents than in a foster home. The Boudoir Noir Defense Fund has raised nearly $25,000 to assist with the couple's legal expenses. The Houghtons have expressed a desire to press charges against the family member who turned over the videotape to the police and against the detective in charge of the case.
A men's "sadomasochistic" dungeon in San Diego was raided November 27 after a nearly year-long investigation; the raid came after two "sex slaves" complained to authorities about physical and emotional abuse. The owner of MANic Productions, Thomas John Mitchell (a.k.a. Mike Pastori), was charged with pimping and pandering. Two dogs, which police charged were used in bestial acts, were taken into custody by the local Humane Society. Police Vice Lt. Jim Duncan stated that "we were told that men were running around outside in broad daylight dressed only in underwear, studded neck collars and leashes...men were used as sex slaves and purchased sexual acts at MANic."
A spokesman for MANic denied that any illegal activity took place, stating that MANic was a video production company that also rented private dungeons where men could "do what they want." Mitchell/Pastori's attorney said that MANic did not charge patrons for sex, but rather that patrons rented the dungeon for personal use, and any sex that occurred there was between consenting adults.
The two ex-slaves produced a "voluntary servitude contract" stating that they agreed to engage in "homosexual sex at the master's direction"; the men also told police they gave Mitchell/Pastori their credit cards and outside income. Patrons who rented the dungeon could pay extra for a "dungeon massage" from a slave; the rental form states that sex is an "optional, non-guaranteed" activity, and that "you do NOT pay for sex." Mitchell/Pastori pleaded guilty to a charge of attempted pandering and faces a maximum prison term of two years. The case has spurred debate on the Internet and elsewhere about whether Mitchell/Pastori is a dangerous criminal who practiced unsafe and nonconsensual activity, or a victim of anti-sex moralism who deserves support from the leather community.
An era in the history of San Francisco's SM party scene ended January 28 with the final Vermilion party. Co-host Greg Loy noted that Vermilion parties are the outgrowth of a long line of parties that began at the Shotwell Catacombs in the 1980s. After the Catacombs closed in 1990, the parties were held at locations ranging from 848 Community Space to Castlebar, site of the recent event. The parties -- known over the years as Down and Dirty, Serpent Mountain, and Hellrazor -- were co-hosted by leather community luminaries such as Cleo Dubois, Sybil Holiday, and Carol Queen. According to Loy, Vermilion parties began 3-4 years ago with a focus on "healthy, adult sexual energy." As Loy enters "semi-retirement," the legacy will continue with the Fandango parties, which are traditionally held following SM Community Exchange flea markets.
Several Bay Area locals made a showing at the Pantheon of Leather awards ceremony this month in New Orleans. Pat Baille, formerly of San Jose, was named Woman of the Year. The Man of the Year award went to Mark Frasier. Tony DeBlase was awarded the Forebear's Award, and Nonprofit Organization of the Year went to the Leather Archives. TES's 25th anniversary celebration was the Club Event of the Year, and our own Audrey Joseph was named Businessperson of the Year. Last but not least, International Deaf Mr. Leather Daniel Sonenfeld won the Western Regional award.
The premier Ms. Fallen Angel Leather contest was held January 11 at the Faultline in Los Angeles. The contest -- sponsored by the Women's Leather Network, a social and support group for lesbians into leather/SM -- was started after a group of LA women decided their city needed a women's leather event. The new title was captured by Lisa Weiszmiller of LA. Bear Liles of Long Beach was first runner-up. The two other contestants were "Daddy T" Nichols and Lenny Earl.
S. Guy Giumento, Susan Wright and Ric Morris are heading up a project to assemble a "Leather White Pages" that will provide a comprehensive listing of individuals and organizations involved in the leather/SM scene nationwide. Individual listings will include space for a person's various affiliations, and can include as much or as little personal information as desired. According to the project press release, the listing is for "all who enjoy or explore kink, BDSM, rough sex, leathersex, radical sex, fetish, modern primitive, role-play, dom/sub, master/slave, SM, raunch and sleaze, bears, daddy/boys, fisting, genderfuck, leather, latex, etc." A web listings form is available. It is hoped that the first edition of the Leather White Pages will be available in March 1997.
Jonnie RJ.R.S Raines, an active member of the women's leather
community in Austin, TX, died on December 10, 1996 at the age of 38
after a long battle with liver disease. She is survived by her wife,
Will Morrison Raines, and their two children. Raines was the
co-founder of Bound by Desire (BbD), a women's SM education group in
Austin begun in May 1991. BbD brought together women who at the time
had no other institutions to call their own. BbD is pansexual and
includes transgendered women; Raines set the direction for the
organization with her insistence on inclusivity and acceptance. Raines
was instrumental in forging alliances with other area leather groups
such as the Group With No Name and NLA. Ultimately, BbD felt the need
to relieve Raines of control of the organization due to her struggles
with alcohol and drug abuse. Raines was an inveterate story-teller;
her piece "Regarding Wanda B." appears in The Second Coming
leatherdyke anthology. Editors Pat Califia and Robin Sweeney said that
the story "captures so much of the flavor of the SM relationship. It
is very sad for our community to lose this artist and activist." --
by Brett Westbrook