In Oslo, Norway. May 2004
Photo credit: Øivind Aamodt
Apologies to anyone who wanted to meet me at IML this year. I was one of the nine judges for this year's contest and we worked up to 12 hours a day judging 57 contestant interviews and three public shows. In my spare time I was also stepping down, so I was kept doubly busy addressing the contestants as the outgoing IML, answering press interviews or putting the finishing touches to my speech. I had little time left over for socialising - sorry!
So what happens to me now?
I'm still keen to travel to leather events as an SM presenter or contest emcee (though not as a judge). My first engagement will be Minneapolis Leather Pride from June 21 to 28. On May 18 I also became a trustee of the Spanner Trust. They received half the proceeds from the raffle of my Harley Davidson, along with the Leather Archives & Museum. The Harley draw raised over $21,000 which will be split equally between the two causes, so a huge thank you to everyone who bought tickets.
What do the Spanner Trust do?
They are campaigning to change the law in Engand and Wales which states that it is illegal to cause or receive any injury for sexual pleasure which is more than "transient or trifling". These words from the Operation Spanner trials (Regina V Brown and Others) of the early 1990s are highly subjective and open to interpretation. The following could be considered illegal: beatings which leave lasting marks, and any activities which leave scars, bruises, welts, burns, cuts, rope marks etc. even if they heal in a short period of time. Theoretically even a lovebite (hickey) is against the law. It means that if you ask for a body piercing for decorative purposes then it's legal, but if you ask for a piercing (for example a Prince Albert) for sexual pleasure then it's illegal. Or if you are mugged in the street then you have done nothing wrong, but if you ask someone to hit you in a playroom then you have aided and abetted an assault!
Has anyone been jailed for this?
Sixteen gay men were convicted in the original Spanner case in 1990 and some of them received prison sentences of up to 4.5 years. (The prison sentences were reduced on appeal but the convictions upheld.) None of the men required medical attention following his injuries and all of them consented throughout. Since then a heterosexual male has been convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm based on the evidence of the doctor who treated his female partner. However, whether or not the police bring any more convictions is not the main problem. Our community is now censoring itself as a result of the law. SM Gays run educational Discovery nights once a month in London, but they don't have a membership or mailing list. Another group runs weekend courses called "Bondage for Beginners" and "SM for Beginners", but you can't use a pen, paper or any recording devices during the course. There are some activities in the UK, like whipping another person safely, which are impossible to teach legally. It makes SM education, running SM events or getting medical attention if a scene goes wrong very difficult indeed.
Does the law cause any other problems?
The current law makes SM players in England and Wales open to blackmail and abuse. Hard core players have to go abroad to play (or hide their activities). There is a great deal of SM negativity in our society and within our community - this law legitimises that negativity. Research has shown that people who have less self esteem or who feel bad about themselves are more likely to engage in unsafe sex. If you can't teach people about SM then there is increased risk they will injure themselves or their partner, or unwittingly pass on sexually transmitted infections. Also, if the law does not recognise when someone has consented to an assault, then that means that a masochist could be assaulted for real but then be threatened that if they go to the police they too will be considered a criminal.
Does this just affect the United Kingdom?
Unfortunately as long as this remains on the statute book it has the potential to spread to other countries. The Spanner ruling has already been quoted in court cases in Germany, Canada and during last year's Texas sodomy trial. The longer we leave it unchallenged the more chance it has to spread to other countries.
What is the Spanner Trust doing?
The main activity of the Trust is political lobbying. Trying to educate Members of Parliament why this law needs to be changed, and looking for new legislation which could be used to legalise consensual sexual sadomasochism where 'non serious injury' takes place.
The Trust is also investigating whether the present law on SM is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, which was incorporated into UK law in 1998. If the two are incompatible then we could ask for a judicial review. However, this may result in a costly court case, especially if any decision in our favour is appealed by the Government to the highest UK courts. We could even win the case but still have to pay all the costs.
What can you do to help?
<a href="http://www.spannertrust.org"><img src="http://www.spannertrust.org/banners/spannerbanner.gif" width="468" height="60" border="0"></a>
I'll keep you informed of the Trust's progress. In the meantime have fun, play hard and please support Jason Hendrix, your new IML.
International Mr Leather 2003