BDSM legal status

It is entirely dependent on the legal situation in individual countries whether the practice of BDSM has any criminal relevance or legal consequences. Criminalization of consensually implemented BDSM practices is usually not with explicit reference to BDSM, but results from the fact that such behavior as spanking or cuffing someone could be considered a breach of personal rights, which in principle constitutes a criminal offense. In Germany, The Netherlands, Japan and Scandinavia, such behavior is legal in principle. In Austria the legal status is not clear, while in Switzerland some BDSM practices can be considered criminal. Spectacular incidents like the US-American scandal of People v. Jovanovic and the British Operation Spanner demonstrate the degree to which difficult grey areas can pose a problem for the individuals and authorities involved.

Germany

The practice of BDSM is not generally penalized in Germany if it is conducted with the mutual consent of the partners involved.

The following sections of the criminal code may be relevant in certain instances for BDSM practices:

  • * Sexual Assault (§177)
  • * Sexual Abuse of persons unable to resist (§179)
  • * Insult and insult by deed (§185)
  • * Battery (§223)
  • * Aggravated battery (§224)
  • * False imprisonment (§239)
  • * Coercion (§240)

In order to fulfill the charge of coercion, the use of violence or the threat of a "severe mistreatment" must involve an endangerment to life and limb. In cases where the continued application of the treatment could be ended through the use of a safeword, neither coercion nor sexual coercion may be charged. In the case of charges of sexual abuse of people incapable of resistance, similar principles apply. In this case, taking advantage of a person's inability to resist in order to perform sexual acts on that person is considered punishable. The potential use of the safeword is considered to be sufficient possibility for resistance, since this would lead to the cessation of the act, and so a true inability to resist is not considered to be in effect. The charge of insult (slander) can only be prosecuted if the defamed person chooses to press charges, according to §194. False imprisonment can be charged if the victim--when applying an objective view--can be considered to be impaired in his or her rights of free movement.

According to §228 of the German criminal code, a person inflicting a bodily injury on another person with that person's permission violates the law only in cases in which the deed can be considered to have violated good morals in spite of permission having been given. On 26 May 2004, the Criminal Panel #2 of the Bundesgerichtshof (German Federal Court) ruled that sado-masochistically motivated physical injuries are not per se indecent and thus subject to §228.[105] Still, this ruling makes the question of indecency dependent on the degree to which the bodily injury might be likely to impair the health of the receiving party. According to the BGH, the line of indecency is definitively crossed when "under an objectively prescient consideration of all relevant circumstances the party granting consent could be brought into concrete danger of death by the act of bodily injury." In its ruling, the court overturned a verdict by the Provincial Court of Kassel, according to which a man who had choked his partner and thereby involuntarily strangled her, had been sentenced to probation for negligent manslaughter. The court had rejected a conviction on charges of bodily injury leading to death on the grounds that the victim had, in its opinion, consented to the act. Following cases in which sado-masochistic practices had been repeatedly used as pressure tactics against former partners in custody cases, the Appeals Court of Hamm ruled in February of 2006 that sexual inclinations toward sado-masochism are no indication of a lack of capabilities for successful childraising.[106]

United Kingdom

British law does not recognize the possibility of consenting to bodily injury. Such acts are illegal, even between consenting adults, and these laws are enforced.[107] This leads to the situation that, while Great Britain and especially London are world centers of the closely-related fetish scene, there are only very private events for the BDSM scene which are in no way comparable to the German "Play party" scene.

Following Operation Spanner the European Court of Human Rights ruled in January 1999 in Laskey, Jaggard and Brown v. United Kingdom that no violation of Article 8 occurred because the amount of physical or psychological harm that the law allows between any two people, even consenting adults, is to be determined by the State the individuals live in, as it is the State's responsibility to balance the concerns of public health and well-being with the amount of control a State should be allowed to exercise over its citizens. In the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill 2007, the British Government cited the Spanner case as justification for criminalizing images of consensual acts, as part of its proposed criminalization of possession of "extreme pornography".[108]

Italy

For Italian law, BDSM is right on the border between crime and legality, and everything lies in the interpretation of the Code by the judge. This concept is that anyone willingly causing "injury" to another person is to be punished. In this context, though, "injury" is legally defined as "anything causing a condition of illness", and "illness" is ill-defined itself in two different legal ways. The first is "any anatomical or functional alteration of the organism" (thus technically including little scratches and bruises too); The second is "a significant worsening of a previous condition relevant to organic and relational processes, requiring any kind of therapy". This makes somewhat risky to play with someone, as later the "victim" might call for foul play using any sort of little mark as evidence against the partner. Also, any injury requiring over 20 days of medical care must be denounced by the professional medic who discovers it, leading to automatic indictment of the person who caused it. BDSM play between nonconsenting adults or minors or in public is of course punished according to "normal" laws.[109]

Austria

§90 of the criminal code declares bodily injury (§§ 83, 84) or the endangerment of physical security (§89) to not be subject to penalty in cases in which the "victim" has consented and the injury or endangerment does not offend moral sensibilities. Case law from the Austrian Supreme Court has consistently shown that bodily injury is only offensive to moral sensibilities (and thus punishable) when a "serious injury" (meaning a damage to health or an employment disability lasting more than 24 days) or the "death" of the "victim" results. A light injury is considered generally permissible when the "victim" has consented to it. In cases of threats to bodily well-being, the standard depends on the probability that an injury will actually occur. If serious injury or even death would be a likely result of a threat being carried out, then even the threat itself is considered punishable.[citation needed]


Switzerland

The age of consent in Switzerland is 16 years, which also applies for BDSM play. Children (i.e. those under 16) are not subject to punishment for BDSM play as long as the age difference between them is less than three years. Certain practices, however, require granting consent to light injuries and thus are only allowed for those over 18. Since Articles 135 and 197 of the Swiss Criminal Code were tightened, on 1 April 2002, ownership of "objects or demonstrations [...] which depict sexual acts with violent content" is punishable. This law amounts to a general criminalization of sado-masochists, since nearly every sado-masochist will have some kind of media which fulfill these criteria. Critics also object to the wording of the law, which puts sado-masochists in the same category as pedophiles and pederasts.[110][111]

References

[105] ^ Decision of the Bundesgerichtshof, 26 May 2004, 2 StR 505/03, which may be found at: BGHSt 49, 166 (bundesgerichtshof.de)
[106]  ^ Appeals Court of Hamm in its judgement of 1 February 2006, case number 10 UF 147/04, available online at the Portal of the North Rhine-Westfalian Ministry of Justice (German)
[107]  ^ "Spanner Trust submission to the Home Office Review Board on Sexual Offences". The Spanner Trust. Retrieved on 27 January 2008.
[108]  ^ House of Commons: Criminal Justice And Immigration Bill
[109]  ^ Ayzad, BDSM - Guida per esploratori dell'erotismo estremo, Castelvecchi, 2004 ISBN 8876150250
[110]  ^ datenschlag.org(Oktober 2001) (German)
[111]  ^ Interessengemeinschaft BDSM Schweiz (German)