The Role of Consent in Sado-masochistic Practices
In 1993 the Law Lords upheld the original conviction of five men under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act for participating in sado-masochistic practices. Although the five men were fully consenting adults, the Law Lords held that consent did not constitute a defence to acts of violence within a sado-masochistic context. This paper examines the judgements in this case and argues that sado-masochistic practices are no different from the known exceptions cited by the court to the idea that consent is no defence to violence (sport, parental chastisement and surgery). It also argues that if we can make sense of rape as a non-consensual, violent act, expressed through sex, then we can make sense of sado-masochism as a consensual sexual act, expressed through violence.