Fantasy mirrors desire. Imagination reshapes it. – Mason Cooley
As I discussed in my column about BDSM, it is easily as misunderstood and persecuted as sex work. It is thus probably a really bad idea for a master to prostitute his slave, especially to strangers and especially if she is rather young and he is not absolutely certain of her loyalty and psychological stability. The following story is, as usual, paraphrased from an AP article.
Last month, a Missouri couple was accused of keeping a young woman captive for several years as their sex slave; she had been locked in a cage and subjected to electrical shocks, and parts of her body had been nailed to wooden planks. When announcing charges last month, U.S. Attorney Beth Phillips called the case one of “the most horrific ever prosecuted in this district.” Authorities claimed the woman was a mentally deficient runaway who was recruited by an older man at the age of 16 to live in his trailer.
The situation came to light early last year after the woman, then 23, landed in a hospital following what prosecutors called a torture session. But as more details have emerged it has become clear that the accuser voluntarily participated in violent sex practices, posing for a pornographic magazine and working as a stripper. Supporters of the defendant are speaking out as well, pointing out that many of the acts described in the indictment are practiced every day between consenting adults.
Ed Bagley, 43, faces 11 federal charges, including conspiracy, sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion, and forced labor trafficking. Four other men also are charged with various crimes. A graphic 21-page federal indictment describes BDSM devices being used on the woman at Bagley’s mobile home near Lebanon, Missouri and also includes accusations of waterboarding, suffocation and beatings.
Bagley’s wife, Marilyn, said she and her husband met the girl when she dated their son, but when they broke up the girl wanted to come live with them because she had become estranged from her adoptive parents. She said the girl moved in when she was 17, not 16, and never had sex with her husband until after she turned 18. ”She was not a runaway,” Marilyn Bagley said. “We picked her up from her adopted dad and stepmom. They were right there and everything.” Marilyn Bagley said prosecutors have told her she also will be charged if she doesn’t agree to testify against her husband, violating the 5th amendment guarantee against self-incrimination (which has traditionally been interpreted to ban forcing a wife to testify against her husband). But she said she will not take the stand against him because she believes the two did nothing wrong.
Prosecutors said Ed Bagley posted videos and other images on the Internet showing the young woman engaged in sexual activities; he allegedly described her as his sex slave and advertised that she would perform sex acts and submit to sexual torture for other people during encounters online or in person. Bagley is accused of taking payments of cash, cigarettes, computer hard drives, even meat, to let other men come to his home and torture her. He and the other defendants are also charged with transporting the woman to California in 2006 and 2007 for prostitution; she appeared on the cover of the July 2007 issue of Taboo, a publication owned by Larry Flynt’s Hustler Magazine Group, and was the subject of a story and multipage photo spread inside.
Prosecutors said Ed Bagley also forced the girl to work as an exotic dancer and threatened to punish her if she was not a top earner at the clubs where she stripped. But another dancer at the same Missouri strip club said the woman seemed to enjoy the attention she got when she danced, often showing off the issue of Taboo which featured her on the cover. ”This girl was spoiled,” said Katie Smothers, who said she spent time at Bagley’s trailer when she needed a place to stay but never participated in bondage activities. ”She would take customers to show them her magazine, and she had a bucket of photos at the bar. She bragged about it.”
Susan Dill, Bagley’s Kansas City-based attorney, told reporters recently that the indictment tells only one side of the story; she said the defense will present evidence that the woman practiced BDSM by choice. Dill declined to go into detail, and attorneys for the other defendants turned down requests for comment. The U.S. attorney’s office in Kansas City also declined repeated requests to comment, saying the indictment speaks for itself.
Marilyn Bagley, who for years shared a bed with her husband and the woman, told The Associated Press the woman often left the Bagleys’ home to go into the community. She believes the woman’s family coerced her to go to police after she was taken to a hospital suffering from cardiac arrest, which Bagley claims she suffered while getting ready for work — not during a torture session. ”She started seizing, and when she was done, she stopped breathing. Ed gave her CPR. I was on the phone to 911. We were freaking out. We didn’t know what to do,” she said.
Dr. Keely Kolmes, a San Francisco-based psychologist who sees patients who practice BDSM, said that many of the acts listed in the indictment can be part of consensual activities, but others might indicate Bagley was an abuser, such as allegations that he shot animals the woman cared about to prove he could kill her and that he refused to stop immediately when the woman used a safe word. “Consensual BDSM does not involve holding minors hostage against their will or causing physical or mental harm,” Kolmes said in an e-mail to the AP. ”That is a criminal behavior.”
Susan Wright, spokeswoman for the Baltimore-based National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, said some of the things Bagley is accused of are clearly abuse, if true. ”Certainly in abusive relationships, sometimes it’s hard to parse out what people do voluntarily and what things they are coerced to do,” said Wright, who helped write a sadomasochism vs. abuse policy statement in the late 1990s that has been adopted by national BDSM groups. At times, it all becomes “tangled up,” she said. “And at that point, I don’t think any consent you give is legitimate consent.”
So what have we really got here? It looks to me like a young, impressionable and narcissistic girl with BDSM desires got involved in a lifestyle situation with a couple who exercised poor judgment and failed to “cover their arses” with regard to the age of their sub when the lifestyle relationship began, and may also have overstepped the bounds of a proper BDSM relationship. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell for sure; anyone who would suddenly accuse her dominant of abuse after participating in a consensual BDSM lifestyle for five years is clearly unstable and her testimony is therefore questionable due to the possibility of brainwashing on the part of her family, cops and prosecutors (as so often happens in “child sex abuse” cases). The defendants can’t be trusted to tell the truth either, because they can’t admit to stepping even close to the line in the heat of the moment due to fear of being railroaded. And the “authorities” can’t be trusted to present the facts because of “trafficking” hysteria and the desire to score another conviction whether the defendants are guilty or not. IMHO the only trustworthy testimony in this case will have to come from witnesses (such as the stripper quoted in the article or men who participated in BDSM activities but do not stand accused) and from experts like Wright after carefully examining all available evidence.
The sad part about this is that at least three people’s lives have now been irrevocably ruined; both the Bagleys and the unnamed girl will carry this with them for the rest of their lives because cops and prosecutors simply cannot resist turning personal matters into a media circus. Though the AP does not release the names of the victims of alleged sex crimes, the fact that the girl was in a magazine won’t make it very hard to discover her identity, and she’ll have to endure dissection of her entire sex life in lurid detail before a thousand leering pervert court officials, prosecutors, cops, jurymen and reporters. And even if it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the relationship was consensual, the Bagleys may still face prosecution under anti-BDSM laws, prostitution laws and the ever-popular Mann Act. No matter what the outcome, there will be no winners in this battle.