- who found her private life wasn't so private after all...


My custody issues came about midway through the negotiations surrounding my divorce. My ex and I had already been separated for 3 years, and our children, both under 10, were living with me. I have a boyfriend whom I met on the scene, but we do not live together.

 

My ex knew nothing about my interest in BDSM or club going, and I thought I had been quite discreet about it. Sadly for me, a close family member had "let slip" the word "fetish" in a discussion with my ex, who, picked up on it, and decided to have me followed by a private detective, to see just where I went in my free time and who I socialised with. My boyfriend and I were completely unaware of all this; the first I knew was when I got a phone call from my seriously worried solicitor, who had received a dossier of photos of me, downloaded from a web site. My vanilla solicitor, a capable, professional woman in an out of town practice, had clearly never seen anything like this in her life, and was at a loss as to how best to proceed!

 

I should add, the photos were simply taken at clubs, and were in no way obscene or indecent, but clearly my alternative lifestyle, choice of clothes and clubs was under question. The other sides solicitor was implying that their client had serious concerns for the welfare of his children, and of my ability to be a good parent. My boyfriend, and his exposure to the children was also questioned. To make things worse, posts that I had made on a BDSM site, under a pseudonym, were linked up to my photo (many were captioned with my "scene" name) and, taken out of context, otherwise innocent comments, tongue in cheeks jokes or off the cuff remarks were suddenly portraying me in a not very good light.

 

My response was indignation at having been spied on, and anger that my good parenting was in doubt. Demands from the other side were made, asking me to promise to remove all fetish items from my home, not wear fetish "apparel" in front of the children, or allow them to see photos of me. More sinisterly, my boyfriend was to undergo a police check. This, I decided, was a clear attempt to infringe my civil rights. Whilst my solicitor was encouraging me to "just sign the paper and move on" in order to finalise our divorce, I dug in my heels, aware that I was being asked to make promises I could not, and should not, be asked to keep.

 

I sought advise from friends on the scene, and was given the name of a chambers with a progressive attitude and a good record in matters of civil rights. I knew that I needed a barrister who would not be phased by photos of me in a corset, or print outs of online discussions about whips and bondage. An initial opinion was positive; my barrister felt that I was doing nothing wrong, and that my ex"s announcement that he was seeking custody of the children could not possibly come to anything. In order to do this, an emergency custody order would have to be granted, and for that, a court would have to be convinced that the children were in clear and immediate danger. Even my ex"s reporting me to the social services amounted to nothing: the children were interviewed, with my knowledge, at their school, with their class teacher present. If a report was produced, I was not privy to it, but the matter went quiet.

 

I made only one court appearance shortly after this, with my barrister, and at that time colour photos of me, printed from the webpages he had found, were produced. The judge rejected the idea that these had any bearing on my parenting, and advised my ex that there really was no case for me to answer. No proof had been presented that I was a bad mother, or that the children were neglected or in danger. I simply had a social life that was alternative, and different to his. I was, however, asked if I would sign an undertaking, pared down considerably from the initial broad requirements of a few months earlier. It was now a 5 point list, with no mention of my current partner, or to any future partner I might have, or to my friends on the scene. References to my choice of clothing were also removed. Instead, it centred on "fetish accessories", defined as collars, cuffs and whips etc. which the children were not to see, nor to have any access to BDSM literature or websites. Discussions about BDSM were not to take place before the children reached the age of 16, and I was not to discuss my ex by name on any website. Reluctantly, and on the understanding that my divorce would now proceed to finalisation quickly, I signed.

 

With hindsight, I can see that the element of fear which I felt initially was unfounded, and that this whole case had a strong underlying financial drive to it. Clearly I played into his hands: my BDSM lifestyle was the one "point of weakness" that he and his solicitor decided to play on. All along, personal attacks were made at me, my finances were looked into, and the threat of removing the children were all attempts to make me back down and accept a low financial settlement to "make it go away". Had I seen that sooner, I may have fought harder and not signed the undertaking I did.

 

I do accept that there can be a very clear emotional side to these situations, with ex partners who are genuinely at a loss to understand the whole BDSM thing, and it frightened them. In my case, I believe my ex was mature and experienced enough not to be phased by much, and I genuinely do not think for one moment that he believed that his children were at risk, nor that what I was doing in my free time was sick or unacceptable.

 

It is however easy for us to become complacent and blase about what we do on the scene, but to an outsider looking in, it can look scary, sinister, or just plain wrong.

 

I believe I was naive to allow photos of me to be used on a public site, particularly at such a sensitive time in my divorce negotiations. Anyone with children, with an ex partner, with a sensitive job, should, I think, be aware that keeping a slightly low profile is a sensible option...it was an emotionally and financially costly business for me to defend myself, and one that could have been avoided had I chosen to keep my photos private. I have seen other BDSM sites where posters refer to their children simply as "the unmentionables", and for me, that is a sensible approach.

 

There are plenty of people who have argued with me that they have a right to do what they want when they want, and that an ex cannot control them, perhaps as they were accustomed to doing in their earlier relationship. For my part, I think a cautious approach is the best one in a situation such as mine; it is after all an awful lot easier to avoid attention and hassle than it is to get out from under it when it lands on top of you.