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Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault    Final Exam

When writer Rebecca Walker was browsing the Internet’s discussion group, she was impressed by the writing of Polly Peachum and asked her for a chapter to be included in Walker’s book To Be Real: Telling the Truth & Changing the Face of Feminism. Peachum’s chapter was on the pleasure of being sexually submissive in a contractually subordinate relationship that only her Master can end, and it was deleted from the book when Walker (who liked the chapter) bowed to pressure from her editors. The writing, however, is available on the Internet as part of a ‘Submissive Women Speak Out’ project. Go to the following address and look for Peachum’s essay ‘Violence in the Garden’:

The general goal of the paper is to reflect on whether and in what ways such writings can inform the study of domestic violence and sexual abuse. You are free to approach this question as you see fit, but I would suggest at least touching on the issues raised by the following questions:

#1] Is Peachum a victim of domestic violence? What is your definition of domestic violence and why does her situation fall inside or outside of your definition? In what ways is Peachum similar to & different from other instances of domestic violence and sexual assault we have studied this term?

#2] In the book Different Loving: The World of Sexual Dominance & Submission, the authors start with a disclaimer: "D&Sers [those into domination and submission] make a real and absolute distinction between explicitly consensual acts between adult partners for their mutual pleasure and all acts of violence against unconsenting partners. Imposing sexual activity on a reluctant partner is morally offensive; imposing it on an unwilling partner (or upon anyone who cannot give legal consent) is a criminal offense."

Does the consent remove the behavior from being ‘violent’? Does Peachum’s explicit consent and her enjoyment of submission remove behaviors like this from the realm of violence? Or does the consent and enjoyment make them more of a problem?

#3] What is your definition of a ‘healthy’ or non-abusive relationship? Why does Peachum’s relationship meet or fail your standard? Please make sure to deal with her comments about the level of intimacy, communication, trust and commitment that are in the relationship. Be sure your answer also deals with the issues of control, humiliation, physical punishment and her inability to end the relationship by her own choice.

NOTE: I will be looking for consistency in your answers to these questions. If you think it is domestic violence, then you should find that the behaviors are violent & that the relationship fails your test of health. Conversely, how can you have a healthy relationship that’s not domestic violence when Peachum describes herself as a ‘slave’ – a possession of another with no autonomy.

#4] Do you agree with Peachum that her choices and relationship have nothing to do with promoting other forms of violence against women?

This article raises many difficult issues and making sense of them is further problematized because they are raised in the context of sexuality – indeed, what many consider to be ‘kinky sex.’ Some understanding of the notion of ‘power exchange’ can be quite helpful in making sense of Peachum’s relationship, which is an extreme form. I would thus recommend exploring some of links on the page containing Peachum’s essay that seek to explain this concept.

The book by Gloria Braeme, et al, Different Loving: The World of Sexual Dominance & Submission is a recommended text for similar reasons. This book is based on interviews with people involved in various aspects of this sexuality. It is not a ‘how to’ book, but explores what people get out of such relationships and has won awards from numerous sex education associations. There were several other links suggested for background that are on the page for the assignment about Pornography and Sex Work

See also Sex And Race Play: On the edge of edgy sex, racial S&M excites some and reviles others. (

Back to Class Schedule for Fall 2000 that this assignment was part of  OR to current Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault class page

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