Wednesday, January 04, 2006
[Enfield dominatrix Michelle Silva´s business was busted, her gear confiscated. What was her crime? Police appear to believe it could have e been ¨prostitution.¨ But experts say that could be hard to prove. ]
by Meir Rinde - December 29, 2005
Silva has described a police raid on her home last month as an attack on her free speech. Enfield dominatrix Michelle Silva has described a police raid on her home last month as an attack on her free speech rights and a scare tactic by a town straining for a justification to shut her down. But initially no one knew for sure why the police searched her home on Nov. 16 and seized her computers and bondage furniture, since the search warrant remained sealed. Now the seal has expired, and the warrant is very clear: it states that the "promotion of prostitution" constitutes the bulk of the charges Silva could face.
Silva, 33, operates an S&M website, www.EmpressM.net, that offers bondage photos and videos that she argues she has the legal right to distribute. But the warrant barely mentions the videos; rather, it is Silva's other business as a dominatrix who invites customers to visit -- and pay hundreds of dollars for services -- that drew attention from police.
The investigation was prompted by an anonymous e-mail police received in January. "I thought you would like to know that you have an S&M prostitution house in your town," the e-mail said, according to the warrant. When Enfield Det. William Cooper looked at Silva's website, he found pictures of "'EmpressM' with nude males, 'slaves' in obvious states of sexual arousal," the warrant said. S&M practitioners, or sadomasochists, derive sexual pleasure from inflicting pain on others or themselves.
"It is clear that B&D (bondage and discipline) practitioners can receive sexual gratification for a fee as a fully developed rate structure exists," Cooper wrote in the warrant.
When told last week by the Advocate about the potential prostitution charges, Silva responded with a puzzled e-mail. "So who were they looking for? And still no charges É", she wrote. "Did they make this up? I need to call my attorney."
In earlier postings on an online forum for people who run pornographic websites, she appeared unaware that she might be charged with providing sex for money. "No one was charged with prostitution nor was it ever referred to by the cops, that is not why they raided my home business," she wrote after the raid.
The search and seizure of Silva's property prompted a vigorous discussion on the forum, called "Greenguy and Jim's Ultimate Adult Webmaster Board." When the warrant was still sealed, other posters on the forum looked at some of Silva's websites, which included EmpressM.net, Northeastgoddess.com, and Fortressofpain.com. The web posters read descriptions of the services she provided at rates ranging from $300 per session to $1,000 for an overnight stay, and came to a similar conclusions as the one that police may have come to.
"Gonna be hard to fight the prostition (sic) rap when you accept donations or tips for sexual services, whether it involves intercourse or not," one poster wrote.
The questions of what constitutes prostitution and sex could end up determining Silva's fate. State law defines prostitution as engaging in "sexual conduct with another person in exchange for a fee." But the phrase "sexual conduct" is pretty vague, said Todd Fernow, a law professor and director of the Criminal Law Clinic at the University of Connecticut.
Fernow said a Connecticut judge tried to define sexual conduct in a 1980 case involving an alleged prostitute charged with soliciting a New Haven police officer. The defendant claimed the phrase was unconstitutionally vague, an argument the judge rejected. But borrowing from Webster's Second New World Dictionary, the judge defined sexual conduct as involving "sex, the sexes, the organs of sex and their functions, or the instincts, drives, behavior, etc. associated with sex." That's still pretty vague, and it's the dictionary, not the law.
State laws defining abuse, assault and other sexual crimes are much more graphically descriptive. One section of the criminal code states, "'Sexual intercourse' means vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse, fellatio or cunnilingus between persons regardless of sex. É Penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse or fellatio and does not require emission of semen. Penetration may be committed by an object manipulated by the actor into the genital or anal opening of the victim's body."
Again, that definition of sex applies to assaults, not to prostitution. Indeed, the criminal code also offers a definition of sadomasochistic abuse: "flagellation or torture by or upon a person clad in undergarments, a mask or bizarre costume, or the condition of being fettered, bound or otherwise physically restrained on the part of one so clothed."
But consensual sadomasochism isn't mentioned in the law, and is apparently legal. It's certainly practiced widely in Connecticut, by amateurs and by professionals who charge for their services. Whether it is considered "sex" or not still remains a matter of opinion.
The relationship between consensual sadomasochism, often called BDSM, and sex is a vexed one. In an article on BDSM published in the Hartford Advocate earlier this year, some practitioners were at pains to explain that at its core, flogging, binding, wax play, role-playing, humiliation, and the whole range of BDSM activities are intended to create intimate connections between the participants, and not necessarily sexual ones ("Slaves and Masters," July 21). At the same time, they admitted that BDSM sometimes involved sex.
"I have an opinion that's not popular among a lot of BDSMers," Dr. Gloria Brame said in an interview last week. Brame, an Athens, Georgia, clinical sexologist, is an S&M advocate and author of the book A Different Kind of Loving . "I say it's sex, and the hell with it. I say nobody is going to pay to go somewhere if they're not going to get turned on. They're paying to get turned on."
Brame said in an ideal world, consenting adults could have sex or perform BDSM or engage in whatever combination they like, without having to worry about police raids. But she also said that someone who has a business like Silva's has to be aware that things get tricky when the clothes come off, and it's smart to check everything with your lawyer, well before the cops come knocking.
[polybi's take: As we grouse about Tribe taking away our dirty pictures to keep Toyota happy, We can't forget the real villians here, the perverted Xians who have made it thier business to turn us all over to thier idea of what Christ is, whether we want to or not. This IS a holy war, and thier idea of victory is all of us capitualating as neuters, bonded in manufactured shame, wearing our own mental burkahs, and screaming Praise God at the top of our lungs, while we hand over our rights, our sexuality, ourselves to these bastards with a pink bow on top. The only way this can be stopped is if we stopped them ourselves. This year, opportunities abound. Take advantage of them.]