Sometimes, only a thin line separates BDSM from abuse in a relationship.

BDSM organizations have defined abuse as: "Physical, sexual or emotional acts inflicted on a person without their informed and freely given consent."

Anyone who suspects they (or someone they care about) has suffered from abuse, needs to ask these questions (developed at Leather Leadership Conference in 1999):

1. Are your needs and limits respected?
2. Is your relationship built on honesty, trust, and respect?
3. Are you able to express feelings of guilt or jealousy or unhappiness?
4. Can you function in everyday life?
5. Can you refuse to do illegal activities?
6. Can you insist on safe sex practices?
7. Can you choose to interact freely with others outside of your relationship?
8. Can you leave the situation without fearing that you will be harmed, or fearing the other participant(s) will harm themselves?
9. Can you choose to exercise self-determination with money, employment, and life decisions?
10. Do you feel free to discuss your practices and feelings with anyone you choose?

If any of those questions generates a "No" answer, the relationship is potentially abusive. You can find help by contacting the:

National Leather Association Domestic Violence Project
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

Additional resources

Kink Aware Professionals Directory: A resource for people who are seeking psychotherapeutic, medical, and legal professionals who are informed about the diversity of consensual, adult sexuality.

Additional Reading

Partners in Power: Living in Kinky Relationships, by Jack Rinella
Avoiding Abuse in the Search for D/s
Abuse vs. Consensual BDSM: some ways to tell the difference
The Difference Between SM and Abuse
BDSM vs. Abuse
Erotica, Romance or Transgressive. What's the damn difference?
5 Myths About Polyamory
Books about polyamory