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Five men from Missouri are learning exactly what it feels like to be controlled against your wishes by someone more powerful than you, and it's doubtful they like it. They've been arrested by the FBI on charges of assaulting a woman whom the media calls the "sex slave" of one Edward Bagley Sr. The disturbing indictment states the victim was a 16-year-old runaway from a foster home when she met Bagley, and that he persuaded her to come live with him. When she turned 18, he had her sign a "slave contract" and told her she was his legal property. He then allegedly engaged in acts described by the FBI as torture, and had the four other men pay him to also engage in these acts with her. He also forced her to work as a porn model and stripper, and to surrender the money to him.
I'm aware that the FBI could describe my sex life in ways that sound pretty bad, too, so I'm trying to remain open-minded about this case. I hope the allegations prove to be 100 percent unfounded. But I doubt they will, because even the most generous interpretation of the events stinks of abuse. Even absent any physical violence, it is morally reprehensible to offer a homeless child shelter and then begin grooming her to be your sexual partner.
This looks very much like the culture of consensual BDSM being hijacked and distorted by evil people to abuse others. The female victim—who has been described as "mentally deficient"—came to the attention of authorities when she wound up in the emergency room in cardiac arrest after being electrocuted, allegedly by Bagley. If the man known as "Master Ed" did threaten and deceive an isolated, vulnerable teenager into believing she was truly a slave, and that she had no right to leave him or refuse any harm he (or anyone else) did to her, then he is utterly despicable, and I look forward to seeing him get the justice he deserves.
Unfortunately, the disgust and anger such cases rightly inspire can create confusion, shame, and silence in people curious about consensual BDSM—which makes them all the more vulnerable to predators. If you're a young person or someone unfamiliar with American law, understand this clearly: You and your partner can create whatever relationship you want. But you always have the right to withdraw your consent to any activity, at any time, for any reason. There is absolutely no U.S. law, civil or criminal, that supports one person becoming the legal slave of another person. It doesn't matter what words you say or what documents you sign: A private individual cannot legally own you as a slave or hold you in "indentured servitude." All that was abolished by the 13th Amendment, and there's only one exception: people who've been convicted of a crime. That might prove an ironic twist of fate for those five men.