Safe Words

Many practice bondage safely, but sometimes things go wrong.

Bondage-related deaths may draw headlines, but they're extremely rare, according to those who practice it.

“A lot of people in San Francisco tonight are going to be tied up, and thousands over the next month or so, and very few of them are going to end up in the emergency room or dead,” says a man who goes by the name Sparky. He's been with his partner, a professional dominant (or “dom”) named Master J, for more than a decade.

Master J stressed the importance of trust, respecting boundaries, and the “safe word” — a code word that the submissive person uses to stop the sex-play if things go too far. “Never let someone tie you up in your home on the first date,” Master J says. “If they tie you up, they could ransack your house, they could kill you. And they could leave.”

Despite precautions taken by folks such as Sparky and Master J, accidental deaths as well as homicides have occurred during bondage play. They include:

February 2007 — Haight resident Dennis Oliver told police that he returned from a trip and stumbled upon the body of Joshua Glasser. Glasser, who Oliver said was cat-sitting when he was away, was found nude and handcuffed in the bedroom. The medical examiner at the scene told a homicide investigator that it seemed Glasser had been strangled with “some type of ligature related item,” according to a police search warrant and affidavit.

January 2006 — A dominatrix named Barbara Asher, then 56, was acquitted of manslaughter in the death of a man prosecutors said died during a bondage session in a “dungeon” in Asher's condominium in Wollaston, Mass. Asher, who went by the name of “Mistress Lauren M,” was accused of strapping the victim to a replica of a medieval rack and leaving him to die rather than helping him after he had a heart attack, then had her boyfriend dismember his body, according to an Associated Press report. Prosecutors said Asher had confessed to police, but the alleged confession wasn't taped.

May 2004 — Rod Hall, a literary agent who'd represented the writers of films including The Full Monty and Billy Elliot, reportedly died during a sadomasochistic session shortly after he discussed ending his relationship with another man. Prosecutors said the man, Usman Durrani, intentionally stabbed him to death at his home in South London out of revenge.

March 1985 — Some young boys found a charred and mutilated body wearing a black leather hood in Rockland County, N.Y. The case eventually led to an art dealer named Andrew Crispo and his assistant Bernard LeGeros, and was written about extensively in the 1992 book, Bag of Toys: Sex, Scandal, and the Death Mask Murder.

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