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Sex slave or consenting adult? Expert witness needed, say lawyers

Trial lawyers associated with a bondage and sadomasochism case are attempting to submit expert testimony about the defendants' culture during their sex crimes trial. The major issue in the case revolves around whether a young woman consented to extreme sexual practices that allegedly took place in the couple's Lebanon, Missouri, mobile home.

The court has not yet ruled on whether expert testimony will be accepted in the case.

Courtroom documents show that the couple is charged with essentially enslaving a young woman to perform sexual acts. She was allegedly held against her will for several years in the couple's mobile home, participating in extreme sexual fantasies. Defense attorneys argue, however, that the woman was a consenting adult participating in activities within the bondage, discipline and sadomasochism culture, also known as BDSM.

Attorneys say an expert witness would allow jurors to understand the cultural implications of the behaviors, which were conducted in a safe and consensual environment. The jurors may be exposed to extreme sexual images in the case, according to experts; BDSM practices often include activities such as waterboarding, piercings, mutilation and even electric shock.

The defendants did not necessarily commit a crime by performing these acts for sexual pleasure, according to their attorneys. An expert witness could help define the general boundaries for most BDSM adherents, which would allow the jury to make an educated decision about the group's sexual practices.

Still, the defendants may find that their cultural and sexual preferences may not jive with the laws of the United States judiciary. Media reports have not revealed the exact charges faced by the couple, but they likely include some kind of sexual assault and perhaps even kidnapping.

Attorneys in the case say that even though their clients' activities may seem illegal, BDSM is no different from other lifestyles. People get tattoos and piercings every day, both of which are painful physical experiences that are often ultimately gratifying.

Source: The Kansas City Star, "Missouri sex slave trial could explore norms of sadomasochism," Mark Morris, Nov. 29, 2012

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