Red Stops Rape- A National Safe Word

The Campaign for a National Safe Word explained in 3:00 minutes: 

One in five women will be raped in her lifetime. Last year, 19,000 men were raped while serving in the American Armed Forces. Rape is an ever-present part of American life. This is wrong and needs to change.

The “No Means No” campaigns, developing a nail polish that detects GHB (a date-rape drug), and self-defense courses have not significantly lessened rape in the Unites State.

In September 2014, Judge Jeanine Hayes in Texas sentenced a man to 45 days in jail after he admitted raping a 14 year old girl on a school campus. Her reason for the light sentence in part was that the girl did not use the word “rape” to her attacker while it was occuring. The 14 year old said “No” and “Stop.” The rapist admitted the girl had said “No” and “Stop” several times. However, the 14 year old did not specifically tell the man attacking her to not “rape” her. Judge Hayes claimed the fact that the girl did not use the word “rape” and that she was not a virgin meant she was not a “real victim” of rape.

Kinky people honor safe, sane and consensual play. We get it right. We have safe words. Safe words stop all play immediately, regardless of the reason a person wants to stop, and the person is attended to. Failure to honor a safe word will get someone banned from public play spaces and there are communal consequences for violating safe words.

We need a national safe word. We need one word, something innocuous, easy to remember, and something that is not generally said during sex, that allows anyone to stop all action at once. In most dungeons in the United States “red” is the default safe word. We need to allow everyone to go “red” to keep themselves safe.

Below is a short essay on the necessity of a national safe word. For more information, please go to:

National Safe Word

Rape is “above the fold” in newspapers, again. People are abuzz about the accusations against Bill Cosby. Two weeks ago campus rapes and the struggles to stop rapes at well-respected colleges filled the headlines. We know one in five women will be raped in their lifetime and the statistics are higher if a woman opts to serve her nation in the Armed Forces. Last year, 19,000 men in the Armed Forces were raped.

Clearly, we need to teach people not to rape. There is a growing discussion about rape culture and how we protect people from rape. This year, a nail polish was developed that changes color in the presence of a date-rape drug. Women alter their behaviors to try and stay safe: we carry keys in our fists on our way to the car, we keep to main thoroughfares when we walk at night, we never wear headphones if we jog between sunrise and sunset. None of this has worked well at keeping people from getting raped.

There is one possible solution – introduce a national “safe word.” The concept of a safe word stems from practices in BDSM and kinky sex. It has filtered out into popular culture. What most people who do not practice BDSM miss is the power of a safe word.

People who practice BDSM generally have safe words. If you play at almost any dungeon in the United States, “red” is the default safe word. If “red” is said in a play space by anyone, all play stops and the person calling “red” is attended too. We actually have people in the play spaces that make sure this procedure is followed. People who violate “red” in any public space are often banned from the space and there are communal prices to pay for failing to respect someone’s limit.

If we created a national safe word – red, gluten, turtle, whatever – and taught people the importance of stopping everything when someone called “red” we could begin to transform rape culture.

What about “stop” or “don’t” or “No?” These words do not work. We live in a society where we teach men that the first no is not a real no. Every mainstream romantic drama rests on the premise that a woman rejects a man, tells him to leave her alone, he continues his pursuit until she says yes and sleeps with him. A person can shout “stop” or “don’t” or “no” at a party or in public and it does not prompt people to involve themselves in the situation.

Doubt this? Judge Jeanine Hayes in Texas sentenced a man who admitted to raping a 14-year-old girl to 45 days in jail after the rapist admitted that he continued to sexually assault the girl after she said “no” and “stop” several times. Hayes asked the girl several times during the trial if she ever called, “rape.” The fact that the girl said “no” and “stop” were not seen as reasons her attacker should stop. The judge claimed the girl “was not the victim she claimed to be.”

Kinksters get it right. Everyone needs a word they can say and it requires all action to stop immediately. The word needs to be something that does not come up during most sexual interactions (this is why “ouch” is not a safe word). It needs to be a word that everyone knows and respects. There needs to be community consequences for continuing something after someone says a safe word. “Red” works because culturally we already associate it with “stop.”

Implementing a national safe word would be pretty simple. A national PSA campaign, add it into sex education, teach parents to teach it to their children. The hard part will be the cultural change required for most Americans to believe people have a right to control their own bodies. We try to control other people’s bodies through legislation (e.g., laws banning abortion, prohibiting suicide, dictating what foods people in poverty can buy with Food Stamps). Americans would have to accept the idea that people, all people, have the right to keep their body safe.

The fact that women alter behaviors to avoid rape and the greatest fear most men have about going to prison is being raped indicates we need to do something to protect people. Developing a national safe word and demanding that it be respected would start this. Everybody has the right to call “red” and be safe.


  1. […] When someone says they were raped, many people ask, “So, did you say ‘no?'” It is a common question in court and in police investigations. The validity of rape claims lie in the victim’s ability to affirm that they told their attacker “no” or “don’t.” Some judges go further and want to know if the victim specified the attack was rape during the attack. Saying “No” and “don’t” during assault is not always seen as sufficient for clarifying that a person does not want sex (see examples of this here). […]

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