BDSM as business: An interview with the owners of a dungeon
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Torture proliferates American headlines today: whether its use is defensible in certain contexts and the morality of the practice. Wikinews reporter David Shankbone was curious about torture in American popular culture. This is the first of a two part series examining the BDSM business. This interview focuses on the owners of a dungeon, what they charge, what the clients are like and how they handle their needs.
When Shankbone rings the bell of "HC & Co." he has no idea what to expect. A BDSM (Bondage Discipline Sadism Masochism) dungeon is a legal enterprise in New York City, and there are more than a few businesses that cater to a clientèle that wants an enema, a spanking, to be dressed like a baby or to wear women's clothing. Shankbone went to find out what these businesses are like, who runs them, who works at them, and who frequents them. He spent three hours one night in what is considered one of the more upscale establishments in Manhattan, Rebecca's Hidden Chamber, where according to The Village Voice, "you can take your girlfriend or wife, and have them treated with respect—unless they hope to be treated with something other than respect!"
When Shankbone arrived on the sixth floor of a midtown office building, the elevator opened up to a hallway where a smiling Rebecca greeted him. She is a beautiful forty-ish Long Island mother of three who is dressed in smart black pants and a black turtleneck that reaches up to her blond-streaked hair pulled back in a bushy ponytail. "Are you David Shankbone? We're so excited to meet you!" she says, and leads him down the hall to a living room area with a sofa, a television playing an action-thriller, an open supply cabinet stocked with enema kits, and her husband Bill sitting at the computer trying to find where the re-release of Blade Runner is playing at the local theater. "I don't like that movie," says Rebecca.
Perhaps the most poignant moment came at the end of the night when Shankbone was waiting to be escorted out (to avoid running into a client). Rebecca came into the room and sat on the sofa. "You know, a lot of people out there would like to see me burn for what I do," she says. Rebecca is a woman who has faced challenges in her life, and dealt with them the best she could given her circumstances. She sees herself as providing a service to people who have needs, no matter how debauched the outside world deems them. They sat talking mutual challenges they have faced and politics (she's supporting Hillary); Rebecca reflected upon the irony that many of the people who supported the torture at Abu Ghraib would want her closed down. It was in this conversation that Shankbone saw that humanity can be found anywhere, including in places that appear on the surface to cater to the inhumanity some people in our society feel towards themselves, or others.
"The best way to describe it," says Bill, "is if you had a kink, and you had a wife and you had two kids, and every time you had sex with your wife it just didn't hit the nail on the head. What would you do about it? How would you handle it? You might go through life feeling unfulfilled. Or you might say, 'No, my kink is I really need to dress in women's clothing.' We're that outlet. We're not the evil devil out here, plucking people off the street, keeping them chained up for days on end."
Below is David Shankbone's interview with Bill & Rebecca, owners of Rebecca's Hidden Chamber, a BDSM dungeon.
- 1 Meet Bill & Rebecca, owners of a BDSM dungeon
- 2 Operating the business
- 3 The clients
- 4 The environment
- 5 Criticism of BDSM
- 6 Related news
- 7 External links
- 8 Sources
Meet Bill & Rebecca, owners of a BDSM dungeon
David Shankbone: What first attracted you to this business?
- Bill: Nothing other than it seemed like it would be profitable; we had a third partner who knew someone who was involved in this business. It was supposed to be a business that we weren't going to run, if you recall.
- Rebecca: Right.
- Bill: We were going to be absentee. Nothing but money.
DS: You would provide start-up costs and get it going?
- Bill: Precisely. But there were some setbacks; we ended up running it ourselves, learning a lot about the business and doing it really well. I had a doctorate in psychology; my wife is probably the best salesperson I've ever seen in the world. Together, we've been able to put together a nice model business. We're probably the best S&M-fantasy-role-playing dungeon in Manhattan. We are that way because we think of the client first. What makes us different than all the other dungeons: we treat them like human beings first.
- Rebecca: We're not--the typical.
- Bill: We are atypical.
- Rebecca: Right.
DS: What makes you atypical?
- Bill: A couple of things. We run it like a business. We do not run it like a club. We did our homework and found most of the places in the city are run by people that aren't the smartest, aren't the sanest, aren't great businesspeople; they don't have a business background. They are people more inclined to be interested in S&M. Where my wife and I, we're sort of interested in money first.
DS: You don’t a have personal interest in S&M?
- Bill: No, I don't. I do not.
- Rebecca: [Shakes her head no]
DS: How is it that you're able to run a business that's centered around S&M and caters to those clients, when you don't have that inclination for yourselves?
- Bill: Good question for you.
- Rebecca: We're still looking out for their needs. They're still human beings, and they have needs. So each and every person, I look out for their needs. And they all think I'm their best friend.
Their home life
DS: What do your kids feel about this as a business?
- Bill: They don't know.
- Rebecca: They don't know. That's why we want to be anonymous.
DS: What would they think?
- Bill: I don't know, but I don't think it'd be healthy.
- Rebecca: I think my almost-seventeen-year-old would be okay with it. My middle one I don't think would be very happy, and my youngest would probably want to do it.
DS: What do they think you do?
- Bill: They know I'm a psychologist.
DS: Do you have a practice?
- Bill: I haven't for a long time. They know I have some other businesses as well; we run some other businesses.
DS: Kids just don’t care what their parents do.
- Rebecca: Right. Exactly. But in a way, I feel like I'm mothering 30 girls sometimes.
DS: Is that taxing on you?
- Rebecca: It's exhausting.
- Bill: That's why people can't do this business.
DS: How do you handle that?
- Rebecca: Sometimes, some days I go home and cry.
DS: So when people bring problems into work, which happens in any workplace, you're the one that they probably turn to.
- Rebecca: Yeah.
DS: Do either of you think ever of leaving this business?
- Bill: Yeah, we will.
- Rebecca: We will at some point.
- Bill: I'll retire and live off my millions.
- Rebecca: At this point, I--we've worked so hard. I mean, at the beginning, I didn't think I'd actually be proud of it. Now it's something--
- Bill: We have a lot of people that depend on us here. A lot of girls we put through grad school, a lot of girls. We've lent money to a lot of people here; we've helped out a lot of people--we've done that.
- Rebecca: It's so much part of who I am, and I would never believe that it was actually me. I would never have thought this would be part of who I am, and at this point it is.
DS: But your kids know you work nights. What do you tell them when you're leaving?
- Rebecca: I just try to tell them--I try to condense my work so that I can be home with them also.
DS: But what do they think that you're doing?
- Rebecca: Work.
DS: Work. Just--generic work?
- Rebecca: I am doing work.
- Bill: A non-issue. I have an advertising business as well, a little advertising business.
DS: I got you. So it's just we're going to work on the business.
- Rebecca: Right.
- Bill: Since Rebecca works in the advertising business anyway, she might be there at another time, so it doesn't really matter.
- Rebecca: I'm a really bad liar, so I tell them, "I'm working." I really am working.
- Bill: She's not always here. She may be at the advertising, doing some stuff, working with some print ads. So it's kind of nice to be able to tell the truth that way--
- Rebecca: You know, so I'll--maybe I'll bring some papers with me and stuff, but I really am working. So--work is work.
Operating the business
- Bill: There's a misconception in this industry. Your exposure to this is probably primarily what you see in movies, scanning magazines, scanning the Internet, just snippets everywhere. It's portrayed as though it's dark, black and evil. And--
- Rebecca: Oh man, well?
- Bill: What's up?
- Rebecca: I do wear a lot of black.
- Bill: It's anything but that. If you look at the rooms, there's all the accouterments you'd find in these types of places--but more than anything, there's a lot of good feeling around here. We hire the opposite of what you'd think we would hire, what the average person would think we would hire. We hire educated, nice people.
- Rebecca: I remember one of our ads that I had put in said, "If you think nice girls don't do S&M,"--I forgot what the rest of it said--
- Bill: “--think again.”
- Rebecca: Yeah, "think again" or something like that. And that ad had pulled so many girls, because they--I think they all thought that nice girls don't do this. And a bunch of them had called and they said, "Wow." And I think I remember, a bunch of guys called because of that also. Do you remember?
- Bill: I sure do, I sure do.
DS: What are the startup costs involved?
- Bill: It varies; look around Manhattan, look around rents, look around build-outs, look around hiring, look around advertising...
DS: What's your greatest non-fixed cost?
- Bill: The single most costly thing we spend on is rent and advertising, those two together make up the bulk of what we spend. There's supplies, and there's wear and tear and maintenance, and bookkeeping and things like that that you have to do. That's about it. The hardest thing in running this business, which is why people can't do it, is the relationship that my wife has with the gals and with the customers.
DS: Where do you advertise?
- Bill: A lot on the web, we've used most of the local city papers, New York Press, things like that, L Magazine.
DS: In the back of the paper?
- Bill: Typically in the back of the paper. Magazines constantly change their policy on it; they want it, they don't want it…
- Rebecca: Depending on the election year--
- Bill: Who's buying the paper, who's selling the paper. So it changes, so one year we got to be in the Press, but they have now stopped adult ads.
- Rebecca: Completely.
- Bill: So now we'll be in the Voice for a while. We're moving more towards the Internet at this point, because the Internet is a much easier, safer way for a person to look at sensitive material and not get caught with it.
- Bill: Pursuant to your business question: we only hire nice people. I don't care if a girl is absolutely exquisite looking--
- Rebecca: My husband has met beautiful, beautiful girls--
- Bill: --beautiful girls--
- Rebecca: --and he's in the end, he would say, "Well, I won't hire them." I'm like, ‘Are you insane?
- Bill: I won't hire them. I hire--
DS: Why not?
- Bill: Because I want someone who's going to treat people nicely and well. We have--
DS: How can you tell whether they will or will not? Just by talking to them?
- Bill: Having been a psychologist for a number of years gives me a leg up on it.
- Rebecca: And he's been right. And I have made him hire these girls, and ultimately he's been right They've been complete pain in the asses!
- Bill: I also have a profile they fill out for me, a mini-MMPI that I developed, so that I have an idea--Rebecca and I put it together
- Rebecca: I don't know if you'd like to see one.
- Bill: No, no, no. Just--
- Rebecca: I could show you.
- Bill: So I have a mini-MMPI that I--
DS: Could I have a sample, not necessarily one that's filled out, but just one that you--
- Rebecca: I'll show you.
- Bill: Sure. The questions are--
- Rebecca: Be careful. He'll make you fill one out.
DS: [laughs] You'd be scared. You wouldn't hire me. Is it only girls you hire?
- Rebecca: Yeah.
DS: [Looking at list of questions] What would a question like "the greatest woman in the world" reveal to you?
- Bill: No question would reveal anything independently of all the questions together--
- Bill: --but I have a chart that I'll go through; the MMPI. The baseline data that I use to--
DS: How did you originate these questions?
- Bill: Where did I make them? You get a baseline from asking girls and refining profiles--
DS: And it's an amalgamation of questions.
- Bill: Of many, many questions--
- Rebecca: What's your favorite question? I don't know, the O.J. Simpson . . . .
DS: Yeah, I see O.J. Simpson. What would that be an indicator of?
- Bill: I'm not sure which one you gave him, but there's a brief, brief, brief IQ test there. Very brief.
DS: Do you ask for references?
- Bill: No, because I really can't call and tell them I'm [laughs] yeah, so-and-so's applying here for a position.
DS: What does it typically cost for a session?
- Bill: In the two hundred dollar range.
DS: And there's lower, and there's higher?
- Rebecca: Right.
- Bill: Yeah, mostly.
DS: Depending on what they want to do?
- Bill: Exactly. A little lower. Mostly higher.
DS: What would be the most expensive thing that someone would ask for?
- Rebecca: Competitive wrestling.
- Bill: Multi-girl sessions.
DS: Multi-girl? And what would they do in that?
- Bill: What did you charge the one guy? Eight hundred dollars an hour for--
- Rebecca: For a few girls.
- Bill: Three girls, you said?
DS: Three girls would be eight hundred dollars an hour?
- Rebecca: Something like that.
DS: And does it vary based upon what they're asking for?
- Bill: Yes.
- Rebecca: Yes.
DS: What would be an expensive, and what would be a cheap thing?
- Rebecca: It just varies, there's so much--I mean, tickling can be $210 for the hour--
- Bill: But the prices change--
- Rebecca: Right.
- Bill: --as we go up, so whatever you put in Wikipedia--
- Bill: By next year, it's gonna be all new. But probably say for your article, it's two plus--
DS: And for an expensive thing? What would be something that's--
- Bill: It can go up to a thousand, two thousand, we've had--
DS: What kind of an experience would that be that someone asks--?
- Bill: Usually multi-girls--
DS: But what would they do--multi-girls, just . . . . Like some--
- Bill: The sky’s the guy. There's no intercourse, there's no--
DS: Intercourse is completely off.
- Rebecca: Completely off.
DS: What about orgasms?
- Bill: They do.
- Rebecca: But they do themselves.
DS: They're allowed orgasms.
- Bill: Sure.
DS: And that's typical?
- Rebecca: That's completely typical.
- Bill: But there's no sex.
DS: What are your clients like?
- Bill: We cater to a human being first. If you came in here, and you were a client and had to use the bathroom, before you gave me dollar one--
- Rebecca: This is a true story, by the way.
- Bill: You could use our bathroom and leave. Sometimes when I hire girls, I'll ask them if they want to use the bathroom, because I know it's Manhattan. And I've had to go sometimes really bad, and just can't find a bathroom. And they look at me like I'm strange, like I have a peephole or something in there.
- We hired a young lady when we first started doing this--I won't mention names—and a guy came in. He was standing there hopping on both feet, back and forth, because he had to use the bathroom. She wouldn't let him use the bathroom, because in her mind, he was a slave. Now, everybody who comes in here are people first, and then they're--whatever their fetish is.
- Rebecca: And she would let him know when it was appropriate for him to use the bathroom.
DS: And he didn't like that?
- Rebecca: Well, he was so used to that being the way that it was--
DS: It was acceptable to him.
- Rebecca: Right, but that's not the way we are.
DS: And you don’t want that to be a slippery slope. That's not the kind of clientèle that you really want…
- Rebecca: No.
- Bill: We have a very, very good clientèle. We are upscale--
DS: What's your typical client?
- Bill: Looks like you. Looks like you.
DS: For typical client "John." Who is John? What is his background, what is he coming here for, what's he looking for?
- Bill: There is no typical client. I know you're looking for generalities. There is no typical client in terms of what fetish he's looking for. They're like snowflakes. I'm not in on the sessions. I hear from my wife. I'm always asking questions. There is no typical role play fetish. You might want to get dressed up in a red dress. I might want to get dressed up in a blue dress. I might want to wear high heels; you might want a pair of pumps. You might want a whip; everything is different.
DS: So each person that approaches you at first, you don't really know what they're going to look for? Do you have ideas like, "Mmm--I bet this is this kind of guy"? Or is it just completely difficult to tell?
- Rebecca: It's completely difficult to tell. And a lot of times I don't even have them ask me. I don't even have them tell me. I wait until they--I just have them come in the room, and I introduce them to the girls; they meet the girls, and then--
DS: They choose one?
- Rebecca: They choose one or two, and then they get--
DS: How many girls typically work on one night?
- Rebecca: Anywhere between four to eight.
DS: And whoever's not currently engaged will be there.
- Rebecca: Even the girls that are busy will sometimes just come in to say, "Hi, how are you?"
DS: How large is your client base?
- Bill: That's a good question. Would you say thousands?
- Rebecca: Thousands.
DS: Of repeat people.
- Rebecca: Yes.
- Bill: That come at different times, and--
- Rebecca: And I probably know ninety percent of them.
DS: How many times would a regular be considered?
- Bill: Once a month? Once every two months? Do you have guys every six months? You have guys every six months, right?
- Rebecca: More than that.
- Bill: No, no, you can--If you had ten thou--let's say you had five thousand clients, and they came twice a week.
- Rebecca: Yeah.
- Bill: That would be--you'd do ten thousand sessions a week. Right? You follow what I'm saying?
- Rebecca: No--I do, but I see them more often than that. I can't tell you.
- Bill: Okay. Probably we do have guys that come twice a week. Like a regular percentage of them come twice a week. But the bulk of the--
- Rebecca: I have guys come every day.
- Bill: Do you?
- Rebecca: Yeah. I have guys that I know that--every day, 10:30 in the morning, they will be here.
- Bill: We have a lot of wealthy, wealthy people who--
- Rebecca: I can't tell you how insane of a business it is.
- Bill: But what I was trying to tell you is, it's not that we're that great. It's that everybody else out there--
- Rebecca: Is that bad. And so unkind. So unsympathetic, and so nasty.
- Bill: Are you familiar with Africa and what goes on in Africa and when one warlord takes over, what happens? They get a power hold and they just goes to their heads. Well, that's what happens in these places. You give a twenty-five-year old, thirty-year-old girl in power, and it goes to their head. And so these places, what happens is they get nasty, nasty girls.
DS: Which is not what the clients are coming for.
- Rebecca: No.
What happens when a client walks through the door
DS: So I'm that person, and I walk in the door, and I'm nervous as anything--what do you do?
- Bill: Right. I let you go to the bathroom--My wife lets you go to the bathroom, because you probably have to pee, because you've been holding it--
DS: Holding it and didn't realize it.
- Bill: And you're tense. Yeah.
DS: So then I go to the bathroom.
- Rebecca: And the first thing I'm going to tell you is, ’Listen. Meet the girls, find someone you like, it's great!’
DS: So you'll introduce me to the girls first.
- Rebecca: Right. But first I'm going to tell you, before that--
DS: You're going to talk to me first. Out there, or in a room?
- Rebecca: No, in a room.
- Bill: Can I interject --I'll tell you what we won't do: We won't have some six-foot big girl grab you by the scruff of the neck and throw you into a room, and kick you in the ass--
DS: [laughs] Sure, sure.
- Rebecca: With a big guy standing outside.
- Bill: And make you think, oh, my God. I'm gonna end up dead in a dumpster with nothing in my wallet, and they're going--
DS: What if I'm not ready--too much, too soon. So Rebecca's going to sit down or Alex or whoever's running the place that night is gonna sit down--
- Rebecca: Right. Right.
DS: And I'm just-- I'm here, and I'm nervous.
- Rebecca: And we say, 'Listen, people come here all the time, and there's lots of lawyers.'
DS: And how do they typically react? How does the conversation usually go?
- Rebecca: I would say, "Hi, how are you?" I would say, "Look, I know you're nervous. Relax." I would say, "Meet them, say hello. You don't have to tell them anything that you don't want."
DS: Is it important to have body contact, touching them on the knee or hand, to form a bond?
- Rebecca: It depends--I don't want them to--I just say, [taking Shankbone's hand] 'Listen, I know you're nervous. Relax,"--
DS: What if I shrinked away when you did that?
- Rebecca: Then, it's okay, it's all right. I say, "If you think you meet someone you like, that's fine. If you don't, that's fine, too. If you feel that tonight's not the night, that's okay." I don't know if you noticed, we have cards that look like dungeon cards, which are very pretty and very black, and it looks like what an S&M card should look like. Which nobody takes, or maybe one or two guys take.
- [retrieves two different business cards, see photo] And then we have cards that are the kind of cards that everybody takes.
DS: A bit more discreet.
- Rebecca: Right.
DS: So they get to the point where they feel comfortable.
- Rebecca: Then they'll say, ’Yeah, but this is what I want--‘ and I say, ‘It's okay, you don't have to say anything to me. The girls will come in, and you can talk to them, if you feel comfortable. Or, if you find one that you really like, you can tell her, and then we'll talk about it.’ And usually, they'll say well--okay, I'll come back, and I'll say, ‘That’s fine, come back in.’ And it's really funny because usually it's in order. I can't figure out why this is--
- That's why I need the pen or a pencil in the room. They never say, "The redhead," or "The one with the short blue skirt," or--
DS: What do they say?
- Rebecca: It's usually in order. They'll say oh, the third one, or the fourth one. Guys have this thing about in order, which order they are in.
- Bill: Really? Right, okay.
- Rebecca: It's always that.
- Bill: Probably easier for them to remember.
- Rebecca: It's a guy thing.
Motivations of the clients
DS: Is it important to establish the motivations of the clients at the outset, such as whether they're looking for something that's a sheer thrill or whether it seems that they are maybe depressed and looking for self-abuse?
- Rebecca: No, because that's not who comes. It's not abusive at all to come here. It's somewhere between--
DS: What if they want it to be abusive, though?
- Bill: What's abuse in your mind? Is striking someone with a paddle abuse? Is that what you mean--do you mean physical abuse, or--see, we--
DS: Well, that's the idea: I don't know. I think it would be the motivation of the person who's on the receiving end. But there must be people out there who do want abuse--
- Rebecca: Right. I'll give you a good example of somebody. There used to be a fellow who used to come in here, and I won't even mention his name, he used to come in here with a big bag, full of really big implements. Frying pans.
- Bill: Mention no names.
- Rebecca: I mean, really big implements. I mean, he wanted--
DS: Frying pans?
- Rebecca: Yeah. He wanted raw emotion; he wanted people to beat the living crap out of him. And, like I said, he wanted raw emotion. He would only come in like once every six, seven months. But he felt that it was a good, healthy outlet for him. He would feel bad about himself, and he got this massive beating two, three times a year, and he was fine. You know, once in my life I was having a tough time and I was feeling pretty crappy. He says, “I get, you know, my good beating, I feel great about myself, and look at you, you're a mess. You're having a tough time.” I said, “You know, you're kind of right.” So who is the better of the two?
DS: So it's not really possible to establish why they're coming in here.
- Rebecca: I think most of the time it's somewhere between taking it to the next level of looking at the girl--of looking at the Playboy magazines--and turning the pages. After that, you have the girl lying in front of you, and you're talking to her. Because once they masturbate and it's over, there's still plenty of time in the appointment. They go on and talk about normal things. They dump their problems, they talk about them, and the girls are, you know, listening about it. And that's why Bill said, he doesn't want pictures of all this stuff hanging on the walls. Because the girls can get really emotional. After three, four sessions, five sessions, you kind of get, you know…
- Bill: I look at the girls as psychotherapists to a degree. They ferret out what they really want. They need to get close to the person. There's a chemistry between two people that happens quicker in our rooms than it does if you meet somebody for a first date or online.
DS: What if a guy wants a guy? Is it only male clientèle that you have?
- Bill: We have couples, we have females.
DS: You have couples. Do you ever have just female?
- Bill: Oh yeah.
DS: And you have just male, too.
- Bill: Mostly male. But we do have females, and we have couples.
DS: What if they want another male involved, that's not a couple?
- Bill: It's not, um--
DS: It's not one of the things that you--
- Bill: I don't want to engage in it; it's not safe.
DS: It's typical that they will orgasm during a session, but do it themselves.
- Rebecca: Mostly.
- Rebecca: I mean, some men don't have orgasms at all.
DS: Got you. Just more of a psychological thing than it is [related to the] experience. What's typical? Something you would say, ‘Ahh, this is just a standard--‘
- Bill: You want to get a bell curve. What's the average session? Somebody getting tied up, spanked?
- Rebecca: A foot fetish.
- Bill: Foot fetish--
- Rebecca: Very, very typical.
DS: I read that recently.
- Rebecca: Very. Yeah.
- Bill: You've been saying that for a long time--
- Rebecca: Well, I saw it not too long ago.
DS: Yeah, I recently saw that foot fetish is like the number one fetish.
- Rebecca: Well, it's true.
DS: Is it licking feet? Is it tickling them? Do the girls lick feet?
- Bill: Yes. Yes. Yes.
- Rebecca: No, the girls don't lick the feet.
DS: They won't lick the feet?
- Rebecca: The guys lick.
- Bill: The guys--
DS: The guys will lick the feet.
- Rebecca: Right. But there's so many things you can do with feet--
DS: Do girls ever act as bottoms in the rooms?
- Rebecca: Do girls what?
DS: Ever act as the bottoms.
- Rebecca: Yeah.
- Bill: He knows that term.
DS: Well, I did my research. [laughs]
- Rebecca: Subs. Subs.
DS: Yeah, subs.
- Rebecca: Subs, right.
- Bill: Yeah, sure. Yup. Yup. Usually pretty mild sessions.
What is not typical
DS: Are there some girls who will not act as a sub?
- Rebecca: Yes.
- Bill: Yes. I don't want most girls getting bruised--
- Rebecca: And that's where we're very, very different; in a lot of places, you don't have a choice.
- Bill: We have a theory, and I have a theory. I have girls that come in for jobs, and I told you, I don't hire them--I have one girl that wanted to get like--there was one girl that wanted to get really--one girl, the blonde, and she wanted to get beaten, and this and that--
DS: And that girl's not for you?
- Bill: I'll tell you why she's not for me, and I'll tell you what I tell the girls who come here. I don't want anybody--when you get a bruise--if you're involved in this, and you bruise your wife--if you bruise your wife, and you bruise her all up, I don't think that hurts your spirit¬ I think when somebody gets bruised--someone that doesn't love them, doesn't care about them, I think ultimately it tears away at the fabric of their spirit. That's my theory--
- Rebecca: The girls here have the complete option to do exactly what they want, and what they don't want. So--
- Bill: If you get in here and say, ‘Listen. I want to suspend this girl, and I want to spank her until she's black and blue, and I have a girl that wants to do that, I probably--when I met her and interviewed her, I probably would have told her, don't do it. I don't want you getting black and blue for a number of reasons. Primarily, if you get too black and blue, you're gonna burn out. You're not going to want to do this, and you're not going to feel good about yourself.
- Rebecca: But aside from that, there are girls that will do A, B, and C, and there are girls that--
DS: But that probably also attracts a certain clientele that you may not want to have…the bruisers…
- Rebecca: Right. Right.
- Bill: Right.
- Rebecca: But the customers that we have--I mean, there are girls that are not comfortable with complete nudity; there are girls that are not comfortable with having their, let's say, breasts touched--and that's okay. We don't make anybody do anything that they don't feel comfortable with--
- Bill: The girls basically can do what they want. If they get to a point where they don't do anything, then nobody's going to take them. So there's hopefully a happy balance--
- Rebecca: And there is. And there is, usually.
DS: Are your employees allowed to meet clients outside of the dungeon?
- Bill: No.
- Rebecca: No.
DS: How do you control that?
- Bill: I have checkers; people that come in. So I kind of know.
- Rebecca: But a lot of them don't want to meet people -- they want to keep it in this other situation.
DS: In the workplace.
- Rebecca: Right. Right.
DS: Is this one of the rooms that's typically used [We are seated in the yellow room found in the photographs]?
- Bill: One of them; one of the less pleasant ones, because there are no windows in it.
- Rebecca: But a lot of times they want a room that has nothing to do with S&M.
DS: This one seems very plain, there's a few things in the corner over there--
- Rebecca: And behind there, there are clothes...
- Bill: Contrary to what you may think, once again, they don't want that black, dark leathery--they want to look--they--where'd you grow up? Where did you grow up?
DS: All over. I've lived in 17 cities, six states and three countries.
- Rebecca: Wow.
- Bill: If you grew up in a neighborhood with a cute--did you grow up in a neighborhood?
DS: Yeah, I had many, I had neighborhoods.
- Bill: Yeah, cute neighbors--cute older women--girls that you saw when you were growing up, you were fourteen or whatever--in your mind, you didn't think, "I'd love her to take me to a basement, and"--I'm not saying you're into this, you don't have to--
DS: But some people would, right?
- Bill: Most would.
DS: Of course. But those people wouldn't also have a desire to come here, right? You're meeting a particular need for a particular segment of the population.
- Bill: No question about it. And we have that room, but which is the most popular room? The Blue Room [see photo]? Her and I fight all the time because I want to paint it. I'd like you to see it before you go.
- Rebecca: We cannot figure out why that room is so popular--
- Bill: We can't.
- Rebecca: Actually, one person has told me, it's because the [seals?]--
DS: What's the blue room, first? Can you describe it?
- Bill: It's like if you and your wife were into it, and you lived somewhere where you had enough room to make a room like a bondage room. It's a nice, moderate color; there's not that much stuff in it. It looks like we took a living room and threw a bondage table in it, and a cross in there.
DS: Got you. Why is it popular?
- Bill: They feel very unthreatened. Assume you came here for a session, okay? And assume you have a wife and your three kids at home; you finally take the plunge to come to a place. You wanna know why we do really, really well, and why we're the leader in this industry? You come here, and you've been calling us, you've been thinking about it, and you're in your mid-thirties and you finally say, ‘You know something? I'm going. I'm just--I'm going.’ You call your wife and you go, ‘Listen, I'm gonna be stuck in the law library tonight, studying.’ You come here and your heart's pounding away; you're going to get treated with dignity, with kid gloves. And you're gonna get treated well. And you're not going to feel like, wow.
Is an S&M dungeon dangerous?
DS: If you introduce the girls and you don't know what the clients want, how do you know that it's going to be a safe situation for one of your employees?
- Bill: Because everybody's filmed as they come in. Have you ever been to a topless bar?
- Bill: You've never been to a topless bar?
DS: Never been to a topless bar.
- Bill: No kidding! Well, if you did, they're probably the safest environment around. Let's assume you came here, and you have a wife at home or a girlfriend or a family, would you want to get into trouble here?
DS: What if they don't? What if they're just a mental case? What if they're a wild card?
- Bill: In our dozen years plus, we've never had one.
DS: You've never had one problem
- Rebecca: No, no, no, we've not had problems--and any problems--
DS: Can you give me an example of a problem that you've had and how you handled it?
- Rebecca: Yeah, a guy that wants his money back, doesn't like the girl. Doesn't happen often.
DS: What happens when that's the case?
- Rebecca: We'll give him his money back.
DS: And you've never had a dangerous situation?
- Bill: Have we ever had a dangerous situation here?
- Rebecca: What do you mean by dangerous?
DS: Instead of dangerous, let's say threatening, where there was concern for either your safety or--
- Bill: I want to answer that question by asking you a question. Do you have a preconceived notion that there could be more danger in this business than let's say, a Taco Bell?
DS: I would say that the nature of the desire between eating and the desire for some sort of sexual pleasure, gratification, that there's always more of a chance for a threatening situation. Someone who wants to go for a taco versus someone who wants to go for a BDSM session--
- Bill: So, if I told you--
DS: I would say that my notion would be yes, I would think that there is more of a likelihood of a threatening situation. Now, if you're talking about a Taco Bell in the middle of the South Bronx, versus this place, I would say they're probably equal in danger.
- Bill: Taco Bell down the block?
DS: A Taco Bell on Park Avenue versus here, I would say that there's more likelihood of a threatening situation occurring in a place like this than in a Taco Bell on Park Avenue.
- Bill: If you look at the holdups, and you look at the robberies at Taco Bells, you take it in the metropolitan area and compare it to us, we've had far fewer problems. Never had a holdup, never had a--Anybody ever have a gun or anything like that or a knife?
- Rebecca: Well, don't forget I have the dog, and I've always had a dog. Before I had her, I had a black lab. I've always--
- Bill: Before you go down that road, David--see, David is inclined, I think, this is what I'm thinking--
DS: I would make an assumption that yes, all things equal, that there might be more of a chance of a dangerous situation happening here. You are rooting around in people’s psychology here.
- Bill: You're more likely to get yourself into trouble in a regular straight bar at night, a regular--a local bar at night, than you would at a topless bar.
- Rebecca: Maybe because we're not a typical place. I have had clients tell me of places that they've gone to--
DS: Where they didn't feel safe. And that's part of the main business model at Rebecca’s, right? That it needs to be a safe environment for the client?
- Bill: We don’t leave a lot of money on the table by not being open that late. We're not open past--
- Rebecca: And we haven't. We've been open 'til one, two, three, four; most of our competition, which I don't ev--
- Bill: We're not open until four. When have we ev--
- Rebecca: No, at times, we've tried--
- Bill: Only if we had a client here. We--
- Rebecca: No, we--in the past, we've tried different hours.
- Bill: We never tried staying open until four in the morning.
- Rebecca: I think three was the latest.
- Bill: No, we tried until one. When we've had special clients, we've stayed open. We've never tried to stay open 'til three or four in the morning.
- Rebecca: I think that one time we stayed open until--
- Bill: We may have stayed open for a special client. We never set our hours until three, because we know that two o'clock, three o'clock in the morning is when the crazies come out in life. When you're in a bar, you see the drunks, you see the guys doing blow at that time.
DS: Is it usually appointments, or is it walk-ins?
- Bill: Always appointments.
- Rebecca: No, it's always appointments. Always appointments. Even though we do have clients who know us very well who will come up and say, "I'm sorry, I was in the neighborhood . . . ."
- Bill: Right, right. That's true. That's true.
- Rebecca: But I have--
DS: You make exceptions for certain clients.
- Rebecca: Right.
- Bill: Even then, what percentage would you say that is?
- Rebecca: It's nothing.
- Bill: Like what percentage? Give him a percentage he could go on.
- Rebecca: It's very, very small.
DS: Is that because their desire--when they have a desire to come here--it's usually something that they plan out?
- Rebecca: It's because honestly, they're so respectable.
- Bill: I guess that's the point. The people that come here--[you wouldn't hear screaming; you might hear they’ve got a big spanking going, but they have money. We're not getting the sociopathic group--pathological group--they probably wouldn't have the money--the people, the maniacal crazies--they're not going to have the money to come up and do this type of session. If they would like to come here a second, third and fourth time, they know how to behave and fly straight.
- Rebecca: Well, we in turn treat them well. What has been printed out from that script.
- Bill: But David's question is very interesting. And your question really is asking another question. How dangerous, how heavy is this?
DS: If I went to a Taco Bell and I said, "Can you name a dangerous situation?" they would say, "Oh, that time I got held up." So I guess I'm curious about a threatening situation that you might encounter or have encountered.
- Bill: And I guess that's the interesting thing. Given what we do, it's probably not as threatening as Taco Bell. In the first place, we had all sorts of bolts and deadbolts on the door.
- Rebecca: Right.
- Bill: I mean, it’s like Fort Knox. I mean, you can get hurt anywhere.
DS: Sure. Sure. But all that aside, what would be a threatening situation that you've had to handle?
- Bill: Has anybody ever attacked you with a gun or a knife--
- Rebecca: No, I mean--
- Bill: Have we ever had to call the cops on anybody?
DS: Have you ever had to kick somebody out?
- Rebecca: No, I've said to people, "Listen, I'm going to ask you to leave," and they'd be like, "Okay, fine." I--
DS: Why have you had to ask people to leave?
- Rebecca: Um, because they're being obnoxious. Because they're--but I do think having the dog with me has made things--
DS: It's preventative.
- Rebecca: Yeah. Yeah. I've always had the dog with me.
- Bill: You didn't have the dog in the other place always.
On S&M burnout
- Bill: But back to the room. I don't want them going into a threatening room, and looking around and seeing threatening black, dark objects that you would just think, "Oh, my God--"
DS: The seven circles of Hell . . . .
- Bill: Yeah, yeah.
- Rebecca: We used to have a lot of S&M pictures, and we thought it was not good for the girls or the guys--
DS: Why would it not be good for the girls or the guys?
- Bill: Rebecca and I both like to sleep at night and feel that we have a good conscience. We don't want to burn anybody out. I don't want anybody working here and in a bad position when they leave. I tell them right before I hire them, ‘You know, I'm open to the exchange. When you leave here, I'll meet you somewhere. I always tell them, I'd like to be able to buy you a meal or a cup of coffee at the very least somewhere, and hope that you'll take something out of here.’ What happens is, they get so involved with this stuff and so quickly that they it’s like they just overfeed on it. And they--
DS: --need a break?
- Bill: I don't want them looking at a pair of stilettos and this and that--they see enough of it. What I call "Hairy Ass Syndrome." What that means is a girl can only look at so many hairy asses until after a while you want to, like, explode!
DS: Give me a smooth one.
- Bill: Or give me no ass, give me a Disney film!
- Rebecca: You have to know, most other people that own these type of places don't think about it.
- Bill: They really don't.
- Rebecca: No, they don't. They don't care.
DS: Are there people who would not be attracted to this kind of an environment, that want the crazier--
- Bill: Yeah, oh yeah, sure. They want the, uh--the hardcore crew.
DS: And probably so you wouldn't see them, but you'd probably have an idea about the--
- Bill: We have--I'll call the black room. We have that room for them that looks heavier. And we have girls that--
- Rebecca: I want to tell you. We also have girls that work at other places, like Jada, and the girl who said, "Hi, nice to meet you." And she's a darling girl!
- Bill: You might wanna talk to some--see--
DS: Yeah, I'd love to talk to them, too. What's their average length of employment?
- Rebecca: It's usually pretty long.
- Bill: We have one girl that's been--how long has Tracy been here? Ten years? Eleven years? There's nowhere to go if they leave here. If you want to stay in the industry--
DS: Is it usually a temporary job, until they move on to something else?
- Bill: Yeah.
DS: Like "I'm putting myself through school."
- Bill: Well, no, probably most of our girls are post-college.
DS: Paying debts down?
- Bill: I guess.
Criticism of BDSM
DS: Some critics of BDSM say that it encourages domestic violence.
- Bill: When they talk about BDSM, they have no idea what the real world of BDSM is all about. They are maybe the way you were before you came in here. You researched it a little; I don't know if you watched a few movies; I don't know if you went online to see what you could find out about BDSM. They get a very, very skewed, incorrect view of what BDSM is. That's the problem in our world. If you go to a mainstream, Hollywood movie and they include a minute of it—it’s usually all wrong.
- The critics of BDSM--it's not like being a critic of pedophiles. You pretty much know what pedophiles do. How does a critic of BDSM learn what BDSM is all about? And how do they substantiate that it promotes domestic violence? That's what I would love to know.
DS: And you don't think it does.
- Bill: I think on the contrary. You know what I think? I think that if somebody comes in here--let's say I want to beat my wife. My big, fat, two-hundred-and-forty-pound, tub-of-shit, fat-assed wife. I come in here, and I find somebody that will allow me to spank them to the degree that I--they will allow me. And maybe I meet in the middle somewhere. Maybe she's a hundred and twenty pounds and beautiful; I'm willing to say, you know something? I'll spank you a lot less hard than I'd like to spank my wife. My feeling is that they're not going to go spank that girl and go home and beat the shit out of his wife. I think they're going sublimate it that way. I'd love to see literature somewhere that has any kind of data that will illustrate that people that enter into a BDSM relationship are more likely.
- Rebecca: I think the true pedophile knows he can't do it to little girls, little boys. I mean isn't it proven that even though they try to make them stop liking it, they can't stop liking it. If you like ice cream, you like it, and you're just not going to be able to stop liking it, no matter how many drugs, how many things they do to you. So if they come in here, and a woman is wearing a skirt and maybe a ponytail or pigtails, and he's able to act out his fantasies that way, is that not a healthier release than to go out and maybe--
- Bill: --there's different theories in aggression and violence--they're polar opposites. One of them is you have a child, and you teach the child that when they're angry, you take this plastic bag and beat the living shit out of that dummy outside. The child's learning at an early age how to associate the violence with the hitting and sublimate his violence. But how's he sublimating it? By hitting. As we get to be adults and we learn how to sublimate it, we're able to draw a conclusion, "Hey, I'm hitting the dummy." But it feels good to get it out, which is why--
- Rebecca: Right.
- Bill: --you look like maybe run-- do you do some athletics?
DS: Yes, some.
- Bill: Okay. You look like you're in nice, good shape, flat stomach. You feel angry, you feel aggressive, does the gym help you?
DS: Yeah, sure.
- Bill: Why would you push those weights around and pull 'em and curl 'em and then take a weight and smack a girl on the head with it? In other words--to use a very lay term--you are getting it out of your system to a point. Now can I categorically say that somebody can come in here and get it out? No. But I really, strongly believe that people who do this are much less likely to commit a violent act. It's like when a guy ejaculates--orgasms--the brain fuel subsides. The fantasies that he might have prior to masturbating, after they masturbate, they subside. So, if a guy can do this once a month, once every month and a half, once every six months, and let's assume he is a pedophile--
- "BDSM as business: Interviews with Dominatrixes" — Wikinews, October 28, 2007
- "Dr. Joseph Merlino on sexuality, insanity, Freud, fetishes and apathy" — Wikinews, October 5, 2007