He Developed A Devoted BDSM Following Online. Then He Was Accused Of Rape.

“I knew nothing, I was new to the scene. I was just his type,” says a woman who accused a well-known poster on the website FetLife of sexual assault.

Adrienne sat on her double bed in her tiny Sydney apartment, reading The Wolf’s erotica on her aging MacBook Pro. A pink-haired, petite 23-year-old university student, Adrienne had recently joined FetLife, a “Facebook for kinky people” where users post homemade pornographic videos, pictures and writing.

When Adrienne joined in early 2015, The Wolf was posting vivid first-person accounts of his intense, violent sexual encounters with women, some of whom he said he’d just met. His stories were FetLife’s most popular content.

The Wolf claimed a unique ability to identify sexually submissive women’s secret desires. “I’m looking for her subconscious to tell me what’s right for her and I know that it will,” he wrote.

Adrienne, which is not her real name, was shy about communicating her desires and loved the idea of a man wordlessly discerning her sexual limits. And the sheer scale and vibrancy of the FetLife community, which claims 8.5 million users, made Adrienne feel that her desires were normal, even commonplace, and that acting on them was possible. She constructed a profile, uploading revealing photographs of herself, creating a username and outlining her sexual interests.

She found The Wolf’s boasts credible because his partners also posted on FetLife, testifying on their profile pages — and his — that he was indeed able to size them up and determine their sexual needs. Judging by FetLife, not a single woman who’d met The Wolf had left unsatisfied.

Adrienne knew that, on FetLife, people reveal fantasies that are often subversive, sometimes taboo and occasionally illegal. But The Wolf’s stories were different because he said they were true. “Much of my behavior was extremely risky, and if not handled correctly, could cause serious physical or mental injury, as well as having legal ramifications,” he told readers.

She also noticed that he disdained traditional BDSM safety techniques. Because its members engage in acts that can cause physical and emotional harm, the BDSM community traditionally prioritizes conversations about consent and personal limits. Adrienne knew that most BDSM players use pre-agreed hand signals or safe words, which are supposed to stop a scene immediately. But in the writings she read, The Wolf spurned community norms of communication and transparency.

“I don’t negotiate scenes, I don’t use safe words, I play right on the edge of consent,” he wrote in one post. “I don’t shy away from the fact that I don’t embrace the protocols and rituals that accompany classic BDSM.”

“Adrienne knew that, on FetLife, people reveal fantasies that are often subversive, sometimes taboo and occasionally illegal. But The Wolf’s stories were different because he said they were true.”

The Wolf was practicing an extreme form of what’s called “consensual non-consent,” or CNC, in which individuals might choose to relinquish their power to veto what happens to them during sex. Few BDSM players practice CNC, which is exceptionally fraught because partners aren’t able to communicate distress.

Despite his public disdain for community norms ― or perhaps because of it ― many FetLife users found The Wolf’s writing irresistible. One user dubbed him “the Stephen King of kink.” Clubs sprouted up on FetLife formed by people who were into The Wolf’s style of play, which they called “Wolffucking.” Chapters formed in Canada, France, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the Netherlands, England and more than a dozen cities and regions in the United States.

His female fans began calling themselves The Wolf’s “Maidens” and formed a group of more than 650 members. They policed FetLife to ensure The Wolf wasn’t criticized. If you wrote something negative, “you’d get 50 to 70 people s**tting all over you,” said one veteran FetLifer.

In 2015, spurred by his burgeoning celebrity, The Wolf had self-published a 60,000-word collection of his stories from FetLife alongside some new ones, which Adrienne purchased on Amazon. He followed it up with a second book — the only work he ever described in real time as fictitious. The books sold about 10,000 copies, The Wolf said later, adding that he donated $16,000 — proceeds from his books, autographs and photos he signed, and memorabilia he auctioned off — to an animal protection charity called Critters in Need.

At the peak of Wolfmania, some Maidens organized conventions. The North Carolina Wolffucking club hosted one at an inn in Banner Elk one weekend in 2015. Nearly 100 people participated, staying in the hotel or in nearby cabins and attending sex parties, photoshoots and BDSM educational sessions. Conference organizers flew The Wolf himself in from Australia and covered all his expenses, according to multiple FetLifers and attendees.

“A lot of people really wanted ... just to meet the person behind a lot of the stories,” says Chris Matic, a female Austin, Texas-based FetLifer who attended. A similar event was held in Rochester, New York, that same year, and again, The Wolf was flown in and put up for the party.

Impressed by his writing and FetLife fame, Adrienne sent The Wolf a friend request so she could follow his stories. He sent her a private message saying he liked her pictures and told her to respond if she wanted to know more.

She did.

FetLife is not a dating site, but its orientation around BDSM lends itself to users making sexual connections. That can be problematic for users who are young or inexperienced in BDSM. Adrienne was both.

“New girls to the scene don’t understand consent the way others do,” she said. “I knew nothing, I was new to the scene. I was just his type.”

She told him she found his stories simultaneously exciting and terrifying. He confided that he didn’t like people, that they sucked the life out of him. She found him charming and attractively dangerous.

The Wolf suggested that he and Adrienne get together. She told him, “I’d like to meet. I’d be nervous and awkward though.”

He wrote back, “Yeah well, I’ll not be for both of us.” He explained to her how it would work. Upon meeting him, she had 20 minutes to leave. “If we’re still there after 20 minutes, you’ve given up all decision making power … you’ll do as you’re told and not ask question[s].”

Adrienne responded that it sounded frightening ― she was new to this, after all.

“Yeah, I figured it is. We can chat more,” The Wolf wrote back, according to screenshots of the conversation. “But that’s kinda how I do things.”

He said he would play to her level and that nobody had walked away from him within those 20 minutes.

They never discussed safe words.

BDSM Goes Mainstream

Once considered deviant behavior, BDSM is popular like never before. “Fifty Shades of Grey” sold more than 100 million copies and spawned three Hollywood films that grossed more than 1 billion dollars worldwide. “S&M,” Rihanna’s 2011 track, hit No. 1 on the charts around the world.

Americans have embraced kink in their private lives, too. One survey found that more than one-third of adults in the U.S. use masks, blindfolds and other bondage instruments during sex. “Almost everyone” has had a BDSM fantasy at some point, according to Justin Lehmiller, a researcher at the Kinsey Institute who conducted the largest and most comprehensive survey of Americans’ fantasies ever.

But at the same time, the rigorous rules around consent and safety that were integral to earlier, smaller BDSM communities have been abandoned — particularly in freewheeling online communities like FetLife. In fact, the company actively discourages users from complaining about consent violations by other users. As a result, the world’s most popular BDSM congregation protects alleged predators and leaves many kinksters vulnerable.

In 2011, for example, FetLife administrators shut down a “callout page” on the site that encouraged users to share first-person accounts of abuse at the hands of other FetLife users or anonymously confess to misconduct. Admins told users to cease calling out anyone by name, citing the site’s terms of use, which prohibit members from making “criminal accusations against another member in a public forum.” In one case, The Atlantic reported, FetLife responded to a woman who described her sexual assault by removing her post and telling her that she’d violated the site’s terms.

Because of FetLife’s enforcement of its policies, users resorted to privately circulating names of alleged predators or those who used the site for harassment. “People just realized that the policies of FetLife were up to the site and the site didn’t particularly care,” says one of the activists who ran the callout page. (FetLife didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment for this article.)

“FetLife actively discourages users from complaining about consent violations by other users. As a result, the world’s most popular BDSM congregation protects alleged predators and leaves many kinksters vulnerable.”

The Wolf got the same protection. When several veteran BDSM players warned that his writings on the site were dangerous portrayals of sexual assault, not of consensual BDSM, the company stuck to its strategy of silencing the accusers.

“The whole ‘swept away’ trope is great for ‘willing victim’ rape themed stories, but it doesn’t play nearly that clean in real life all the time,” one user, who I’ll call Joey, wrote in a 2015 FetLife post. “Under the banner of ‘It isn’t rape if the victim gives permission afterwards’ then I guess all behavior in the story is worthy of all the loves and comments it received.”

Soon after Joey’s post appeared, FetLife administrators notified him that he was suspended from the site and demanded that he cease mentioning The Wolf, according to an email Joey showed me. “Because of the ongoing problems between you and The Wolf, this email will serve for what we call a FetLife Restraining Order, in the hopes that it will help resolve any further problems between the two of you,” it read. “If the behavior continues, someone may be removed and banned from the site.”

The Wolf’s supporters called Joey a “consent vigilante” and “censor” on FetLife, screenshots show. Other FetLifers who criticized The Wolf’s popularity say they received similar notes from FetLife or the Maidens demanding they stop. If you wrote something negative, “you’d get 50 to 70 people shitting all over you,” says one veteran FetLifer.

These pile-ons discouraged others from speaking out about The Wolf — and enhanced his aura. “It is easy to look like a guru when every response is a sycophantic sigh, and when there are no dissenting voices, there’s an ever-growing perception that the author must be right,” says Tony Robinson, a Sydney-based FetLifer. “Some did try to explain that there were dangers inherent in playing without negotiation, in undertaking such heavy play with ‘newbies’; they were promptly blocked [by The Wolf and FetLife] so they couldn’t comment further.”

But because FetLife was so eager to keep any criticism of its star poster — and many broader discussions about consent and assaults by users — off its site, Adrienne didn’t know about any of it when she agreed to meet The Wolf.

In fact, she didn’t know much about BDSM at all. She hoped he would teach her.

Meeting The Wolf

The Wolf’s real name is Liam Gordon Murphy. Thirty-eight years old whenhe met Adrienne, he was a fit, tall, handsome marketing executive. He lived with his wife and their child in a $1.3 million house in Sydney’s suburbs. But he says he and his wife were separated and he was looking elsewhere.

Murphy created a FetLife profile, eventually settling on the username The Wolf. The handle suggested mystery, confidence, aggression. One of his partners had given him the nickname, he wrote online. “Most men are like dogs, they try to please,” she reportedly told him. “You are like the Wolf; you take what you want.”

Adrienne was reassured by some of the Maidens testifying to The Wolf’s almost telepathic abilities to discern women’s needs. “That’s so pleasurable, that’s exciting,” she said. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t work.”

It did work, at first. The first night the two met, they had consensual sex, and they did so again on several other occasions. He checked in with her afterward via texts to make sure she enjoyed their encounters.

But then things changed. One afternoon in June 2015, they met at a Sydney hotel with another woman, taking the elevator together to a room Murphy had reserved. He secured Adrienne to the bed with zip ties while he and the other woman drank champagne. But once Murphy began having sex with Adrienne, she told him to stop. During previous encounters that she’d enjoyed, she’d asked him to stop, and he hadn’t. This time, however, she genuinely wanted him to stop, but they didn’t have a safe word. He kept going, which caused her to scream in pain and start crying.

She got up to leave, but Murphy persuaded her stay, comforting her before he recommenced sex with the other woman.

“I didn’t want to deal with what happened. I was aware that I was hurt physically. But I didn’t recognize it at the time that I was hurt mentally by what happened,” she said later.

Murphy says he could tell that Adrienne wasn’t enjoying having another woman present and stopped the scene. “Even without her saying a word, I was still very conscious of what she was and wasn’t enjoying and took action accordingly,” he says. “I could’ve just continue[d] the scene and got my rocks off and ignored her discomfort, and if I was really this terrible guy that they pretend me to be, I would have.”

Murphy drove Adrienne home. He apologized for hurting her and she told him it was OK. Later that day, he sent her a text message again apologizing for hurting her. She thanked him for hosting and said that while she enjoyed herself, threesomes wouldn’t be a regular occurrence for her. They met twice for sex subsequently.

Adrienne knew something wrong had occurred during her hotel encounter with Murphy and the other woman, but she didn’t know how to process it. She blamed herself because she knew The Wolf’s practices might cross her line of comfort but met him anyway. And she says she was suffering mental health problems and was afraid of everything, so her fear of Murphy during sex didn’t strike her as something notable.

In the following months, her depression gradually lifted. Her friends told her that what Murphy had done to her was unacceptable, a key intervention for many young people in understanding their experiences of sexual assault. Adrienne remembered that Murphy had surprised her once during sex by filming her without her permission. She began wondering whether The Wolf’s abilities to mind-read women might have been exaggerated.

‘I Do Sometimes Make Mistakes’

Then Adrienne saw posts on Fetlife that made her think of the hotel encounter less like kink and more like criminal sexual assault. That isn’t unusual. Rape victims can take years to process their assaults and identify what happened to them as rape. More than 60% of female assault survivors do not initially acknowledge that they have been raped, according to a 2015 study by psychologists Laura Wilson and Katherine Miller published in the journal Trauma, Abuse and Violence.

In October 2015, Adrienne read a FetLife post by a 23-year old whom I’ll call Lisa — HuffPost does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault without their consent — who’d also met with The Wolf. Their encounter that August was initially consensual, she wrote. But eventually, she contended, it was not. “I begged you to stop and you kept going,” she texted him, according to her FetLife post. “You are supposed to know when to stop and it was pretty damn clear.” (Lisa declined to speak with me.)

After Lisa wrote about her encounter, Murphy sent her a private response, which she later added to the post. “I don’t disagree,” he said in his message to her. “It doesn’t happen often but I do sometimes make mistakes...I misjudged how much ‘scared’ you could handle and I agree that when playing this close to the edge, there should be a safe word.”

“The community tends to treat Consensual Non-Consent play with a lot of caution,” said Gallaudet University’s Julie Fennell, a sociologist who studies BDSM. Experimenting with CNC without serious consideration is frowned upon, she said, but it’s what The Wolf was showcasing. Fennell noted that “There are definitely scales of CNC play, and the kind the Wolf was engaging in are at the way, extreme end of the scale.”

Lisa’s post was among several by women who claimed The Wolf had violated them or others. Adrienne wrote three posts in response. In one of them, called “Why I Sit on the Fence,” Adrienne wrote that The Wolf “may not know the extent of pain he may have caused because he is so charming that people, especially women, want to make him like them.” She added: “I don’t feel like I was a victim of his. Does that mean others don’t feel like that?”

“I knew nothing, I was new to the scene. I was just his type.”

- Adrienne

One of the Maidens, who was a sexual partner of The Wolf’s and involved in some of the incidents described as assaults, sent Adrienne a private message asking her to get off the fence because the accusations against The Wolf were wrong and very serious.

“Because you guys ‘play’ with consent, I would hope the line is where people start to feel abused. Which they are now,” Adrienne responded. She didn’t want to get involved but she also didn’t want to see Murphy again.

The groundswell continued, with one of the highest-profile Maidens saying she witnessed and participated in The Wolf’s assault on and manipulation of women. She wrote that he’d held a girl’s hand above a stove while she cried, surprised vulnerable women by bringing in other partners spontaneously, and violated their consent repeatedly.

The Wolf also uploaded a video of himself having sex with a girl he and others discovered was 16 years old at the time ― the age of consent in Sydney, but still a young teenager. On FetLife, she admitted that she told him she was 21 and apologized for lying. The Wolf threatened to sue the teen for lying to him about her age. These events began diminishing his mystique.

Still, it shocked FetLife when, in October 2016, police in New South Wales, the province containing Sydney, arrested Murphy, and prosecutors charged him with raping Lisa.

After seeing The Wolf’s arrest and befriending one of the women who said Murphy was a predator, Adrienne also went to police and said that Murphy had violated her consent twice: by videotaping her and by continuing to have sex with her after she was in pain and told him to stop. She told me that she had changed her mind about the harm his actions caused; she was sick of being afraid and she went to police because she thought that Murphy would continue assaulting women if he wasn’t stopped.

In June 2017, prosecutors charged Murphy with raping Adrienne.

Murphy pleaded not guilty in both cases, hired a celebrity attorney named Charles Waterstreet, known for his high-profile cases and flamboyant behavior, and prepared to combat what he said were false accusations from women determined to destroy him.

How FetLife Responded

The charges against Murphy came when Fetlife was already in crisis. In 2017, credit card companies stopped processing payments from the company’s accounts. One company had objected to the site’s hosting of “blood, needles, and vampirism” while another company cited “illegal or immoral” content, Fetlife’s CEO, John Baku, said online. To reduce financial and legal risk, FetLife deleted and prohibited any content promoting non-consensual acts like rape or abductions and anything that would leave permanent markings such as deep cutting or killing.

Fetlife also removed consensual non-consent from the site. “These guidelines aren’t intended to be a negative comment against your kink or your fantasies,” Baku explained to members. Legal considerations influenced his thinking, he wrote. Another factor, he said, was “a highly publicized rape case in Australia involving a member of the community.”

But even after the CNC ban, it’s still not clear whether FetLife actually does anything to encourage victims of abuse to contact authorities, let alone to educate its users about consent.

“If they can’t provide some means of reporting people then some kind of guide/advice/helplines to dealing with sexual assault and consent violations should be front and center on the site,” Brian Kelly, a former developer for FetLife, said in an email. “Or you should be able to anonymously & privately flag people and perhaps FetLife could then look into folks with multiple reports. The site fails hard at putting pertinent, educational information in front of users.”

‘Are You Asking Me Why I Would Lie To My Rapist?’

Adrienne had been skeptical that police would act on her story, but once they did, she was hopeful that Murphy would be put on trial and convicted. She was dismayed to learn that, according to New South Wales law, hearings would first be held to determine if a jury might convict Murphy. If a magistrate believed it might, the case would go to trial. To Adrienne, this two-step process felt like an unfair burden for survivors of sexual assault.

Hearings began in September 2017 in an old seven-level building in Sydney’s business district. Christopher Halburd, a magistrate in a robe and a wig, presided. Adrienne, who feared being late or encountering Murphy, arrived early. She sat on a chair beside a friend and a Court Officer in a tiny room adjacent to the courtroom, speaking via video link. She felt unprepared and thought she should be safe and concede as little as possible to Waterstreet, who had vast courtroom experience.

Before a crowd of reporters tapping on computer keyboards and scribbling in notepads, Waterstreet read Adrienne’s FetLife post where she wrote that she didn’t feel like Murphy’s victim. He asked her to open an envelope containing screenshots of her text messages telling Murphy she enjoyed their experiences, which she hadn’t gotten the chance to review beforehand.

Waterstreet asked her why she told Murphy she enjoyed herself after their evening in the hotel if she hadn’t.

“Are you asking me why I would lie to my rapist?” she replied.

Waterstreet argued that Murphy was the victim of “an online bullying campaign.” He said that Adrienne was directed to make false accusations by her boyfriend. Halburd, the magistrate, asserted that “there was no evidence” supporting that theory.

Halburd acknowledged that sometimes assault victims don’t immediately recognize their experiences as rape. But he concluded that a jury would find the evolution in Adrienne’s account troubling, particularly when she wrote on FetLife that she didn’t feel like a victim.

Should the case proceed to trial, “the complainant’s credibility would be found to be significantly damaged,” he said. “In my view a jury would find that the behaviour and writings of the complainant after the incident complained of are inconsistent with someone who has actually withdrawn consent.”

Lisa’s complaint against Murphy fared no better. Like Adrienne, she had written things on FetLife that juries would find problematic, Halburd determined. Lisa had told Murphy before they met that she wanted him to “really scare her.” After their encounter, Lisa had texted Murphy and said, “God, I don’t think you’re a rapist.” As in Adrienne’s case, what Lisa wrote immediately after her alleged assault convinced Halburd that no jury would convict Murphy.

And so, in June 2018, Halburd dismissed Murphy’s charges.

“I never changed my story. I changed how I felt about it.”

- Adrienne

Hearing Halburd’s decision, Murphy put his head in his hands, sighed with relief and hugged Waterstreet. Outside, they praised Halburd.

“It’s not an easy political climate for him to be making decisions like that,” Murphy said, referring to the Me Too movement that he apparently believes works to ruin innocent men like him.

Adrienne now scorns what she calls her “weakness” in her dealings with Murphy and is angry that a magistrate could pre-empt a jury trial. She showed me a section of Australia’s Criminal Procedures Act, which permits judges to inform juries that differences in accounts of sexual assault are common, as are the differing effects of traumatic events upon victims’ memories and evolutions in how they think about their assaults. “I never changed my story,” she told me. “I changed how I felt about it, or at least how I admitted to myself I felt about it.”

In our conversations, Adrienne, who has since enrolled in law school, didn’t come across as angry with Murphy. She considered him incapable of remorse. But she was angry at the justice system and “indignant about FetLife,” she said.

It feels like the world is determined to silence victims of assault, she said. When I suggested that the site maintains a hands-off policy toward accusations of sexual assault, she disagreed. “FetLife works on behalf of predators by silencing victims,” she said. “They aren’t hands off.”

‘There Are No Victims In This’

After the charges against him were dropped, Murphy told Australian media that he wanted to fix the “broken system” that “bludgeon[s] innocent people to death.” He added, “there need to be charges against people who make false allegations” about rape. “I want to see the MeToo movement succeed, and I don’t think it can succeed unless there’s some sort of sanity brought into the process,” he said. He recently filed a lawsuit against New South Wales police, accusing them of suppressing evidence.

Murphy also rejoined FetLife, and women resumed contacting him. Some wrote to express relief that he was not actually what the newspapers had said he was. Some thanked him for being brave.

“He is not a predator,” Matic, the Austin-based FetLifer, told me. “Anybody who went to meet with Liam knew exactly what they were getting into from his stories. ... There are no victims in this, only volunteers.”

Murphy says the charges and hearings took a toll on him. He sent me an essay about suicide attempts he made following his arrest, which described “two years of incessant psychological torture.” He told me, “my wife and I were living [separate] lives in those years but we’d probably still be married now for the sake [of] our child if it wasn’t for what happened.” His lawsuit against police says he was “unable to continue his career as a National Marketing Manager” after the arrest. He’s found a job in sales, though, he told me in February.

According to Murphy, the women who accused him of rape were lying because they wanted to date him and he would not commit to them. “All the women that I played those games with had a great time, and said so at the time and for a long time afterward,” he said. “Those girls can’t retrospectively withdraw either their sentiment or their consent.”

I asked Murphy why, if the women’s complaints were bogus, he would have apologized to Lisa after she wrote that he had violated her. “One issue that I have is that when someone seems upset with me I tend to just apologise because I want to make them feel better,” he said. “I apologised to [Lisa] as ... my knee jerk response. That was stupid.... Look what happened when I tried to be the nice guy.”

The Wolf has begun writing on FetLife again. He opined on “how false rape accusations arise and what it means for all of us.” His profile linked to his older stories. This summer, he posted new erotica directed at an unnamed woman: “I see it..the depravity you seek...it shines like a beacon, just beyond your f**k no.”

About a year ago, he entered a discussion in one of the Wolf groups that are still open on FetLife and list him as their leader. “Now that The Wolf is back,” one of its members asked on the site, “are we going to have events again or [is] this group still in limbo?” A few people responded before The Wolf himself chimed in.

“Dudes and Dudettes,” he wrote, “event it up!”

Illustration: Jon Han for HuffPost