When 31-year-old Ava was first introduced to the Bambi Sleep files in summer 2019 — under the guidance of someone we’re calling James, a self-described hypnotist whom she’d met through the website Seeking Arrangements — she thought it was going to be fun. (BuzzFeed News is using pseudonyms to refer to the people in this story to protect their identities, due to their fears about potential retaliation and the nature of the traumatic events discussed in this article. Our sources had not brought formal criminal charges against James at the time of publication and BuzzFeed News has chosen not to name him.)
Made by an anonymous creator — whom no one has been able to identify as of yet — the Bambi Sleep files first appeared online in 2017. The collection of hypnosis recordings are designed to instill a “Bambi” persona in the minds of their listeners. Under the influence of the files, hypnosis subjects are meant to become obedient, feminine, dim-witted, sex-obsessed people who, most importantly, are supposedly unable to remember the content of the recordings outside of their listening sessions.
The files — which fall under the umbrella of erotic hypnosis, a form of sexual play in which people undergo hypnosis and enter trance states in the pursuit of sexual pleasure — are often set to soothing background noises like chattering crowds and ticking metronomes. Their messages are delivered by a series of high-pitched, stereotypically feminine voices made by text-to-voice generators. In early recordings, the dialogue is tame: “All the parts of you that ever bothered you slowly flow away,” one says. “Your worries, your thoughts, your doubts, your will, your memories.”
Over time, as users listen to more of the files and go deeper into the world of Bambi, the recordings become more unsettling, painting a picture of a compliant sex object without “any ability to counteract her deep bimbo programming.” One section of the recordings describes Bambi becoming “a docile, unconscious dolly who accepts and forgets everything.”
The Bambi Sleep files have generated an online community that has attracted more than 20,000 members on Reddit, although the wider erotic hypnosis community considers the recordings to be too powerful, even dangerous. “The most frightening thing about these files is they aim to artificially create something akin to dissociative identity disorder,” an observer said in one of the countless Reddit posts dedicated to warning people away.
But Ava didn’t know any of that at the time.
When she first began listening to the Bambi Sleep files under the guidance of James, who coached her through the recordings during in-person meetups, Ava — who is nonbinary and uses she/they pronouns — was androgynous in appearance and was considering having her breasts removed. She thought the files could be an interesting way to explore her femininity and help her battle the dysphoria she felt about her body. She also hoped the files might offer anxiety relief and help her feel carefree. Though she was interested in mindfulness and meditation, she approached erotic hypnosis with low expectations — she didn’t believe it would work on her.
But the changes came on quickly and unexpectedly. Ava said she developed a “valley girl” accent, even though she is from the East Coast. She ditched her jeans and gothic look for sexier, more stereotypically feminine outfits. She dyed her black hair blonde. She began to dress in pink — a color she hadn’t considered wearing since childhood.
As she made her way through the Bambi Sleep files with James, Ava felt empowered. “I felt confident. I felt like this is what I was supposed to be doing. It felt good. I felt hot,” Ava admitted. Although she claimed she started to experience memory loss and struggled to focus at work, she said listening to the recordings every night tamped down her anxiety. They were an escape from the stresses of daily life. “For a while, I was on cloud nine, kind of living in this blissful little space and having fun,” she continued. “Until it started to not be fun anymore.”
“I can’t go to the cops and tell them I was fucking brainwashed and sexually assaulted. They’re gonna laugh at me. They’re gonna think I’m on drugs!”
To people who know him, James is seen as a good guy: an open-minded pansexual man who lives on the East Coast and works in tech, enjoys sports, and has even volunteered in his spare time. When Ava met him, she felt he was nerdy and slightly awkward — exactly the kind of man she’d thought would be into erotic hypnosis. She felt comforted by the fact he also moved in genderqueer circles.
But Ava and several other people who spoke to BuzzFeed News claim James is a dangerous person who used the Bambi Sleep files and other forms of hypnosis to create a collection of worshipful “Bambis” for his own sexual pleasure, and to facilitate months of repeated sexual assault, electric shocking, brainwashing, gaslighting, choking, and humiliation rituals against them.
The former members of James’s group who came forward with allegations, some of whom are sex workers, feel they were selected deliberately. “I think by design he picks people that don’t have all these things going for them because he can discount us as whores — he could write us all off as crazy,” Ava said.
The group’s members also said they were scared to go to the police due to fears of retaliation from James and concerns that they would not be believed by law enforcement officers. “I can’t go to the cops and tell them I was fucking brainwashed and sexually assaulted. They’re gonna laugh at me. They’re gonna think I’m on drugs!” added Ava, who has instead used existing whisper networks in the BDSM scene to get word out about James. “Even knowing what to do, or where to go, or who to tell about this stuff without seeming insane has been a struggle to say the least.”
According to Luke Chao, who has been practicing hypnotherapy from his own clinic in Canada since 2006, hypnosis works by helping a person suspend their “critical faculty” or “disbelief.” Under the guidance of a hypnotist, who uses progressive relaxation techniques like countdown sequences, a subject can enter a hypnotic or trance state. This allows them to set aside the normal thoughts they usually have and more readily accept thoughts or suggestions from a hypnotist.
“One thing I often say to my clients is that the ‘right’ feeling when you’re being hypnotized is like being a kid at the feet of your favorite storyteller,” said Chao, who has used these states to help clients quit smoking, make better health choices, and revisit and work through past traumas, “because often that’s the last time people felt this way.” One way of understanding how this works, Chao said, was to think about how soothing most people find English broadcaster David Attenborough’s voice. “Hypnosis is a normal human phenomenon being used in a very intentional and specific way,” he added. “It’s not actually that mystical.”
Erotic hypnosis, on the other hand, provides an opportunity for consensual power exchange between a dominant (the hypnotist) and a submissive (the subject) in a way that is sexual. “Erotic hypnosis occupies a very specialized niche of BDSM. A dom is taking mental power that you’re giving them, or more accurately borrowing mental power that is given to them, for a specified period of time,” said Eric Chambers, an adjunct professor of linguistics at the State University of New York, research director at the Center for Positive Sexuality, and one of the few academics who has studied erotic hypnosis.
Chambers’s doctoral research explored an online community of gay men who partook in a form of erotic play similar to the Bambi Sleep files, in which hypnosis subjects sought to enter into the mental state of a “cocky jock”; they transformed themselves into “dumb” caricatures who were preoccupied with their looks, physique, and the pursuit of sexual pleasure and submission. “I think it allowed people to explore who they are, and maybe even take some of that into their lives. You know, Maybe I’ll feel a little bit confident about who I am as a person, even if I don’t have the ultimate jock body,” Chambers said. “Allowing people to feel more comfortable with who they are as a person is really one of the main goals of erotic hypnosis and BDSM in general.”
Chao believes the appeal of entering these hypnotic states — a common sub kink known to insiders as “bimbofication” — lies in their ability to help people switch off. “It’s that element of giving themselves up to someone and relinquishing responsibility and decision-making,” said Chao, who noted that powerful and intelligent people often use bimbofication as a form of stress relief. “Even if you’re a lawyer in real life, you can imagine you’re just a pampered house pet. You let that all go and become an airheaded bimbo.”
In an email sent to BuzzFeed News after his interview, Chao said he was impressed by the audio quality and production of the Bambi Sleep files, which had been designed to “overload” the brains of listeners so they could more readily absorb its messages; he described them as the work of a “thoughtful and capable hypnotist.”
On the r/BambiSleep subreddit, users report effects like increased bubbliness and happiness and improved confidence as motivations for listening. BuzzFeed News spoke to several community members who, like Ava, claimed they were motivated by a kink for erotic hypnosis, a desire to explore their gender identity, and the opportunity that the files gave them to switch off from their everyday lives. But Reddit community members have also made posts about being “addicted” to the files, being taken over by the “Bambi” persona, or experiencing mental health breakdowns after listening.
While the people who spoke to BuzzFeed News emphasized that many of the posts online are a form of role-play — as part of the kink is about getting off on the personality transformation the files promise — they acknowledged use of the recordings could be dangerous if not approached with sensitivity and care. “It’s a kink with a vulnerable subject. If the dominant doesn’t have the safety and consent of the submissive in mind, it quickly becomes abuse,” said one user, who asked to remain anonymous to protect their privacy as they worry their fetish play will be viewed negatively and have societal repercussions for them.
Issues around consent and freedom of will are why the Bambi Sleep files are so controversial in the wider erotic hypnosis community, as they are seemingly set up to erode consent in a way in which the listener may not realize. The recordings are set up to make listeners respond to “triggers,” otherwise known as “post-hypnotic suggestions,” or words that are supposed to have an impact on them outside of hypnosis. In the beginning, these triggers are harmless, offering up a soothing, saccharine form of escape from reality: “Every time she hears the word ‘giggle time,’ [...] she feels my strong, comforting hand reach into her head through the heavy pink fluff and press that wonderful button firmly down with the pleasurable clonk [...] she descends instantly into an uncontrollable fit of deep, feminine giggles that make her feel so happy.”
The triggers are initially linked to a physical uniform — a sexy outfit chosen by the hypnosis subject to help them enter the headspace of an “airheaded bimbo” — that listeners are supposed to wear each time they listen to the files and associate with feelings of safety and security. Eventually, as they work their way through the recordings, they are told that the Bambi “uniform” exists in the listener’s mind: a “permanent and protected” personality change, impenetrable by “external interference.”
The Bambi personality allegedly becomes inescapable, leaving a hypnotized subject vulnerable to triggers at all times — and the recordings themselves become more violent: “She can be given a comforting little trigger that literally shuts her down completely. That erases consciousness and independence, rendering her oblivious, helpless, and unaware with no thought or will to speak of," one recording reads. “Dumb little mind-locked puppets are so much easier to deal with, so much easier to face-fuck than stupid sluts who think they get to decide.” (The files are also designed to make listeners forget their contents, which allegedly makes such triggers difficult to monitor or combat. “Always forget every session. Forget every suggestion,” one recording — titled “Bimbo Amnesia” — orders its listeners.)
Ava has been horrified to learn about some of these messages. “I think of being assaulted to these files, and how at times I physically was in a position where I couldn’t do anything about it — and I think about how [the Bambi Sleep files are] scripted, and that makes me really upset,” Ava said. “If I had known any of this was in it, I wouldn’t have listened.”
The triggers are considered so powerful that they are banned from public discussion in some sections of Discord and Reddit where the Bambi Files are discussed. Many who have progressed through the files claim it’s almost impossible to “switch off” their responses to Bambi triggers from the recordings after they’ve listened to them for a long time. “It's extremely difficult to stop. I have seen people who had stopped for months being dragged back in it,” another user, a 48-year-old cisgender man who claimed the Bambi files had caused him to wear women’s underwear and seek out gay sex on Grindr, told BuzzFeed News. “But hypnosis can’t make you do things you don’t want,” he added. “So, I guess a part of me wanted this.”
Chambers noted that before most erotic hypnosis scenes, both the hypnotist and their submissive are supposed to negotiate the limits of consent, and clearly outline where their boundaries are, so that “needs and desires are being met” without a subject “feeling coerced into doing something that they don’t want to do.” This doesn’t mean that people can’t be made to do things against their will. “Practitioners who do not understand the value and the importance of consent,” Chambers said, “will often take advantage of people.”
The potential for abuse is compounded by the fact that some people who enjoy erotic hypnosis may have mental health issues and previous trauma, and “may already hold negative subconscious beliefs that can be utilized by someone using hypnosis to control them,” Chao said. (Although most research has dispelled a direct link between BDSM and previous trauma, academics have noted that the kink world does attract some abuse survivors who use sexual play as a therapeutic recovery tool.)
“Subjects with low self-worth are especially vulnerable to being abused and exploited [in the context of hypnosis], because the abuse unfortunately fits into their worldview,” Chao added. “They’re less likely to have the clear sense of agency to say: ‘No. This is wrong. I will not proceed.’”
According to Ava and the other members of the group who spoke to BuzzFeed News, their introduction to the Bambi Sleep files seemed to follow a similar pattern. Each person met James online via Seeking Arrangements or through his Twitter account. All were new to the world of erotic hypnosis and knew little about safety practices at the time. They each say they agreed to a date with James to explore the possibility of engaging in erotic hypnosis, and when they met in person they were nearly always whisked to a convenient secondary location, such as James's office or a nearby hotel, in order to engage in what he claimed would be a “vanilla” session of hypnosis. Some had traveled from different towns, or even different states, to meet with him.
Two of the people said that they were sexually assaulted by James during this first meeting while in a state of trance, and a third claimed that she was groped, although at the time the three didn’t view what happened to them as a violation of consent, even though sex or sexual touch had not been agreed on before they began the session. “I didn't even process that what happened to me was assault or rape [at that time] because I thought I wanted it. I didn't realize that he broke all of the rules of hypnosis,” said Ava, who has since learned that the erotic hypnosis etiquette requires subjects to consent to any acts — especially sexual ones — before they are put into a trance. “The reason why I wanted it is because he made me want it,” she added. “Because I was in a trance.”
After the initial meeting with James, each of his new subjects claimed they were put on a strict hypnosis regime. They said they were made to listen to the Bambi Sleep files in a trance state — sometimes in one-on-one sessions with James in their homes or hotels, and sometimes on their own — often for hours at a time. Each person also told BuzzFeed News they were given a hypnosis file made by James to listen to every night to help them sleep. (After she stopped interacting with James, Ava listened back to the file while fully conscious and found it had been designed to make the listener completely obedient to him. “You want me to have this much control, to be able to change you, to alter you,” said the voice on the recording, which BuzzFeed News reviewed. “You cannot do anything but accept my words totally and instantly.” )
“The reason why I wanted it is because he made me want it. Because I was in a trance.”
At first, the former members of the group said exploring the Bambi Sleep files was enjoyable. “It’ll be like: ‘Now anytime you think “Bambi Sleep,” you’ll immediately slump over and be in a state of total bliss, totally suggestible,’” said Mia, a 25-year-old grad student and former member of the group, who described herself as sexually open but new to hypnosis. “I would be aware of what I was doing, but I would just be so relaxed, so compliant. It was like an out-of-body experience. I felt like my brain would become mush.” At the time, the group members didn’t realize their positive feelings about James — and the sessions they were entering into — were potentially being influenced by hypnosis. “It was fun because he was making me feel like it was fun,” Ava said. “He was making me want it, and I genuinely did. I didn't realize why that was so wrong until much later on.”
The people involved in the group claim that they were often pushed into doing things without their consent in some of these early interactions, which were typically one-on-one sessions. Ava said that James used triggers to make her “freeze” when she tried to end aggressive sex acts such as “face-fucking.” She claimed he forced her to continue sexual acts that could have caused physical harm. Others — like 22-year-old Nevaeh, who was 19 when she met James — claimed they were put into trance states that led them to commit public sex acts in hotel lobbies and cars. “The thing about the Bambi files is they remove your choices where dick is involved,'' said 23-year-old Abby, a nonbinary member of the group, who uses she/they pronouns. Abby had become interested in erotic hypnosis after successfully using hypnotherapy to treat ADHD and anxiety. “It was supposed to be like negotiated coercion. Everything that I didn’t put up a fight with, he didn’t want. He only wanted the things I didn’t want to do. He only wanted to fuck us when we didn’t want to be fucked.”
This is not the first instance of a hypnotist being accused of abuse: In 2016, an Ohio lawyer turned hypnotist was sentenced to 12 years in prison after he sexually assaulted six of his clients using hypnosis. In the context of what happened to James's group, however, the situation is complicated by the nature of the erotic hypnosis itself.
The Bambi Sleep scene is heavily tied to the kink of “consensual nonconsent,” or CNC, in which a dom engages in sexual acts with their submissive through force or coercion because they have prenegotiated the terms of engagement. In the context of erotic hypnosis, this means consensually coercing hypnosis subjects to engage in sexual acts while in a trance state. Although responsible CNC play requires dominants and subs to agree upon all acts before a scene starts, it can be hard for victims to speak out when boundaries are crossed — or even recognize abuse — if they are unfamiliar or new to it.
“He only wanted the things I didn’t want to do. He only wanted to fuck us when we didn’t want to be fucked.”
With James, the question of consent became even thornier because the people who engaged in the Bambi hypnosis sessions were allegedly trained to heed his commands. “While this behavior [of blindly obeying commands] might seem wildly unusual to you and me, it doesn’t seem unusual to somebody who has been conditioned to obey a particular hypnotist, and to freeze on command,” Chao said. “It feels right to them.”
According to the former members of the group, by the end of 2020, James had started to bring his subjects together for sex parties at his home, where they claim he experimented with his control over them as a group. Such evenings, they claimed, were presented as mandatory to attend, and were often scheduled to take place after “fun” day outings, like trips to Six Flags or group dinners, events at which they all bonded. They said that at these parties, James would use a combination of VR headsets, projection screens, speakers, and headphones to repeatedly put them into trance states, often with the Bambi Sleep files; such events allegedly also usually involved dosing the participants with acid, ketamine, and other drugs.
The group’s members also claim that participation in drug taking was often presented as mandatory and that they were not told how much they were being given, even if they asked. “He was having us repeat mantras like, ‘Brainwashing is good for me,’” said Ava, who estimated that the gatherings were attended by up to 10 of James's submissives at a time, and held anywhere from once a week to once a month, depending on James's schedule, “while we’re staring at a screen with all kinds of images and spirals on it, completely tranced out.”
According to Abby, these evenings — which the group was expected to attend in Bambi-style sexy clothing and high heels — often involved taking turns to have sex with James between their projector-led hypnosis sessions or having sex with each other for his entertainment. “A lot of the time what I remember of the parties is waiting in uncomfortable positions, most often on my knees, sucking some sort of phallic object or with a gag in my mouth, waiting for him to come back,” said Abby, who also claimed that James would sometimes line the group members up in a row and have sex with them one by one while they stared at a screen of hypnotic visuals.
The group members claimed that James used hypnosis to set up individual sex scenes with them, often to engage in sexual play or acts without their consent. Nevaeh, the 22-year-old former group member, claimed that once, when she snapped out of a trance, she found she’d been put in a shock collar and forced into a sadistic sex game in which she’d been given the role of a receptionist. “I'm sitting in front of a computer typing, and if I fucked up typing the sentence that it was telling me to type, he would shock me at full power,” she said. At the time, she was too fearful to tell him she’d been roused from her trance state. “I 100% would not have consented to putting a shock collar on my neck [outside of a hypnotic state].”
Although all of the former members claim they felt uneasy about James's use of drugs and pressure to allegedly coerce them into sexual acts they would not have consented to outside of hypnosis, they felt compelled to stay through a shared sense of connectedness with each other. Abby had moved from another state to live near James and the group, Nevaeh was regularly driving over from her own home state, and all of them had become isolated from their friends and families due to their Bambi-themed lifestyles.
“This is the thing: I loved being around the other Bambis. I feel like in my head I was sort of like, oh my god, I love all of his partners more than him — a group of like-minded people who are very similar to me and understand me,” Mia said. “I was always really happy to be around my fellow sex slaves.” She also claimed that the Bambi files, and the actions of James himself, seemed designed to erode consent. “He made you not care about your own consent. He would be like, ‘Your consent doesn’t matter.’ You start to believe that, obviously,” she continued. “I experienced a lot of gaslighting as a child, and he knew this about me — so it was very easy for him to employ this gaslighting technique.”
Over time, group members said, James’s treatment of them became more violent. “Girls had black eyes, teeth chipped out, knees banged up — you name it,” Abby said. “One time he backhanded me across the room. I still have flashbacks to that one.” In one incident, Nevaeh claimed she watched helplessly as Ava was choked unconscious by James and dropped facedown on the floor. Then, she said, James began to choke Nevaeh. “I remember thinking I was going to die because he was cutting off my airflow,” Nevaeh said. “I was on the floor gasping for air — and he took pictures of me.” Nevaeh said she ended up with popped blood vessels on her face, neck, and eyes, while Ava was barely able to talk after the incident, which left her with a chipped tooth and welts on her throat.
In screenshots sent to BuzzFeed News by Nevaeh of a text exchange she purportedly shared with James after the incident, it seemed that he was concerned about her well-being. “The thought of causing you any serious kind of harm scares me,” wrote James, who suggested creating a physical signal — three quick taps — to help Nevaeh end any future choking scenes quickly. “That was firmly my mistake, and I sincerely apologize for it — both for it happening, and for how much I scared you.”
“We couldn’t question him. We really couldn’t do things other than what he said, and we were all completely obedient to him.”
Although Nevaeh acknowledged that the pair lacked prior safety signals for their scenes, she claimed she tapped James repeatedly throughout the incident, and that her gestures were ignored. “It felt intentional because he was still holding me as I was struggling. I feel like it was on purpose because he didn’t stop,” said Nevaeh, who also alleged that James would only apologize for such instances to placate them and would not enact any real change afterward. “It was just his way of trying to keep us around.”
Much of the group members’ continued obedience as the violence escalated, they claimed, was motivated by fear. “You would see consequences if you didn’t do what he asked,” said Mia, who alleged that shock collars were later employed by James during sex and used against group members if they didn’t follow his commands. (She also pointed to an instance during which she claimed Ava, who hates feet, was forced to put James’s shoes in her mouth for stepping out of line.) “Sometimes it was just shoving someone down, or assaulting them,” added Ava, who claimed that one evening she was repeatedly shocked with a collar set to its highest setting for being too disobedient. “We couldn’t question him. We really couldn’t do things other than what he said, and we were all completely obedient to him.”
The former members of the group told BuzzFeed News that it was over a year after the group sessions began when they started to question the nature of their collective relationship with James, although many had been harboring doubts about him for months. Ava in particular began to worry about James’s behavior. Both she and Abby claimed James constantly requested that they help recruit more people, and each member was expected to keep social media profiles where they promoted their “Bambi” lifestyle (these have since been deleted).
(In a screenshot shared by Ava of texts she attributed to James, which were reviewed by BuzzFeed News, she is instructed to “Promote your brand as a good Bambi fuckdoll and teacher for other girls who want to become good bimbos dolls” and “Double your follower count by next month.” Both Abby and Ava shared screenshots of James sending them the profiles of women he wanted them to recruit. “Good fuckdoll. And good girls create more good girls, don’t they?” he said in one.)
“He wanted more people to be bimbos. He wanted more girls to be encouraged into that lifestyle and mindset,” claimed Ava, who also alleged that James would go through each person’s phone on a regular basis, picking out friends he wanted them to recruit. This made her realize how toxic the group had become. “We all had the same name” — Bambi — “we would dress up in the same ways, he would expect the same things from us,” she continued. “We were expected to be blindly obedient to what he said and do what he said at the drop of a hat.”
Ava claimed she had been questioning James about the increased level of violence and disregard for consent in December 2020. She shared a screenshot of a note on her phone, created that month, in which she wrote about her fears over memory loss, gaslighting, and consent, and said, “I truly feel like an object because I don’t have a choice.” But her early attempts to discuss consent violations with James, and to leave the group, were unsuccessful. “He would just gaslight the shit out of me. He was so good at denying things, and making me forget things or question my own reality when I would bring up problems,” she said.
During this time, Ava said, James forced her to make voice recordings, which he dictated, to “help” her remember things “correctly,” so that his lies would be reinforced in the future. It wasn’t until December 2021, a month after Ava stopped listening to the hypnosis files completely without telling James, that she was able to recognize how out of control the situation was and leave. She slowly tapered off contact and stopped engaging in scenes with him. “He was being more reckless — he was being more overt with the ways he was violating our consent because I think he was confident doing it,” Ava said. “He just absolutely didn’t give a fuck towards the end.”
After she left the group, Ava made every effort to highlight her realizations to the rest of the group by sending messages to them — which have been shared with BuzzFeed News — about her concerns over consent violations and escalating violence. Together, the former members began to privately exchange their thoughts and fears over James's behavior, and realized that they’d all been worried about the same things. Some remained in James's group during this time period, and claim that he met Ava’s efforts with resistance. “He was just basically telling Ava that everything that she had brought up was a lie, that she was trying to brainwash the rest of us to leave the cult because she had gone crazy. He kept saying it didn’t match up with his reality,” Abby said. But, according to Mia, James's attempts to convince the remaining members they had nothing to worry about failed.
“We were also there as witnesses — so we knew that a lot of the stuff Ava was saying did in fact happen,” Mia said. Each member who spoke to BuzzFeed News said they left the group within months of each other, over the spring and summer of 2022; during this time they said they cut off all communication with James and blocked his number and social media accounts. It took a while for the gravity of what they had survived to sink in. “The reality kind of hit me like a brick,” Nevaeh said. “I was like, Oh god, this is something that happened to you. This is real. I kind of had a mental breakdown.”
“There’s no easy way to go to the police office [and say]: ‘We were hypnotized and brainwashed for one to two years.’”
In the months that followed, the former members of James’s group have struggled with the aftereffects of their experience. “I feel kind of lost in who I am and what I want — and I’ve experienced a lot of sexual trauma because I put myself in unsafe situations. There’s definitely been a lot of mental health issues, anxiety, anger. I’m still working on healing,” Mia said. That’s a large part of the reason that group members have used whisper networks to warn others about him and have not yet gone to the police. “A lot of the girls aren’t mentally ready,” Nevaeh said.
Ava and Abby claimed that James previously had access to their Social Security numbers, phones, and even the keys to their houses, which left them fearful of retaliation. In addition to the fact that few reported sexual assaults result in legal consequences for the perpetrator, group members face other hurdles because hypnosis is often misunderstood. “There’s no easy way to go to the police office [and say]: ‘We were hypnotized and brainwashed for one to two years,’” Abby said. It’s the kind of statement that Ava thinks would have them laughed out of the room. “Us making this step is going against a lot of big things,” she said, “even with evidence.”
Chao, who is a staunch campaigner for safety in hypnosis, believes that this is exactly why more awareness needs to be spread about proper safety practices — as well as the inherent risks that come with engaging in erotic, hypnosis-based play. “Just like new kinksters have to be taught safe, sane, and consensual practices, people who are new to erotic hypnosis have to be taught those things, too,” said Chao, who emphasized that anyone who engages in erotic hypnosis, whether new to the scene or a veteran, should listen to recordings or read hypnosis scripts before they enter a trance state. “Anything that could have a liberating, empowering, freeing effect [like hypnosis] could also have a nonconsensual, coercive, degrading effect,” he added. “Even water is dangerous when there’s too much of it around you.”
Chambers, the academic, echoed these warnings, although he noted that proper safety is the responsibility of both submissives and dominants alike. “The people who provide those services [of hypnosis] have just as much responsibility [as the submissive], and they know that,” he said. “If that barrier of consent is breached, then oftentimes that is the mark of somebody who is not worthy of being part of a BDSM experience with somebody.” He urged anyone who has felt pressured or violated by a scene partner to come forward to their peers in the wider BDSM community, who will be able to support them. “BDSM communities treat violations of consent very seriously,” he said, “and will ostracize people who are seen as violating boundaries.”
It’s something the group has tentatively tried to act upon in recent weeks, through the use of erotic hypnosis whisper networks and anonymous “red flag” groups hosted on sites like FetLife, which are designed to keep people safe from bad actors in their local BDSM scenes. At the time of writing, three former submissives of James’s have come forward to the group with similar allegations, including Eli, a nonbinary former submissive of James who is 21. Eli alleged several instances where their consent was violated through the use of a shock collar and aggressive “face-fucking” across late 2022 and early 2023, and also shared stories of emotional and mental manipulation through hypnosis at the hands of James.
They are, however, reluctant to classify what happened to them as sexual assault; their feelings about the incidents have been complicated due to their kink for consensual nonconsent. “I think it's harder for me to actually believe that it was [sexual assault] considering my enjoyment of it. That's what I'm having trouble with,” said Eli. “But technically, yes, there was no consent given beforehand. There was no proper aftercare afterwards. It was, by definition, sexual assault — but I have trouble mentally seeing it that way.”
“I don’t think that he feels like what he’s doing is wrong — and I think every single time he gets away with it, he gets more confident and more reckless.”
The new allegations have made Ava concerned about James's continued activity in the erotic hypnosis world. “He hasn’t changed. I don’t think he’s going to change. I don’t think that he feels like what he’s doing is wrong — and I think every single time he gets away with it, he gets more confident and more reckless,” she said. Although the group members have taken some comfort in the fact that James has reduced his presence online, they aren’t sure that he’s truly going to step away from the scene. “I don’t think he’s intimidated by us. I think he’s intimidated by the thought of exposure,” Ava continued. “I don’t think he’s going to stop doing what he’s doing, because I think on some levels, he might truly think that what he’s doing is OK.”
For now, all Ava can do is work with fellow members of the Bambi Sleep scene to mitigate the risk that the files may pose to others. She has spent the last few months working with other community members to transcribe the recordings — so new listeners understand what they are signing up for — and creating new Bambi Sleep files with “safeties” that reinforce a listener’s ability to reject suggestions and commands that might cause people harm while in a trance state.
Although she knows she can’t force people to stay away from the Bambi Sleep files, she at least hopes she can protect them from harm. “I was listening to the [recordings], and those things were being programmed in my mind that contributed to what happened to me. It could be happening to someone else too,” Ava said. “I know people won’t stop listening — but if people are going to listen to the files, then maybe I can create something that might help.” ●
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE, which routes the caller to their nearest sexual assault service provider. You can also search for your local center here.