I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around what to write on this topic. There are predators in our community–this isn’t new. Predators go where they can easily gain access to their prey, and small subculture communities like the Pagan community are ripe for this for so many reasons.
I want Kenny Klein’s arrest (and presumed conviction, since he confessed) to be a lightning rod for change. I want this incident to catalyze our community to work toward being better.
Because in the fallout of the announcement of the arrest, people started coming forward. People who saw Kenny interacting with teens, and teenagers that he had inappropriately touched. This has been going on for decades and though these people complained to Pagan leaders and festival organizers, nothing was done.
Before I go into some of the steps I think we need to take to address this systemic problem within our community, I first want to reflect on how–and why–this has affected me personally.
A while back Kenny Klein wrote an article admonishing Pagans for what’s often referred to as “Pagan Standard Time.” I used that particular quote from Kenny in a longer post on leadership I wrote.
“Get over it! You represent the Pagan community! Pull yourself together! I know, it is a hallmark of our culture in general that people are rude, late, and self-centered. But as Pagans, shouldn’t we be above that? As people who, after considerable thought, gave up the status quo to pursue our true selves, shouldn’t we be the shining example, not the common problem? I think we should.” – Kenny Klein
(Witches and Pagans has suspended Kenny Klein’s blog pending his investigation or I’d link to the full article.)
So I read this, and I experience cognitive dissonance. I sit there and wonder, “What was Kenny thinking when he wrote this?”
Was he thinking that what he was doing was ok? Had he somehow ethically justified it in the way some pedophiles do, that the age of consent is too high and that teenagers and children should be allowed to be sexually active? Or was he in that zone where he just wasn’t even thinking about the wrongness of what he’d done?
See, sometimes I’ll start writing a blog post about an issue of Pagan leadership ethics or things leaders should or shouldn’t do, and then I’ll reread what I wrote and I have to laugh and say, “Yeah, I totally do that. I’m going to have to fess up to that.” I have always tried be up front about the places where I fuck up as a leader. I’m particularly ashamed of the times when I committed to doing something and then failed a commitment I made to someone.
But I suppose I’ve worked to try and find that balance of, not getting stuck in the spiral of shame, but also, not minimizing my mistake so that I can work to ensure I don’t do it again.
Leaders are human beings. We’re going to make mistakes.
But then I reread some of what Kenny Klein has written and my mind starts hamsterwheeling again. What was he thinking when he wrote that? Was he really in total denial about how he was (it now seems clear) sexually abusing children? Or was he one of those abusers that keeps falling off the wagon and then he climbs back on and says, “I can do this, I can be better, I can stop abusing children,” or was it something else entirely.
I’ve wondered a lot in the past about what goes through an abuser’s head, because I’ve been abused before.
I was not sexually abused as a child, though I know many people who were. I’ve written in the past about the abuse I suffered from my peers throughout school, and while I’ve done a hell of a lot of personal work, the shadows are still there. And it’s those issues in my own past that are probably why I’ve ended up in a few not-so-healthy romantic relationships.
I’ve written in the past about my ex-fiance and former working partner, but in light of what’s going on, I’m going to go ahead and name him. He’s gone by Mark Mandrake, but he seems to have switched back to his given name of Mark Robert Necamp. When I met Mark, he was married, and he lied about the status of his relationship. In fact, he compulsively lied throughout our relationship, and I had to learn something important about myself–I’m pretty easily duped.
I don’t like admitting that. But once I trust someone, I believe the lies.
Some day I’ll write about my whole decline with him, because understanding how I got into that headspace has helped me to heal–somewhat–from what he did, and how I enabled it. I still have a hard time rectifying my own image of myself as someone who is strong and independent with the creature I became when partnered with Mark. Sad, depressed, angry, exhausted, and easily manipulated.
Mark isn’t (to my knowledge) a pedophile. Nor is Mark (to my knowledge) a rapist. Though, I have personally experienced that sex with him was sometimes on the border of what I call consensual. He often pressured me into sex when I wasn’t in the mood. Making things even more screwed up in my own head, sometimes I initiated sex with him not because I wanted to, but because I was afraid he’d cheat on me if I didn’t.
He cheated on me several times during our relationship, though it wasn’t until well after he left me in November of 2011 that I learned the scope of his cheating–and that other women he was with also felt confused around whether or not they’d really consented or not. They didn’t feel that they’d been raped, but they did feel manipulated into sex. Women came forward that he’d had sex with, and other women came forward that he’d sexually harassed to the extent that they stopped coming to my events in Chicago.
Mark engaged in a pretty clear pattern of emotional abuse, if you know the signs. Isolate and confuse. He would tell me that people in our group didn’t like me or had problems with me. I’d tell him that he should engage them in talking to me directly. “Oh, they don’t want to do that.” Or, “They are too afraid.” Or, “It’s confidential, I can’t tell you who.”
I have pretty good boundaries these days and I have developed a far healthier sense of self esteem than in years past, but over time this wore on me. It ate at me. It played to every fear I had creeping around in my chest from Middle School. My secret belief deep inside that EVERYONE SECRETLY HATES ME.
I’m already an introvert, but this fed my spiral of depression, which made it even harder for me to want to go out to various Pagan social events. I’d frequently just tell Mark to go on without me.
And what, do you imagine, Mark did at those gathering? If you’ve read the abuser handbook, you know that he was complaining about me. How antisocial I was, how depressed, how hard I was to live with.
So then the next time I saw those folks, there was an undefined tension and it reinforced the crap he’d been feeding me. People really did dislike me. Like acid, it ate away at my sense of self. If everyone disliked me, and I was as difficult as Mark told me I was, maybe I was just inherently unlikeable.
Which is part of what leads into the really important part of this spiral–that paradoxically, I cling more to my abuser. “He’s the only one who will ever stick by me. Nobody else will ever put up with me.”
I’m oversimplifying, but I hope I have made the enabling pattern a little clearer.
Abuse happens by inches. It’s called Grooming and I’ve written about it before. The behavior I put up with from Mark in the end, I never would have in the beginning. But by the end, it was invisible to me, like the air around me.
When he left me in 2011 and I discovered he’d been stealing money and planning his abandonment for months, there were a few days where I just wanted to die. I just wanted it all to end. I could not imagine that I could pull myself up by my bootstraps yet again.
What drove my mind into spinning circles of confusion was asking that question. How could he do this? Wasn’t he thinking of the consequences? How could someone hurt someone else like that?
See, Mark and I taught together. We taught Leadership workshops together. Mark would talk about sex and ethics, about abuse, about what behavior was appropriate for a leader and what behavior wasn’t. I knew that he knew that stuff.
So when I reread Kenny Klein’s post, I found myself asking those questions again. How could Kenny–who, by his writing, knew what was right and what was wrong–do those things? How could Mark?
Many Kinds of Mental Illness
What finally saved me from spinning in my brain after Mark left was when several mutual friends with a background in psychology spoke with me about Mark’s behavior. All of them were very clear that–with Mark not being their client– they could absolutely not diagnose him, but, that some of his symptoms were red flags for Borderline Personality Disorder or Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
When I began to read more about Borderline PD, things began to make sense. And–I myself am not a psychologist or therapist, so I can only speak in terms of his behavior that I witnessed, and what I’ve read about, and what I’ve observed in others.
With many of the major personalities or other mental illnesses, there are compulsive behaviors. I certainly witnessed these in Mark. Compulsive cheating…compulsive spending. He even shoplifted a few times when I was with him. One time it was just a bottle of tobasco sauce, and we got to the car when he revealed what he’d done, and he giggled. He also destroyed property in front of younger members of our local group, or acted in other ways that just didn’t make sense.
Later I’d ask him, “What were you thinking?”
And ultimately that dynamic became our relationship. He’d do crazy, destructive things, and I’d berate him like a nagging shrew. I became his mom, not his partner. The more I got on his case about his behavior, ultimately the worse he’d act out. And I kept wanting him to just be logical and make sense and realize what he was doing was wrong, and he wouldn’t.
It’s Not Going to be Logical
And I suppose that’s where I start to come to one of the cruxes of the difficulties with abusive behavior. A lot of Pagans are talking (via blogs and Facebook) about teaching people what consent means. And that’s great–it is important for each attendee at an event to know they can say No. And it’s important for each attendee to know to respect a No, and in fact, that they need to wait for an enthusiastic Yes.
But none of that fixes the problem of the predators. The predators out there are:
- Convinced that they deserve this and are morally in the right, and are deliberately hunting, or
- They are in compulsive mode. They aren’t thinking about right and wrong because they are mentally ill. They are not in a headspace where consequence will stop them.
There’s certainly more than those options, but I think those are two big ones.
Temporary Insanity and Consequences
Have you ever actually experienced what’s known as temporary insanity? If you’ve met me, you probably know that I’m about as calm and collected as it gets, particularly when there’s a disaster. Ritual altar on fire? No problem. I can put out the fire and re-center the group without a blip in my blood pressure.
My mom throughout my life has jokingly called me “Mr. Spock” because I can be so calm and logical in the face of complicated disasters. I’m the person who can apply pressure to a wound while calling 9-11 and keeping everyone else calm.
So whenever I read about temporary insanity, I thought it was bullshit. I thought, “There’s never a time when I’m not thinking, when I’m not imagining consequences.”
I mentioned a bit about my mental health decline when I was with Mark, and there were a a couple of memorable moments where he did something so grievous that I did something totally out of character for me. Where I wasn’t thinking about consequence, I was just acting.
If you haven’t experienced that moment where consequence just disappears, I can’t explain it to you. And for myself, I’ve only experienced it in the briefest moments and even then, I’ve usually taken that step back and said, whoa. That’s nuts. I can’t do that.
However, I think it’s important to understand the idea that there are people–at least in certain moments–who are not bound by consequences or logic. To understand that when we’re talking about pedophiles, sociopaths, alcoholics, abusers, or people with other specific mental illnesses, we’re often talking about folks who are not thinking about what they are doing, or they don’t care.
I’m not talking about, “I was drunk, it wasn’t my fault.”
I’m talking about compulsive behavior where–in that moment–the person is going to seek to meet their need even if it harms someone. It might be an addiction to a substance, like alcohol. It might be a particular behavior. And it might be the compulsion to flirt with someone until it gets harassing, because they are so desperate to be wanted and loved. And that compulsion might also include sexual abuse of minors. Some people–for a variety of reasons–have specific compulsive tendencies.
Particularly sex offenders against children, who have a ruthlessly high rate of recidivism (return to the behavior.)
Please don’t read what I’m writing as an apology for their behavior. What I’m trying to do is offer some context for why it happens–because, people often shake their heads and ask that. Why? How can someone hurt someone else like that? How can someone abuse their spouse, their child?
I experience that sane, rational, logical people expect other people to behave like themselves. So on the various comments on blogs and Facebook posts when people are talking about the Kenny Klein issue, they are talking about a number of strategies that are useful for sane, rational people.
There are folks who are socially awkward, and we can work with them to say, “No, that’s not appropriate.” We can work with folks to explain consent culture, and I think that’s all worthwhile.
However, that still doesn’t protect us from the predators who either believe that there’s nothing wrong with what they are doing, or, who are acting in a compulsive way.
The Pendulum Swing, or, “Baby I’m Sorry, I’ll Change
Raise your hand if you’ve heard that one before. “Baby, I’ll get better. I’ll go to therapy.” “I’ll go to ____ anonymous.” “I’ll never do it again, I swear.” “I got you some flowers.”
Often an abuser goes in and out of the bad behavior, which is what keeps their partner in the destructive cycle. I’ve been there, I have a one hell of a t-shirt. With Mark, he would promise to be better. He’d go to therapy, or to sex addicts anonymous. For a while it would be better…and then he’s start cheating again. Or other things.
There were the times that I really should have left him. (Should is such a damning word.)
But I caught enough self awareness from him that I stayed. He was aware he’d screwed up. He hated himself for it. He’d break down crying, he’d promise to be better, I’d promise to help him.
And this, ultimately, is what breaks my heart. Mark would be an amazing resource for the Pagan community, if he didn’t ultimately always swing back to the damaging behavior. I watched him do it with me, I watched him do it with women he dated after me. And, as the stories trickled in, I realized he’d been preying on a lot more women than I ever expected.
My own shame around this is that I enabled his behavior. I bought into his “I’ll get better” and kept bringing him along to the hunting grounds for his predatory behavior. I helped him get his first teaching gigs; I’d bring him along when I was invited to teach out of town. I helped him to run a group in Chicago, and later, empowered him as a leader of my group Ringing Anvil.
At the end, I can honestly say I was not right in the head. I was stuck in the headspace of, “If I break up with Mark, I’ll be alone forever.” And those words don’t really do justice to the state of depression I was in. I literally couldn’t imagine how I’d go on if I was alone.
I made his behavior ok by continuing to run events with him, by continuing to co-teach with him.
Literally the night before he and I were scheduled to drive down to Louisville to be headliners at a festival, he introduced me to the woman he had started a relationship with and demanded that I agree to polyamory.
I spilled coffee in his lap and went home (one of those temporary insanity moments). He didn’t come back that night but the other girl dumped him when she found out she’d been lied to. In the morning, he came home, and I agreed to bring him with me to Louisville.
At the time, I thought I was putting on my professional hat. I thought that a professional should suck it up and go do a good job and not let personal stuff get in the way. And largely that’s true. In this case, if I’d been looking at his behavior from the angle of “Mark is a predator,” I would have perhaps more clearly seen that I was just bringing him to the hunting grounds and keeping him in a position of power that he could use to exploit others.
In fact–and I couldn’t even make this stuff up if I tried–after he left me, Mark began a relationship with the woman who coordinated that particular festival, among other people. He also began a relationship with a woman he’d met when we taught at a Pagan student conference, and then dumped her after revealing that he’d been cheating on her with another Pagan in Michigan that he met under the auspices of her being his student.
So, it’s not just me making this stuff up. There really is a pattern to his behavior.
What’s Abuse? What Do We Do With Abusers?
When Mark left, I opted to just make a public announcement on my Facebook about what had happened. There wasn’t any way around Facebook not announcing “Shauna is now Single,” and I thought, I’m going to be telling this story anyways, I should just be public about it, particularly as I began to understand the full scope of his abuse and his theft.
After he left, I discovered that Mark had arranged for several teaching engagements with various festivals. Some were festivals where I originally had introduced him to the organizers. And I was torn. Do I contact them and “warn” them?
In my experience, nobody listens to that, and I’d just get branded as “the crazy ex with sour grapes.” I tried to take a stance of being very public about what Mark did to me–and later as things came out, about what he did to other women–but I only opted to contact one festival organizer whom I knew well to let her know what had happened before.
In her case, she’d been duped by another Pagan/Occult teacher and it broke her group apart in the past. Though, ironically, not only did she not ban Mark as a teacher, she let him live with her for a time, though I understand he’s currently banned from her land and events for something he did.
Organizers Turn a Blind Eye
One or two festival organizers reached out to me to ask for details on what Mark had done and promised to keep an eye on him, but that was it.
Ultimately, Mark is reflective of the problem in our community that created a hunting ground for Kenny Klein.
I’ve heard over and over the excuses that what Mark did is just he said/she said, or, it’s “just” domestic abuse. Or what several festival organizers have told me, “If I kick him out then I’m taking sides in your domestic squabble.”
And here’s where we start to run into some real gray area, because we have to ask, what is abuse? What behavior is acceptable in our leaders?
When you hire a Pagan teacher, publish a Pagan author, what are you promoting? What behavior are you making ok? If you know about things they have done and hire them anyways, what are you enabling?
Abusive Leaders and Victim Blaming
I know of tons of Pagan leaders who are verbally and emotionally abusive. They aren’t predators, aren’t rapists, but they sure are assholes, and we sure do keep empowering them to lead groups or sell books. Some are a shade more dangerous than that. Still others use their position as teachers to get laid. And to be sure, there are more child molesters out there waiting to be found.
We have a culture in the Pagan community of wanting everything to be free. Sex is cool, sex should be fun for everyone, we should all be free. We are all seekers of spiritual truth, we shouldn’t kick anyone out. Except…we are a breeding ground for bad behavior.
We don’t listen to our victims. We dismiss it as, “Surely you are overreacting.” “You must have been mistaken.” Kenny Klein’s victims have been coming forward in the form of people who were teenagers at the time at festivals he was at, his ex wife, and his children. Not only were his ex wife and children not believed by local festival and community organizers–they were basically excommunicated.
We need to start listening to our victims and taking their complaints seriously.
But Not Pagan Homeland Security
Nor do I advocate that we kick every person out for every single complaint. To be quite frank, those of us who travel and teach acquire our own set of stalkers and weirdos. I’ve had to block a few people on Facebook who wanted me to come out and live with them or other weird creepy stuff, and when you cut off a stalker, there’s pushback. I hear this from many Pagan authors, and from a number of group leaders–people make up some crazy accusations when you turn them down.
And there’s this other problem we have in the Pagan community. I won’t go into the complexities of why, but we do have a lot of professional victims out there who, when they don’t get what they want, accuse a group leader of sexually assaulting them or of being a pedophile or other various accusations.
Having heard about and witnessed (or been involved in) a number of Pagan disputes, let me just sum it up by saying, it can get really fucked up. And determining who the actual victim is can be like sorting a ball of yarn after a cat got at it.
What is clear is that we have some real problems in the Pagan community around abusive behavior. And, they aren’t easy problems to solve, which is–I think–part of why we often give up. It’s also a really uncomfortable set of topics, because it basically means that victims have to come forward and share their stories and relive what they went through.
I’ve been going through it myself, particularly since my own abuser, Mark, opted to contact me and tell me he was sorry I felt the need to keep talking about what happened. And that he forgave me.
While that still has me wanting to vomit, I am reading stories online or hearing people share with me one-on-one from other people sharing their stories of molestation, rape, and other abuse. So yeah…we have a problem.
As always, I am an optimist. I believe we can be better. And in part 2 (because this got far longer than I planned on) I’ll outline a few thoughts on what might help us, as a community, to build a healthier community for the future.