So in the midst of writing this series, my ex’s fiance posted on my Facebook, and a comment on Part 1, basically doing a textbook codependent dance of enabling. And it was painful to read, because I realize, that was me. Years ago, I was making excuses for Mark. I was the one defending him, because he would say, “If I do it, nobody will listen to me, but if a woman does it, that’ll carry some weight.” I bought it. I drank the Kool-Aid.
And I hear that he’s looking to sue me for libel for what I wrote about him. I heard this via some people who messaged me (this was unsolicited on my part) copied and pasted text of what Mark is posting on his wall.
What does all this bullshit drama mean? It means that I’m becoming a living example of why no victim wants to come forward.
Because this is what you’ll have to put up with. And gods help any victim who isn’t coming from a position of power. I’m an author, I’m a teacher, I have a public voice in the Pagan community. If you’re a newbie, an attendee at an event? I can’t see any way that someone in a power-under position like that would ever risk coming forward.
That being said, we’ve talked a lot about some of the problems. Here are a few beginnings of solutions. Now–none of this is earth shattering. But it’s a start. And it’s hard work and it’s going to take a long time, but if we don’t start, we’ll never get there.
Healthy Boundaries and Self Esteem
I know, I already said this. But as a community, we need healthier boundaries. And I’m not just talking about teaching what’s good touch or bad touch or what’s consent. I’m talking about boundaries and ego from the ground up. That’s big work. Huge work.
But if we each do not do that work–and trust me, this is work I’ve been working on with myself for years–we’re just going to keep spinning our wheels.
I can honestly say that poor boundaries and an unhealthy ego/poor self esteem are probably the grounds for a majority of conflicts that I see in the Pagan community. If each person out there works to get healthy boundaries and training in what consent is, we’ve solved a lot of potential problems right there.
Working With Socially Awkward People
While we’re doing all this personal growth work around boundaries and behaviors, this also offers us the opportunity to help those socially awkward folks who don’t understand that they are crossing other people’s boundaries.
Trust me, as one of those socially awkward folks, I really resonate with this difficulty. While my own behavior probably couldn’t have been described as predatory, I certainly was pretty annoying before I learned more about how to behave socially. And I’ve known people who were genuinely well-meaning who had no idea that they were being offensive or creepy.
I’ve worked with people who had no idea that they were coming across as creepy. Most folks when they find this out will work to adapt their behavior but sometimes need help. However, this type of work does require some discernment, in that
- You don’t want to spin your wheels working with someone who isn’t going to change,
- You need to be somewhat aware of things such as Aspergers and people who are not neuro-typical. There are ways that Aspergers folks can learn to engage, but that is often a more extensive process of therapy. However, you may be able to help connect them to a resource. You just have to understand that this is different from someone being just awkward; someone with Aspergers actually may not recognize facial cues or body language, and
- You don’t want to get into the position of enabling someone to be a predator who is using the excuse of socially awkward.
It’s a fine balance on the edge of a knife to discern some of the differences. However, working with some of our more socially awkward community members can perhaps make the genuinely predatory behavior more clear.
Training in Spotting Predators
One clear solution to protect our children at community events is for each adult to have basic training in how to identify a pedophile. Keep in mind that a number of professionals in the field of therapy and psychology–even therapists who work specifically with sex offenders–will talk about how you can’t always “tell.” However, there are some behaviors that are a pretty solid red flag.
Identifying the Unacceptable Behavior
When I teach Pagan leadership, I often talk about basic group agreements as the circle or cauldron that holds your group. What’s ok? What isn’t ok?
Apparently what we really need to do–collectively, to a certain extent, but also within our individual sovereign groups–is identify what behavior is acceptable, and what isn’t. When the behaviors are “fuzzy,” we can’t necessarily agree on whether or not what is happening is wrong, much less what to do about it.
There are some things that are probably pretty clear–sexually molesting a child is pretty clearly grounds for not only being kicked out of a group but for calling the police. But what about the gray area? What if one of your group members and their partner are consistently getting into screaming fights and you’re worried about one or both parties being in an abusive dynamic? What if a presenter you’ve hired for a festival is really flirtatious at your event, but you’re not really sure if they are respecting boundaries or not?
What if your coven has a tradition of sexual initiation?
A sex temple or group with sexual initiatory practices is probably going to have a different spectrum of acceptable behaviors than a small coven or a group putting on a public festival or conference. Skyclad can work for some groups, and in others it can feel like pressuring people to be oversexualized. Sexual initiation can be totally appropriate in some circumstances. In other circumstances where people feel pressured into it, this can be an abuse of power.
In almost any group without a tradition of sexual initiation, I would say that a pretty good general guideline is that teachers should not be sleeping with students because of the heavily unequal power dynamic. There are exceptions when a peer dynamic has been achieved, but that’s a whole separate post on how to figure that out.
Fuzzy Gray Area
You have to look at what behaviors start to hit that zone in the gray area where it starts to become a red flag, and possibly grounds for someone to be removed from a group or event, or even legal action being taken.
Here’s an example. If someone on my leadership team got arrested for smoking pot, they would not be kicked off my team. Yes, in most states it’s illegal. But, it’s not a behavior that is in itself harmful to others, and states are beginning to decriminalize this.
On the other hand, I don’t allow pot or other illegal drugs at my public events. Why? Well, that should be pretty obvious–it puts all of us at legal risk. One of my leaders who breaks that rule is going to get a stern warning from me, and repeat offenses are probably grounds for asking them to leave. (Plus, I’m allergic to the smoke, so I’ll be cranky because if I smell that I’m going to get a migraine.)
Someone getting into a (verbal) fight with their partner at an event is not in itself grounds to get kicked out, though I might intercede and take them to a private room. However, if that’s happening every time, that’s a red flag.
In one case, I found out that a guy who had some “creepy” tendencies was physically abusing his partner. His creepy behaviors weren’t enough for me to kick him out of the group (yet), but once I found out what was happening with his partner, he is no longer welcome at my events.
Document Those Agreements
Once you and your group members have made agreements around what behavior is a red flag, and what’s grounds for dismissal, it’s time to document that and disseminate it to your group.
Several groups and events out there have policies specifically around consent and sexual abuse, and I hope to get some of those policies together to help other groups craft some “best practices.” But–go ahead and reach out to more established groups and festivals, they may have documents like this that are a place to start. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Process for Complaints
Your agreements need teeth. Part of that is giving people a clear process for how they complain about another group member, a group organizer, or a presenter at your event. If people don’t have a clear way to bring up a complaint, then your agreements are sort of null and void.
Now–just because someone complains doesn’t mean instant guilt. But people do need a way to complain.
I’ll give you three guesses why nobody complained to me about what my ex, Mark, was doing. Because…I was the group leader, he was the other core leader, and we were a couple. None of those women was ever going to feel safe complaining to me about my fiance, not until he was gone. And I shudder to think of how many were too nervous to come forward, or who just left the community in disgust.
In fact, in the time since I posted Part 1, I’ve already heard from another two women who felt that he was making unwelcome sexual advances on them when we were teaching at events.
Document the Complaint
Whatever has gone on, documenting the complaint is a good first step. And I am chagrined to admit that this isn’t something that occurred to me. I’m used to keeping a lot of data in my head, like Person A’s story about Person X, and Person B’s story, and Person C’s story. By the time I have that much data, I don’t need documentation, I know what to do with Person X.
When we were on the Pagan Musings Podcast, Taylor Ellwood brought up the idea of documenting the behaviors witnessed and the complaints received. I’m sure there are formats to do this, and in the coming days and weeks I’ll be working to gather some resources for best practices in that. You can listen to the Podcast here, as it it offered a lot of discussion of many of these issues. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pagan-musings/2014/03/31/pmp-sex-ethics-abuse-in-the-magickal-world
I think documenting a complaint is good for multiple reasons. One is that if something happens in the future with that person, you’ve got some documentation around it. Also, especially in groups with rotating leadership, one single person won’t always have all the information.
It’s also worth pointing out that if there’s one person who’s always complaining about others, that is also good information to have. While I don’t advocate blaming the victim, sometimes there are people who make it their life’s work to being a professional victim. Still other folks have untreated mental illness such as one of the Paranoid personality disorders. And, you may also just have someone who has an axe to grind. This is why this whole process requires rather a lot of discernment.
Documenting takes a complaint from being just a social thing or gossip into something a little more formal and actionable. It lets your group members know that you are listening seriously to their concerns, even if there’s not enough information to take an action at that time.
It also captures information that you could forward on to other regional group leaders about the actions of a particular group member, and this moves it from the category of “gossip” and “rumormongering” into “sharing a formal complaint.”
With most complaints, there probably isn’t going to be enough information to take an action. However, documenting the facts of what has happened–or at least, the nature of the alleged abuse–makes it far easier to take an action if another person complains about the same person.
Sometimes it’s pretty clear that something skeevy is going on. Assuming it’s illegal behavior, such as abuse of a minor, your group also needs a policy for how to report things to the police. There are several books out there about Pagans negotiating with police, and specifically I’m thinking of Kerr Cuchulain’s book but if you aren’t sure how to approach the police, you might consider Circle Sanctuary and the Lady Liberty League as a resource.
Community and Judgement
Many of the actions that your group identifies will not necessarily be grounds for getting someone arrested, but may require you to ask someone to leave your group whether as a participant or as a leader. Or may require you to decline hosting a particular presenter.
What this basically means is that yes–you will need a judicial process for your group. However it functions–whether it’s one leader or a council or consensus–you will need to take the information from people who have come to you to tell you about an abusive or harmful situation…and you will need to determine, “Person B did this and I must remove them from the group,” or, “There isn’t enough data to determine if Person B did this but I will keep an eye out.”
So yeah–someone has to make a decision. Even if that decision as, “I don’t know. I don’t know enough to feel comfortable kicking out Person B yet.” That’s still a decision, it’s still a judgment.
Sometimes, an appropriate judgment might be that Person B can remain in the group if they consent to getting some form of help. However, be very cautious in this approach. Many people benefit from therapy, the right medications, or from AA or another program.
However, if you’re dealing with one of the major personality disorders, or someone who consistently goes off their bipolar medications, or with a sex offender…or any of the big abusive behaviors…these folks are very likely not going to respond to any treatment. In fact, many of these are considered untreatable.
Can People Change?
I believe that almost anyone can change. By my experience of people is, most won’t. This is what I mean when I say I’m an optimist with a broken heart. I want to believe that every single person can become better. But my dealings with Mark, and with others, helped me to understand that there are people way beyond my pay grade.
And when you find someone in your group who is a repeat abuser or any kind of predator, there’s only one real solution–amputate them from the group. Like a cancer, you have to remove them.
Yes–that means they will just go somewhere else. But, that’s a blog post for another day. We’ll talk more on what it means to remove someone from a group.
Meanwhile, here’s that statement on religious sexual abuse for the Pagan community that was crafted out of a call from the Wild Hunt news blog. It’s worth a look.