When we’re talking true predators, we’re talking about a cancer. In most cases, there is no fixing them, no healing them. Or at least–the likelihood is so tiny, it’s not worth trying. If we’re talking about people who sexually molest children, their rate of recidivism is so high that they are generally considered incurable. And there’s a host of other issues that play into addiction and personality disorders.
I hope that some day there are ways to help these people, because for some of them, it’s just how their brains formed. It wasn’t their fault, but now they are stuck with it. For others, their own systematic abuse as children may have made them, in turn, an abuser.
The point is–once you’ve identified a predator in your community, you need to take an action. You need to amputate them from your community, from their hunting ground.
And in the Pagan community (or rather, overlapping communities) this is pretty difficult to do. The “easiest” scenario (and it’s in no way easy) is if you observe directly predatory behavior in a member of your group, you have a group policy for what to do, and you tell that person they are no longer welcome.
Let’s be clear; most Pagan groups out there can’t even do that. Most Pagan groups aren’t willing to kick someone out, even for incredibly bad behavior.
But let’s assume that your group has that policy and you’ve witnessed this behavior and it’s a pretty cut and dried thing. Maybe someone was clearly not respecting an adult woman’s firmly stated “No” and touched her inappropriately. You talk about it, you remove the person from the group. But then you face the next step, which is that you really want to communicate to other local group leaders about this person so that they are aware. Except, even though you’ve worked out this great process for what to do with predators, the other group leaders shame you for spreading malicious gossip.
Now let’s work with a worse case scenario. Let’s say the predator is a coven leader or other group leader, or a big name Pagan author.
I’ve written at length how you can’t really “make” a Pagan group leader stop running a group. And, how standing up and speaking out against them is more likely to make you look like a jerk. The same thing for speaking out against a Pagan presenter or author. In fact, sometimes moreso. Many predators are charismatic, and any charismatic leader gains a following that gets stuck in that cognitive dissonance.
“Because ____ is awesome, this person must be lying about being abused.” Basic brain process.
Even if you manage to convince people that this person did something, many will be convinced that this person can get better, they can change.
Who Can Change?
I’m certainly an advocate of personal growth. Ten years ago I’d never have had the public speaking skills to teach workshops. Heck, I could barely attend events I was so shy. People can change, but as we talked about in the last post, sometimes they are pretty much unlikely to. I was recently “victim blamed” by my ex’s (Mark) fiance. She went on about how if I’d just hung in there, if I’d just worked harder to help him heal…
And I hear from people who tell me that he says he’s healed, that he’s done all this personal work. Well–and I know this will be a shock to you–but I’ve heard that before.
I put up with 3 years of “baby I’ll be better.” I put up with him going to therapy and trying to get help, only to backslide into worse behavior. In fact, that’s basically the pattern of every domestic abuse situation out there. I don’t mean to be a fatalist, only a realist. And I won that realism clawing my way up until my fingers bled from it.
Mark–like many abusers–may feel like he’s “healed” now, but I’m reasonably sure he’ll screw up again. The problem is, his screw ups are always just on the side of “we can brush that under the rug, it’s just stuff within the privacy of his relationships.” Or, “Cheating isn’t being a predator.” Or, “Flirting isn’t being a predator.”
In fact, Mark, like many abusers, is made all the more dangerous because of his periods of reasonableness. There are moments where he gets centered, where he realizes what he’s done, when he apologizes. Where he makes the grandiose gesture.
And–let’s face it. Most of us want people to be healed. We like this person, otherwise we wouldn’t have put up with the abuse in the first place. We want to believe that this time it worked. But what this does is give them yet another opportunity to hurt more people. When people see the “sane, grounded” version of an abuser, they soften. “Well, he’s getting help, so….”
And thus we enable.
I am nauseated by how I fell for this, how I enabled Mark to continue to hurt others, how I put my own community at risk. My own terror of being alone forever was something I placed above the good of the community, and I can’t take that back. All I can do is move forward and try to help build healthier communities, and own where I made my mistakes.
To be fair, I stayed with Mark and worked to help him because I thought, if he just got some help, what an amazing leader he could be. I had the hubris of, “I can help fix him.”
I no longer have such hubris. And so we come back to why abusers need to be excised, amputated, and cut off.
Festivals and Conferences
A month ago, I was at Convocation in Detroit. Mark was there presenting with his fiance. Now, to be fair, I have never complained about Mark being a presenter to the Convocation staff. I never felt like that would be a useful thing to do. I knew that the con staff was aware of him and keeping an eye on him, but I never made a formal complaint.
However, that will change. Mark’s fiance offered a women’s trance dance that was intended to get women into such a vulnerable state that they were encouraged to bring someone with them to hold them and care for them after. Can we count the thousand ways how this is inappropriate, to give someone like Mark–who has a history of targeting vulnerable women–access to this? THIS IS NOT OK.
And, once I wrap my brain around what to say, I’ll be messaging the folks who organize Convocation to address the issue. I think they–like many event organizers–do a great job, but all of us–group leaders, event organizers, everyone–we need to take a hard look at the predatory behavior and be willing to cut it off. Yes, it means we’ll lose some amazing teachers. Yes, we’ll lose some resources.
But what are the alternatives?
In theory, the amputation process is fairly straightforward. Identify problem person, kick them out of a group, and alert other local groups. Or, if it’s a local group leader, gather together other local leaders to discuss, and agree to cut that leader off. Or, if it’s a Pagan teacher, agree that this teacher’s inappropriate behavior is grounds for them to not teach at events, and/or not attend future events.
There’s a more specific process outlined on this blog http://saltyourbones.wordpress.com/2014/03/28/on-outing-abusers/ that references a process outlined by TheGeekyBlonde on a video about how communities should deal with abuse.
I’ll quote some from the above blog:
“Step 1 – Amputate: Cut offending members off from the community in all forms so that they cannot continue to influence them, abuse or manipulate members, etc. Don’t attempt to rationalize their behavior. Don’t attempt to “separate the man from the material” because both have proven to be problematic and dangerous in one regard or another. Cut him off from the community….
Step 2 – Vaccinate: Let the rest of the community know that these types of people, behaviors, and actions should not (and will not) be tolerated and are detrimental to our community in all forms. Educate as to why they are harmful and problematic and why they cannot be acceptable in a healthy community.”
Amputating Kenny Klein
Even if he isn’t sent to jail for a thousand years, Kenny Klein is finished in the Pagan community. He admitted to possession of child pornography, though he has not yet been convicted, and many people have come forward to speak about how he abused them as teenagers. The cat is out of the bag.
However, he’s still got books out, and CDs out. Taylor Ellwood and Immanion Press pulled Kenny’s book “The Flowering Rod,” Green Egg pulled his work, and Witches and Pagans pulled his blog. Sacred Harvest Festival announced that Kenny would not be teaching there this summer. I think that that’s a great first step. Llewellyn has ceased selling copies of Kenny Klein’s books.
A number of folks have balked at this, saying that Kenny Klein is innocent until proven guilty. And in almost every case, I’d be with them on that. Except, in this case, there’s two factors. Factor one is, he admitted to it.
Factor two is, we have all these people coming forward speaking about how he abused them.
What is Guilty?
Now, let’s take a step back, and imagine that we’re trying to remove a Pagan teacher/author where there isn’t a legal case. Maybe we have some allegations of unwanted touch, but no witnesses. Or a series of other allegations that are basically unable to be proven.
Sometimes, an allegation is just that. Sometimes it’s a squabble from a breakup. And other times, there’s a documentable pattern. And maybe it’s not illegal, but isn’t there a point when this behavior becomes grounds for people to cut someone off?
At what point do Pagan bookstores, Pagan publishers, and Pagan festivals and conferences have the obligation to stop promoting a particular author/speaker’s work?
Pulling Books and Role Models
When Taylor Ellwood and I were on Pagan Musings Podcast, Taylor summed up his reasons for why he pulled Kenny’s book. I’ll paraphrase. He offered that Immanion Press is a community resource there to serve the Pagan community. And Kenny Klein’s book “The Flowering Rod” was a guide for, among other things, how men should ethically behave in the Pagan community, and Kenny’s actions do not support the values in the book. Taylor felt it would be hypocritical to carry that book. Taylor also pointed out that as he and I are currently editing an anthology on Pagan leadership for Immanion Press, it would be further hypocritical of Immanion to carry Kenny’s title.
I agree with something else Taylor said–that Pagan leaders and authors should be role models. Gods know I screw up, I’m human. But, I work hard to be that, to be a role model. And when I screw up, I work to be better.
There are presenters I’d never hire or recommend because of things I know that they’ve done, but I have no physical proof. There are leaders that I avoid, or actively dissuade people from working with, for the same reasons.
But there has to come a point when we can’t just bury our heads in the sand, when we have to be willing to cut someone off.
What is Abuse?
I’ve asked this before. What behavior constitutes abuse that is “enough?” What’s bad enough to get someone kicked out of an event or removed as a teacher? Where does it cross that fuzzy gray area into actionable? Sleeping with students (of age) isn’t illegal. And hitting on people til they are uncomfortable is not seen as a problem in the Pagan community under the sex positive excuse. Lying, emotional manipulation…none of these on their own seem like grounds to kick someone out.
And that’s why this is going to have to be part of a longer, ongoing conversation. Because, I do not think it is in any way reasonable to say, “That’s just domestic abuse.”
Standing Up: Silent Voices
That’s why I made the decision to speak out about my ex, Mark. That’s why I’m not backing down from his threat of a libel lawsuit. That’s why I’m not letting the victim blaming on my Facebook page stop me.
I’m a published author, I’m a public speaker, I’m somewhat well known in some circles of the Pagan community, and even with all of that, I’m still dealing with the worst aspects of speaking out against an abuser.
I cannot even imagine trying to do this if I were just an event attendee or a group member. Several women have told me, “I can’t post about this publicly, but Mark did…” And, I wish I could get them to post. To speak out. To lend their voices. But I understand their fear.
And so many women felt like it was nothing major, nothing they should bother reporting. “He was out at the conference/festival in the wee hours while you were sleeping, and he was hitting on me in a way that made me uncomfortable. I didn’t think you guys were polyamorous but he made it sound like you were. I didn’t want to mention it to you at the time, but I wish I had…”
I have found one of my greatest struggles these past years is finding the balance to acknowledge two simultaneous things. Yes, I have heard from many people who have experienced horrific abuse. Nauseating and violent abuse. Abuse they will never physically recover from. What Mark did to me was not that. I acknowledge that what he did, in the grand scheme of things, was not as bad as that. And yet, I also acknowledge that what he did to me was still abuse. There are a number of people who have taken it upon themselves to tell me that what I experienced was not “real” abuse. That isn’t true. It wasn’t violent, and I have the deepest compassion for people who have gone through more horrific abuse than I did. But what I went through is still abuse, and his behavior towards women is still predatory.
And so for all those women that he hurt that I know of, and for all those that I don’t know of, that’s why I’m posting about these issues, and about the specifics with my ex.
So even if I sound like the crazy ex, I cannot not speak out about his actions. And maybe it’s “just” domestic abuse, but I don’t want to support that being in my community. People like Mark need to be amputated from the community and from their feeding ground.
I wish to the gods he could be healed, because he could be one of the most amazing Pagan leaders and teachers out there. But after 3 years of “Baby, I’m sorry, I’ll do better, don’t leave me” and all the other reasons I stayed and gave him another chance for those moments when he seemed like he was getting better–there’s a time to cut the tumor off.