Thursday, March 27, 2014

Predators and Pagans

Today’s news that Kenny Klein, Pagan musician and teacher, was arrested on suspicion of child pornography, raises an important issue that too many in the Pagan community seem to prefer to ignore, the existence of predators in our community.

Now, I’m not going to discuss, for the most part, whatever crimes were allegedly committed by Klein, but rather I want to focus on the bigger issue, which is the community’s response to things like this. We often hear stories of a pedophile being caught, or a sexual predator preying on susceptible victims at Pagan events, or of people leaving a coven because of the predatory actions of one or more of the coven’s leaders. Often the knee-jerk reaction is to say “obviously this person isn’t a real Pagan, or they’d never do these things”. Unfortunately this is, at best ignorant, and in fact it does much damage to the credibility of the community as a whole.

Worse is when the community, or the leadership of the portion of it most affected, turns a blind eye to the whole thing, or even worse still, when they defend the predator. I understand the fear involved – exposing the act invariably rebounds on the community as a whole, and the fundamentalist Christians have a field day, attacking us all and painting us all with the same brush. But ignoring or covering up these problems plays into their hands even more, because it looks like we condone those acts, accept them. It makes preying on the weaker members of our community look like normal Pagan behavior.

So I have a simple suggestion to make – let’s stop doing that. Let’s stop enabling the predators because of our own fear. Klein’s arrest is going to make him the poster-boy for fundamentalist attacks on the “evil Witches and Pagans”, because this time there is no hiding behind the “no true Pagan” defense. He is a highly visible Pagan, active in festivals and conferences, a popular musician, an elder of his tradition (Blue Star Wicca). Any time a predator is convicted or confesses, we need to find the courage to stand up and say “yes, they are a Pagan, and what they have done is wrong, and we condemn their actions and those of all others who betray the trust placed in them.” We cannot stick our heads in the sand, like the Catholic Church did for so many years with the pedophile priests. We need to deal with the pedophiles, the creepy folk who go to Pagan gatherings looking to get laid by forcing themselves on someone caught up in the magic, or a little too tipsy. We need to deal with coven leaders who demand sexual favors of students, while being careful not to get too puritanical on those traditions that use consensual sex as part of their craft.

Above all, we need to, for once, show a united front to the world, one that says that we will not tolerate this behavior in our ranks, that we will not tolerate those who condone, defend, or by their inaction, enable this behavior. Predators are found in all walks of life, so we need to stress that this is not acceptable in Paganism, but at the same time, we must not use the old feeble excuse of “he wasn't a real Pagan”. We have to own our failures as well as our successes.

I don’t know for sure whether Klein has actually done anything wrong – the article about his arrest stated that 25 explicit photos were found on his computer, and he admitted ownership, that he downloaded them and also distributed them to others. But at this point, he has not been charged, and certainly hasn't been convicted. To be honest, it is less today’s arrest that sparked my little rant here, but the comments I've been seeing online from people who say he’s been doing this for 20 plus years, while teaching  workshops for children and mixing with families. Some of those comments are from people who claim it happened to them. If the alleged actions are backed up by evidence, why have community leaders allowed continued access to children for so long?

In the past, I've heard stories of people who have been vilified in the community for exposing pedophiles. Now I realize that there is a fine line between making assumptions and having reasonable certainty, but when there is evidence, we should not shoot the messenger, and even when there isn't, it still bears at least taking a look. Somebody can be mistaken, over-cautious or over sensitive, but if they are sincerely concerned, the leaders of their group should look into the accusations as fairly as possible, and where there is evidence, there should be action. Instead we get people being ostracized and punished for “exposing the group to public scrutiny”… the same excuses the Catholic Church gave for moving pedophile priests to a different parish.

Ultimately, we are always going to be under attack from fundamentalist Christianity – nothing will change that. If in fear of providing them with ammunition, we try to hide the acts of these predators, we not only end up giving them more and better ammunition, but we are allowing our own community to become the victims of pedophiles, bullies, extortionists, frauds and rapists. Already the damage done by this is evident; the large number of seekers who shy away from covens and formal training because they've been burnt by a predator. When we fail to deal with predators, to remove them from our ranks and bring them to the attention of the authorities, we become their accessories, their enablers, and we become in part responsible for their actions, and that carries a heavy coin.

So if you are the victim of a predator, bring it to the attention of a leader and/or the authorities. If you are a leader, then do not turn away from those who claim they are victims – lead, and do what is necessary. We must be careful not to jump to conclusions, but must evaluate the situation, and decide if action is needed. Above all, we must not delude ourselves that if we ignore it, it will go away.