A highlight of last month was the arrest of a well-known-to-some Pagan man caught in a child porn sting.
The brouhaha over Kenny Klein is wholly justified: we’ve had more than one neopagan hauled off for trying to persuade nubile men and women in their mid-teens into beds. He’s the first guy we all know for sure went down for kiddie porn for children under 13 and the intense discussion of these charges reveal, to our communal shame, how many warnings and complaints we ignored.
In response many decent people of neopagandom have vowed to correct our actions. Over the last month lots of energy has gone into discussing how our community behaves when it comes to sex and sexuality. We are all about solving the problem, we are simply going to the wrong information to solve that problem. Sexuality and sexual ethics is not and was never the problem in cases involving sexual violence. We all know sex with children is malevolent and wrong – those engaging in these acts definitely know that. No amount of vowing not to rape children will stop pedophiles of any religion or non-faith from raping children. It’s a pathology. Petitions and sexual chivalry codes don’t fix that.
In one festival announcement that bordered on being predatory in its own right, there was a promise to “screen all registrants” before camp. That’s a cute bit of PR – but since this is the first time Klein has been caught, he would have slipped right on through and endangered the children at that camp, too.
Instead of looking at our own behavior and how we as a community contributed and even enabled his crimes, we are looking at the behavior of Klein and those like him as though a new moral code will make a damn bit of difference to someone who willfully breaks moral codes already. The only thing we have the power to change is ourselves – and for the most part, every proposal of “change” has been something that would do nothing to correct this situation. (There are exceptions listed in the blog links at the bottom of this post.)
We all want to know what the signs of a child molester are. But molesters know what they are and they are clever. They hide. They manipulate. They make us feel ashamed for thinking such thoughts about them.
The only sure sign of a child molester? Victims. And that “victims” is almost always plural unless a concerned parent happened upon the first incident while already toting a shotgun.
Whether Klein is a “true Pagan” or not (and “true Pagan” are words of utter bullshit, by the way) makes no difference in the much more serious issue: we failed his victims. It is an aching, glaring reality in the hordes of blog posts out there: there’s lots of talk about how we had warnings about Klein, but only the victims talk about how they were (mis)treated along the way. Call it rape culture, call it Peter Pan syndrome, call it Pagan fantasy culture at its worst – but also, call it our fault for not listening, for not paying attention, for dismissing instead of investigating.
Yvonne Aburrow gives a good overview of this. Her perspective is old school, what I was told in advocacy training. It also relies on people being better and more self aware than they usually are.
The problem with protecting our own vulnerable populations is that as a group we share a tendency towards denial of bad behavior.
In theory we’ll of course believe a woman who tells us she’s been raped. We’re good people. We know all about rape culture, that it’s real. We are beyond rape culture, right? The Goddess disapproves of rape and all that rape in ancient myth represented tales of war and patriarchal oppression. We are good Pagans! We uphold the Goddess incarnate in all women! Of course we’d believe a woman who was raped – and not even think to question the shortness of her skirt, whether we can see her thong or if she was making out with more than one guy around the fire last night.
But then real life happens: a woman tells you she’s been raped by someone you know – a guy you just had drinks with, a guy who’s on your trivia team, a guy who just helped you move.
Then believing her is a very different story.
Even after she gets the rape kit and the DNA proves something happened, you dredge up anything that can make this not be so – even blaming her – to convince yourself you’re not the kind of person that would befriend a rapist.
Maybe she’s just trying to get revenge in a bad breakup, you tell yourself. You look for every fault she has. Something has to be wrong with her – because there’s no way you’d just let this happen, that you might have been a passive party to someone else’s violation. You’d totally know if this guy was sexually violent. Yeah, he says some weird things about women and gets kind of touchy but that’s just geek culture/pagan culture/weird social awkwardness, right? Just look at how she acts around her sexual prospects.
Or: look at how she wears baggy clothes and no makeup – why would anyone even want to rape her?
This train of thought is wrong – beyond wrong. It’s a complete moral failure.
Sometimes there are signs when a person is creepy. Sometimes there are not. Predators disguise themselves – fooling the people around them is how they succeed in their hunt.
You are going to get signals something is up, though. Sometimes those signs come from the predators.
But often enough, the signs come from the people the predator hunts – and all too often, you may well bat those aside, not even knowing that there’s a neurological button in you that the predator has found a way to press, even at a distance. The button that makes you ignore what’s right in front of you. The one that makes you want to steady that rocking boat.
The predator counts on us using that automated response every time someone says “hey, something is wrong here.” In fact, after years of manipulation and cultural indoctrination, these responses can be condensed down to specific words and sentences that actually act as powerful triggers – that can shut our awareness to the off position. After all, it’s much easier to hunt when the other members of the herd are oblivious – and getting them to make themselves oblivious makes life so much easier.
So, when confronted with a rape-in-the-neighborhood situation, most people are programmed to respond with dismissal, identification or denial.
- “Oh, he or she is harmless.”
Variations: “socially awkward,” “is from a different era,” “has some old fashioned ideas about gender,” “likes to push boundaries.”
- “I’m sure it was nothing.” The person was upset enough to bring it up. It’s something.
- “It’s just a [cultural] [tradition] [personality] difference.”
- “I’m sure it’s just a personality conflict.”1
- “Once you get to a certain age everyone thinks you’re creepy.”
- “I just imagine how I would feel in that situation.”
- “Men in this community are treated so badly. Their innate privilege/masculinity is questioned all the time.”
- “He has a boyfriend/girlfriend… he’s really attractive…he’s so nice… why would he need to rape someone?”
- “He IS your boyfriend/girlfriend. Why on earth would he need to rape you?”
- “I know him. He’s a nice guy. There’s just no way this could happen.”
- “I don’t know what I saw.”
- “You’re exaggerating.”
- “I’m sure it wasn’t that bad.”
- “Maybe it was just a misunderstanding…” [once someone's genitals come out there IS no misunderstanding.]
- “Stop being a drama queen.”
- “You’re taking this out of context/blowing this way out of proportion.”
- “I don’t want to get involved.”
- “I’m sure this would be better handled privately.”
- “Think about who this would hurt if this got out.”
- “You should take this to the authorities.”
This one sounds like the right thing to say. It should be the right thing to say.
If you have ever had to watch a police interrogation of a rape or molestation victim, you will know why it is the deadly wrong thing to say.
1)Most rape victims are accused of lying by the police. Usually they are accused of it several times during an investigation. There are cases when a woman has had to ask for a rape kit multiple times before she even gets one – and sometimes she isn’t even given one then.
2)An absurd number of police officers have domestic abuse and sexual violence on their own records. Gender seems to make no difference in that. It is starting to improve as people are registering that high risk jobs have can have nasty neurological impacts that make people more likely to become violent towards their partners and children. But right now, chances are the police are not just part of rape culture but the upholders of it.
3)In a Pagan context, there are no authorities. Often someone speaks to you because they perceive YOU as the authority in some way – and given the state of crisis, it’s not a good time to navigate the psychological conditions that cause that particular projection.
ADDITIONAL COMPLEX AVOIDANCE
- “Prove it.”
Therein lies the rub. There are many situations in which if a victim seeks legal recourse – say, going to the police and getting a rape kit – that it’s more dangerous to get the proof then it is to just suffer with what has been done. Most rape and molestation happens at the hands of a known person and it escalates over time. In its final escalation, the victim is murdered. The possibility of getting caught has caused more than one perpetrator to move up the schedule on that.
- “Well, why don’t you confront him/her?”
This comes from “very special episode” acculturation. In TVLand, the victim is believed, the authorities are called and the perpetrator confesses to all crimes, maybe even vowing to change while being hauled off in handcuffs. More than one therapist has witnessed how much confrontation of an abuser doesn’t accomplish.
“Why didn’t you say no/put a stop to it?”
This is something about rape (not sex) education that has changed since my day in the 90s. I remember attending education workshops where it was explained how over eager teenage boys would use emotional manipulation to get sex. This qualified as rape at the time. Of course, now sex education involves pointing teenagers to the nearest anti-contraception church in the most dire need of butts for their pews. They don’t care how they got those baby members or what’s done to women in order to conceive them.
As many an adult child abuse survivor can tell you, people will refuse to believe you even when it happens right in front of them, the police or other authorities sure as hell won’t believe you and confrontation of the perpetrator does fuck all.
Actually, it does do one thing that’s sort of useful, but not so useful it justifies the therapy bills. I’ll get to that later.
How YOU can stop the cycle of denial, minimization and avoidance
There is a way to stop this. Every time you encounter a situation where someone reports the horrific, respond the same way: ask relevant, non-leading, non-judgmental questions. It will be very difficult to do. Most people’s brains are all wired up with rape culture/dismissal culture. It can take some work to undo that.
If the Pagan community wants to implement anything that will make a difference, it should be in creating a standardized procedure in how the victims are treated and how their claims are investigated. The procedure should be re-examined in light of new research about sexual violence every single year.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a man or woman, boy or girl, trans or traditional: treat any accusations of assault and violation exactly the same way.
What you must internalize about rape and molestation:
It’s not a stranger jumping out of the bushes. Rape and molestation happens between known quantities. The majority of murders are also between people that know each other intimately (not necessarily sexual intimacy.) Often sexual abuse is a component of relationships that leads to murder.
So what are the right questions to ask? What are the right things to say?
This can be a hard one. People that have been violated are usually in a state of shock that moves into denial. It can go for days or weeks. A lot of things you think you’d do immediately if the same thing happened to you may well not happen if/when it does happen to you because of the shock.
Level 1: If someone comes to you saying “I was raped.”
- Do you want to go to the police?
- Are you going to go to the police?
- Are you safe?
- Are you able to get somewhere safe?
- Can you say who?
- What do you need to see done?
Note: Any coven or Pagan group worth a damn will make sure that the victim has NO reason to run into the abuser. Even if you’re determined you’re “not sure” forcing these people to cross paths for any reason is an act of abuse in and of itself.
Level 2: Someone did something I thought was off.
- What did the person do?
- Can you tell me more about the context?
- What did you say? What did this person say?
Do NOT respond with a conclusion or dismissal. Promise to look in on it and make some observations yourself.
Level 3: Confrontation
Confrontation will never, ever produce positive change in the perpetrator. Many of those us who survived abuse are well aware that there’s a pretty high degree of narcissism among people who abuse, whether it’s children or adults, whether it’s on the emotional spectrum or whether it’s across the emotional and physical spectrum with the sexual spectrum as a bridge.
What confrontation will do is prompt a reaction.
A perpetrator will deny, try to make himself out to be the victim, try to slander or speak for his or her victim, try to justify the behavior and insist that it’s normal. A perpetrator will most likely use anger to manipulate everyone in the room.
What an innocent person will do is look horrified and ask for guidance in righting the wrong or offense given.
It takes someone with super strong grounding in a very healthy place to confront an abuser and get anything useful out of it at all. Whatever it is, it won’t do anything to change the abuser – it will only provide information that only a very well trained eye will know what to look for. Since abusers installed those triggers that will cause breakdown/backing down into the people they hurt, those people are the ones who should never, ever bother with a confrontation. All that does is open the door for the abuse cycle to restart. It is up to the community members to help their wounded properly. Alas, rugged individualism can only do harm here.
Rape and molestation are not one-off, isolated behaviors. They are pathologies. If you hear about a person abusing sexually once, you will almost definitely hear about a person abusing sexually again.
Also, what the fuck is wrong with the people that think an older man or woman hitting on or “teasing” girls and boys under 18 is a grey area?
Read these, too – they say it well, and add dimensions to this discussion not covered here:
- This has been used on me too often to forgive. It almost always means that one person is behaving badly and people surrounding are too afraid to do anything so they let it go on, giving it tacit social support. [↩]