Intersections

Exploring the crossroads of religion, culture, and science through a Pagan lens

Predators, policies, and the road to healing

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A bomb exploded in the Pagan community this week. When popular Pagan musician and author Kenny Klein was arrested, the shockwave that tore from the explosion was immense. It was visceral. It was painful. And it’s all part of the healing process.

I have chosen to use Klein’s name here for a reason. I understand the urge to attempt to delete his name from our collective memory banks, but I see that as sticking our heads in the sand. Kenny Klein is a Pagan. He was arrested for the heinous crime of possessing child pornography, to which news reports say he confessed. When (and I believe it is “when” and not “if”) some bored crime reporter in the mainstream media starts Googling the names of arrested predators, and that reporter comes across the Pagan angle, it’s going to be way too juicy to pass up.

It’s a natural part of human perception to pin one person’s behavior on the entire community to which that person belongs. Psychologists call it the out-group homogeneity effect. When the person is a member of a group that is not your own (race, nation of origin, religion, for example), it is hard to separate the person’s actions from the entire group. It’s the classic slur, “They all look alike to me.” It would be all too easy for that bored crime reporter to make the same mistake.

To prevent that, we need to be right out front with this, clearly and decisively deriding his actions. We cannot wring our hands. We cannot prevaricate. We must condemn these actions. We need an internet paper trail of multiple Pagans condemning these crimes. When clergy of other faiths are accused of similar crimes, they often fall into the trap of waiting to take action and issuing vague, virtually meaningless apologies. Let’s not fall into the same trap. Thankfully, the condemnation of these crimes started immediately.

The story broke on Thursday morning, or at least that’s when I first heard it. Almost immediately, Kris Bradley condemned Klein on her Facebook page. Other prominent Pagans, including New Orleans local Christian Day, issued similar Facebook posts that clearly and decisively denounced him and his actions. Some were statements, some were prayers, but there was unanimous disgust and disapproval.

Later that day, the community began collecting their thoughts and writing longer blog posts on the issue. Bradley did that. Author and podcaster Peter Paddon wrote an excellent early piece on the subject. Immanion Press removed Klein’s book from their website and Witches and Pagans took down his Pagan Square blog.

More and more of our community has begun to share their thoughts on the issue. There is a paper trail now. My favorite is Stifyn Emrys’ piece on predators and a “call to maturity.” While we are, and always should be, a sex-positive group of religions who don’t stick our noses into the business of consenting adults, we must balance that aura of freedom with one of responsibility toward the young and the vulnerable. Shauna Aura Knight has written extensively on sexual ethics.

These writers and a number of others have done a wonderful job of standing up for what is right. They have indicted the failings of both Klein and our community and called for higher standards. They have also unflinchingly told the world the right message: We unequivocally denounce this behavior.

Where do we go from here?

Up until now, we have been struggling with each other to comprehend what has happened. We have been applying first aid to the initial wound. Now, we need to move forward with a healing process. I think we need to start with the failings within our own community.

As The Wild Hunt reported, there had been rumors, allegations, and complaints against Klein for over 20 years. There had been unwanted advances toward adult women, and his behavior around minors was also called into question. The sources say that they brought this to the attention of festival organizers, but they were rebuffed.

This is unacceptable. Our sex-positive culture can also be a hideout for dangerous people. Those who organize festivals must do all in their power to prevent that.

Every festival, gathering, and convention must have a clear, coherent policy that negates this kind of behavior, and must be held responsible for enforcing it. I don’t know the extent to which the gatherings around the U.S. have written policies like this. You can find PantheaCon’s statement in the convention program, but I find it completely inadequate. It advises those making unwanted advances to “STOP” and the object of those advances to “tell him/her how you feel.” But what if the person doesn’t stop? Where does the victim go? Who does he/she tell? What are the consequences to the perpetrator?

What if, as seems to be the case about Klein, a person is consistently reported as making “creepy,” unwanted advances? There’s nothing illegal about making a pass at someone and getting denied. Even multiple people. But if there are consistent complaints over a course of many years, that person should at least be warned. I’m not talking one complaint; I’m talking a pattern. Needless to say, if any complaints involve children, that person should be removed immediately. It’s up to festival organizers what their threshold is here. One complaint can just be a personality conflict, but there should be stated consequences for what happens when multiple reports document a pattern of similar complaints. If the statement is in writing, all attendees are clearly warned.

Brendan Myers attempted to craft a Pagan community statement on religious sexual abuse. He reports that he abandoned it due to excessive argument over details. Perhaps it’s time to revisit that.

Another question: What do we do now with Kenny Klein’s body of work? I’ve always liked his music, and I own maybe four of his CDs. Do I get rid of them all? I have three of his books, but I’ve only read one. Should I throw them away? Just about every Pagan podcast that plays music has played at least one of his songs. The brand new April Fool’s Day episode of the Magick Jukebox features one of his songs. Other podcasters have interviewed him. What do they do with those episodes?

There are so many cases of rock stars or other celebrities who engage in or are suspected to engage in reprehensible behavior, but they often continue to get support. Michael Jackson went on trial for similar offenses and was rumored to have illegal and immoral sexual appetites for years. People still listened to his music.

At the same time, hearing his voice is just going to get me angry.  This whole thing has left me and probably a great many others feeling hurt.  I can’t really picture myself singing along to “Maria’s not a Catholic Anymore” anymore. Listening to songs I’ve already purchased puts no money in his pocket, but I can’t imagine wanting to bump up some “Blue Eyed Pagan Girl” anytime soon. Maybe it is time for a community-wide mass iTunes purge.

We need to heal, and we need to take advantage of this situation. We need to come together as a community and have an open, honest discussion of where we failed, what we learned, and what we are going to do to be sure something like this never happens again. In any large group, there will always be some bad behavior, but it’s time to start moving toward a place where that behavior is never tolerated. I realize it’s hard to come to a consensus in a widespread, decentralized community, but I think the advantages of protecting children from harm far outweigh the disadvantages. This is, indeed, a call to maturity.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Perhaps this is a good time for the discussion to begin.

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Author: Tim

I am a teacher, a theater lover, and a High Priest in the Temple of Witchcraft. I love to point out the places where the everyday world, arts, science, and religion intersect. I stand for interfaith cooperation and the belief that people of all religions, political beliefs, and nationalities have more in common with each other than differences.

8 thoughts on “Predators, policies, and the road to healing

  1. There are a lot of avenues to pursue. I would respectfully suggest that there be a significant push to develop a plan and even training around the idea of guardians of children at any event. A lot of major stores have these (including training on how to address situations) and there is the Operation Safe Place logo that could be incorporated. There could be safe spots, specifically trained and clearly identified festival coordinators who would have the same logo so that at any time they could be approached and a plan enacted to ensure separation, protection and reporting as needed.

  2. This topic is so complicated. I’ve been responding to the various other blog posts, and comment threads on Facebook, and mulling on it, because it’s crucial. It’s a crucial topic. But it’s one that is very prone to the black/white polarity thinking that spawned the Patriot Act. We need better policies around how to handle abuses of many types. Sexual abuse of children is clearly unacceptable. And yet, I know of Pagan community disputes that have centered on disgruntled Pagans accusing a former partner or a group leader of child abuse or rape as a way to get back at them.

    The sea of hearsay in the community is thick.

    Overall, I’ve found that the truth points to itself. It sucks to wait for someone to fuck up again if there isn’t enough data from round one, but, eventually predators do it again. I’m a fan of “3 strikes” methods (assuming no direct heinous behavior was witnessed) and I think that all our events and conventions and festivals need a policy around what constitutes behavior that isn’t appropriate, what you can do immediately, but ALSO, who you report it to and what the process of justice is.

    Because, that’s what we’re talking about. And I know some Pagans will balk. We’re talking about judgment. We’re talking about any event, any group, needing a judicial process. No, some of the behaviors may not be illegal, and thus, *we ourselves* need to render a judgment on what behavior is appropriate for each sovereign group or event. And that means someone–or someones–thus need to be empowered to say, “There’s not enough evidence of wrongdoing to kick you out, but we’ll be watching,” or, “You are no longer welcome here.”

    We who lead groups and run events also have to have clearer, open communication with each other. If I ban someone from my group for a particular thing, I consider it common decency to inform other local leaders since that group member is just going to jump ship to another group. But, in the past when I’ve tried to do this, what I’ve heard is, “Now now, no need to be a rumor mongerer.”

    I think more robust policies for groups and orgs can begin to help with that. As well as more training community-wide about what abuse looks like, particularly with child predators. But we also need to shift our thinking; I see just as much victim blaming of real victims as I see people playing the victim card to get back at someone. We want justice, and healthy community, not witch hunts for every piece of hearsay.

    Complicated issues.

    • Thanks Shauna. I agree they are complicated. I know that these things will eventually “out.” I think there’s a line that can be tread. Freedom: yes. Sexual freedom: yes. Freedom of festival organizers to create their own definitions of boundaries and clearly communicate those to all would-be attendees so that everyone is clearly informed of what that festival sees as acceptable and what it sees as I acceptable: yes. Freedom to sexually exploit minors: fuck no. Freedom to rape: fuck no.

      One personal vendetta should be treated as such, but a pattern of complaints over many years should lead to first a warning and then a ban from the event if the behavior continues.

      I see this situation as that “call to maturity.” No longer can we do the “no need to be a rumor mongerer.” We must tackle allegations head on, that’s what an ethical, mature group should do.

      • Yup, yup, and fuck yes. Or, amen or hallelujah or something. (Blessed be just doesn’t have the same ring to it.)

      • I really like your article here, Tim. I’d like to share that I am creating a Pagan council to help deal with this. I spent 16 yrs a a psychotherapist working with the molested and the molesters so I do know a great deal about this subject. The Pagan council would come up with suggested guidelines, would have free counseling and would also be a clearing house for information gathered on a suspected child molester. Many people tried to report Kenny’s molesting but the police never believed anyone “lack of evidence.” Well, I’ve spent 4 days gathering up all the evidence about Kenny, including police reports, reading statements by actual adults who were molested by Kenny at the age of 12 or younger. I never heard one bad thing about Kenny and he often wrote for Green Egg, which I’m the editor and publisher. I’ve also spoken at length with his biological son, Jo Pax and his mom, Tzipora Katz. They were under a gag order for IIRC 20 years – how many children, just in the Pagan community, were molested because of this gag order? Who knows, but a good many, judging by the statements of people who were molested or were approached inappropriately by him.
        I was horrified to hear this but at this point I have no doubt of his guilt.
        If anyone is interested in helping out with this council, please read my open letter to the Pagan community here at the Green Egg website:
        greeneggzine.com

        Thank you,
        Ariel Monserrat

      • Thanks Ariel. I’ll check out your letter!

  3. This is something that matters very deeply to me. Some of the things that come to mind are some opening ritual/prayer/etc that would include things like, calling allies/protectors for children and vulnerable people. To have those that would stand and protect raise their hands (so that the young people can SEE with their own eyes that everyone around them, at least in form, is there to protect). Plus I think that it sends a very important and powerful message on all kinds of levels about who we are and who we want to be for our children and vulnerable.

    And YES I will go check out the letter too!

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