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.