Earlier this week, Pagan author and folk musician Kenny Klein was arrested and confessed to possession of child pornography. Reactions from the Pagan world have not exactly been diverse. I am glad no one is saying it’s not a big deal. I enjoy Klein’s books but, another part of me understands the “I’m not going to keep his books in my house” bandwagon too. When someone has done something you find so reprehensible it’s normal to not want any of their work around or incorporated into your spirituality. Child pornography is pretty bad on it’s own; that a person had it, presumably was looking at it. Given the information we know, we can surmise as much happened. We cannot know if he is a child molester, rapist, or even that he made the child pornography. Any ideas about such are pure speculation unless there are victims speaking out. I have no problem with people being outraged, upset, or any shows of outrage about this happening within our community – so please, rage on! However I love art, I love film and I love music. It’s a disturbing fact that much of our popular culture is built on the exploitation of love and adoration of very young women verging on girls. Two great directors of films have been accused and one convicted of some form of sexual assault on a minor: many people still love their films. I can understand Pagans who don’t want to give their money to someone with this past. However to devalue someone’s work in light of a personal indiscretion seems wrong when we don’t do it in so many other areas. (I know there are other Rosemary’s Baby loving Pagans out there – don’t lie.)
The Pagan community is relatively small, but not different than other communities. We are not special or immune to the ugly parts of reality. No matter how much “light and love” you vibrate that’s not going to protect you from predators. In fact, as a woman, I can tell you going around vibrating light and love and smiling at everyone you meet is a good way to get a lot unwanted attention including unwanted touches and possibly more. (Vibrating light and love or even flirting is not an excuse for sexual assault, don’t even go there.) I wish Pagan communities would take more care in policing boundaries, using good judgement, and calling out predatory behavior. This is the part of the discussion where we have to separate the Klein incident and focus on our own local communities and experiences. I don’t know Klein, and unless you do you can’t speak to his predatory behavior (and by “know” I mean you’ve been in a coven with him or actually interacted with him more than once or twice). I don’t know if he was a predator in Pagan spaces or rituals. Incidents like this will always happen, no matter what we do, because that’s the ugly side of human nature – but other incidents of predatory behavior happen in our community right in front of us. Instead of looking the other way, making excuses, or ostracizing those who speak up we need to start acting as guardians of our own community.
There are two kinds of sexually predatory problems I have seen in Pagan communities. The first is behaviors and the behaviors have to stop. No matter what the circumstance, I don’t care what happened before, last year, or even 30 minutes ago: “no” means no. When a person says “no” whatever is going on stops. Some women dance around fires topless, that may be the right time to look at their bodies, in ritual is not the time for that. If you find yourself unable to control your gaze, I suggest you try to avoid sky-clad or clothing optional events for a time until you can focus on things at hand. I get it to some extent, everyone gets sexually frustrated, and while I feel for you in a way ritual circles are not the time to let that energy out. Unwanted touching or using authority to get someone to allow you do something they do not want you to do are obvious problem behaviors and I hope there are no communities where this kind of thing isn’t called out. The second issue, and the deeper problem, are sexually predatory attitudes found within the community. These attitudes and beliefs come from the dominant outside patriarchal culture this is not just a “Pagan” problem. The classic “boys will be boys” or “men are…” issue. Bottom line, men and boys simply “aren’t” one way or another: men and boys act the way they act and think the way you allow them to as a community and parents. If you set appropriate boundaries and are willing to police those boundaries, you wouldn’t need to make these excuses. These attitudes are those that allow the aforementioned behaviors to happen, continue, and push back against those of us who seek to stop them.
It should not be acceptable for a man to openly boast about finding a “plaything” at a Pagan event and collect the youngest, most impressionable young woman present. I witnessed this happen and I am disappointed in the Pagan men who allowed it to happen. Maybe they did not have know what to do – and as a woman, I can give a little encouragement but I don’t know how to answer that. He did not sexually assault her, he did not physically harm her (that I witnessed), but he used her inexperience and relative youth to take what he wanted from her. He used her need for love, approval, and attention against her to get whatever he wanted and when he couldn’t get what he wanted anymore he moved on to someone else.* When Pagan leaders in the community tried to step in, it had gone too far and were unable to do more than stand by and watch the aftermath. Those who overheard these statements should have put an end to it right then. That attitude should have been checked, a simple statement along the lines of “that sort of thing isn’t welcome here” would have sufficed. Even if it didn’t change his mind, one simple statement can change the attitude. When we do this in a meditation we are setting intention: setting intentions for our sacred spaces starts the minute we arrive and begin mingling with others. We cannot expect to have safe ritual spaces if we do not set intentions; part of making safe ritual spaces is to set clear boundaries for sexual safety. Setting and maintaining these boundaries is our job as Pagan community members, we must be our own guardians.
*I used an example where a male was the predator, but I have seen women use sexuality in a predatory was to meet their needs (often material needs) in Pagan communities as well and this is as reprehensible.