On April 6, 2017 a New Orleans jury voted 11-1 to convict Wiccan Priest and musician Kenny Klein of 19 counts of possessing pornography involving children under 17 and one count of possessing pornography involving children under 13. Sentencing is scheduled for April 20: he faces a minimum of 5-20 years on each of the under-17 counts and 10-40 for the under-13 material. A saga which began with Klein’s 2014 arrest will likely end with the 62 year-old Klein dying in prison.
Soon after the story broke women began coming forward with tales of Klein’s inappropriate behavior at festivals and the non-response of Elders and festival staff they warned. As we await the final sentence, more people are coming forward with similar stories. In three years discussions on how Pagans can protect their most vulnerable members and root out predators have made little headway: efforts to take concrete steps have invariably been derailed by fears of “false rape allegations.”
On Facebook Deborah Lipp correctly noted that many organizations enable abusers and harassers and suggested this is an American rather than a specifically Pagan problem. It is worth remembering that Kenny also played the Renfaire circuit for over twenty years while organizers turned a blind eye to his behavior as enthusiastically as Pagans did. Roman Catholics, Hasidic Jews and athletic organizations have failed to protect their most vulnerable members as egregiously as Pagans failed Kenny Klein’s victims. That being said, I also think there are a few factors which make the Pagan community an especially fertile hunting ground for letchers seeking nubile young things.
Pagans tend to be very sex-positive, which is generally a good thing. Unfortunately, that is sometimes turned into “if you don’t want sex, it’s just because of your Christian conditioning.” And when somebody reports inappropriate behavior they are often gaslighted with “you just misunderstood him” or “he is just a huggy guy: he didn’t mean anything by it.” If sex is sacred (and, as a Polytheist, I believe that it is), so too is an individual’s right to bodily autonomy. “No” means “no,” not “talk me into it.” A polite refusal is not a sign of inhibitions that need to be corrected but a statement that your lust object is just not that into you. And while Pagans never tire of reminding us that “ritual nudity is not about sex,” a significant number of people attending clothing-optional events come for Teh Boobies — or, worse, for a chance to see naked children.
There’s also the Pagan tendency to raise tolerance to an absolute virtue and to dismiss complaints as “witch wars.” You always hear “there are two sides to every story” yet somehow the only side that gets believed is the one where we all just get along and ignore the person making “unreasonable” demands and flinging “unbelievable” accusations. Abuse survivors are often angry about what happened. Given the choice between a screaming woman and a calm man explaining that she’s blowing things way out of proportion, Pagans all too often pick the polite lie over the agitated truth. (To be fair, this happens often when dealing with sexual harassment and abuse: it will continue until we as a society learn to honor and respect justified anger).
There is considerable crossover between the Pagan and Geek communities, and many Pagans have limited social skills. Justifying their behavior when it makes others uncomfortable does nothing for anybody — including the socially clueless guy who thinks he is just being friendly. The outside world has far less tolerance for people who don’t do boundaries. Enabling gropers and serial huggers at festivals will only encourage them to continue acting out where they might get in serious trouble. If you are truly concerned about “false rape allegations” you need to teach Starfire Touchesboobies his behavior may land him in hot water and certainly will do nothing to help him find willing partners. If Starfire means no harm, he will be willing to listen and change his ways. If Starfire cannot or will not take that advice, you can assume that he is a clear and present danger and show him the gate.
The Pagan community can shun somebody accused of sexual misconduct: they can bar him from festivals they run, remove him from their membership rolls, and cut off contact with him. This can be painful and emotionally traumatic — but nowhere near so painful and traumatic as decades in prison. Yet whenever the subject comes up there’s this loud insistence that we must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty — a standard more properly associated with criminal court. Given that the consequences in this case are considerably less harsh, perhaps it would be more appropriate to act based on a preponderance of evidence.
It may also be helpful to frame the question in terms of “proven” or “unproven” rather than true or false. There are many cases of sexual misconduct which are clear-cut. There are others where it comes down to he said/she said. Instead of assuming “she must be lying,” it might be better to say “we lack the evidence to determine exactly what happened.” And if we start seeing repeated incidents where a whole bunch of “she saids” are aimed at one “he said” who repeatedly claims innocence, we might start to wonder why High Priest Grabherbythepussy has so much trouble with women accusing him of sexual misconduct.
These suggestions are intended for those who still have hope the Pagan community will learn something from this sad affair: I am not among that group. When Annamaria was born Kathy and I looked forward to taking her to Pagan festivals. After seeing how this played out, that is not going to happen. We are not worried about pedophiles so much as their enablers. Twenty-five years of evidence says we have no reason to suppose anyone would speak up if they saw anybody acting inappropriately around Annamaria. Instead we could expect to deal with a circle of loyal followers willing to destroy evidence, lie to police and discredit us and an even bigger circle of people who would stay silent rather than speaking up. Klein’s fate is at long last sealed. We still have the freedom to walk away and have chosen to use it.