Two men, Peter Petrauske and Jack Kemp, are currently standing trial in Cornwall over the alleged abuse of “a number of young victims, the youngest aged somewhere between three and five.” According to testimony, the two men, and other unnamed members of a Witches’ coven, would ply the girls with alcohol, have them undress, then involve them in ritualistic sex-acts.
“Pagan ceremonies with a coven of white witches in mid and west Cornwall were cited when the trial of two men accused of sexually abusing children over a number of years began at Truro Crown Court on Monday. In the dock were 69-year-old Jack Kemp, of Grenville Road, Falmouth, and Peter Petrauske, 72, who at the time of his arrest last December was living at The Beacon, Falmouth. Petrauske has denied raping one girl and three charges of assault. Kemp has denied aiding and abetting attempted rape and 15 charges of assault.”
Kemp has a previous charge of child abuse, both men deny the charges against them, which involve alleged incidents that reach back to the 1970s. The Pagan Federation, one of the oldest and largest Pagan advocacy organizations in the UK, released a statement which reiterated its stance regarding sexual ethics in modern Pagan religions.
“The Pagan Federation believes that sexual activity between consenting adults is a matter only for those consenting adults. However, in no way is any sexual activity engaged in with children or vulnerable persons ever appropriate. Such activity does not form a part of any Pagan path and, should any Pagan be found to be engaging in sexual activity with a child, officers of the Pagan Federation would not hesitate in communicating those concerns with the appropriate authorities.”
Sadly, a number of individuals have used the largely decentralized and non-hierarchical nature of modern Pagan faiths in order to abuse young men and women for their own gratification. From Colin Batley’s pseudo-Thelemic sex cult, to pathetic individuals like Daniel Hess or Kenneth James McMurray. Even the John Friend scandal, which involved nominally consenting legal adults, shows how some warp our rites in order to satisfy a particular urge for control, power, or sex.
Let me be clear, sex scandals, and abuse scandals, are not some unique Pagan problem. All religions where power and trust are in play fall victim to those who become blinded by their power, or attract those who would exploit the trust of adherents. The Catholic sex abuse scandals are well known, but there are Buddhist and Hindu sex scandals as well. For Pagans, what we need isn’t to explain away these horrible incidents, but to be clear and forthright about what our sexual ethics are. To regularly express our values in a public way, so that when stories like the one in Cornwall emerge, reporters can know that they are aberrations. During the John Friend scandal, I said that these are powerful moments for outreach and clarification.
“Wicca’s roots, its core, is in sacred union. Many over the years, both detractors and adherents, have called it a “sex cult” or a “fertility religion.” This can lead to some taking liberties that ignore our ethical base, our commitment to sacred trust, our belief that “as above” is at one with what’s “below.” It can lead to people like Friend misusing the currents of both Wicca and yoga for his own gratification. [...] This is not the time to hope it “blows over,” but a time for our leaders to engage in powerful outreach on what Wicca is, what its ethics are, and what our stance is on Friend’s behavior. If we don’t, we run the risk of others doing it for us, quietly, with whispers, insinuations, and misinterpretations.”
Later, during the Daniel Hess abuse scandal, I noted that speaking out isn’t merely about media spin, but about protecting those who might be in dangerous or abusive situations as we speak.
“This call to outreach isn’t for the sake of media outlets in Ohio, but for the young people who may be out there being “groomed” as we speak to believe their route to power, to control, to acceptance, comes through sexual activity with a coven, grove, circle, or kindred leader. Those who blur the boundaries of power and responsibility to engage in sexual gratification with minors are repugnant, and we have a special responsibility to speak out against those who sully the names of our sacred traditions, who twist the psyches of those they hold spiritual authority over. I hope this latest incident act spurs us into reiterating what our sexual ethics are in a manner that leaves no excuse to those who would twist or abuse the decentralized non-hierarchical nature of our faiths and community for their own purposes.”
My hope is that every significant Pagan organization reiterates its sexual ethics, and places them in a place easy to find by all. That they do outreach to their own members, and have dialogs concerning sex and abusive situations. Whether Peter Petrauske and Jack Kemp are guilty or not, this won’t be the last allegation, or sexual abuse conviction, we’ll have to collectively deal with. Pagan faiths aren’t immune to these tragedies, but we can deal with them in a more open, honest, and accountable fashion than the more hierarchical faiths.