Addressing Safety at Pagan Conventions and Festivals

Cara Schulz —  April 17, 2014 — 46 Comments

As the immediate shock regarding the arrest of Pagan author and musician Kenny Klein on possession of child pornography wears off, a wider conversation in the Pagan community on event safety and sexual predators begins. Festival and convention organizers consider possible changes in policies while attendees ask for greater protection. Yet it’s unclear if this focus is a lasting trend or a short lived reaction. MerryMeet, a yearly convention hosted by different Covenant of the Goddess Chapters, and CONvergence, a science fiction and fantasy convention lauded internationally for their anti-harassment policies, offer best practices which aim to protect attendees while still allowing an open, diverse event.

Evolving conversation
Kenny Klein’s arrest on March 25th affected the Pagan community deeply due to his decades of traveling the Pagan convention and festival circuit, bringing him into contact with thousands of children and teens. Almost immediately conversations on social media sites and blogs moved from focusing on Klein to looking at how the Pagan community deals with sexual violence and harassment. “I’m far more concerned with, can we look at this as a wake up call for how to deal with sexual abuse, and other abuse, within the Pagan community? Can we call someone out for bad behavior without it turning into a witch war? Can we make it safer for victims to come forward? And at the same time, can we find ways so that Pagans are not wrongfully convicted in the court of public opinion by people who have made untrue allegations?” Shauna Aura Knight in a March 27th post on Facebook.

By April 1st the Pagan community had its first opportunity to deal with conflict between a festival and attendee over scheduled guests. Florida Pagan Gathering had, as they had done in the past, invited controversial Pagan elders Gavin and Yvonne Frost to speak at their festival. Attendees and Florida Pagans, once again, objected to the Frosts due to their book, “The Witches Bible”, which appears to advocate ritual sexual initiation of minors just entering puberty. An organized protest developed and called for the “removal of the Frosts as presenters at FPG and a ban on any distribution or vending of their materials. It’s past time that our beloved community take a stand against those who advocate abuse. Silence = complicity.” Also as in the past, the festival initially stood firm in keeping the Frosts as presenters, noting they expected to maintain high attendance numbers in spite of the controversy. All that changed and the FPG felt compelled to remove the Frosts from the line up after the venue was made aware of the situation and became involved.

Culture change or fleeting interest
Was the stronger, more organized and successful stance by Florida Pagans an outlier or a glimpse at a future trend?

That’s it! If a convention or a festival doesn’t have clear policies, that they actually follow, which protect women and men from creepers, I’m not going. They won’t get another dollar from me.” – Brenna Summer, a Midwest Pagan who says she attends at least one festival or convention per year.

Pagan festival and convention attendees have now spent weeks online discussing past instances where event organizers failed or succeeded in addressing attendee concerns about sexual predators. They’re talking about what worked, what didn’t, and suggestions for event organizers. “I’d like to see confidential feedback about predators made public. Festival goers have a right to know what has happened with other attendees and personnel as delivered in feedback from people who were witness to or on the receiving end,” says Tasha Rose, who attends events in Minnesota.

Other attendees have been on both sides of sexual predator allegations. OtterDancing said she witnessed a man harassing women at a local festival and the man was quietly asked to leave. Yet she’s also seen allegations handled poorly at the same festival. “Six men stormed into our campsite and accused my husband of harassing a 13 year old and verbally assaulted him with out proof. This greatly traumatized my husband and probably lead to his subsequent physical downward spiral. My husband was innocent. It turned out that it was another bald middle-aged fat man that had done this. Of course there were no apologies and I refused to ever go back to that particular gather again.”

As many cases of sexual harassment or sexual abuse happen without witnesses, how are organizers to balance keeping attendees safe without destroying the reputation of persons’ wrongly accused? What steps should workshop presenters take? They can look at best practices both within the Pagan community and outside of it.

Best practices for presenters
David Salisbury, whose books and workshops are often geared towards teens and young adults, says he is rethinking everything in relation to how he presents to minors. Although he feels he has a good system in place, he is making one important change, “I will not teach youth without one or more other adults present.” He also plans to spend more time explaining to adults why he does this so it becomes a more commonplace practice.

David Salisbury

David Salisbury

Salisbury says Pagans need to stop trusting anyone with a book or CD out and encourages parents to ask questions about who is spending time with their children. “If I’m giving a talk to teens, I hope that the adults of that event will ask me who I am, what material will be covered, and the extent of any communication, if any, that will happen beyond the event. Although I don’t want to see our youth cut off from resources out of a sense of paranoia, I think open communication is a must.”

In the world of science fiction and fantasy, over 500 presenters, artists, attendees, and vendors have joined best selling author John Scalzi in announcing they will not attend, present, or vend at conferences that do not have, or will not enforce, written harassment policies.

They require
1.  That the convention has a harassment policy, and that the harassment policy is clear on what is unacceptable behavior, as well as to whom those who feel harassed, or see others engaging in harassing behavior, can go for help and action.
2.  That the convention make this policy obvious by at least one and preferably more than one of the following: posting the policy on their website, placing it in their written and electronic programs, putting up flyers in the common areas, discussing the policy at opening ceremonies or at other well-attended common events.
3.   In cases when I am invited as a Guest of Honor, personal affirmation from the convention chair that a harassment policy exists, that it will be adequately publicized to conventiongoers, and that all harassment complaints will be dealt with promptly and fairly, with no excuses or rationalizations for delaying action when such becomes necessary.

Best practices at CONvergence
Science Fiction and Fantasy (SF/F) conventions have many of the same challenges as Pagan events face. They have a sex positive culture. Attendees may be naked or wearing very little clothing. Pagans may have sex magic, but SF/F conventions have Furries, Vampire: The Masquerade, and other sexual subcultures. Add in alcohol and the carnival like atmosphere of a convention and problems can arise.

CONvergence, a SF/F convention held in Minnesota, is considered something of a gold standard when it comes to safe space conventions. Unlike some other SF/F conventions, CONvergence has never had the reputation of a creeper’s paradise, where attendees are regularly groped and verbally harassed. Yet, while rare, there have been instances where attendees haven’t felt safe or were sexually harassed. When that happens, CONvergence attendees and staff know exactly what to do.

If people tell you “no” or to leave them alone, your business with them is done. – from CONvergence policy on harassment

The policy not only outlines what is unacceptable behavior in clear and simple terms, it outlines what attendees should do to report the behavior and what steps are taken if an individual “stalks, harasses, or attempts to assault you at the convention itself, you may report that individual to a member of Operations (they will report it to the hotel’s security staff who will get the police involved if necessary) or you may report it to hotel security directly, and the appropriate action will be taken. Conversely, any attempt to have an innocent person removed from the convention by falsely accusing him or her of threats will be itself treated as an act of harassment and will be dealt with appropriately.”

Brian Etchieson, a SubHead in Operations for CONvergence, says the con also has a constant patrol of Wandering Hosts throughout the hotel. These volunteers assist the con goers with questions, problems, and troubleshooting. They also have a team of First Advisers on hand who can assess any potential medical emergency and the con has an excellent relationship with the local police department.

Etchieson says they deal with allegations of harassment on a case by case basis. “If it is a case of that guy is looking at me funny, said guy may just get a ‘hey, what gives?’ talk from a Wandering Host. He won’t stop taking my picture is going to get him a walk to The Bridge and he’ll be asked to cease said behavior. Small infractions like this usually get The Talk. Repeat offenders, or Mr. He’s Clearly Hammered may have their badge taken away for the night, effectively banning them from the convention. Said badge only gets returned in the morning at the discretion of an Ops Head. In cases of physical assault, the perp will have their badge pulled immediately. The police will be summoned if necessary or if requested by the member who has been assaulted. The perp may be placed on the Permanent Ban list.”

costumes-are-not-consent-750x1024Along with a clear policy, CONvergence instituted a public awareness campaign, called “Costumes Are Not Consent.” Etchieson says,”The idea of putting on an ‘anti-creeper’ campaign has been bandied about for some time. Ishmael Williams, Director of [CONvergence] HOME Division, threw out the idea of putting out posters. The Ops crew held a brainstorming session and came up with the designs.” It was Etchieson who came up with the “Costumes Are Not Consent” concept.

Christin LeXi Davis, Communications Director for CONvergence, said the the reaction by con goers has been enormously positive. “They love it. We are blessed to have so many talented and creative individuals to help create catchy ways to get sensitive messages out that is positive and fun.”

It was so catchy and fun it went viral. Charmaine Parnell, CoHead of Hotel for CONvergence, said, “The reaction to the campaign has been stunning. When it went viral, we just couldn’t believe how fandom reacted to it. Exceeded all of our expectations. You don’t expect to see your work trending on Twitter or being mentioned at a convention in London during their closing ceremonies.” Parnell said she was also surprised at how it opened up a conversation about women harassing men at conventions by performing ‘kilt checks.’

The Costumes Are Not Consent campaign was targeted to three main groups, which Etchieson labeled as Socially Awkward Fans, Your Actual Scumbags, and I’m Creeped Out. The convention used posters, buttons, video, live performances, and word of mouth to get the campaign’s message out. Etchieson says the Socially Awkward Fans may not understand they are causing anyone discomfort. They need clear rules and a reminder to think about their social approach. Your Actual Scumbags are predators who think a convention is easy pickings. Etchieson says the convention is watching for them and they will take strong action against them.The third group, I’m Creeped Out, is the group that most concerns Etchieson. “We want to make sure our membership knows that it is not OK to let someone creeper on you and, if they do, the Con staff and the rest of the membership have your back. We will listen to you and fix the problem. Because it’s not your fault, and you shouldn’t have to put up with it.”

Best practices at Covenant of the Goddess’s MerryMeet 2014
So how does a Pagan conference compare to CONvergence’s example of best practices? Although the weekend conference MerryMeet is held in different locations and hosted by different Covenant of the Goddess chapters, they rely heavily on CoG’s bylaws for standards of conduct at events. While CoG‘s bylaws may not specifically address sexual abuse, the Merry Meet 2014 committee is considering adding such language to its own convention agreement.

For MerryMeet 2014, the convention committee is requiring each participant to sign an acknowledgement of the rules and regulations for both the event and the hotel. Similar to CONvergence, they are working to have clear and accessible rules of conduct.

Green-Faiths-3ALady Mehurt, Second Officer of Covenant of the Goddess and Registrar for MerryMeet 2014, says they also have a clear way to address onsite complaints. “The Merry Meet 2014 Committee has its own security team led by a professional law enforcement officer. In addition the hotel has its own security force. If any guest has concerns or complaints of any kind, our security team with the help of hotel security will address the situation immediately.”  Lady Mehurt also says they would not allow a speaker or attendee “…who has been formally accused, convicted or arrested of sexual abuse at our Merry Meet Atlanta event. The safety of our guests is of the utmost importance.”

Yet dealing with claims of sexual harassment or violence are very difficult for organizers because the acts are often committed in a private area, without witnesses. Lady Mehurt says there are additional difficulties. “The violations can bring shame to the abused or fear of retaliation. In addition, people have different expectations and definitions of ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch.’ Those boundaries can change in altered states – either by alcohol, drugs or even spiritual practice.” She says that organizers need to address all accusations and situations carefully, slowly, and compassionately, “for all parties involved until the truth can be ascertained and the best course of action, legal or otherwise, be taken.”

 

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Cara Schulz

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Cara Schulz is a journalist and author living in Minnesota with her husband and cat. She has previously written for PAGAN+politics, PNC-Minnesota, and Patheos. Her work has appeared in several books by Bibliotheca Alexandrina and she's the author of Martinis & Marshmallows: A Field Guide to Luxury Tent Camping and (Almost) Foolproof Mead Making. She loves red wine, camping, and has no tattoos.
  • Farrell McGovern

    The Geek Feminist Wiki has an excellent resouce for conference planners, including a model anti-harrashment policy statement, plus lots of good info, and further links to more info. This is a resouce that we used for our SF Book conference’s anti-harrashment policy.

    http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Conference_anti-harassment

    ttyl
    Farrell McGovern,
    Chair Emeritous,
    CAN-CON, Ottawa, Ontario
    http://can-con.org

  • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat C-B

    Great article, Cara! I especially appreciated the spotlight on events like CONvergence, that are outside my usual orbit: it’s great to hear about policies and practices they’ve adopted, and how they’re actually working in the field. I appreciated the spotlight on David Salisbury’s resolution to move to a “best practices” approach to teaching minors, too… If we can all begin to think along these lines, I think we can make our events much safer.

    I’m really glad to hear of the efforts of CoG with Merrymeet, and I’m going to hope that thinking about how we field safety issues like this becomes something we address as professionally as we’ve learned to address food safety and good ritual and schedule design. In any case, it’s wonderful to have a few models to get us started thinking about how we can address the issue.

    Thanks so much for taking on this topic; I can’t help but feel optimistic when I see what our community is up to.

  • Steve Smith

    I love all of the suggestions in this article and would love to see the festivals I go to adopt them – “Skyclad is not consent” would spread like wildfire, and might actually help bring a sense of sacredness to it again. Personally, I would strongly welcome that. The idea of Pagan festivals having the same energy of safety as CONVergence is glorious.

    I’m also grateful to see false accusation acknowledged as a life-destroying problem; it is too often overlooked in discussions of sexual abuse. Abuse is such a hot button that it’s easy to assume that accusation is equivalent to proof, not just by festival organizers, but by entire communities, particularly if the accused is not widely known. I have seen lives destroyed and people ejected from communities for false rumors, and my heart breaks for them. I myself have recently been threatened with false accusation by someone, and the threat alone is enough for me to find a different community to be a part of.

    The suggestions in this article are all effective at reducing incidences of sexual abuse, and that is a glorious and important thing. But there are no suggestions for how to reduce incidences of false accusation, nor how to reduce its devastating impact. I do not think it’s because you don’t consider it important, but rather because there currently is no protection against it, and thus there are currently no effective solutions anywhere for it. If nothing else, it needs to be more frequently acknowledged, and I am glad that you’ve done so in this excellent article.

    • kenofken

      The main solution to false accusation is to create a culture of transparency, accountability and responsibility in dealing with sexual abuse. If you have an atmosphere in which people can count on having allegations investigated properly and dealt with consistently, people aren’t going to feel the need to take matters into their own hands, recklessly accusing, “framing the guilty” etc.

      It also makes the act of false accusation less attractive if people know that allegations are going to be examined in depth and with professionalism. Sorting out abuse cases is hard to be sure, but it’s not that difficult to determine the baseline credibility of an allegation and to spot a poorly constructed lie.

      Another main defense against false accusation is to avoid putting yourself in situations which leave you vulnerable to such allegations. That means adults should not be putting themselves in unsupervised situations with teens etc.

      • Steve Smith

        I would love to see a culture of transparency like the one you describe come about, and I agree that it would go a long way to establishing safety. I also think that simply promoting safety as a value by the suggestions in this article will have extended benefits throughout our culture, including a corresponding reduction in false accusation.

        Avoiding vulnerable situations, while wise, does not offer absolute protection. Note that it did not protect Otter Dancing’s husband, for example.

        Given the choice, I would much rather be a part of a culture that allowed people to be safe from sexual assault and occasionally permitted a false accusation to go through, than to be a part of one that focused so much on protecting the accused that sexual predators were never held accountable. My ideal culture is one that says “we treat freedom of sexuality as sacred, and anybody who messes with that in any way is not welcome here.”

    • http://kenazfilan.blogspot.com/ Kenaz Filan

      I wonder how many “false accusations” are false in the Rashomon sense of the word. How many of the falsely accused had no idea they were making someone uncomfortable, the other person was too drunk to give consent, etc.? The accused may well feel they are misunderstood innocents while the “false accusers” are left with some very real pain.

      While this issue definitely needs to be met with better education, ignorance doesn’t let the guilty party off the hook. And perhaps one way of avoiding a whispering campaign would be for that person to acknowledge wrongdoing and avoid such behavior in the future.

      • Steve Smith

        I agree completely – unintentional harm is still harm, and someone who wishes to truly be responsible would be wise to do as you suggest in such situations.

        And, some accusations are entirely false. Some are cases of mistaken identity, like the story in this article. Others are purely malicious fabrication. And while I haven’t seen much of that, I’ve seen enough to learn how destructive it can be – in large part due to many people’s eagerness to assume that someone who was accused must be guilty on some level, and thus to treat them as though the accusation must have been true, even if they are exonerated. The impact is painful, isolating, and unjust, and costs our community trust and safety.

        Therefore, if our objective is to increase safety, should we protect not only the vulnerable and the wronged, but also those who have done no wrong?

  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    With Cat’s earlier article and this one by Cara, the Wild Hunt has been doing the Pagan community a huge service. It’s nice to know that we don’t have start from scratch as we look for ways to improve what we do. David’s suggestion is also a very good one and any adult who works with children or teens should insist upon it, not only to protect our young people, but also to protect the adults. I’m really glad to see these “more light than heat” contributions to the discussion.

  • http://karenascofield.wordpress.com/ Karen A. Scofield

    Since child sexual abuse is behavioral, we should never base trust on identity or position but should make protecting ourselves and our children an informed, proactive behavioral thing. If you look at any “power wheels” regarding abuse, identity and status are one of the vehicles for abuse. It’s true in the home with domestic abuse (what most power wheels are aimed at) and it’s true outside of the home (where the power wheels of abuse and equality are still applicable, with very minor rewording, they’re sadly rarely used that way…but they should be). E.g. http://cmhc.utexas.edu/pdf/PowerControlwheel.pdf

    Step 1: Learn the Facts

    Step 2: Minimize Opportunity for Child Sexual Abuse

    Step 3: Talk About It

    Step 4: Recognize the Signs

    Step 5: React Responsibly

    The steps are covered in greater detail here. http://www.d2l.org/site/c.4dICIJOkGcISE/b.6143703/k.2746/The_5_Steps_to_Protecting_Our_Children.htm

  • Kat Summerbell

    Thank you so much for articulating the parallels between pagan festivals and sf cons. I have considered the “Costumes are not Consent” awareness campaign to be pure brilliance. I agree that a “Kilts are not Consent” and some equally quippy Skyclad version would be an asset to many a pagan gathering. Author Brendan Myers was having a great discussion on his blog, but where he felt things bogged down in the Pagan community, was trying to come up with a universal policy that was agreeable to all flavours of pagans. I think that the more general scope of creating pressure for each group or event to simply HAVE a policy, that is clear and accessible, is a more obtainable goal. I really do agree with the comment that good touch and bad touch have a very subjective dividing line. There are a lot of good tools in the SF campaigns for identifying and expressing your boundaries, and what options you have when your boundaries are crossed. I am a long-time SF Con attendee, and the parallels of the festival experience are perfectly articulated here. Thank you again for researching and writing this.

  • JD Hobbes

    I’ve been working on a series of Fest Etiquette articles that cover stuff like this. I usually start posting them in various places at the beginning of the Fest season:

    http://thepaganpope.blogspot.ca/search/label/fest%20etiquette

  • http://kenazfilan.blogspot.com/ Kenaz Filan

    While the experience Otter Dancing describes is traumatic, it is a misidentification rather than a false accusation. Based on her account, security’s handling of the affair left something to be desired and I don’t blame her for not wanting to return. But her husband was not singled out based on a malevolent lie: a real incident occurred and he resembled the perpetrator in general physical appearance. (Based on her description so does a significant percentage of every Pagan gathering I’ve ever attended, but that’s another story… ).

    • peterdybing

      Research makes clear that most false accusations are NOT “malevolent lie” incidents. Rather they are related to miss identification, mental health issues or poor understanding of the signs of abuse by parents. The point is the harm they can do, not what motivates them. If we report, report, report all suspected abuse to authorities we, as a community, have the best chance of protecting our famlies and sorting out the truth. Lets let the pro’s sort it out and reserve public accusations until some investigation has been done.

      • http://kenazfilan.blogspot.com/ Kenaz Filan

        The problem is that the words “false accusation” carry with them the connotation of “lying accuser.” (Especially since they’re so frequently used alongside words like “libel,” “slander,” and “drama queen”). Which is why I wanted to reserve that term for situations where accusers knowingly and willingly spread falsehoods, rather than cases where an actual incident occurred and was mishandled.

        As far as reserving public accusations, I think that abuse victims have the right to be as public as they want. This is especially true in the wake of the Klein affair, as a growing number of people come forward with stories of their “community” minimizing incidents or circling wagons around BNP perpetrators. Public humiliation and boycotting may well prove effective in situations where appeals to justice and ethics have failed.

        • peterdybing

          Appeals to justice and ethics come first as a community action. My limiting public disclosure is directed towards organizations, I fully support the right of victims to come forward and make any all statements they wish. There is no other path that leads to the report, report, report culture that we must have.

          • http://kenazfilan.blogspot.com/ Kenaz Filan

            Absolutely. Which is why I think it’s important that we start with a presumption of innocence for both the accuser and the accused. Assume that everyone involved is telling their truth until you see evidence to the contrary: understand that their truth may vary to a greater or lesser degree from the actual facts. Also understand that abuse victims are frequently angry (an emotion which makes most Pagans uncomfortable) while predators are generally good at playing the cool, calm and rational person who can’t understand why X is so upset.

            I liked the way Costumes are not Consent distinguishes between Socially Awkward Fans and Your Actual Scumbags. People who don’t want to make others uncomfortable will try to change their behavior once it’s pointed out to them. A culture which encourages openness and accountability is better in the long-term both for them and the Creeped Out. And it’s much, much worse for the Actual Scumbags, which makes it doubly effective.

        • peterdybing

          Also, the cases of false accusations that are most often addressed involve not an event that did happen that was miss handled, but cases where the accuser believes the accusation is true, but it later turns out to be untrue. This is a complex side issue that awareness just needs to be built around as we move forward in structuring our collective response to abuse issues.

        • Bianca Bradley

          Yeah before saying that, keep in mind that if you publicly shame people, without facts, it leaves you open to tort laws of libel and slander.

          • http://kenazfilan.blogspot.com/ Kenaz Filan

            I know a little bit about libel and slander laws. While I’m not a lawyer, I’ve got years of experience as a professional writer and editor and decades of experience in flame wars. So here are a few other things to keep in mind:

            1) If you’re a public figure (and anyone who presents at a Pagan gathering certainly qualifies), about the only way to win a libel suit is to prove willful and malicious falsehood. In other words, you’d have to prove that the accuser knowingly made the whole thing up just to smear you. That’s a pretty big hurdle.

            2) Two words: Streisand effect. A lawsuit against an accuser is going to draw attention to that accuser’s claims. And if the accused has a history of inappropriate behavior, there is a good chance that others will come forward with their stories. (See also “flaming bag of doggie poo on porch prank”).

            3) If I had a dime for every lawsuit threat that’s ever been thrown in my direction, I’d be rich. So far I’ve never been sued. (I did get a nastygram e-mail from one porn spammer’s attorney and replied with a link to goatse.cx. He never got back to me). That’s because civil suits cost money. Even if you find a lawyer crazy enough to take the case for a percentage of the potential winnings, you’re going to have to pay filing fees, process servers, court reporters, etc. And very few Pagans have the pocket change to get into that kind of battle.

            4) One word: barratry. One acronym: SLAPP. Courts take a dim view of frivolous or harassing lawsuits. They can make their displeasure known by, among other things, casting costs against the plaintiff. Which means you get the privilege of paying the defendant’s legal bills in addition to your own.

            5) Assuming the plaintiff wins the lawsuit, how will damages be assessed? Courts generally want to know how the purported libel affected your bottom line — and if you’re working the Pagan circuit, that’s a pretty slender bottom line. And even if the court throws in a huge amount for pain and suffering, how will the accused collect it?

            6) And, most important of all, how will this stop the information from spreading? Keep in mind that this is the Internet, where lawsuits are generally treated as “censorship” and where banning a statement ensures that twenty people will mirror it on domains outside your jurisdiction. (Remember what I said about the “Streisand Effect” earlier).

            tl/dr: your chances of getting struck by lightning are better than your chances of being sued for calling someone out on sexual harassment.

          • Bianca Bradley

            It depends on the state laws. There are some common grounds on it, but it really depends on the state.

            You are also focusing on Big Name Pagans, or those who make money off of the Pagan circuit. There are other damages as well.

            It is a risk that the supposed victim should consider before willy nilly outing the alleged accuser.

          • http://kenazfilan.blogspot.com/ Kenaz Filan

            Of course anybody should consider the consequences of a knowingly and willfully false accusation. But if someone harassed you and you speak up about it, your chances of getting sued for coming forward are next to nil. If you receive a threatening letter, a simple copy of same to Chilling Effects, cc’ed to RAINN and a few other advocacy groups, should be more than enough to make your harasser step back and reconsider.

            And if you are actually served with a lawsuit, make sure all that paperwork goes to the same people. (Be sure to send a copy to Wild Hunt, as that would certainly be both Pagan and newsworthy). Chances are good that you’ll find someone willing to take your case pro bono or at reduced costs, and that your harasser is going to be answering some very uncomfortable questions in a court of law — and some even more uncomfortable questions in the court of public opinion.

          • Bianca Bradley

            Don’t send anything to the press until you know it’s ok. If you violated a gag order, you would be hit with contempt. It would be one of the first things I’d do in this type of law suit.

            As for facing uncomfy questions in a court of law. Umm maybe or maybe not. An illustrated guide to civil procedure by Michel P. Allen and Michael finch. This would be a civil case not a criminal one. Preponderance of guilt vs beyond a reasonable doubt. It works differently than criminal law. In fact you can even do this yourself without a lawyer.

            The entire suit would be over the whole uncomfortable questions in the court of public opinion. Depending on stuff, it could also be on loss of pay, due to loosing a job etc etc etc.

            So the alleged victim may have someone take them pro bono, but the mens right activists(I’m sure there are others for women) would likely also take on the alleged accuser side.

            My point is and stands, whether the person is telling the truth or not, speaking up, and saying someone did something publicly(not to authorities) should be considered. Just because people normally don’t use a lawsuit, doesn’t mean they won’t use it. Cover your ass(on both sides) should be something that people should think about.

          • http://kenazfilan.blogspot.com/ Kenaz Filan

            Chilling Effects is not the press: it is a clearinghouse of Cease and Desist orders, legal threats, lawsuits, etc. Any “gag order” would only come in after a court hearing, which means the lawsuit threats and initial paperwork at least would likely to remain on Chilling Effects. Unless, of course, the plaintiff’s attorney feels like taking on a “joint project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, University of San Francisco, University of Maine, George Washington School of Law, and Santa Clara University School of Law clinics.”

            RAINN is not the press, but an advocacy group.

            Your blog is not the press, and saying “Pagan X raped me at Conference Y. I went to the organizers and they did nothing: I went to the police and they said there wasn’t enough evidence to file a case” on that blog will not get you sued. Especially if you have a copy of the police report and any e-mails you exchanged on the topic with conference organizers. And if others start coming forward saying that they had similar experiences. But in any event, the worst that’s likely to happen is a threatening correspondence from an attorney. And once that correspondence gets in your hands, it’s yours to do with as you see fit. (Some sleazier law firms have tried putting “copyright notices” on their nastygrams, but those notices are unenforceable and they know it).

            Before you continue opining on the subject of libel and slander suits, you may find it helpful to read what actual legal professionals have to say on the subject.

          • Bianca Bradley

            Now go back and read what I wrote, and show me where I said your advocacy groups were the press. I said don’t give information to the press until you know it is ok. Wild Hunt is considered press.

            Putting shit on your blog that x did something to me is something to think about, and research on. If it’s in writing, it is a hell of a lot easier to use against you. http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Libel+and+Slander What you just said, opens up the slander. Being a public person makes it difficult not impossible.

            http://dictionary.law.com/Default.aspx?selected=802 You better believe your blog and anyone you talk to would be covered under a gag order.

          • http://kenazfilan.blogspot.com/ Kenaz Filan

            If you got a lawsuit threat in response to a post about sexual harassment at a Pagan gathering, that is newsworthy and sending it to Wild Hunt would not be in violation of any possible future “gag order.” (While you’ve got legal-dictionary.com open, look up Ex Post Facto).

            The fact that “X received a letter from Shyster, Shyster, and Shyster, LLP, attorneys for High Priest Y, concerning her allegations that he raped her at Gathering Z” is true. A gag order might later prohibit X from repeating those statements or order X to remove her statements from her blog or public forum. It wouldn’t affect coverage of the incident to date. Nor would it stop somebody else from putting screenshots of the original posts on their blog and encouraging their friends — including friends in other countries — to do the same.

            But let’s give those moving goalposts a rest for a minute and talk about reality. Can you show me one instance of somebody being sued for defamation after saying “X raped me at a Pagan gathering?” To hear you talk, it seems there’s a lot of people throwing around false accusations and ruining lives. Surely at least one of them has been sued. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

          • Bianca Bradley

            The gag order exists to stop the press and in this case the public trying the case in public opinion and poisoning a jury verdict. smh. Before you even got the lawyers letter, a good lawyer would have put a gag order in place.

            Since I don’t have access to westlaw, no I can’t. That is something you go to westlaw, bloomberg, or lexis nexus to see. Nor do I have the cash(which is considerable to get it) Just because it hasn’t happened to a Pagan by a Pagan doesn’t mean it wont’.

            However people have won defamation suits.

            A better source than Nolo since it gives you examples of public vs private. It also gives you the various states laws on it. http://www.dmlp.org/book/export/html/1813

          • http://kenazfilan.blogspot.com/ Kenaz Filan

            Before you even got the lawyers letter, a good lawyer would have put a gag order in place.

            I think you’re conflating gag orders with Cease and Desist letters. Any lawyer can send you a letter ordering you to “Cease and Desist from saying mean things about my client.” You can generally get a lawyer to do this for under $500: if you have a lawyer friend, s/he might even do it for free. Those letters generally include language to the effect that “We reserve the right to take any further action necessary if you do not Cease and Desist.” They’re intended to intimidate the recipient, but they are not enforceable in a court of law. If you fail to comply the person in question may choose to sue. In that case the C&D would be presented as evidence that the defendant had been notified of the alleged libel and continued promulgating it.

            When the defendant was served with the suit, the plaintiff’s attorney might ask for an order prohibiting the defendant from repeating the allegations and/or ordering that they be removed from her blog, or other sites where she had posted them, until such time as a court could determine whether or not they were libelous. Unless and until that suit is filed, and until a judge signs off on that temporary restraining order, no “gag order” exists. And even if it does, it would only cover the defendant. It would not stop others from discussing the case, or coming forward with their own allegations about the plaintiff. (The plaintiff could respond with more lawsuits, of course — but sooner or later that gets expensive).

            Since I don’t have access to westlaw, no I can’t. That is something you go to westlaw, bloomberg, or lexis nexus to see. Nor do I have the cash(which is considerable to get it)

            ITYM “Lexis/Nexis.” You also forgot to mention PACER, which is considerably cheaper (free to search, nominal charge-per-page to print IIRC) and which might provide you with some cases to back up your claims.

            Just because it hasn’t happened to a Pagan by a Pagan doesn’t mean it wont’.

            So you don’t know of any cases where a Pagan was sued for accusing another Pagan of sexual harassment or abuse? Not even when the abuse allegations were demonstrable lies, a problem which occurs with some regularity in the world between your ears. That would rather imply that my original hypothesis was correct and that the risk of getting sued for publicly outing harassers and abusers is minimal, wouldn’t it?

          • Bianca Bradley

            I didn’t know about Pacer, it wasn’t covered in my class on how to research legal stuff. I found out about bloomberg, from google fu. Though westlaw is most used.

            smh
            The Nj Supreme court case that I found, shows why I say to be careful. I am actually googling to find other cases, but without westlaw, it’s slow going.

          • http://kenazfilan.blogspot.com/ Kenaz Filan

            I’d be interested in seeing that case or any other cases you find.

          • Bianca Bradley

            http://caselaw.findlaw.com/nj-supreme-court/1601317.html#sthash.TXR6fNEQ.dpuf

            I had edited that in, while you were replying, because I had just found it and I didn’t realize you were replying.

            So far lots on the Bengal Cheerleader who won her defamation case, lots of law firms, Fire and discussion on Title IX. My search terms are probably too broad.(one of the issues I ran into with westlaw. I forgot how to use alta vista and have become spoiled by google. Gods how I hated westlaw. Constitutional law is a lot easier to understand than tort for me btw as well.

          • http://kenazfilan.blogspot.com/ Kenaz Filan

            In the case you reference the defendant originally sued his uncle for sexual abuse in 1998. His uncle denied the allegations and claimed the statute of limitations as a defense; he also countersued and won a $91k judgment for defamation ($50k) and frivolous litigation ($41k) in 2002.

            The defendant filed bankruptcy in 2003; in 2006 the court determined the debt was non-dischargeable, whereupon the defendant moved to Florida, the country’s most debtor-friendly state and one wherein it would be almost impossible for his uncle to collect on the judgment. In February 2007 the defendant put up a website with his uncle’s name and address, along with accounts of the alleged sexual abuse. His uncle then filed a second defamation complaint, which he won on a summary judgment that was then reversed. Ultimately the court found that the case could proceed, but the uncle could only claim “reputational damages” if he could provide evidence of actual financial or other harm.

            I’m guessing the defendant was acting as his own attorney when he filed the civil suit. Any competent lawyer would have advised him he had no chance of winning and that he would open himself up to counterclaims if he filed. I’d also note that today in New Jersey (and in federal courts, which would come into play were the parties in different states) the protections awarded a private figure are removed in “matters of public concern.” Which means that you have to prove actual malice and that you are going to win, at best, a nominal sum and a piece of paper which you can wave around as public vindication.

            tl/dr: The case you cite has very little to do with a situation wherein a victim posted “I was raped by X last week at Gathering Y” and provided any available supporting accounts and evidence. It does, however, suggest that somebody who wants to silence an accuser by legal intimidation might well face a decade or more of costly court battles without ever once getting the benefit of a single solitary “gag order.”

          • Bianca Bradley

            Actually has a lot to do with slander. The alleged victim made a website(something you said they could do, and the court said actually no). The victim claimed the uncle sexually abused him and wanted damages, and the uncle countersued and the uncle won. He would have won this case, if he had proved he has suffered monetarily.

            This case would be looked at by a lawyer prior to filing slander/libel in the state of Nj and would also likely be looked at even by out of state lawyers.

            You are getting hung up on the where. That’s not what I’m really looking at. I’m looking at the arguments and the why, this case shows the arguments and the why and the why it is necessary to be cautious.

            Not sure btw that Florida is very debt friendly anymore.

          • http://kenazfilan.blogspot.com/ Kenaz Filan

            A lawyer filing a case might look at it, as you have done. She might even understand it, as you have not. She would note that in suing his accuser, her client was opening himself up to a countersuit. She would also note that the counterclaimant would face a “preponderance of evidence” standard in this hearing rather than”guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” Which means that he might not be held accountable in criminal court but lose a countersuit in civil court. And in the case I’ve described, the plaintiff would not be able to raise the statute of limitations as a defense.

            Even if he won, and even if the defendant was not judgment-proof (which is more than likely, given the average Pagan’s financial acumen), he’d get no more than a nominal sum for his efforts unless he could prove actual damages. He’d be spending a lot of money and exposing himself to serious risk with very little to gain for it. So unless those accusations were patently untrue and unless the accused can prove that, a civil suit would be a very bad idea indeed.

          • Bianca Bradley

            Just had to put the snark in it did you? You have no idea on my grasp of legal theory. I have over and over proven why someone should be cautious before throwing accusations, much less on the Internet. I have used non fluffy resources and stayed away from activist sites.

            I could have used sites like this, that show the real people who have been wrongly accused and the consequences they suffer http://www.cotwa.info(and no, not a mens right activist site)http://www.innocenceproject.org Is proof positive that our system needs reform. That only helps those that claim innocence, not those that plea out.

            You on the other hand have used activist sites(heavy bias btw). You wanted me to search on Pagan defamation suits, when the religion and the place it took place matters not, when deciding what case to use to help argue your case.

            I have many times given you respect, civility and not trashed you. Yet time and time again in various places on the wild hunt, you have neglected the same civility.

            I shake my head when you dismiss completely rational arguments, because apparently grumpy white men don’t matter. Because this type of stuff doesn’t hurt people. Why their financial status, or skin color should matter, leaves me shaking my head.

            The reality is, this stuff is messy and there are no easy answers.

          • http://kenazfilan.blogspot.com/ Kenaz Filan

            I shake my head when you dismiss completely rational arguments, because apparently grumpy white men don’t matter.

            Grumpy old white men don’t matter, you say? A self-portrait paints a thousand words.

            I didn’t realize I was having a completely rational conversation with one of my fellow grumpy white men. The “Bianca Bradley” name threw me. My apologies and I’ll be sure to extend professional courtesies in the future.

          • Bianca Bradley

            I didn’t post the .edu post on why employers no longer give negative reviews of past employees, because it isn’t situationally relevant. I would in a legal paper use it though.

          • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

            (While you’ve got legal-dictionary.com open, look up Ex Post Facto).

            And you got sexier.

      • Bianca Bradley

        Shall we also address the “pro’s” aren’t that good at sorting out the issues either.

        • peterdybing

          I don’t agree with that statement. Where I suspect we may agree is that funding for working with abuse survivors, abuse investigators, and training for police who investigate these crimes is all lacking. As I have said before, as a community we need to push authorities for action when an abuse claim arises, not just report it and forget. To many reports get lost in the system.

          • Bianca Bradley

            Project Innocence shows differently. That is just the people who didn’t plea out(and many innocent due, so they don’t have to face longer times).

            Satanic ritual abuse, CPS hasn’t really changed it’s spots since then either. Nor are their investigators really “trained” to investigate all that well either. Nor do you have the same protection here that you do with the police, who have better training but still leave much to be desired.

            Yeah I’m cynical.

            Pushing authorities for answers, just leads to snap judgments and bad justice.

  • kenofken

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think the Florida/Kenny Klein outrage was an outlier. There’s a “buzz” about this of the sort that surrounds movements and issues of substance. The discussion has cooled and move off of the sole focus of Klein and the Frosts onto the wider issue and the difficult details of how to improve things. As disparate and far-flung and un-institutional as we are, I think we have a collective maturity and sense of right action on the issues that truly matter. The issues which affect us all and truly require a collective response. We don’t have to solve the societal issue of abuse by ourselves by next week, and we don’t have to invent the wheel from scratch. Much of the problem is “low-hanging fruit” by nature. Simply by articulating some firm values around consent and respect and freedom vs anarchy and positive sexuality vs Caligula’s court, the “creeper” problem begins to resolve itself. There will always be the core of repeat and persistent offenders, but predators or scavengers of any sort are mostly opportunists. They want to go for the easy pickings, and we just need to convince them that pagan festival’s ain’t it.

    Incidentally, we’re not, as some suppose, in a uniquely difficult position by having to reconcile openness or even libertine sensibilities with boundaries. All of the various kink/swinger/BDSM communities face the same issues, and they all know that the only way to secure a “yes is yes” atmosphere is by enforcing “no means no.”

  • Becca Davis

    Another thing we can do, collectively, at Festivals to begin to protect ourselves is to start teaching self defense. I’ve been offering a “Self Defense for Women and Children” class at our local Festival grounds for several years now. You don’t have to have a black belt martial artist or whatever to lead a class. Check with your local area (wherever the Festival is being held) and see if there is someone in the area that can come out and hold a class. Or if you advertise you are looking for someone – wherever you advertise your Festival (on-line, flyers, whatever) – maybe one of your attendees will step forward. You would be amazed what a nurse can teach you about self-defense. If you teach women and children self defense and give them a firm grounding in what is acceptable and what is not, they are more likely to stop the attack and go get help. And if unable to stop it themselves, to call for help. And let’s face it, especially in an atmosphere like a Festival, an abuser absolutely depends on silence from their victims to get away with it. I remember a scene at one Festival I was at, when a young child start screaming and at least 50 adults immediately literally dropped what they were doing and converged at a dead run on the child. Luckily that time it turned out he was screaming because there was a grasshopper in the Port-a-Potty, but you get my point.

    • T Thorn Coyle

      I taught a “Battle Goddess” basic self defense class at Pantheacon one year and it was very well received.

      This makes me wonder if I ought to revive it…

  • Anne Johnson

    There are two lessons I’ve drawn from working in a public school. The first one is that it’s a good idea to have one central person in charge of dealing with harrassment/intimidation/bullying issues, and that person should be highly visible. The second lesson is that catchy posters are wonderful.

  • Docrailgun

    I feel I should point out that Vampire: the Masquerade is not a sexual subculture. It is a tabletop role-playing game that people sometimes play live-action.
    Also, most fandom conventions do not allow nudity or even near-nudity in public spaces.
    Finally, was Kline convicted of anything?

  • http://kallisti.writingkaye.com/ Kaye

    Vampire: the Masquerade is not a sexual subculture. It’s a tabletop/live-action role-playing improvised acting experience. I have played in the World of Darkness universe (the overarching game that V:tM is from) for the past eight years. While there may be a few creepers in LARP occasionally, it’s not a sexually charged experience.