Guest Post: Responding to Abuse in the Pagan Community

Guest Contributor —  April 12, 2014 — 62 Comments

[The following is a guest post from Cat Chapin-Bishop. Cat Chapin-Bishop became a psychotherapist in 1986, and she has had over 20 years of experience as a counselor specializing in work with survivors of childhood sexual abuse. She served as the first Chair of Cherry Hill Seminary’s Pastoral Counseling Department, and designed the earliest version of CHS’s Boundaries and Ethics course, which is still central to the program there. Cat has been a Pagan since 1987, and a Quaker as well as a Pagan since 2001. Her writings can be found online at Quaker Pagan Reflections.]

TRIGGER WARNING: This post deals with an discusses sexual abuse and suicide, and may be triggering to some people.

The first perpetrator of child sexual abuse I ever reported committed suicide.

I’m aware that there are those who, on hearing that, will say, “Well, good!  One less pervert in the world.”  Unfortunately, the world is not so simple as that.

This was back in the mid-eighties, and I was still an intern in psychotherapy.  My client was a single parent, the mother of two young boys, barely scraping by, in part with the help of a boarder… who, it turned out, had sexually abused both the boys.

“But it was only once!” the mother said.  “And I watch them all the time now.  It has never happened again!”  But, of course, it had happened again, and more than once.  We found that out after I did what the law required and made the phone call to child protective services.  Later that day, CPS called at the family’s home to interview the room-mate.  And later that night, he went into the garage and hung himself.

It was one of the boys who found his body.

To him, this man was not “a perpetrator.”  To him, this was the man who had taken him fishing and helped him with his homework.  Because while the abuse had been awful, it had not been all there was to this man’s presence in the boy’s life.  His feelings, like life itself, were complicated.

1609597_10151908719899327_1392178353_n

So the mandated counseling to help the boys recover from sexual abuse became counseling to help them cope with sexual abuse and the suicide of a member of their household.  And for a time, everyone in that small family had to struggle with the added burdens of guilt and financial hardship caused by this death.

I do not in any way regret making that report.  I do not believe that taking a young boy fishing wipes out the harm of abusing him, nor that paying part of a family’s living expenses erases the guilt of sexually abusing a child.

But the story points out the trouble with making sweeping generalizations about perpetrators.  Those who prey on children are also friends, family members, wage-earners… And sometimes they are artists, musicians, teachers, or members of a spiritual community whose work is missed when they are removed from those communities.

It is dangerous to caricature offenders as all alike, easily spotted, or wholly monstrous.

The trouble is, if we begin to believe that all perpetrators of child sexual abuse are like comic-book villains, we risk becoming blind to the cases that don’t fit that simple picture.  Our communities may begin to make excuses, to minimize, rationalize, and deny the abuse.  We say to ourselves, “But she was a teenager—she could have stopped it,” or “He’s not like those other perpetrators—it was only because he was drunk (had just lost his job/ had been divorced/ was depressed.)”

And then we may not pick up the phone and make the report—or we may not enforce a community statement that says we have a “zero tolerance policy” around sexual abuse.  Or we may try to “fix” an abuser through compassion and good intentions, without understanding that those are not the tools needed for this particular job.  To prevent that, we need to go beyond rhetoric and slogans, and understand the real world of perpetrators and their victims.

So what we do know about perpetrators?

They are, overwhelmingly, male.  Women can and do sexually abuse children, but it is far less common.

They are no more likely to be gay than straight, despite years of right wing propaganda to the contrary.  However, being gay does not mean that someone is not a perpetrator; there is no relationship between those two things.

They may well be minors themselves; the problem of sexual abuse of children by older children and teens is probably under-reported, and can be difficult to tell from “sexually reactive behavior” in which children act out abuse they may themselves have experienced.  (Effects on the victim may be very similar, though the prognosis for the perpetrator may be very different.  This is one case where seeking help, and not turning away from a perpetrator because he is not what we have been led to expect, can make an enormous difference for everyone.)

Some perpetrators will largely confine their abuse to members of their own family; others will offend primarily against unrelated children.  Some will have only a handful of victims, but many will abuse hundreds of children over the course of their lives.

1546394_10151908719944327_2132891081_n

Perpetrators are almost always survivors of childhood sexual abuse themselves.  Often, they are sexual offenders in multiple ways.  They may well have ongoing sexual relationships with adult women (or men) at the same time that they are abusing children.  They often (though not always) abuse drugs or alcohol, sometimes as a way of lowering their own inhibitions against committing a crime.

Often they will have a habit of objectifying the targets of their sexual interest; this is associated with an increased likelihood of reoffending.  Generally, they lack empathy for others, and particularly for children, but this is not always obvious.

It can be hard to get good information on recidivism among perpetrators of sexual abuse, because most studies rely on criminal convictions, which self-reports of convicted perpetrators reveal to be far fewer than the number of victims offended against.  What is clear is that sexual abusers of children have a high rate of repeating their crimes.

Treatment does lower that risk… but only if it is specialized offender treatment.  Counseling from sources other than specialists in this field seems to have no effect in lowering the risk of reoffending, and this is one area where no ethical pastoral counselor should even think of offering their “help” as a substitute for reporting abuse officially and having an offender complete a specialized offender treatment program.  Unless you have been trained in this specific area of practice, this one really is over your pay grade.

So who are the victims of child sexual abuse, and what are some of the effects of that abuse?

They’re a lot of different people, it turns out.

About 20% of adult women and 5—10% of adult men recall having been sexually abused as children.  Boys are more at risk of abuse by non-family members, possibly because boy children tend to be more mobile and independent of their parents’ supervision in our society.

Some research shows risk is evenly distributed across age groups, but other studies find that teenagers are especially at risk—an important thing to keep in mind, as there can be a tendency to blame the victim where teens are concerned; it’s important to remember that, though teenagers can engage in consensual sex with other teens, they still lack the knowledge and resources of adults, and there is always a power imbalance between an adult and a child.  Perpetrators take advantage of that power imbalance to manipulate victims of any age.  And there are other vulnerabilities perpetrators look for, to exploit among their victims.  We know that children who have been victimized in other ways, or whose families are affected by poverty, substance abuse, or violence are at higher risk for sexual abuse.

Whatever makes a child more vulnerable, in other words, makes them more vulnerable to sexual abuse.

The lingering effects of having been abused as children can include depression, PTSD, and a higher risk of substance abuse, suicide or self-injuring behaviors into adulthood.  Children who have been sexually abused may show prematurely sexualized behavior, and there is an elevated risk of being re-abused or sexually assaulted among children who have experienced sexual abuse.

It is worth mentioning that even when there is clear evidence that penetration has been part of sexual abuse, in only a small fraction of cases will there be genital injuries of that penetration.  This is important to understand, so that we do not refuse to accept the testimony of victims that is not corroborated by physical injury.

1957702_10152034837709327_1599957864_o

Sexual abuse is definitely harmful—but it may not be harmful in the ways we’ve been taught to expect.  And while children are in no way responsible for their own abuse, some responses to having been sexually exploited, such as early sexualization, may be misunderstood by adults in a way that allows us to dismiss their testimony.  We need to be careful to remember that victims of sexual abuse are complicated human beings, and no more likely to fit one mold than any of us.

What do we know about helping survivors of childhood sexual abuse to heal? 

There are a number of things we as a community can do to support survivors in their recovery after sexual abuse.

Research shows that some very simple things can make an enormous difference to how well survivors heal from the most horrific abuse: things like, when a victim reports their abuse to an adult in authority, that adult takes them seriously and acts on the report.

Counseling can be important, of course, but there is definitely a place for just standing by survivors and showing empathy.  Research suggests that other important factors in healing include having at least one non-abusive adult a child can confide in, and having a community that responds with what might be called moral clarity, making it clear immediately that, no matter what, children and teens are not to blame for their own abuse, and that sexual abuse is always the responsibility of the adult.  It turns out that simply being clear that the sexual abuse of children is wrong is of enormous benefit to survivors. We do not need to burn perpetrators in effigy to support survivors.

That’s a good thing for a lot of reasons: threats of violence against perpetrators, for example, may not be reassuring to a victim, but instead, can stir up feelings of guilt or fear—fear for themselves, as survivors of another form of violence, or for other adults in the child’s life, who may have been threatened by the abuser as a way to secure the victim’s silence.

Instead, reporting suspected abuse to the authorities, if that is still possible, and firm, consistent limit setting with those we reasonably believe to have sexually exploited children—regardless of the age of the victim, regardless of whether force was used, or whether the victim confided the abuse in an adult at the time or much later—is likely to be more helpful then vengeful rhetoric or acts of violence.

What else can we, the Pagan community, do to make our gatherings and groups safer for the children and teens who attend them?

In this area, there is a lot that we can do.

  • 1.  We should structure programs for children and teens to minimize the risk of abuse at gatherings.

This one is pretty straightforward.  Many gatherings are now large enough to have children’s programming, and that’s great.  However, we need to think about these programs as potential risks.  Perpetrators are often drawn to positions where they can interact with kids, because access allows opportunities to abuse.

To limit that, we need to do what other religious organizations and reputable child care programs do: make sure that children are never left in the company of just one adult.  All children’s programs need to have more than one adult staff member with kids at all times.  In addition, we need to make sure that kids’ programs happen in locations with lots of visibility and easy access for the parents.  For instance, one of my favorite gatherings features a large rec hall just off the main dining hall.  Both rooms are a hub of constant activity during the event, and the children’s programming happens mainly in that rec room, with parents and other community members constantly passing through.  It adds a note of cheerfulness to everyone’s experience… and it means that the whole community is aware of what is happening with the kids all the time.  Not conducive to abuse!

  • 2.   We should institute mandated reporter training for all gathering staff, along with education on perpetrator behavior and warning signs.

Many Pagan religions feature initiatory oaths of secrecy, and Pagan leaders often need to observe confidentiality around the identities of participants in community events in light of the religious discrimination which many of us still face.

However, there is a difference between protecting initiatory secrets and maintaining the confidence of Pagans in sensitive positions and preserving secrecy around suspected child abuse. Mandated reporter laws in every state require clergy, counselors, and child care workers to report all suspected incidents of child abuse—physical or sexual—and neglect.  Notice, the standard here is suspected abuse—not proven, not confirmed, but suspected abuse.

Staff at a Pagan gathering, Pagan clergy in the performance of their duties, and staff who provide programming for children and teens at community events are required as a matter of law to report when they suspect abuse has occurred to any underaged person.  Everyone whose work will put them in contact with the community’s children needs to be aware of their duty to report suspected abuse and neglect to that state’s child protective services… and the organization’s procedure for doing so.

Not only is this the law, but I believe there’s a moral case for following this law without exception.  I can’t tell you how painful it has been for me, as a counselor, to hear over and over again from adult survivors of child abuse that they had told a trusted adult what was happening to them… only to have that adult ignore their confidence.  The sense of betrayal caused by abuse is only deepened when an entire community seems willing to look the other way.

1172755_10152034838084327_1843802068_o
I understand that we may be tempted to short-circuit the legal channels for abuse.  We may not want to trust them.  However, we are not trained investigators in this field; we are not in a position to truly protect kids from abuse without help.  We are in no position to evaluate even the most sincere-sounding promises by an abuser that they will seek help.  No matter how counter-cultural our values may be, in this one area, I firmly believe we need to follow the legal process for signaling the state that a child may be in danger.

  • 3.     We should create trained community ombudsmen, to reach out to children and families affected by sexual abuse or sexual violence.

It’s great to have mandated reporter training for staff at events, but Pagan events are large, sometimes overwhelming, sometimes bewildering things.  There can be hundreds of strangers all around, and very few of us, surrounded by strangers, feel comfortable asking for help in a time of crisis.  Newcomers to a community may not even know where to turn for help.

The time has come for all large Pagan events to have clearly identified contact people who make it their job to be welcoming and accessible, and to serve as the first contacts for incidents or individuals that cause concern, whether or not they rise to the level of sexual assault or sexual abuse.

Needless to say, these people should have additional training, probably including in some form of counseling.  They will need to be calm, grounded, and very familiar with the resources of the area where any events are being held, and they will need to have the ear of the gathering’s coordinators and the community’s leaders. Finally, and most importantly, their job will not be to act as finders of fact—no individual is in any position to do that.  Instead, their job is to make sure that problems get noticed, victims get supported, reports get made, and records are kept—confidentially between the gathering’s leaders and any official investigators.

  • 4.     We should not attempt to create a secondary court system to determine the ultimate guilt or innocence of accused perpetrators.

This is a difficult thing.  We need at one and the same time to take seriously allegations by children and teens who report their abuse, and we need not to attempt to act as finders of fact. While false reports of abuse are exceedingly rare—at least as rare as false reports of other serious crimes, according to the FBI—they do occur.  Moreover, it is one thing to believe the testimony of victims themselves, and another to allow rumors and friend-of-a-friend accounts to rush us to judgement.

This is not only for the sake of the accused.  Not only are we, as a community, unable to provide the system of checks and balances that allow defendants their rights to fair trial, we are also unable to provide the level of expertise that properly trained investigators bring to their work with abused children.  Ironically, if we rush to create a parallel system to mete out justice, we may endanger the rights of both victims and the accused at the same time: we can both deprive the accused of a fair process within our communities, and also contaminate the evidence so that even solid grounds for a conviction will be inadmissible in a court of law.

Fact finding just isn’t our role.  When there is reason to suspect child sexual abuse, we need to hand the ultimate finding of fact over to those who have the resources to do the job properly.

  • 5.     We should empower local organizations to respond to suspicion and to concerns, through mandated reporting, banning, and/or watchful waiting for persons of concern. 

While it’s not the role of our communities to be substitutes for the legal system in determining guilt or innocence, neither do we have no role to play in judging what actions we need to make on a local level to protect our kids, and also to be sure that our leaders and teachers are held to a high standard of ethical conduct.  We need to establish clear guidelines in our local communities for removing persons of concern from positions of trust within the community, with or without a criminal conviction, when there have been credible, specific allegations of misconduct made.

I’m not talking about banning individuals based on vague rumors or the notion of guilt by association.  But I am talking about times when there have been repeated reports of troubling behavior made against a person, as reported by the people who were directly involved.

This may seem like a contradiction to my recommendation not to attempt to adjudicate questions of guilt or innocence on our own, but in fact, it is not.  Because, while we really need the standard of innocent until proven guilty where someone has been accused of a crime, whether we grant or refuse the privileges within our own communities is a different matter.

There, our standards will be different from those of a criminal court.  Not only will a different level of proof apply to our own hearings, but a different standard of behavior may be needed, too.  I would suggest that the higher the position of trust granted someone, the higher the standard of behavior we will hold them to.

Among our leaders and teachers, despite the fact that we have no means of our own of establishing guilt or innocence, credible reports of child sexual abuse at a minimum create an appearance that is at odds with our community’s ethics.  And in the case of a leader or a teacher, allowing them the privilege of holding themselves out as representatives of our religious traditions while they are under investigation for sexual abuse is simply inappropriate.

Likewise, given the high rates of recidivism among perpetrators, we may want to think twice about allowing anyone access to gatherings where children will be present, who has either a past conviction of any form of sexual exploitation of children, or who has been the subject of repeated, specific allegations from within the community, with or without any criminal convictions.

  • 6.     On an national and international level, we should encourage full, open disclosure of objective indicators of risk, like arrests for charges related to pedophilia.

We should report allegations as allegations where legal processes have been initiated, but not in the absence of legal action.  On some levels, this is very unsatisfying: how can past victims hope to warn future victims when a perpetrator who has never been arrested or convicted moves from one place to another?

On another, it is a way of recognizing the reality that we will never know every potential source of harm within our communities… while allowing our budding news services to function as they function best—as news services, reporting only what is subject to confirmation, only what is objective.  Trading in rumor may serve justice one day, but it will thwart it the next.  Without the greater knowledge of one another we can only have within local communities, we will have no way to prevent the kinds of abuses that many of the critics of the current wave of coverage fear: vague accusations that make polarize us, without actually making our communities any safer.

10003607_10152034837969327_1557624310_o

We live in a world of complexity, and as much as we might like to think otherwise, we are not separate from even the most dysfunctional aspects of our society as a whole.  Child sexual abuse is a part of our modern world, and sadly, it will remain part of the Pagan community as long as that continues to be true.

The good news is that we are not helpless.  We can do more to protect victims, and to keep perpetrators from using our communities to find and access victims.  It’s not enough; surely, we all wish we could do more.  But it is a good deal more than nothing.

As we work together to heal the world as a whole, may our efforts within our own communities take root and flourish.

Send to Kindle

Guest Contributor

Posts

  • Catriona McDonald

    This is the most thoughtful discussion I’ve seen on this topic yet. Thank you.

  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    Thank you so much for this very helpful information and for your positive suggestions for moving forward. I am so glad to see this discussion taking place. Sunlight, as Justice Brandeis said, is the best disinfectant.

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

    I’m not sure who it was who selected the photos that illustrate the piece–Heather? Jason? But whoever it was, thank you.

    It’s a hard subject matter, and having a little beauty to rest your eyes as you read is a good thing.

    Thank you most of all for running the piece. May we find ways to heal one another. Blessings.

  • Vickie

    The best post about this topic. You went into area’s others are missing yet you did not name who started this before his trial.
    I know the person in question. I called him one of my closes friends. I was never abused by him and in fact I am older than him. But he has done a lot for me. It goes against everything I am to not run to the aid of a friend. It is what friends do, help each other in time of need. And right now he needs all the help he can get.
    Each time I hear someone name him and talk bad of him I feel like they are attacking me. I feel the knife blade twisting in my back. So I am glad you pointed out that others suffer when the person is pointed out.

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

      We do need to be very careful that friendship does not cross the line into enabling. Understanding perpetrator treatment and dynamics is a good place to start, as is making sure that victims (and victim services) get their needs addressed as our first priority.

      I remember both my deep dismay the first time I learned that someone I cared about was a perpetrator… and my equally deep dismay at learning from the victims of a jailed perpetrator that they suffered through hunger and cold without help from their church, while their perpetrator was given immediate support (financial aid and a gift of a car) when he was released from prison.

      It’s hard to hold both positive memories of someone who has committed abuse and powerful boundaries around the absolute need to complete appropriate treatment. And it’s absolutely necessary we hold that moral clarity that holds perpetrators accountable. That’s a lot of holding. Don’t be afraid to seek out counseling support for yourself, so you can work through your own emotions.

      Taking care of emotional needs is not a sign of weakness–all professional therapists find ways to do it. It makes it easier to hold that moral clarity, that victims’ needs come first–while working through what your positive memories mean to you in the light of the painful things you’ve learned. Because while the ethics around sexual abuse is simple–it’s never OK–the human beings who enact it are not.

    • Tzipora Katz

      Vickie, for whatever it may be worth, I do not blame you for wanting to support a friend. I understand, perhaps more than you know. Up until the arrest I would have run to help had he asked as well. Love can change but it never truly goes away, so if there is anything that I can do for you, I am listening.

  • Starshadow666

    As an adult survivor of teen sexual abuse, this is thoughtful and helpful. As a mother of children who experienced sexual abuse at the hands of trusted adults (day care center for one and an SCA member and member of the sf community–who is STILL at large, and I believe, STILL in a position to abuse and likely has, ) it’s invaluable.

    I think this not only is true for the pagan community, but also for the sf community. I’d like permission to copy this and use its ideas and tools, as well, in that community and for purposes of giving tools to, for instance, sf fan-run conventions that I am a part of. Thanks.

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

      There is nothing I’m happier to hear than that this post was useful to you, Starshadow. Thank you so much for letting me know.

      My own permission you absolutely have, and I hope Jason or Heather will let us both know The Wild Hunt’s stand on recopying and distributing it. To the degree that others find this information helpful, I very much want it to find an audience.

      • Starshadow666

        Again, thank you for your quick responses. Blessed be. Sunlight disinfects!

    • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

      You have permission to copy so long as attribution is maintained, and a link back to this original post is included.

      Thanks for asking!

      • Starshadow666

        Thanks. Attributions I always do as a matter of principal, (as well as copyright, an issue dear to my heart) as I do asking, and link back on any emailed copies will be done as well. This is mainly to use for distribution as one tool and platform for discussion as to how to implement policies for sf concoms.

    • EmmettGrogan

      Hi Starshadow: Sounds like you’ve had alot of heartbreak over child sexual abuse and I’m sorry for that. Thank you for sharing. I am starting up a council that will act as information clearinghouse so Pagans can report someone with suspicious behavior, gather information, and then disseminate to Pagan leaders, festival organizers and the like. This is not to launch a witch hunt but to protect our children. We will also do crisis counseling, support and education. We have an email list for planning, etc. If you’d like to join or report someone, send me an email to:
      greeneggzine@gmail.com
      I think your idea of addressing this issue with the s-f community is a good one; I know of at least one perp many years ago who molested with impunity for years, most of the s-f community knew about it but no one knew what to do. Good luck!

  • Mnemosyne Vermont

    Imho the most important piece on the topic to date, in the main for it’s constructive discussion on how to go forward and strengthen our community.

  • http://tommyelf22.wordpress.com/ Tommy Elf

    Excellent post – and far better than what I talked about in my latest podcast episode (Upon a Pagan Path) as well. Granted, I don’t have the background that you have Cat — but this showcases the need for our community to have serious discussions on how to go about the entire process in a thoughtful manner. One false accusation can always be retracted, but the reputation that the accusation soils will never be set back to where it was prior to the accusation. You’ve gone several steps beyond where I was – and I really think its far better than anything I have said up to this point. Thank you for writing this. –Tommy /|

  • Tzipora Katz

    Thank you Cat for this truly balanced and well thought out piece. I am drawn to the points about it not always being bad. It’s not something that generally goes on 24/7. There are moments of great love and happiness sprinkled in there, which often makes the brutal reality that much harder.
    Since the story broke I have been very concerned with the people that are in pain now. The people that are feeling a wide range of emotions from guilt over not seeing/believing to betrayal to confusion. Those are the people that need our support and healing today, right now, in this very moment.
    Yes, we need to work on establishing safe spaces at our gatherings for all attendees but especially the most vulnerable, those who have smaller voices. We need education, training, and most of all compassion.
    And for the victims, like myself, who entered into a relationship out of love, deep love, we need to find ways to remember the beauty and happiness shared even as we heal from the wounds. No one enters a relationship thinking, “In about six months this will turn upside down and I’ll become a victim.” Nor do they watch their children go off and think, “Today will be safe, but next week they will be abused. Yippee!” That’s not how it works for anyone.
    It is time for all of us to continue the conversation and work together to create safety for all.

  • peterdybing

    I really appreciate this post. I also work in Mental Health
    where we have mandatory reporting requirements. I cannot be stated to strongly,
    Report, Report, and Report. The
    stories of people not being taken seriously in our community in the past are
    heart breaking. We as a community
    can develop within our organizations wise, balanced and effective procedures to
    protect the entire community.

    Recent events however have raised a note of caution
    also. On this very site, I
    witnessed in the comments thread a respected Pagan journalist being accused of
    being a predator him self when he expressed a diverging view to someone else. It was heart breaking as a man to imagine
    how he must of felt being accused of such things in a public forum with no
    evidence, no suspicion etc.

    The one exception I take to what you have written is the
    idea that false accusations are exceedingly rare. The FBI statistics you site are only for those charged with making
    a false claim. Such cases are hard
    to make, as the prosecution must prove the person intended to make a false
    accusation. Any divorce lawyer,
    child abuse investigator or sex crimes officer will acknowledge that such false
    reports are a part of their jobs and are not exceedingly rare.

    The reason this is important is your point about letting the
    investigators do their job. As a
    community we have neither the skills nor ability to investigate such
    accusations. If we always report
    every instance of suspicion it provides the best hope to keep our community
    safe.

    I am also very concerned about the coming festival season;
    it is my hope that we do not manifest a climate of suspicion; fear and hyper
    vigilance that sends the message that festival are not safe. I am alarmed to see parents posting that
    they are now afraid to take their families to events.

    Over the years I have witnessed festival staff on multiple
    occasions eject individuals who exhibit poor sexual boundaries, investigations
    into abuse allegations that were handled professionally and resulted in
    increased participant safety and a focus on keeping our community safe. We need
    to insure that these types of polices become the standard across our community.

    As we go forward in the necessary work of safeguarding our
    community let us acknowledge that, as a community we must approach these tasks
    with discernment, ethical action and the knowledge that our communities and
    events are also brimming with great people who are willing to, at any time,
    assist in assuring the safety of all involved

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Thank you, Peter, for spiking yet another misapplied statistic, as well as for the comment as a whole.

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

        As this is not a research paper, I opted not to review a full selection of the relevant research, in the interests of readability. However, I believe the the statistic I quoted is representative of reasonable professional opinion, given the state of the research I did review before completing this piece, as well as what was current when my practice was still active.

        Again, I certainly agree that relying on rumor and innuendo, rather than trained investigators, to determine criminal guilt and innocence, would be a great mistake.

        However, I don’t want us to lose sight of the fact that most first-hand reports of abuse will prove to be cause for concern–and I would not want to disempower local communities from considering acting on such reports around matters of access to children’s programming or other privileges we bestow on our leaders and teachers. With roles involving a high level of trust must come a reasonable level of scrutiny.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          I was not raining on your post, Cat. I just developed an allergy about statistics during the ’80s and ’90s.

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

            *smile* Noted.

        • peterdybing

          Thanks for the reply
          33% is not “exceedingly rare, yet the point is we should not report based on our opinions of credibility. We must always report and let the professionals sort it out. Simply put we just need to use caution in making such allegations public until the professionals can deal with the issue. Part of such an approach is pushing the system to take action when a report is made. Far to many reports go un investigated

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

            Remember, however, that’s a conservative reading on the most conflicted of situations, as well as the context, the 98% of all custody suits that do not make any allegation. Taken as a whole, the rates of false accusation are indeed, quite rare… Rare enough that we, who are determining neither criminal guilt nor child custody, most certainly should not take that as our primary assumption when we encounter allegations from a party directly involved.

          • peterdybing

            My point is that we should not be making any primary assumptions, we should always report report report if we wish to keep our community safe. I have never felt that there are a lot of false accusations during divorces. Yet when these accusations are made over 30% being determined to be unlikely is alarming, remember it is men who put at risk by such a rate. As I stated in my post there was even an accusation against a respected Pagan leader in a Wild hunt comment section. These issues deserve some attention from the community as we seek to establish policies to safeguard our community. Disclaimer, I was also alarmed to read a comment that seemed to put these issues forth as the “major issue” nothing could be further from the truth Our communities safety comes first

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

            Are you talking about Sylvanus Treewalker? While I might have been unduly harsh on the poor fellow, I didn’t accuse him of being a sexual predator. I accused him of enabling them for a number of reasons, including geek social fallacies, moral relativism as an absolute, an emphasis on “protecting the community” by stopping “slander” rather than addressing problems, etc. He’s no rapist (at least not according to his home state or to any of his surrounding sex offender registries). In fact, I suspect he’s a well-meaning guy whose failings are rooted in cluelessness and flabby theology rather than actual malice.

            If we’re talking about Gavin Frost, I’d first question how “respected” he is. When I was coming up, the Frosts were right up there with Jeanne Dixon and Sybil Lee. And once again that discussion wasn’t about whether or not he had committed any sexual offenses or performed his “deflowering” ritual. It was about whether it was appropriate to offer a platform to someone who had advocated adult/child sexual relationships in the past and who had never clearly recanted that position.

          • peterdybing

            Nope not talking about Gavin, I would never refer to him as a respected Pagan leader!

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

      Fully agree that it is important to have investigation be professional and to avoid slurring reputations through vague and unsupported accusations made by those who are not directly familiar with the facts of a case.

      However, I’m afraid I must question the point that only within criminal contexts are false allegations of abuse rare; it’s often perceived, for instance, that false accusations are commonplace within divorce proceedings. Research does not bear that out, however.

      “By far the most important study to date is that conducted by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts Research Unit (Thoennes, Pearson, and Tjaden, 1988; Thoennes and Tjaden, 1990). The researchers surveyed 9,000 divorce cases involving custody/visitation disputes from 12 domestic relations courts to determine how many such disputes involve allegations of sexual abuse… …Using the Child Protective Services determination and/or the report of a court appointed mental health evaluator as the criteria for substantiation, the researchers found that 50% of cases were likely, 33% were unlikely, and 17% were uncertain (which included cases in which two evaluators held different opinions). They also attempted to discern the motivation for unlikely reports and found 58 cases in which the case material addressed that issue. In eight cases, child protective service workers thought the allegation was maliciously made….sexual abuse allegations do occur in the context of divorce, but the overwhelming majority (98%) of disputed custody cases do not involve sexual abuse accusations.”

      (Faller, K, Corwin, D. L. & Olafson, E. (1993). Literature review: Research on false allegations of sexual abuse in divorce. The APSAC Advisor 6(3), 7-10.)

      https://www.missouristate.edu/assets/swk/Module-12_Handout-2_Fact_Sheet_Divorce_and_Allegations.pdf

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

        In other words, in even those most acrimonious and contentious of cases, actual false rates of abuse are quite rare, as well as research can show.

        This in no way diminishes the truth that relying on rumor to gauge guilt or innocence is going to lead to a lot of misunderstandings and pain. I take it that is the real gist of your comment, Peter, and, again, there I most definitely agree with you.

        • kenofken

          Let’s also keep in mind that most of what is troubling the pagan community right now is not those cases where we have a one-off accusation and the challenge of weighing he-said-she-said.

          The problem by and large involves predators and harassers who have long and very-well known reputations for their behavior. Not all of them by far involve criminal predation of children, but they are people who have real problems respecting boundaries. Instead of dealing with these scumbags, we let each other find out the hard way, or at most, pass along a discrete word not to get caught alone with so-and-so.

          Families and even adult women do not feel safe at some of our festivals because we have, as a community generally failed to engage this issue. We have ignored the perpetrators and complaints of their victims, made excuses for them, derided victims as liars and drama seekers. Up until this latest Florida blowup, we have conveyed the message in word and action that we have no will to engage the problem and may not even have any bottom-line consensus on right or wrong where adult-underage interaction is concerned.

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

            I think that community responsiveness has actually varied. But we can do far more, and we absolutely should.

    • Bob_Knows

      Thank you peter for your thoughtful observations and comments. False accusations are exceedingly common. Serial false “rape” accusers are operating in every city in the US and most are known to law enforcement, but some of their known false accusations are still brought to court. As you say, false accusations are not even uncommon on our own discussion forums where all it takes for a man to be falsely accused is to express a non-PC opinion. Suicides due to false and real accusations are very common, at least every week in many places. Many divorce lieyers advise false accusations to support child custody and child support claims.
      As for pagan festivals, I have personally witnessed a case of MUTUAL groping that she regretted the next day become escalated into loud and outrageous accusations of “supporting rapists” against the volunteer organizing committee. They killed the festival. It was never held again. Pagan festivals cannot survive in that kind of hostile, irrational, and accusatory atmosphere.

      • peterdybing

        I think the way you paint the environment as hostle is a little over the top. The priority is the safety of our community members. As I said a “note of caution” is in order to ensure we act ethically .

      • http://daoineile.com/ Aine

        Do you have proof that ‘false accusations are exceedingly common’? Any studies? Anything?

        • http://ivyandhoneysuckle.blogspot.com/ Veronica M. Black

          Yeah, I’d also be interested in seeing some citations for the idea that serial false accusers are “operating in every city in the U.S.” as well as weekly suicides as a result of false accusations.

        • steward

          A study in The Forensic Examiner, utilizing primarily FBI reports and DOJ studies, found false accusations to be in the range of 41% – 50%. http://www.theforensicexaminer.com/archive/spring09/15/

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

            You appear to have misconstrued this study’s critique of the FBI statistics. While the authors of this article do hypothesize a higher rate of false reports than is often believed, they rely primarily on three studies–two that are small enough to be open to doubt on that score, and a larger study internal to the Air Force. Given recent revelations about sexual assaults being covered up within the military and high rates of sexual assault that have been uncovered there, the findings of that study appear to me rather questionable. And the authors’ examination of FBI statistics simply does not say what your summary here says it does.

            The main point of this article would seem to be that more studies of false reports would be wise. I’ve got no argument there.

          • sanacrow

            A rather decent critique of Kanin’s study, which much of this article is based on, is available at http://amptoons.com/blog/2009/04/15/eugene-kanins-study-of-false-rape-reports/
            Short version, every study that has come up with those kinds of numbers has been discredited by actual peer-reviewed researchers.

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

          He can’t find the studies because they’ve all been suppressed by the anti-white anti-male anti-straight conspiracy.

    • EmmettGrogan

      Hi Peter: Thank you for your thoughtful post. I am forming a Pagan council to act as a clearinghouse for information. Pagans can report any sexually abusive behavior to us (and can do so anonymously) and we will gather information and disseminate to festival organizers, Pagan leaders, etc. We have several top notch researchers with us who can look online for any criminal records, etc. We will only report FACTS and take personal eyewitness accounts. We will also do education, crisis counseling, etc. It would be good to have as many counselors/therapists as possible, because they have a background on this. We will be very sure of our facts and careful not to just accuse someone from one report. If you’d like to add your ideas to our project, you can contact me at:
      greeneggzine@gmail.com
      Thank you.

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

      The one exception I take to what you have written is the idea that false accusations are exceedingly rare. The FBI statistics you site are only for those charged with making a false claim. Such cases are hardto make, as the prosecution must prove the person intended to make a false accusation. Any divorce lawyer, child abuse investigator or sex crimes officer will acknowledge that such false reports are a part of their jobs and are not exceedingly rare.

      This article by Slate writer Amanda Marcotte provides a different view on the problem of false allegations vs. the problem of unreported or unprosecuted rapes.

      Below you cited “33%” as the number of false abuse reports in custody cases. I worked briefly for a lawyer who handled divorces (among other things) and I agree that false reports — or, worse, conflicting reports as to who was the responsible abuser — are not unheard of. I wouldn’t even give an estimate as to how many, but let’s take your 33% figure as a rough guide. So in the situation where these false allegations are most likely to occur, two out of three are true.

      In the case of Kenny Klein, we had testimony of physical and sexual abuse from Tzipora Katz and from her two children. And if we assume a 33% chance that any one of them is lying, that means there’s a less than 4% chance that all three of them are. Depending on the jury, that might or might not qualify as “beyond reasonable doubt.” But it sure as Hell should have served as a preponderance of evidence that Klein didn’t belong in our community. Especially combined with the growing number of stories from women who reported untoward behavior from Klein only to have their complaints dismissed.

      Yet the community decided that 4% possibility of innocence was more important than a 96% possibility this guy was a dangerous creep. And so yes, there are a growing number of parents who no longer feel safe bringing their children to festivals and I happen to be one of them. Because I know there are a lot of wonderful and dedicated people working these events. But I also know there’s a culture of “tolerance at all costs,” an idea that “only intent makes an act evil” (i.e. I didn’t mean to sexually harass you so you have no right to be offended) and a tendency to circle the wagons and blame complainers and accusers rather than speak out against popular Elders. And so, no, I don’t trust my community to speak out should they see my daughter touched inappropriately. I am certain my friends would do the right thing. But I’m not at all sure that the casual acquaintances and fellow travelers attending these events would do so.

      • peterdybing

        FYI the 33% figure is not mine, it was posted in the comments section by the author of this post. There has been great discussion on this thread. As I have said I believe the number one priority is for the community to report even the hint of abuse to the authorities. The I issue I bring up as part of the discussion is a related issue that merits consideration as we balance how to manifest procedures to keep our community safe. My heart breaks at stories of abuse victims being not taken seriously. That must stop. I have also witnessed a number of times over the years Pagan security escorting out individuals with poor sexual boundaries. We as any community need to deal with this issue head on, yet there are plenty of examples of Pagan organizations with strong abuse policies that have protected our community in the past. Mostly I believe that Pagan events are, generally, a just as safe environment as any other community. Surly there is work to be done in insuring safety for all, yet we are not starting from a place, as some seem to want to believe, as a community rife with predators. The issue has come up, lets address it with calm determination and professionalism, panic will just lead to a poor outcome for the entire community

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

          Peter, I’m not denying that Pagan security regularly eject attendees for bad behavior. (Although, again, reports suggest at least a few festivals dropped the ball with Kenny Klein). The security team at Free Spirit Gathering was top-notch while I was there. I have absolutely no question that they would jump into action if they saw something or if they heard a complaint.

          My issue lsn’t with FSG’s security — I love those guys and know they work their collective asses off. My issue is with FSG’s attendees. Because I am not confident that they would make those complaints. And if they did I’m not confident that they would not face other people making excuses or fabricating alibis for the perpetrator. Artemis Spinoza, who tried to bully Tzipora Katz into silence when this story broke and who tried to gaslight Jo Pax when he reported his story of molestation, is a Blue Star HPs. If Annamaria gets groped by some other BNP, are we going to be met by sympathy or by legal threats and slander from hir flock? And how is FSG security expected to react in a case of “He said/A Whole Group of Them Said Otherwise?”

          Once again, I consider FSG to be one of the most well-run festivals I’ve attended and have nothing but praise for the organizers. But organizers can’t handle this problem alone. And until I see some evidence that the greater community is taking this seriously, I do not feel safe bringing my child to a festival.

          I don’t think the community is “rife with predators,” but that’s a red herring anyway. The Catholic Church wasn’t rife with boy-diddling priests: it was rife with a culture that protected serial molesters and kept them around for decades.

  • Malendia

    Excellent article! Thank you for sharing such clear and helpful advice. I had the experience of working (in a MSW-supervised program) with a teen victim/perpetrator as they recovered after a period of abuse within the family. It was far more human and complex than most people would expect. The abuse always has to be stopped and reported immediately and effectively. Still, we cannot afford to ‘monsterize’ perpetrators, or any human being, if we hope to help them and their victims go on after abuse or violence.

  • Shauna Aura Knight

    Thank you Cat for an excellent post. I’m really grateful for how you’ve outlined some real, tangible next steps that we–as a community–can take to make our communities and events healthier and safer.

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

    One potential model for what a focus on prevention rather than fearfulness might look like, believe it or not, comes from the Boy Scouts of America.

    While not necessarily known for being progressive in other areas, the Boy Scouts recognized years back that they were being used by perpetrators who were looking for access to children to abuse, and they developed a really balanced, wise approach to protecting kids, training leaders, and tracking problems in order to keep them from opening a door to abuse.

    (Hopefully, the link below will take you to a description of the program…)

    http://www.scouting.org/Training/YouthProtection.aspx

  • SherryBikesDC

    Excellent piece.
    I had a rather unnerving experience the one (and only) time I taught at a large East Coast festival. My workshops were all adults-only because of their content (sacred sex and sexuality). I repeatedly had to remove a boy (I would guess his age at 8 or 9) who insisted he could stay because his parents had told him “I can do anything I want to at (festival).” Each time I had to find a festival staffer who escorted him away from the building where I was teaching. I have no idea who or where his parents were. Parents need to be take responsibility for monitoring their children at festivals, and for making sure that the children understand there may be places and events that they are not allowed to attend.

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

    Thank you for this article.

  • M

    FYI, If Pagan groups are looking for a model (where/how to start), the YMCA has a truly excellent framework. All their employees are FBI/fingerprint checked. They have an anti-abuse policy written into their company statement as well as employee contracts. They mandate Child Abuse Awareness training for all staff and of course- uphold the mandated reporting laws applicable to each state. You can contact your local YMCA for details, ask for blank copies of policy and employee statements and even take their training courses, then take it all back and write in (_________ Pagan Group Anti-abuse Policy)
    M

  • ELNIGMA

    Excellent article.
    Especially glad to read point #4.

  • g75401

    Not that I’m advocating the Boy Scouts but they do have adult training programs that are free to all to review when it comes to protecting kids against sexual predators. I was an adult leader at one time. One of the BSA requirements for any adult volunteers was they had to turn in a self-performed background check. I believe that most states have the capability for people to access a website, enter a SS number, and print out a criminal background check. Sure, it sounds tedious but we are talking about protecting kids, aren’t we?

  • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Cat, for this clear, sensible, firm, and compassionate article. I hope that leaders in our communities will come back to consult it again and again as they develop policies around this issue.

  • Rayna Templebee

    Excellent article, thank you for sharing your expertise Cat. You are a treasure and our community is fortunate that you were willing to speak up on this topic. I particularly appreciate the constructive suggestions for festival culture.

  • Becca Davis

    This is the first piece I’ve read that discusses older children victimizing younger children. That was the situation for me. I was around 6 years old the first time my brother raped me. I can’t be more exact because my childhood is full of gaping black holes of memory. This would have made him around 11. And it wasn’t just simple molestation or any of the catch phrases that are used these days to spare people’s feelings. He held me down and beat me until I stopped fighting him, tore my clothes off of me and brutally raped me. At 11 years old. As I was already being physically, emotionally and mentally abused by my stepfather, I was already conditioned to silence and secrecy.

    I was 15 before I broke the code of silence at all, telling the youth ministers (husband and wife) at our church some of what was going on behind the facade of our “big happy family”. Their response was to tell me there was nothing they could do for me until I forgave my abusers. Which I refused to do. And still refuse to do to this day. You do not forgive the unforgivable. My next chance at some kind of help was when I had a nervous breakdown in the middle of the high school library during lunch hour. I ended up in the dean of girls office for several hours, bawling my eyes out, unable to speak. She called my mother and told my mother in no uncertain terms that she WOULD take me to a counselor, or have CPS called on her. Oh, and by the way, here is the date and time of the first appointment. That was great, but unfortunately the guy she set me up with – who was probably very nice and good at his job – looked like my stepfather. I spent two years sitting in his office telling him nothing. Word of advice. If you are the one in charge of getting a newly admitted victim counseling, set them up with a counselor the opposite sex of their abuser. It will be so much easier for them to open up and begin the process if they aren’t scared to death of the person who is supposed to be counseling them.

    The first time in my life that I got complete acceptance, empathy, belief, and understanding, was at the age of 32, when I joined my first Pagan group. I cannot begin to tell you, as a survivor, what an impact that has. Not only did they help me to heal and blossom, they also showed me that there are men in the world who are good men. Truly warm, loving, caring, decent, good men. I cannot thank them enough, for all they did for me. So, Bear, Keeper, Levi, TOWM, Matt, Dimitri, Dan, Chad, Brian, and most especially MacDaithi – who made the happiest woman in the world the day he asked me to marry him – and if I’ve forgotten any of you I apologize, fibro fog sucks, you did a hell of a job counseling this confirmed man hater. I love all of you guys, and you have my deepest abiding respect and appreciation.

    All of that is by way of saying you never know what impact you are going to have in a person’s life. Be someone a survivor can turn to with trust and hope.

    • http://saffronrose.livejournal.com/ A. Marina Fournier

      I think that the first person I ever gave a key to my place was a college friend, after the suicide of her youngest sister. I told her that I wanted her to have a safe place to come to if she needed to be alone or just not wherever she was. I had had no idea of the abuse in that family–parents were two pediatric cardiologists, and it was the father who systematically raped each daughter in turn, with the mother afraid to ask what was off–until she told me why her sister had committed suicide. I had heard stories from others, and I had seen non-sexual parental abuse firsthand, but no one I knew personally (until my sister told me about the sperm donor’s molestations and other abuse) before.

      A few years later, she and her husband were two of the four folk who kept me anchored to them so that I did not commit suicide when the pain of depression was so strong.

      I don’t know if it is Brigid or Hecate who aims my attention to those who need someone to turn to. It doesn’t matter, as I am in both their service, and having been through long deep depressions, I understand emotional pain and can help get them where they need to be.

      My son and I were both dx’d as bipolar on the same day. He knew I’d know what he was going through–and he also reaches out to others in need of a good friend. That compassion is all his, but he saw me doing that all his life, leading by example.

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

        It can make such a difference to healing, knowing there is someone there for you with kindness and respect. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

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

      Thank you for being willing to share your story. Hopefully, if we pay attention to how we can be more supportive of those who have experienced abuse, we can up the odds that our communities will inspire survivors with exactly the trust and hope you mention.

      Blessed be.

  • Tirani

    I am an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I work in the legal field. I am also Pagan. Thank you for this thoughtful, measured, and important post on not only how to reach out for the resources that MUST be used in cases of abuse, and as a reminder that the response from the community as a whole MUST be measured and allow legal channels to work. Investigators, officers, case workers, all of these people know how to address abuse, and can be people that we can learn from, to identify and guard against abuse. Hysteria in the community will only add to the common perception (right or wrong) that we are fringe, we are strange, and we should be taken less than seriously. Yes, abuse is terrible; I am still scared in ways that I will never completely recover from. However, with help, and justice, I live a healthy, full life. We, the adults of the community, must act with the seriousness that abuse warrants, and with solemn understanding of the consequences of it.

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

      I am so pleased and grateful that my words seem useful to you… and I more than agree that while we need to take abuse seriously, we also need to understand and respect the resilience of survivors…and the need to lead with our heads, not just our hearts, without minimizing harm or giving way to overheated rhetoric. Both of those can get in the way of our main goal: ending or preventing abuse within our community entirely.

  • KhalilaRedBird

    Many thanks, Cat, from an old and always student of yours. Most of my festival days are behind me, and I am branching out into community work. It seems the Goddess has work for me in the Domestic Violence realm, and I’ve been taking training offered by our very large and occasionally decently funded county. I urge all of us who are clergy to find whatever such local outreach is available and learn the best numbers to call when a situation is dumped in your lap. CPS is one response — and, yes, you need to find the mandated reporter laws in your state. It seems that in mine (Virginia), I don’t always fall into that category (which hasn’t stopped me from calling, but I can’t say I’ve gotten a comforting response).

    We need to learn more about how to recognize sexual predators, whether they be focused on children or any age. I was brought up short by a lot of what goes on in intimate partner relationships, including stalking — and we were reminded, over and over, that these are not sexually motivated; these are power trips, using sex as a weapon.

  • http://saffronrose.livejournal.com/ A. Marina Fournier

    This was a well-written and very useful article–I’ve got it bookmarked in two categories.

    When our son was about 11, we were living in a great house for entertaining. After one party, I realized that we didn’t necessarily know this segment of folks all that well. I took A aside and told him to let me know right away if any guest of ours ever made him uncomfortable. In school (and we reinforced it) he was given the message that his body was his, and he got to control (at least in a non-medical setting) who touched him, especially his “privates”. I don’t think we held another party with those guests. Most parties were with NROOGD folks he knew well, and with whom he was comfortable.

    At one point, I figured that a “good secret” has an expiration date–a present, or a pleasant surprise for someone close–but “bad secrets” carried threats, a lot of “never tell anyone”, and so on. It was a factor he could use on his own, at that age.

    When he first went to PCon or local SF cons, he was with one of us all the time. After a couple of years, we let him wander, with specific times to reunite. For BayCons, there was always “Mama Cat” Savitsky to go to if needed. He began having particular activities that attracted him (lightsabers!) and a group of boys his age to hang with. One year, I let him have his own key to the room, and allowed him to have a couple of younger boys–with their parents’ approval–have pizza and movies while I did “stupid adult things”. At PCon, there’s always the NROOGD/CoG/NWC hospitality suite where he can retreat to while waiting for me, if needed, and we meet for meals. He’s known to most NROOGDers as our son.

    He got questions about sex and relationships answered appropriately for his age when he asked them. He’s known teens who were abused, but has escaped it himself, for which I’m grateful. He also stands up to bullies on behalf of others–even when younger, he was unable to stand up to his own bulliers.

    I wanted him not to equate nudity with sex, and we have had a limited familial clothing-optional policy. When we had a pool and that lovely entertainment house, he saw all sorts of folks in various stages of attire: few of them would be hired as models, so his body image wasn’t unrealistic. A has never felt sexual toward any of them, nude or clothed. Contrary to one caseworker’s statement, seeing me nude has not made him have inappropriate sexual fixations on me, either. He already had a sexual fixation–on a fictional character common to many young men of his age. I was just boring mom.

    I was never interested in the “family bed” custom, as I have enough problems getting to sleep with ONE other breathing pattern/snorer in the room.

    I know there are those who feel that outside of one’s own room, being fully dressed is required, in order to avoid sexual abuse triggers. I think nudity, among other things, is an excuse some abusers use to justify sexual abuse–it is NOT the cause. Around sexual abuse survivors in their teens, being clothed is considerate of their fears. We have a skyclad full moon tradition: if one of those teens is present, we are NOT skyclad.

    Some local witches are starting to discuss some sort of council/group/whatever of community information regarding dubious and outright WRONG people, in order to protect the local/festival community, and to encourage people to privately voice concerns about abuse they may have seen or suspected, and help them report their observations or experience to the appropriate civic agency.

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

      I have now heard from three different local groups looking at ways to begin to create good youth protection policies of our own. I find this enormously encouraging.

      I suspect that exchanging ideas as we develop these resources is going to help us find some good, strong safeguards to put in place. I don’t even have words for how encouraged I am by this.

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

    Cat C-B: thank you SO much for one of the most thoughtful and well-researched posts on this topic to date. You’ve given us all plenty of food for thought: here are a couple of mine.

    Criminal courts are expected to adjudicate guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is because of the enormous consequences which come with a criminal conviction. A person falsely convicted of sex crimes will be locked in a concrete coffin for years or decades. A person falsely accused of sexual misbehavior at a Pagan festival will be ejected from the premises and barred from future attendance. While this is certainly an injustice the consequences are nowhere near the severity of a false conviction. Hence a “preponderance of evidence” standard is appropriate. Especially since the negative consequences of sexual harassment and abuse have been proven beyond any reasonable doubt.

    I am a parent who no longer feels safe bringing my child to Pagan festivals. Based on the responses I’ve seen to this topic I feel my concerns are justified. I am not the only parent who feels this way. Are we all guilty of “hysteria” and “panic” or are we erring on the side of caution?

    I’d also note that parents are generally the best judges of what is or or is not safe for their child, just as women are generally the best judges of when they have or have not been harassed or raped. And when women and parents start shunning events because they consider them unsafe, there might be more going on than a panicky, hysterical overreaction.

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

      I doubt we will ever eliminate all danger from our groups; I don’t know of any groups in our society that have managed that. But I’m optimistic that with the input of survivors, parents, and those of us who have been carrying this concern ourselves for some time, we can take some inspiration from other parts of society that have done a lot to make their youth programs safer than before.

      Like many others, I’ve been waiting for this day for a long, long time. I look forward to seeing us grow into safer, wiser communities, much more willing to act when there is reason to be concerned about any individual’s behavior towards kids.