Back in December I reported on the arrest of Daniel Doherty, who was charged with raping and molesting a Washington woman from the ages of 11 to 19, telling her it was “pleasing the goddess” to endure his sexual assaults.
“The woman claimed that Doherty raped and molested her from the ages of about 11 to 19. She said the sexual assaults were frequent, usually one or more times a week. “He convinced her that she should keep their relationship a secret, and that the sexual acts were part of a Druid religion where they were pleasing the Goddess, Epona,” Price wrote. The woman claimed Doherty sexually assaulted her every Equinox and Solstice in “celebration,” the report states. He told her that the sex acts “strengthened the bond between Druid teacher and student,” the detective wrote. The woman described an incident in 2002 when she had friends sleeping over and Doherty asked her to wake them so he could sexually assault them. When she refused, he forcefully raped her on the couch, the report indicates.”
Since then, Doherty has pleaded guilty to the charges in a plea-deal, with hopes of a reduced sentence. However, Island County Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock, citing the heinous abuses perpetrated, ignored the plea recommendations and tacked on additional time, less than a year shy of the allowed maximum.
“Daniel Doherty, a 53-year-old former Oak Harbor resident, appeared in court March 12 for sentencing. Under a plea agreement, Doherty pleaded guilty Feb. 18 to first-degree child rape and first-degree child molestation. Doherty had frequently raped and molested the victim for nine years, beginning when she was just 11 years old. He convinced her that the sexual abuse was part of a Druid religion. Both the defense and prosecution recommended that Doherty serve 12 years in prison, but the judge did not agree. Hancock stressed how heinous the crimes were. “The court is appalled by your conduct,” he said. “You victimized and exploited this young person. … Words cannot express how deplorable your actions were.” … In the end, Hancock sentenced Doherty to 12 years and eight months in prison, which is eight months shy of the maximum. Hancock said he gave Doherty some credit for pleading guilty and not forcing the victim to go through a trial.”
Personally, I don’t know if 12 years and 8 months is nearly enough. I’d be content if he never breathed free air again. I can only hope the survivor of his abuse can now heal, and move forward knowing the perpetrator has been brought to justice.
Naturally, many in our wider community will want to stress that Doherty wasn’t a part of any established group, and that is true, he was by all accounts a drifter who clung to the edges of our community, but I also think that obscures the larger lesson to be learned here. A vast percentage of modern Pagans aren’t part of any established group, or are members of groups and traditions so small they hardly count as “established” on any national or even regional scale. This creates a culture where we tend to ascribe a certain amount of legitimacy to any individual practitioner as a common courtesy, which creates fertile grounds for those who want to abuse that trust. I’m not saying we should stop trusting, or that everyone should join a national organization if they want to be taken seriously, only that our decentralized nature makes us uniquely vulnerable to con-men and monsters.
What can we do about it? Along with a culture of love and trust, we also need to create a culture of responsibility and frankness about what will and will not be tolerated within our communities, and make in known to the wider world. A shared covenant of ethics for events and community functions that clearly states our vigilance and zero-tolerance towards any who would abuse the mind or body of a child (or advocate same).
An ethic that says that no real Pagan teacher or clergy will ever demand sex, especially from a minor, in exchange for initiation, or in “celebration” of anything. That if you are in a situation, either with an individual, or group, that makes you feel uncomfortable, or pushes your sexual boundaries, that it’s OK to get out and alert someone you trust (parent, relative, teacher). That if someone in our community, or claiming to be a part of our community, transgresses sexually, that’s it’s not only OK to alert law enforcement officials immediately, but strongly encourged.That no oath is broken when a rapist or abuser is brought to justice. That no god or goddess requires the sacrifice of your mind, youth, or innocence to some supposed representative. That no matter how wise or powerful someone seems, there is no basis for mandatory ritualistic sex in modern Pagan rituals. That sanctified abuse is just abuse.
I think a shared ethics statement like that should happen, that it should be promoted widely, and that any gathering can sign on to it. Its tenets should be posted prominently at festivals, conventions, shops, and pride days where would-be abusers might want to hunt. It won’t prevent all abuse, or curtail all abusers, but it might save some from harm, and that would make it worthwhile. I encourage our leaders to put aside the politics and self-promotion for a moment and really work on this.