The Culture of consent: Are we there yet?

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (TWH) –   Even before the #MeToo movement hit the mainstream in 2017 with the allegations of sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein, rape culture and consent issues had been rippling through the Pagan community. The arrest of Kenny Klein for possession of child pornography in 2014 and his ultimate conviction rocked the community.  That same year also brought us “Gamergate” which shone a spotlight on the level of harassment female developers endured, ultimately resulting in many in the gaming and tech communities to create their own “codes of conduct” rules.

Over the past few years, many members of the community have warned others of the presence of predators at festivals, cons and other events.  Even more broadly outside of such venues, individual members of the Pagan community have raised serious concerns about widespread sexual misconduct.  Most recently, Sarah Anne Lawless publicly and bravely brought forward serious issues of sexual misconduct in the Pagan community.

 

[Courtesy]

Despite calls for reformation and the presence of codes of conduct, abuse is still reported.  The Pagan And Heathen Events Code of Conduct, written and published by the Pagan and Heathen Symposium in 2015, is a straightforward document that outlines what is not acceptable behavior, as well as how to enforce and address any incidents that occur.

I spoke with Yvonne Aburrow, author of All Acts of Love and Pleasure: inclusive Wicca and the editor, along with Christine Hoff Kraemer of Pagan Consent Culture: Building Communities of Empathy and Autonomy about consent culture within the Pagan Community.

Aburrow started a petition on Change.org that asks signers to pledge to:

  • not to attend, or give talks or workshops at, large public events for adults unless they have a publicly available code of conduct with a means of enforcing it;
  • not to attend or give talks or workshops at large public events where children may be present unless they have a safeguarding policy and a means of enforcing it;
  • resign from membership in, or not to join, Pagan organizations that don’t have a safeguarding policy or a code of conduct.

And we call upon all Pagan organizations, groups, and event organizers:

  • to develop a code of conduct and a safeguarding policy;
  • to publish these on their websites;
  • and to enforce them at all public events.

 

It might seem obvious to have some type of “code of conduct” rules for events, especially when it comes to sexual misconduct.  However, some organizers, Aburrow reports, pushed back.  They don’t think putting pressure them, as organizers, is the right approach. Aburrow’s petition had a goal set of 500 signers and, despite it having been up on the site for some time, to-date only 224 people have actually signed it.

This is not to say that the majority of Pagan events do not have some version of conduct rules.  Many do have such rules. Some have even far more extensive conduct policies than what the link above outlines. The real question may be how many attendees and presenters actually look to see if an event has rules and what they entail before deciding to attend.

Event organizers also need to consider that when attendees meet people at an event that is considered a “safe and trusted” space, they tend to transfer that trust when they encounter some of those same people outside of an event. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, making setting and maintaining standards when it comes to conduct and consent even more important.

Educating people on rape culture and consent is an ongoing important effort that must pervade the entire Pagan community. Rape culture as defined, in part by Aburrow consists of a society “…where violation of consent is routinely validated, approved of, and promoted. Where the existence of valid consent is constantly erased and undermined. The view of mainstream culture is that women should not have sexual desire.”

Pagan Consent Culture by Kraemer * Aburrow [Courtesy]

TWH interviewed Yvonne Aburrow and Christine Hoff Kraemer in 2016 shortly after they released their anthology. Aburrow said at the time, “it was time to do something to promote consent culture.”

Aburrow’s focus is still on promoting consent and providing people with the tools to craft their consent policies and statements for events. We recently spoke with her about consent and about some of the implications that have sprung up in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

Even physical contact as simple as hugging, Aburrow notes, can be problematic without prior consent. For example “… ‘compulsory hugging’ is difficult for neurodivergent people because the sensation of being hugged can be overwhelming. There are also some people who use the culture of hugging to initiate inappropriate touching. I love hugs but I vastly prefer hugs that I have consented to. And I don’t want hugs that have sexual overtones with people who aren’t my partner.”

While Aburrow definitely thinks we need to believe people when they report an incident, she also said, “It’s important for victims to name perpetrators, as it’s a good way for a pattern of abuse by a perpetrator to be established. But I also think it’s important for allegations to be substantiated.”

How to go about substantiating reports or claims of abuse in a way that can be implemented in as straightforward a way as any Code of Conduct can be written seems a bit more elusive. Each organization might have their process of addressing complaints, but currently no one has published a comprehensive guidebook on the subject that has been adopted by widely in the Pagan community.

Educating our community on what is abusive and inappropriate behavior is the first step towards really preventing it. How we think about consent and what the term encompasses is certainly changing for the better suggesting education is having a relevant impact.

Whether a “culture of consent” is actually being achieved in the Pagan community is another matter entirely. The number of sexual assaults and harassment accusations seems unrelenting and must unequivocally cease. Moreover, while many may hope to believe the Pagan community is insulated from these abuses, accusations such as Lawless’ and convictions such as Klein’s clearly demonstrate the scope of the problem as well as its presence and prevalence in the Pagan community.