by Rachel Melcher
Last week, a pagan man was arrested for, and reportedly confessed to, possession and distribution of child pornography. As a longtime musician on the festival circuit, a High Priest in the Blue Star Tradition, and a public face of paganism with his own featured blog on Witches and Pagans, he was known to many within our spiritual community. As news of his arrest spread through social media, many, many stories of his predatory behavior came to light. It would seem he had a history of inappropriate advances, sexual coercion, and rape. Over the decades of his life, he has left behind a trail of victims, many of them pagan. The revelation of Kenny Klein’s actions has raised a question long overdue, how do we protect our children and protect ourselves from sexual predators?
Meeting a Predator
I had my first run-in with a predator in the pagan community when I was a teenager. I don’t know what his name was, he hid behind a craft name like Silver Jackal or Windfire or Pan McStarrypants. I do remember, though, that he hung out at the artsy little movie theater that had a weekly midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and that he held court over the traditional Denny’s restaurant run after the movie ended. He wore a large trenchcoat that he liked to drape, flirtatiously, around us teenaged girls and he carried a briefcase of nipple clips, sexual toys that he sold (and dared us to demonstrate) from his corner booth of the restaurant. He talked a lot about sex and counseled everyone on relationship issues, conducting tarot readings with a well-worn pack of playing cards he was never without. I remember that first week, sitting comfortably playing Crazy 8s and eating grilled cheese sandwiches with my two best friends, he approached our table and leaned close to tell me that an older boy, 18 or 19, was interested in me but too shy to approach. He said, “Go over there and talk to him.” I wasn’t interested in leaving my friends and said so. He badgered and badgered and badgered, refusing to leave our table, no matter how frequently and politely I said, “No”, until I agreed to talk to the boy and to give him my number. Shortly thereafter, I left the Rocky Horror scene but that anonymous pagan man, a grown adult in a crowd of teenagers, remained for years to come.
Twenty years wiser, I can see all the red flags for what they were. I can see how inappropriate and dangerous his behavior was with us. I can see the weekly grooming process, the baited traps he carefully set for all us little baby goths, trying out fishnets and bustiers and curfew busting for the first time. It was glaringly wrong to have a man over twice our age hanging out in a room full of minors, joking about sadomasochism and masturbation. Though I was wary of him and the social discomfort he caused me, I thought the problem was me not being worldly enough to fit into his circle. He treated us children as adults, as equals in on a dirty joke, and that at the time was as thrilling as it was disturbing. I would have never reported his behavior to anyone. I never did.
As A Religious Movement–It’s Time We Grew Up
As a religious movement, we need to outgrow our teenaged years. With cases like Klein’s and Benjamin Sangraal’s, we can no longer pretend that our numbers are free from sexual predators. Like any sample size of the human population, we have criminals and creeps and the mentally ill within our ranks and it is time that we started acting like responsible grown-ups who know better than to trust in karma, hematite, and Perfect Love and Perfect Trust to protect our children.
Steps to Take
Faith groups around the world have been forced, through revelations of abuse, to take steps within their organizations to protect their fellow practitioners. We needn’t reinvent the wheel, we can simply adopt similar policies. Here are some steps that I think pagan leaders and event coordinators need to take immediately:
1. Mandatory Background Checks for Volunteers and Leaders
All pagan leaders, volunteers, teachers, and childcare workers should submit to mandatory national criminal background checks *before* being allowed to work with minors.
2. Use of Legal Names
While many pagans use craft names for various reasons, I believe that all event coordinators should require legal names be used in registration. If a man in a red sarong rapes someone at a festival of hundreds, it isn’t helpful if the only thing we can tell police is that he calls himself “Fox” and drives some kind of white car. Someone in leadership should know his legal name, even if the rest of us do not.
3. Two Person Minimum
For every class, workshop, ritual, or childcare offering with underaged participants, there needs to be a *minimum* of two adult teachers/volunteers/workers (with current background checks) present at all times. A romantic couple working together, whether married or not, only counts as ONE person. Additional staff members would be necessary to facilitate breaks, bathroom runs, and unexpected emergencies to make sure that no child is ever alone with an adult.
4. Training on Child Abuse
All pagan leaders, volunteers, teachers, and childcare workers should complete some training on child abuse, its legal definition, and what to watch out for before ever working with children.
5. Mandated Reporting
As members of the clergy, whether we are the head of a recognized non-profit or not, we need to consider ourselves mandated reporters. We are required, because of our position, to immediately report any abuse or suspicion of abuse to our local authorities. We do not need to personally investigate or prove allegations against one of our members. We don’t have to worry about whether we are right or whether we are wrong, but we are obligated to refer the matter to police to let them investigate the validity of any claims.
Finding the Strength to Speak and Supporting Those Who Do
Abusers can be the shady outsiders we don’t trust as well as our beloved, charismatic community leaders. They can be parents and they can be elders and they can published authors. They can be women and they can be men and they can be cool, skateboarding twenty-somethings. They are hidden, among us, in plain sight and we have no hope of rooting them out until we listen, seriously, to the voices of their victims. For every crime that the Kenny Kleins of the world are arrested for, there are dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands for which they are never held accountable. There are signs, though, and we need to pay attention. We need to value the voice of a victim over the desire for community peace. We need to take action and report what we know and what we suspect to experts outside our spiritual groups. We need to cultivate an environment where those who speak are protected and their claims taken seriously. We need to talk about sexual abuse, sexual abusers, and find ways to bar the door to them.
That card-reading pagan I met so many years ago, whatever name he wears today, was a child predator. What he did in public was wrong and I can only imagine what crimes he perpetrated on that inner circle of teens who knew him best. Maybe he got caught, maybe he never did, but I know by not speaking out that many, many more children like me crossed his path.
As a parent, his next victim could be my son, my daughter, and that chilling thought alone is enough to empower me when before I was scared. What I saw before as someone else’s problem, a missing stair to navigate around, I now see as a concern for the whole community. Is it my business? Damned right. If we are to protect those most vulnerable among us, it needs to be everybody’s business.