I just finished reading Lydia Crabtree's heart-wrenching article on the sexual exploitation currently being exposed in the Pagan community, The Fish Rots from the Head Down: Squid Eye and Sexual Exploitation. The first thing I have to say is: go read it. She describes the issue better than I could.
Since the arrest of Pagan elder Kenny Klein in March, the Pagan community is finally doing what it should have done decades ago: talking seriously, and in a very self-questioning way, about how much sexual exploitation is going on among us and what to do about it. As a survivor of some grotesque and blatant exploitation attempts, watching this all come out has caused me a lot of personal anguish. I know that the pompous ass who kept groping me and did worse with several others likely won't be among those facing the music. His House has already shown the extent they will go to protect him, and of course that will include lying for him as well as looking the other way.
In retrospect, the House was hardly into sexual ethics in general; it's possible that they literally believe that what he did to me was just fine. But whatever the case, they have his back. This whole blowup over Klein and the Frosts and various others has reminded me that Pagan hierarchies can be as bad as Catholic ones when it comes to butt-covering for the worst among them.
I will never understand why it is so hard for so many members of religious groups to understand that if an elder in your community is exploiting people sexually, he doesn't deserve his title or your support. Maybe it's shock, maybe it's pride, but continuing to support such people is irrational, and it hurts and endangers people, including children. The fact that you trusted him with personal secrets, followed his lead, and believed in him shouldn't make you go into denial when it comes out that he's been harassing, exploiting or straight up raping people. It should make you angry, because he's been lying to you about his character and trustworthiness this whole time.
But more often than not, status and popularity win over truth, and the victim gets revictimized by the group through denial, ostracism, criticism, minimalization of the incident, accusations of being crazy or wanting attention...it just goes on and on. That is what happened to me, and what has happened to a lot of other people, including underage kids. The fact that these people are covering for sex offenders never even seems to register with them. Maybe they're just really good at buying their own lies.
Now however, the truth is starting to come out about predators in the Pagan community, and though it's painful to read about, it can only be for the good. These predators thrive on secrecy, and those who have protected them deserve to be questioned as well. If you will stand there and watch while one of your elders repeatedly gropes and grinds on a tranced-out neophyte, and not only do nothing but deny later that anything untoward happened, you don't deserve to lead anyone.
Some may fret over a potential "witch hunt" starting, but if you actually think about it, the chances of that are rather rare. This fear is a distraction from the truth, similar to MRA whining about false rape accusations. Our focus should be on protecting the actual, real victims of sexual exploitation, instead of protecting largely theoretical victims of false accusations.
I wish that I had some way of helping to fix this, besides speaking out against it and offering help to fellow survivors. All I really have to offer are suggestions on what to do when you find yourself in a situation like I did, or when you see someone else going through it.
It seems ridiculous to have to be telling people how to avoid creepy Elders and deal with their predation attempts, instead of telling these so called "spiritual leaders" to stop being horrible creeps. But none of them are going to change until their chances of being caught at it go up enough that it deters them. Preparing people to deal with these kind of situations is one way to help improve those chances, as well as help them protect themselves.
The guide to avoiding and dealing with these corrupt Elders deserves its own entry. But it can basically be boiled down now to one thing: if someone in your spiritual group is harassing you or trying to con you into sex, or if someone comes to you for help because they're being exploited, SPEAK UP. Kick up a stink before things get worse, make sure that those in authority know, and don't be scared to threaten wider exposure if they don't move their asses.
If they are as toxic as my old House, you will end up out on your ear, yes--but you will be infinitely better off for it, as they will have shown their true colors. And of course, you can never go wrong with simply leaving a group where someone in authority is making you feel uncomfortable, and letting people know why from a safe distance. Had I known then what I know now, getting away from the House would have been my first step.
I hope that one day, people who are targeted by sexual predators within the Pagan community are the ones being supported by the group. I hope that we reach the point where when someone is victimized, they can speak up and know they will be heard, regardless of the status of their exploiter. Maybe one day it will be the exploiters who end up being ridiculed and ostracized, instead of those of us whom they have hurt. I for one think that's something to work toward.