Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Spiritual Leader, My Butt: Some Blunt Suggestions on How to Cope When an Elder In Your Spiritual Group Turns Out to be A Perverse Piece of Crap

As promised, below is a practical follow up to this post.
Here is a list of things that I wish someone had said to me before I ever joined the Pagan group where I was molested and harassed by an "Elder in good standing". Hopefully it will help others who encounter a group run or co-run by a predator.
A person in the role of religious leader commands a certain level of respect and trust from those within his or her group. However, there are always going to be some people who gain power, have it immediately go to their heads and start thinking that their leadership role in one aspect of life puts them above others in all aspects of life. They feel entitled to exploit those looking to them for leadership, and do it without conscience, playing up the "wisdom" and "initiatory knowledge" they offer in return. A particularly vile subset of these corrupt religious leaders extends his or her sense of entitlement to the bodies of adherents -- or to the bodies of their children. As much as we don't like acknowledging it, some Elders are completely corrupt, and some of those will either try to weasel into your pants or should never be left alone with your kids.

It's sad to think about, and sadder still to have to plan for. But if you don't face facts, and learn the warning signs of such predators, you and your loved ones end up more vulnerable to them.

If someone in your spiritual group has made you genuinely uncomfortable, ignored basic physical, emotional or privacy boundaries, made exploitive demands or tried to manipulate you, it doesn't matter what rank they are or which gods they claim love them. They have exceeded their rights and abused their authority, and regardless of whether the other leaders oppose or protect them, they do not deserve your respect. Certainly, they do not deserve your trust or your unquestioning obedience -- though this kind of person will demand it the most.

The first thing you have to do when someone in religious authority over you attempts to abuse or exploit you or your loved ones is to remove their power and influence over you. This must be done emotionally, intellectually, and most of all, practically. Get away from that person, get your loved ones away, and get your head clear on dealing with him or her after that. Exploitive leaders are very persuasive, and will try to confuse and manipulate you or those close to you. You have to firm your resolve against these people and anyone blindly defending them (which, sadly, may include friends or relatives), and ignore what the predators are saying. Any incidentally valid points in their statements are guaranteed to be swimming in gallons of self-serving bullshit.

The biggest mistake I made in this situation was caving in to pressure to minimize the severity of what my own attacker did to me. I did this because at his most blatant, he was following me around an event constantly sexually molesting me while I was too tranced out (and terrified) to do anything. The head of the House and several elders witnessed his doing this, and said and did nothing. I made the mistake of convincing myself that I was overreacting somehow, because "more enlightened" people watched the whole thing and didn't give a shit. Now I realize that that was because the House leader and other witnesses were terrible people, but at the time I believed in them and followed their lead. Don't do this, and don't listen to anyone who tries to do it to you.

Document your experiences. Names, dates, who was there, what the circumstances were. But don't wait until you have a lot of documentation to speak out against the abuser.

Don't be scared to act up...intelligently, and with the purpose of exposing the predator. My predator's "defense" was that he was possessed by a spirit at the time he went after me sexually...multiple times, with multiple spirits involved. (Apparently West African tricksters, Hindu deities and Aesir all really love my badonk and can't keep their hands off it). Now this was a guy who was pretty much infamous for faking possession; the other Elders joked that his possessions were basically "him channeling him" a lot of the time. Yet they accepted his excuse. If I knew then what I knew now, I would have turned this on its ear. "Oh, gee, I had no idea I threw a drink in your face and called you a lying old pervert with a raisin-sized weewee in front of everyone. I was possessed!" Ah, missed opportunities.

If you are safe and can manage it, tell your abuser in no uncertain terms to stop. Do not, however, threaten any consequences. These people are masters of ass-coverage, and will scramble straight into that mode the moment they think some consequences might come of their vile actions. If you tell them there will be reprecussions, especially if you get specific, they will start planning their "defense" -- usually a character assassination of you. So just tell them that what they are doing is wrong and that you won't put up with them doing it any more, and leave it at that. Don't give them a warning, and thus lead time, when it comes to your plans.

Standing up to them can also be good for you personally, though the exploiter's reaction can be unpredictable. Some will be scared off by a show of backbone. Others will throw a tantrum, or try to "test" the new boundary to see if they can overcome it. This is why it is usually best to make sure this confrontation happens in front of witnesses. Not only is it less dangerous, but there is a good chance that he will show something of his true colors when confronted. Provided that your group isn't solidly composed of idiots, at least some of the witnesses should take notice.

Sadly, don't expect that you'll be able to resolve the issue by confronting your exploiter. Not only will these predators deny any wrongdoing, but they'll do anything they can to gaslight you and anyone else involved into believing the same. If someone responds to your saying "stop constantly staring at my breasts, it's making me uncomfortable" with "oh, sorry" and no longer staring, they weren't trying to exploit anyone, they were just being mannerless horndogs. Real exploiters don't give a damn. If they had enough conscience to acknowledge that they were doing wrong, they wouldn't be trying to use you or your kids in the first place.

These people are guaranteed to seek out other victims if you won't cave in. That means that you have a moral obligation to say something to your group. This will not be easy. A lot of people respond to news like this by denying or minimizing any incidents, at least at first. Be ready with your accounts of what happened, including details like where and when. Expect frustration. Expect to find out who your friends in the group really are.


Start with a trusted authority figure or senior member of the group. If you don't trust anyone in power in the group, skip this step and get the HELL out of the group. If you can't trust them, they can only help you grow spiritually at a distance -- by serving as an example of how not to act.

Warn others who might be vulnerable. New members, young members, those wrestling with mood disorders or recent loss. If this guy tried to target your kids and he's still breathing, make sure that parents in the group know why you called the cops on him.

Expect backlash. If you found no reliable religious leaders to go to in your group, or did not go to all of them, the others are guaranteed to kick up a stink about it, especially if the police end up involved. One of the craziest reactions that I saw in my old group, and have heard about in others, was that a statement of intent to go to the authorities if action was not taken was viewed as a serious threat to the group -- while having a sexual predator in a position of power among them barely seemed to bother them. Even if the group as a whole finally comes around to face facts and support you, at least some of them won't, especially at first, and it is going to hurt.


Don't be surprised if challenging a well entrenched spiritual leader ends with your being cast out of the group. It isn't fair, it isn't rational, but for some reason a disappointing number of people will be more angry at the person who disrupts the group by seeking justice than at the toxic person who is causing actual problems. As an example, I gave the group leader the names and contact information of two other people whom my would-be predator had exploited sexually, and she never followed through. Her head remained firmly in the sand, and within a month I was out. It was painful, but it would have been less so had I prepared myself for the possibility.

Keep owning and standing up for the truth even if your spiritual group rejects you and claims you are lying or overreacting. This includes calling the police if your legal rights have been violated or your safety is threatened. Some may whine that the police may take the opportunity to harass the other members of the Pagan group, which is a possibility -- but only a possibility, whereas what happened to you and will continue to happen to others is actual reality. And let's be real: if the leaders of the group refuse to deal with the criminal in their midst in a way that protects other members, they have no damned business complaining when you're forced to go to outside authorities. They should have gotten off their butts when you came to them first.

Don't let yourself believe that your treatment by a corrupt group of flawed human beings is supported by the deities or spirits the group honors, that these Powers will reject you for leaving the group, or that you need the group to work with them. Seriously, if your spiritual group put you through the kind of Hell that mine did, you don't need it to work with the spirits. In fact, your spiritual relationships can only be strengthened once you walk away from a bad group, because you won't be wading through their crap while you seek spiritual truths.

Don't waste time wondering why the powers that be didn't help you. In case you have not noticed by now, gods, spirits and deities don't exactly come running to our rescue when we're in serious physical-world trouble. Sometimes they step in in a real way, but it's unpredictable; thus, you cannot rely on them to save you from that or any situation. You need to rely on yourself, on trustworthy human beings and on the knowledge and experience of those who have faced or documented similar things before you.

Think about it. Genuinely miraculous occurrences happen, but they're pretty damn rare. The Ultimately Powerful, Eternally Loving Celestial Babysitter image of the Divine got drilled into a lot of us as kids, but it's crap. If it wasn't, no child would ever starve to death, no one would ever get away with murder and we wouldn't be dealing with a corrupt-scumbag infestation among religious elders in the first place. In reality, if you want the help of the Powers That Be, expect to do a lot of real-world work too. They will guide you, help you, maybe provide serendipity here and there -- but it's no substitute for standing up and dealing with things yourself. Spirit work and the help of the gods supplements positive personal action. It rarely if ever replaces it completely -- even when we really, really need it to.

If the gods actually do punish the douchebag in question, expect a wave of denial that would swamp the Queen Mary to go through any group members supporting him. Example: some time after I finally told the group about my would-be predator, and realized that they wouldn't listen to or protect me, he actually did get hit with a well-aimed Karma Hammer. The accident happened on a day very sacred to his head deity, the circumstances were inexplicable, and they quickly led to his losing his job and being kicked out of his condo by his now ex girlfriend. I commented quietly to the leader of the group: "wow, I guess (head deity) really didn't like what he did to me." She hastily dismissed it, saying "No, He was clearly just pissed off about (something else entirely)." After all, in her mind what her butt-grinding buddy did to me was no crime, and clearly nothing that would anger a higher being.

Thinking about it now, she always was a real piece of work.

My advice is that on the oft chance that Something Does Happen, don't be surprised if deniers blind themselves to it. If they do, don't listen; chalk them off as the moral cowards they are, and ignore their excuse-making.

It's hard to know what to do when you have to leave a spiritual group thanks to problems like this. All the rage may prompt you to start a revenge campaign of spreading your story everywhere. That is up to you, but unless you're very careful and calculated about it, and are ready to deal with an explosion of wank from your former spiritual home, it may be more trouble than it is worth. However. There is absolutely nothing obliging you to protect a group that harbors and protects a predatory pervert. So don't think you have to bite your tongue, smile, and give some noncommittal answer about how it "just didn't work out" if someone asks why you left. Tell your story. Be completely honest. People will draw their own conclusions, and your former group will throw a giant tantrum if they find out. But not only does it get a warning out about the scumbag and his enablers -- it's also how you find out that you're not alone. If I had not shared my story, I would never have met two of that piece of crap's other targets, or learned of others within the community who have been wronged. Solidarity with your fellow survivors is powerful: it helps give back the voice that your predator and those who sided with him tried to take away.

Having a religious leader leap off his pedestal and try to land on you feet (or cock) first is painful. Having members of the group then circle the wagons against you hurts like hell, and so does watching other "enlightened spiritual leaders" go into such deep denial of wrongdoing that they even deny things they personally witnessed. Worst of all is realizing that it will be a hard, taxing fight to try and get any justice at all, that you will likely have to do it alone, that your detractors will defame you as crazy or a liar to discredit you, and that you can't expect to get any real vindication from it. My point is that however many of these things you end up experiencing, it's going to be rough to get over for a while. Therapy, spiritual work and support groups are all good options for getting through this time. But whatever you do, don't make your recovery dependent on seeing your attacker face justice or getting your former religious group to admit they were wrong. Realistically speaking, it may never happen, even if you go to the police. Seek justice, but do not rely emotionally on achieving it. It is a rare commodity in this world -- but one that will become less rare the more we keep fighting for it.

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