Abuse happens in a culture that enables it

An accusation of abuse has surfaced against Isaac Bonewits, made by Moira Greyland, who was abused by her mother, Marion Zimmer Bradley. I never met Isaac, though I had added him as a friend on Facebook. Deborah Lipp and Phaedra Bonewits have issued a joint statement defending him. The context in which  the accusation was made is also problematic, in that the book was published by an alt-right person with an axe to grind.

Whether or not this particular accusation is true, and it would be difficult to determine this long after the events described, and when the person accused is dead, it is all too easy to fall into the pattern of isolating the accused person as a “bad apple”, and failing to look at the whole barrel.

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Hex The System, Bind The Perpetrator

Regarding the hexing of the perpetrator of the Stanford rape case. I am not sure why the Steubenville rape case didn’t provoke a similar response, but maybe it did and we just didn’t hear about it. I am saddened that many articles failed to report that the people doing the hexing also sent healing to the victim.

My preferred method in such cases is to bind the person not to cause harm again, by placing a mirror around a poppet of them. If they cause harm it will rebound on them; if they do good, it will bless them. So the binding acts as a way of reinforcing good behaviour. I guess it is still a hex in some ways, but it is about limiting the harm that the person can cause.

The rapist is a complete arsehole and so is his father, and they both need to realise the consequences of their behaviour and attitudes, but they are the end result of a system of white privilege and male privilege and rape culture and failing to teach kids what consent culture looks like. We need to start work on tearing down that system. Fine, so you have hexed a rapist. Are you working to help transform the culture that created his apparent lack of awareness that what he was doing was wrong?

Others have pointed out that claiming that the Goddess, or the gods, endorse your actions is somewhat hubristic, and arrogates the vision and judgement of the gods to your own finite perspective.  Your actions, the consequences of your actions, and your views, are your responsibility.

Erin Lund Johnson’s comment on Erick Dupree’s article is an excellent suggestion:

I read the letter written by the rape victim. She was appalled at the light sentence, but even more so by her attacker’s continued defiance, even in the face of his guilty verdict. She mostly wished for him to “get it.” I would hex him with that–the burden of fully understanding what he’d done, and the impact he’d had, of experiencing her inner experience. That would enlighten him more than anything, and change his attitude and behavior. For those who haven’t read this letter yet, please do. Her voice, above all else in this, needs to be heard and honored.

http://www.independent.co.uk/n…

In this particular case, the moving testimony of the victim has shocked many people into thinking about what it is like to be raped, perhaps for the first time. Many of my male friends have said that they cried while reading her testimony. Thank you for your compassion, my friends. Personally, I have read too many such accounts to shed tears any more. I feel a huge and sickened void inside me, numb and paralysed. I suspect that my female friends have also read, or heard, too many such accounts already.

The one bright spot in all of this is the two Swedish guys who stopped to help the victim and bring the perpetrator to justice. Their names are Carl-Fredrik Arndt and Peter Jonsson. It is very good to know that they were paying attention and that they intervened. It’s possible that they actually saved her life.

If you don’t think that white privilege is involved in this case, read what happened to Brian Banks, who also had a promising sporting career, but is Black, so was sentenced to six years in prison – despite being innocent.

If you think that “nice” people don’t commit rape and sexual assault, think again.

photo by Sundaram Ramaswamy, CC-BY-SA

The shadow. [photo by Sundaram Ramaswamy, CC-BY-SA]

A system that still tries to blame a woman for being sexually assaulted is deeply flawed. That is rape culture, right there. The fact that a judge who went to the same university as the perpetrator can judge the case without it occurring to anyone that there is a conflict of interest there, and then give the rapist only six months in jail – words fail me. The fact that his “promising sporting career” was taken into account: ugh. He ruined his prospects: no-one else did that. A system that sends a Black guy to prison for six years, but sends a white guy to prison for six months: deeply flawed. A system that encourages young men to think they are entitled to sex, that’s it’s OK, or that it’s not rape, to put your penis or your fingers into an unconscious woman: deeply flawed. As Emlyn Pearce has pointed out, there is a culture of toxic masculinity that needs to be challenged:

You can’t fix this situation, but you are young, and you can fix yourself. You NEED to fix yourself, Brock: those around you still seem to claim that your conviction has damaged you, but you were already damaged when you took a valuable, much-loved human being behind a trash can and raped her in the dirt. What you are seeing now is the consequences of your damage, not its cause.

That is why we need to hex rape culture, and white privilege, and male entitlement. We need to bring about the realisation, once and for all, that rape and sexual assault are the end result of a failure to teach people about consent, a failure to create a culture of consent, and respect, and sovereignty. Sure, we need to make this rapist feel and understand the consequences of his actions – but we need to get all men to understand that women are not property.

It’s not enough to hex a rapist. There are conversations to be had about how women are blamed for being raped while drunk, and men are excused for perpetrating rape while drunk. There are many difficult conversations to be had where we explore together what a consent culture looks like – because we are currently living in a rape culture, and we have to work out how to create a consent culture.

The other day, I fended a man off who wanted to kiss me on the cheek and got snitty when I said no. Another man asked me for a hug (good that he asked). Then he asked my husband if that was OK. GRRR!!! A hug is not sexual, and it is up to me who I hug, not my husband. I am not his property.  This kind of incident happens too frequently for me to dismiss it as merely one person being an idiot. I see examples of male assumptions of entitlement being discussed very frequently on social media. That’s why I think rape culture is deeply ingrained, and we need to do some serious work to uproot it. And the same applies to deeply ingrained racism. It’s not enough to be not openly sexist and not openly racist: you actually have to actively work to uproot internalised misogyny, internalised homophobia, and internalised racism, as well as working to uproot systemic racism, systemic misogyny, and systemic homophobia and transphobia. Yes, it is hard work. Anything worthwhile is hard work.

If a man assumes he is entitled to physical contact (sexual or otherwise) with a woman, do you challenge this assumption? If another man treats your partner as your property, do you challenge that behaviour? If you saw a woman (unconscious or otherwise) being raped, would you intervene? If you saw a woman in a hijab being vilified and attacked, would you intervene?

 

Creating a consent culture

What is rape culture?

Rape culture is the patriarchal belief that women do not like sex (a belief promoted by so-called radical feminists as well as “men’s rights activists”), and that men are inherently predatory and want sex all the time. According to this view, women always have to be coerced or cajoled into sex. This erases the possibility of meaningful or enthusiastic consent. In this view, any woman who actually enjoys sex is a “slut” and is therefore “fair game” to be hit on by men (note the predatory language). Think of all the times you have heard the idea that a rape victim was somehow “asking for it”.

Rape is mostly about exerting power over the victim; it is mostly not about fulfilling a sexual urge. It is also worth noting that when a man rapes another man, it is often done to “feminise” the victim, in other words, to exert patriarchal power over him. A similar motive occurs in the so-called “corrective rape” of lesbians by men – an attempt to “put them back in their place” in the patriarchal power hierarchy.

While an empirical comparison of undetected and incarcerated rapists is beyond the scope of the research reported here, studies of these two groups have revealed a number of similarities. Among the common characteristics shared by many incarcerated and undetected rapists, are high levels of anger at women (e.g., Groth, 1979; Malamuth, 1986; Lisak & Roth, 1990), the need to dominate women (e.g., Groth, 1979; Malamuth, 1986; Lisak & Roth, 1990), hypermasculinity (e.g., Groth, 1979; Mosher & Anderson, 1986; Lisak, Hopper & Song, 1996), lack of empathy (e.g., Lisak & Ivan, 1995; Scully, 1988) and psychopathy and antisocial traits (e.g., Ouimette, 1997; Kosson, Kelly, & White, 1997; Prentky & Knight, 1991).

Lisak & Miller, 2002

What is consent culture?

Consent culture is the view that everyone has the right to enjoyable sex, which they have enthusiastically consented to, in full possession of the facts (STD status of sexual partner, relationship status of partner, likelihood of commitment). And that everyone has the right to say no to sex.

Consent culture is sex-positive, sets boundaries, and promotes clear and shame-free communication about sex. In a consent culture, everyone (or the vast majority) values enthusiastic consent. So the onus is not on people who don’t want sex, or hugs, or any kind of contact, right now to say no to creeps and predators: the onus is on people not to be creepy and predatory.

Consent can be non-verbal, but when we are on the beginner slopes of consent culture, it’s great to actually get verbal consent.

By Laurel F from Seattle, WA (Tea) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A nice cup of tea.
By Laurel F from Seattle, WA (Tea) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

How does promoting consent culture help?

We are never going to 100% eliminate creeps and predators.

However, at the moment, the wider culture (rape culture) empowers creeps and predators, by erasing boundaries, by slut-shaming and silencing people who call out predatory behaviours, and by claiming that “there’s nothing you can do, it’s in the nature of men to be predatory”. We do men (and everyone) a disservice if we give in to that bullshit.

Empowering potential victims is the last bastion of defence. The first bastion of defence is creating a consent culture.

In Canada, it was found that the anti-rape posters that placed the blame on perpetrators’ faulty notions of consent (instead of emphasising that women should not place themselves in positions of vulnerability, like most rape posters do) actually reduced the rate of rape by 10%.

It has also been found that a lot of rapes are committed by the same predators, who do not get reported because of the shame experienced by the victims. If these perpetrators were reported and dealt with, and everyone was a lot clearer about what consent means, then rape would become less of a widespread problem.

Different states in the USA, which have different cultures, also have widely differing rates of rape.  This suggests very strongly that rates of rape can be impacted by changes in culture, away from rape culture, and towards consent culture.

A consent culture is a sex-positive culture: one where people feel empowered to say no, and empowered to say yes, enthusiastically, without being slut-shamed, told they are a prude, or that they are frigid. One where we can explore sexuality and sacred touch together, in safety.

So you think Paganism doesn’t have a problem?

Let me tell you about some of the experiences that I have had with supposedly sex-positive Pagans.

  • Visiting another group which had trainees. The ritual was robed, but then they decided to take their clothes off during the feast, and started doing sexual things. They were polyamorous, I was in a monogamous relationship. They called me a prude for not being poly, and tried to get me to join in. As someone who thought I was poly but wanted to be faithful to my partner, this was very uncomfortable. I felt pressurised to join in, so as not to seem a prude.
  • Working with a HP. Shared a bed afterwards because it was the only bed in the flat and it was very cold. He wanted sex, I didn’t. I ended up having sex with him to shut him up.
  • People who hug in a creepy sexualised manner (more than one).
  • All the people who try to tell you that third degree initiation, or any other initiation, has to involve the Great Rite with actual sexual intercourse.
  • The creepy guy who is married, chats up women, and fails to tell them he is married. Repeatedly.
  • The slut-shaming and dismissal and cries of “don’t rock the boat” or “if you are strong then you can defend yourself” that happen every time this issue is raised.
So please do not try to claim that Pagans are squeaky clean. Just not true. We are part of the overculture, immersed in it, and the overculture is a rape culture.

I will no longer be silenced by slut-shaming, victim-blaming, fear of rocking the boat, and patriarchal misogyny.

Want to learn more / take action?

Pagan Consent Culture - cover by Shauna Aura Knight

Pagan Consent Culture – cover by Shauna Aura Knight

Silence equals complicity: making Pagan groups safe for everyone

The recent arrest of Kenny Klein, Pagan author and musician, on 25 counts of possessing child pornography, although this has not yet resulted in a conviction, has prompted everyone to ask, how can we keep our Pagan communities safe from people like this?

There was a horrific abuse case in the UK in 2012, but those involved were not part of the wider Pagan community, or of the Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wiccan community; nor it seems, of any recognisable Wiccan or witchcraft community.

Nevertheless, the widespread nature of abuse in society means that sooner or later, it is simply statistically likely that some member of the Pagan community will perpetrate some kind of abuse.

In response to cases which came to light in 2010, Jason Pitzl-Waters called for an ethics statement on abuse. In response, Brendan Myers and a group of others created a community statement and invited people to sign up to it. This is alright as far as it goes, but it is not enough, because it does nothing to challenge the silencing of victims of abuse.

However, this is not just about ensuring zero tolerance of child abuse in our communities; it is also about creating a safe space for everyone.  That means zero tolerance of creepers – people who think it is acceptable to sexually harass others. It also means that we cannot sweep rape, domestic violence, and abuse in our communities under the carpet. If someone is brave enough to say they have been raped and abused, we should believe them. We should also encourage them to go to the police. And for those of you who are thinking that the police don’t take rape allegations seriously, rape convictions are at an all-time high, with the conviction rate in the UK currently at 63%.

I have heard too many stories of people being told off for “rocking the boat” when they have complained of sexual harassment, rape, and domestic violence. I have been in situations where Pagan men have not understood that no means no. Being in the same bed as someone does not constitute consent to sexual activity. Consent is continuous and explicit, not merely acquiescing to the sexual act because it is easier than arguing.

We are supposed to be a community that values women, that believes women are the embodiment of the Divine just as much as men, if not more so.

We are a community that celebrates all acts of love and pleasure. Well, let me tell you right now, anything less than enthusiastic consent is not an act of love and pleasure. Love and pleasure are sacred. Rape and abuse are the most horrible violations of the sacred integrity of the human body.

What is enthusiastic consent? It is where sexual partners actively describe what they do and don’t desire. It means not just avoiding a No, but actually getting a clear Yes. And not just a yes to sex, but also a yes to all the other activities that surround it. Maybe your partner doesn’t like being touched in a particular way, or in a particular place – so don’t touch them there, and/or don’t touch them like that.

It became clear after the Steubenville rape case that many people thought that an unconscious drunk girl was “asking for it”.  The victim was blamed for “ruining the careers” of the young men who raped her. No, they ruined their careers by raping her. More importantly, they also ruined her life.

Many anti-rape posters are victim-blaming and slut-shaming. The only ones that actually reduce the rates of rape are the ones that make it clear what consent means, and what rape means. The “Don’t be that guy” campaign in Canada, which does make it clear that non-consensual sex is rape, has reduced the rate of rape by 10%.

We live in a rape culture, where a woman who gets raped is blamed for complaining about it, rather than the rapist being blamed.

People assume that rapists are 100% evil and bad, therefore the “nice” people they know can’t possibly be rapists. But a very high percentage of rape and sexual assault is committed by partners or acquaintances of the victims.

Sexual violence is any unwanted sexual act or activity. Rape includes the non-consensual penetration of the vagina or the anus with any object.  That is the legal definition in the UK and in the USA.

We live in a rape culture, where every time someone brings up the subject of rape, someone says, yes but men get raped too. They do, but the numbers are much fewer than the number of women being raped, and it is often done as a form of power-over to ‘feminize’ the man who was raped.

We live in a rape culture, where men’s rights activists are rape apologists, who claim that women were asking for it, or are just frigid, or were to blame for being raped. They claim that feminism is emasculating men, or they blame their mothers for not making them proper men. Or something. So they go down to the woods to hang with the dudes and connect with the “male energies”. And some of these people use Paganism as a cover for these activities.

We live in a rape culture, where rape apologists claim that men “need” sex, or that it is in their nature to be rapists; that’s why women are the ones who have to take all the preventive measures against rape, like not dressing “provocatively”, not walking home late at night, not getting drunk and incapable. This is horrible slut-shaming nonsense, but it is also grossly unfair to the majority of men who are not rapists.

We live in a rape culture, where people derail conversations about rape culture by claiming that women lie about being raped. This represents a tiny minority – and if we did not live in a patriarchal culture of slut-shaming, where women who have sex at all are regarded as sluts, no-one would need to lie about it.

“In the period of the review, there were 5,651 prosecutions for rape and 111,891 for domestic violence. During the same period there were 35 prosecutions for making false allegations of rape, 6 for making false allegation of domestic violence and 3 for making false allegations of both rape and domestic violence. ” (from page 2 of the UK Crown Prosecution Service report on false rape allegations, March 2013)

Pagans think that we are immune to the problems of the wider society, including rape culture, because Pagans are ethical, or because high priestesses are very wise and intuitive and supposedly always filter out dodgy people, including rapists and abusers. I am aware of enough cases of sexual harassment, rape, and domestic violence among the Pagan community to know that that just is not true. And besides, some of these people are downright manipulative, and can be quite convincingly ‘nice’.

So what can we, the Pagan community, do about it?

I have said it before, and I will say it again: we need a safeguarding policy and committees for Pagan communities, of people trained in safeguarding. I do not care how difficult it would be to set up. We need it, period. Yes, I know covens and other groups are autonomous; I know the Pagan community is more of a network than a gathered community; I know it would cost money, and maybe only have partial coverage – but we need to do it. Which would you rather join – a coven/grove/hearth that is signed up to the safeguarding committee, or a coven that isn’t?

We really need to have consensus: no more creepers, no more rapists. If a woman says she doesn’t like someone’s behaviour – don’t just ignore her, or tell her it’s not that serious, or tell her not to rock the boat, or take the piss out of the perpetrator – bar the perpetrator from the group for a period of time, or permanently, depending on the seriousness of the act.

Do not tolerate creepers (today’s creeper is tomorrow’s rapist). If a woman says she has been assaulted, believe her, and encourage her to report it to the police. If a woman objects to sexist behaviour and/or creepy behaviour (e.g. unwanted touching) don’t silence her. If you hear someone making misogynist, homophobic, transphobic, or racist comments, challenge them and make it clear that their views are not welcome in the Pagan community. Tell the perpetrator of sexual harassment that that sort of behaviour is unacceptable. We need to do this to make the community safe for everyone.

Silencing the victims of sexual harassment, rape, and abuse happens over and over again. The parable of the rats on the boat gives a powerful illustration of silencing and victim-blaming.

In the past couple of days I have been feeling very angry. I have been angry about sexual harassment, sexual assault, creepy douchebaggy harassy behaviour, men exploiting the way in which women are socialised into being polite and non-confrontational for the purposes of the aforementioned creepy douchebaggy harassy behaviour, and also the fucking cover up and culture of silence around the above. Especially the phrase “don’t rock the boat”. As in “don’t say anything to that creepy guy in X society who always hangs around the youngest women possible; that would be rocking the boat”. As in “don’t make a big deal about that one guy who sent you those creepy, sexually harassy emails: don’t rock the boat”. As in “yeah, there’s this guy who’s a creep and we all know about him but we don’t DO anything about him because we don’t want to rock the boat” (oh my god, the amount of times I’ve heard this). This is a stupid fucking metaphor which is used to silence women and values calmness and stability (and the feelings of creepers and sexual harassers)  above the feelings and comfort and happiness of those women.

When someone complains about sexual harassment or abuse or rape, don’t assume that they are just being vindictive against the accused person. Don’t dismiss or make light of their concerns. Encourage them to report it to the police, and to get specialist support.

However, if a victim does not feel able to go to the police, because they do not have physical evidence, or the abuse happened a long time ago, or because the police in their area are not supportive of rape victims, that is their choice, and should be respected. Don’t make them feel ashamed for not going to the police. They may already be feeling shame for a variety of reasons.

Of course we need to be careful about rumours from third parties. There have been some vicious rumours that have gone round the Pagan community, and far too few people checked on both sides of the story – but they are suddenly very keen to say “oh well we don’t know both sides of the story” when it comes to allegations of abuse.

Don’t make excuses for creepers and claim that they are “just socially awkward” – that is no excuse. There are behaviours that are creepy and unacceptable: commenting on the bodily characteristics of others (just because your tradition practices nudity, does not give you the right to comment on the size of other member’s breasts or penises or extra weight); unwanted touching, especially on areas of the body that are considered erotic, is harassment. Everybody knows what makes people uncomfortable, but we are all too polite to challenge these behaviours.

All covens, groves, hearths, moots and groups need to educate their members about consent and enthusiastic consent, and make it clear that violations of same will not be tolerated. Have a regular talk at your local moot, make sure people understand the issues, and that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. If a new person joins your coven, grove or hearth, make sure that they understand about consent.

I can think of a Pagan pub moot that collapsed due to the presence of someone whom everyone considered to be a creeper, and no-one wanted to be in the room with him on their own, and yet no-one asked him to leave, so in the end, the group collapsed, because no-one turned up in case they were alone with the creeper. I can think of a student society where a creeper was asked to leave, and the society flourished.

Quite often, when someone suggests ostracising or banning a creeper or an abuser or a rapist, they are told, “Your feelings, your problem”, or “we don’t really know what happened”, or “That’s just the way that person behaves; they’re a bit weird”, or “It’s wrong to ostracise people”. This phenomenon has been described in “Five Geek Social Fallacies“.

Above all, don’t keep going around the missing stair, and mostly warning others about the missing stair, but occasionally forgetting and then not being surprised when someone is injured by the missing stair.

Have you ever been in a house that had something just egregiously wrong with it?  Something massively unsafe and uncomfortable and against code, but everyone in the house had been there a long time and was used to it?  “Oh yeah, I almost forgot to tell you, there’s a missing step on the unlit staircase with no railings.  But it’s okay because we all just remember to jump over it.”

We need to make the Pagan movement safe for everyone. Except abusers.