Lately the modern Pagan community has been rocked by two instances of sexual predators and it both cases the community has responded very differently. Why? Well, lets look at this issue and see why there are differences in how things are handled because they do matter for so many follow on reasons.
The first case I heard about concerned Kenny Klein. For those, who like myself, were unfamiliar with Klein and his work he is an elder within the Blue Star Wicca tradition, an offshoot of both Gardnerian and Alexandrian traditions. According to media sources online, Klein was arrested on “25 counts of child pornography, involving images found on his computer of children under the age of 13 engaging in explicit sexual activity, according to this news story from the Times-Picayune”.
Over on the Wild Hunt Jason goes a little more into the detail of the issues involved as he offers accounts from first hand people in the community that have experienced this man’s behaviour first hand. I won’t go into reporting on what Jason has said because the link this there for people to follow and it may possess some triggers for people. There is one piece from Jason’s blog I found very interesting Vyviane Armstrong released a statement, which Jason links to, in which she expresses her longstanding concerns concerning Klein based on her own experiences at a festival some years ago:
Although I voiced my concerns with the Faire organizers, and adult leaders in the general Georgia Pagan community, I felt like I was not being taken seriously. I grew even more concerned when I saw one of my fourteen year old friends sitting on Kenny’s lap and drinking from his flask. I was told that Kenny was a long time Renn Fairer and Pagan Elder, and that he was just being “friendly” and my concerns were brushed aside…
Consider that last statement for a moment if you will and then we’ll discuss the second case of a sexual predator in the community – one who is apparently registered on the Sex Offenders registrar in the United States. Now as a point of clarity Klein has been arrested not tried in court yet this next man has.
Now I asked you to consider the final line from Ms Armstrong’s statement, the reason I asked you this was because her experiences of Klein were in a public space at a Renn Faire and so we cannot safely assume that it was organised by Wiccans (traditional or otherwise) but they do seem to have been people who had known the accused for a long period of time or known of his reputation within the modern Pagan movement. There is so much that could have lead to this response but with the recent Ian Watkins trial in which the Lost Profits frontman was found guilty of several serious assaults on minors but the harrowing thing was that Watkins used his fame and influence to coerce the mothers into granting him access to their children. Now I’m not for a moment inferring that anyone was actively enabling Klein but alas I do believe that through inaction of various organisers of events certain actions and comments which seemingly did disturb people were never challenged due to the perceived station of this Elder in the Craft (and note not necessarily his downline here but rather people focused on his public career).
The second is, Ingo Dean Wallace. Wallace is a child sexual predator who has been assuming the title of Gardnerian High Priest. Now the reason Wallace has come to my attention is the frightening thought that he tried to gain access to a Facebook group for seekers to meet with teachers in the Craft, I am a member of. So this one ran close to home. Wallace was claiming to be a Gardnerian initiate and High Priest as stated already so he was clearly hoping that the his lack of a vouch wouldn’t hamper him (luckily this group is quite strict on such things!) but does beg the question why seekers are not looking for the vouch? And whether its worth it because he’s clearly abused as his criminal record shows.
Whether one is Blue Star like Klein or claiming to be Gardnerian like Wallace there is always a vouch system in operation when it comes to British Traditional Wicca/Traditional Initiatory Wicca (BTW/TIW). When one is not an initiate vouches can be a little hard to suss out – believe me I’ve tried! The basic principle of a vouch is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s acknowledgement from one [senior] initiate that another has been duly or properly initiated. The benefit of a vouch can be manifold, ranging from validation between two covens within the same tradition (even if some small things are stylistically different in practice) to asking about another’s character or making sure their initiation and training has been up to par. As Wicca and other initiatory traditions have stepped further into the pubic eye the vouch has taken on some more serious attributes, such as with predators and charlatans.
To be honest vouching often reminds me of the issues of Garda Vetting (Police Vetting) closer to home. Here in Ireland Garda Vetting is a national database that if anyone wishes to work with minors (under 18) they need to be vetted by Gardaí for criminal record of any kind. Once this comes back clean the person is permitted to study Child Protection Training (I’ve done Children First personally) to train the person on how to handle child safety issues. The only problem is that if someone has never been arrested and prosecuted they won’t show up on the Garda Vetting system. Similarly, a duly initiated witch and priest(/ess) may or may not have a criminal prosecution for sexual assault. The reason for this may well have something to do with the court of public opinion which is largely under informed and overwhelmed by media representations of sexual abuse. It behooves modern Pagans to learn from the mistakes of other religions and instead of disavowing such actions as “someone else’s problem” simply because the person is not a REAL pagan or Wiccan, etc. Instead its time to learn that we’re not divinely appointed and therefore above responsibility.
We also need to learn that taking an accusation seriously is a must but so too is not assuming or presuming guilt. We’re Pagans and Witches not judge, jury and executioner and if we fall into the mind-frame I fear for those who are abused and neglected thereafter as well as for those who may seek to abuse the vouch system to bully or remove people they don’t like. Compassionate listening may have helped the victims of Klein and Wallace and I would urge people hosting events to explore how child friendly they are and to also make sure that there are adequate resources for people.
There are resources such as the Rape Crisis Centre (who are trained in all manner of abuse not just rape), counselors and mental health professionals, and I have to advocate for reporting of abuse to police where possible. In the case of minors confidentiality can never extend to not reporting child abuse and anyone working with minors is duty bound to report all such cases.