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Predators in the Pagan Community

Why We Need to Talk About Kenny Klein

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On March 26, 2014, a man named Kenny Klein was arrested in New Orleans by state police on multiple charges of downloading child pornography. According to the arrest report, an investigation began in February, leading up to the discovery “on his computer a large volume of explicit photos and videos involving minors under the age of 13 engaging in sexually explicit activities.”

This might have quietly been ignored by anyone outside of the local area, except for one thing. Kenny Klein was an active and prominent member of the Pagan community.

We need to talk about this.

First, let’s begin by clarifying two important and relevant issues. The first thing is that Klein’s involvement in the Pagan community was NOT something that the local news media grabbed onto. Instead, on March 27, Peg Aloi, a well-established and highly respected Pagan author and activist, blogged about the case on Patheos. Although mainstream media will eventually pick up on the “Pagan angle,” it’s important to recognize that this is NOT a case of the media making a big deal about an accused man’s religious background, and we would be wise not to let ourselves treat this like a case of religious mudslinging.

A second angle that needs to be addressed is that while everyone does need to be considered “innocent until proven guilty,” in this case, Klein has admitted to owning the computer in question and to downloading the images. We, as a community, do not need to wait for a guilty verdict to discuss the many aspects of this case.

That all being said – there have been a wide variety of reactions across the Pagan blogosphere over the course of this story unfolding. One response that appears with frequent and alarming regularity is the chorus of “He’s not a REAL Pagan!”

It’s understandable that people want to distance themselves from Kenny Klein. I personally have never met him, and in fact had never heard of him until this morning, and I certainly don’t want anyone thinking that he represents me or my personal brand of Paganism. On the other hand, this is a man who speaks at numerous big Pagan festivals, he’s a well-known musician, a leader in the Blue Star tradition of Wicca, he writes books, and he has established himself as a facilitator of workshops and events. So whether we like it or not, he IS part of the Pagan community.

What we should be saying, rather than “He’s not really Pagan,” is “Yes, unfortunately, this man was a predator in our midst, and we need to open up discussion about it so that no one in our community feels victimized in the future.”

Over the course of the day, on March 27, when all of this was revealed, numerous people came forward with their stories about interactions with Kenny Klein going back some twenty years. The recurring theme is that something was indeed "off," and a few people have indicated that inappropriate behavior towards young people is not a new thing in his history. I don’t personally know the people who have made these statements, so I’m not going to give their names, but a little bit of Googling and reading some of the links in this article will give you a better idea.

So – what do we do? The Pagan community is a place that we want to be safe for any and all, and yet, things like this do happen, as much as we’d like to deny it. This isn’t the first case of someone doing reprehensible things in the community - and it's important to note that as of now, we don't know if Klein himself victimized any of the children in the photographs. However, we’ve all heard rumblings of young newbie Pagans being approached by people who suggested something inappropriate, all in the guise of freedom and sex-positiveness or because it’s “part of the ritual” or whatever. Many of us are familiar with the story of Gavin and Yvonne Frost, which you can read about here: Gavin and Yvonne Frost

How do we stop it from happening again?

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I think it’s crucial for those of us who are already established in the community to take a stand and make a mark. It’s up to us to protect the young ones, the newbies, the ones who make easy targets for predators.

First, it’s important that we educate our new people. What are the boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed? We need to let them know that if someone makes them uncomfortable, it’s okay – no, it’s imperative – that they tell someone.

Second, coven, group, workshop and festival leaders need to make a commitment to all of their guests, no matter who they may be, that if someone crosses a line, it will be addressed. If someone is putting their hands on you or speaking to you in a way that is inappropriate or uncomfortable or threatening, we need to know, so that we can take it seriously and take some action.

Third, there need to be consequences. Individual traditions need to have a set of mandates, a standard operating procedure, on how to deal with this sort of thing in their midst. Many groups have already taken this step, and have included it into their bylaws – kudos to them for having a written process in place.

Finally, we need to, as a community, make it clear that this is not acceptable. No one gets a pass just because they’re an elder or a high priest or a writer or a community organizer. We can’t just sweep things under the rug when someone comes with a complaint about someone, just because we’ve “known that guy forever” and don’t believe it could be possible.

Our community is, for the most part, a safe place. But people who are predators seek out those who make easy targets. They hunt among the vulnerable. And if we, as community leaders, can’t look those vulnerable ones in the eye and say, “You are safe here in our tribe,” then we are not doing our jobs correctly.

I’ll have more on this as it unfolds, but for now, if nothing else, we need to keep talking about it. Because when we stop discussing it, predators end up in our midst.

 

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