Pagan Leadership: Community Building, Facilitation, and Personal Growth

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Safety and Anti-Harassment Policies

As it becomes clear that the Pagan community is not at all immune to harassing, abusive, and bigoted behavior, we need to respond by crafting safety (or anti-harassment) policies for our groups and our events. And, learn how to properly enforce these. This post is not meant to be all-inclusive, but rather, a start to the conversation. I hear from folks all the time that are overwhelmed at the prospect of adopting a safety policy.

TL;DR-- At the end, I'm going to post links to a few examples of safety/anti-harassment policies. I'm also going to dig around for some inclusivity policies. Sometimes those are separate, sometimes they are together. These are useful to pull from as a template so that you aren't starting with a blank page.

While there is no one "right" way to do this, it certainly helps to have some guidance. Recently my Facebook feed blew up with issues connected to two different Pagan conferences. The issues overlap; what are the grounds for removing a presenter? What constitutes harassment, hate speech, racism, or problematic cultural appropriation? And then on the flip side, what happens when someone is removed from a group or as a presenter because they spoke out against a (popular) person who engaged in abusive behavior?

I Don't Want to Judge....

In my years of teaching leadership, there's one thing I hear a lot. "I don't judge." "I don't want to have to be judge and jury." And, on the flipside, "I just want to kick them out, they're creepy." We have folks who (understandably) resent the idea of having to create a judicial process in their group or for an event. We also have folks who don't want to do the work of discerning who is problematic and instead just be able to kick someone out. We have folks who will avoid removing friends from a group, others who will attack anyone who speaks up about their friend...and sometimes it turns out that the friend is abusive or bigoted (or both).

I understand that folks don't want to be in a position of making a judgment about whether or not someone they know is harassing, creepy, or making bigoted comments. However, and you may really wrestle with this, but making a decision to not do anything is still making a judgment. When you avoid investigating harassment or believing the victim, you are almost always siding with the perpetrator.

Yes, some false reports do happen. That's why it's important to have a policy and investigate to the best of your ability. It's beyond the scope of this article to talk about how one does that, or the statistics on false reporting. The point is, a decision has to be made, and if your decision is avoiding a decision, you're still making a choice, and that choice will empower future abuse, sexual harassment, and bigotry. By ignoring it, you make a space for it to flourish.

What Not To Do

In a group local to me, there's a whole thing that happened leading to the group going kablooey. Which I knew would happen as soon as I had the details. This is a perfect case study in what not to do when you have a complaint about abuse or harassment in your group.

What makes this story slightly more complicated is that it involved two intertwined/overlapping groups. One is a discussion night at a local diner, and the other is the group putting on the sabbat rituals. However, I'll simplify details on that, since the people in question are involved in both overlapping groups. I also have to omit a few details that would out the victims, but this is close enough to use as a case study.

For context, this region has had a number of community blow ups and implosions in the past decade, so currently, there's not a lot happening that's public. There's a new ADF (druid) Grove, a very new OBOD (druid) study group, and then this other group that offers open/public rituals. About an hour outside of town is Circle Sanctuary, which offers medium-size festivals at almost every sabbat, and their summer solstice celebration is Pagan Spirit Gathering, which is hosted some hours away. So, the public rituals are generally for the folks who either don't connect to Circle's way of doing things, or, people who don't have the means to drive outside of town. 

There's a local Pagan guy who has been around for years and years. And, he's been problematic for all that time, but his behavior has been swept under the rug for decades. He makes the occasional sexual comment that sounds kind of like a come-on, but you're not sure. Or takes things in a heavily sexual direction, often bringing up polyamory or BDSM in contexts where that's not a topic anyone else wanted to discuss, and in a pressuring sort of way. This person also acted in an aggressive way during interactions on the Facebook group in a way that has made people repeatedly feel uncomfortable.

A couple of women recently reported this person's behavior to the group leader, one a while ago, and one more recent. The more recent report prompted two other people involved with the group in a leadership capacity to meet with the primary group leader to talk about adopting a safety policy and address what to do with this problematic person.

Except, the primary group leader is friends with the problematic guy, and has been covering for him for years. "Oh, that's just how he is, just ignore him," type of a thing. Or maybe you've heard the similar, "Oh, just tell him to buzz off," or, "Jeez, are you a prude? We're Pagans, we can joke about sex." 

The group leader resisted adopting a safety policy and claimed that the person pushing for it "just want to use it to boot this guy out."

Meanwhile, there's a Facebook post in the group about the issues of predators and abuse in the Pagan community, and the conversation ensues in comments suggesting a safety policy. Two of the leaders have no interest in drafting something, and it's clear that there are issues happening backchannel.

The third group leader (the one pushing for a policy) is suddenly kicked off as an admin, and posts about this. 

One of the victims contacts me to fill me in and give me the other bit of important information; the primary group leader took her complaint about the harassing guy, and then literally contacted the guy to tell him everything the victim said about him. 

I post a comment making that fact transparent, since nobody else has addressed it and there's a lot of vaguebooking.

Another group admin deletes all the posts about the situation while asking for time to consider things.

A couple of weeks later, the group leader posts a rudimentary safety policy, but here's the kicker: She lists herself as the point of contact for harassment complaints.

I made a note to read it thoroughly and comment the next day, and then someone in the group messaged me. "Is XYZ group gone? I can't see it." Apparently she had commented on the policy, the group leader lost her temper, and just blew away the Facebook group, then started complaining about she didn't know why she'd ever bothered in the first place.

This is pretty much a whole stack of things that are really problematic and that you shouldn't do when asked to adopt a safety policy, or when someone complains about someone in a group. 

However, this particular group explosion has prompted other local folks to explore safety policies and consent education. A new group is forming out of the old one, without the problematic leader, they've adopted a safety policy, and the harassing guy is not welcome. The local Pagan Pride is also looking into hiring a rape crisis center to do some basic training for the local community.

Bylaws, Agreements, and Policies

I know that a lot of Pagans avoid this stuff at all costs. You got out of organized religion for a reason, right? Except, when we have groups of people, we need to have basic codes of conduct to be able to address problematic behavior. While most groups don't need a formal set of bylaws if you're not going for not for profit status, having some general agreements is something I advocate for any group or event.

You also need a policy that outlines some examples of the kind of behavior that is not accepted, and, what happens if that behavior is reported. 

Now--I'm a writer, and even I hate drafting documents like this. And getting a group of people to agree on the wording in a heavy document like this is a whole separate level in the basement of Tartarus. However, having some sample texts can give you a place to begin.

Policies are Not Enough

Even if you adopt one of these policies for your group today, you still have work to do. I've talked to a few people about the unfortunate trend at many Pagan events where the people volunteering for security are all the big burly guys in kilts/wearing black/combat boots. Now--it's great to have volunteers for security. But, if I get harassed by a big burly guy, I don't want to report the harassment to another burly guy, because at that moment I'm probably pretty triggered.

And further, if your security team is hanging out and making crude jokes, or making fun of the consent policy, am I going to feel comfortable bringing my complaint to them? Nope. And if the only person I'm supposed to make a complaint to is the leader of the group, and they are the person that is engaging in poor behavior--yup. Also problematic. Or, the person I'm complaining about is the partner/friend of the group leader, etc. 

Some questions to consider: Do you have people designated as security, or as someone people can make a complaint to, who represent a diversity of genders? Do you have a number of people designated in this role to take a complaint so that there are checks and balances in case a member of the leadership team is the person who is being reported? Does your team have formal training in any kind of pastoral counseling, or rape crisis/domestic violence?

While policies are a first step, we also need training. We need basic first-aid education for our teams in how to take a report from someone who may be traumatized. We need training for our group leaders and event staff in consent, and also education for attendees of our events. While it isn't feasible to expect every Pagan at a festival to attend mandatory consent training, there are also a lot of ways to offer education about it.

Convergence, a scifi/fantasy/fandom convention in the Twin Cities, did a huge "costume is not consent" campaign. They created art and posted on social media, they had art printed as posters and cutout/stand-ups, they made it part of their culture. The convention  also has an amazing policy that Paganicon leaned on when crafting their own. 

Don't Ruin Our Fun

There's a Pagan conference I used to attend, and I don't any longer. I've received more unwanted physical touch at that event than at any other, and part of it is that their leadership actively refuses to adopt a safety policy or push for consent practices. What I hear via the grapevine is that, off the record, many elders in that community say, "I don't wan that stuff, I don't want it to ruin our fun."

Whose fun is being ruined if you ask before you grab my butt? I can tell you whose fun is ruined if you don't ask.

Here's why these policies--and a willingness to enforce them--is crucial. And why consent education is important as part of changing the culture. Because, someone grabbing my butt isn't the end of the world. I've certainly had worse happen; however, that's kind of the point. When consent violations like (inappropriate) sexual comments, small touches, or mildly bigoted jokes...when those are swept under the rug, what it creates is gray area. 

Abuse and bigotry LOVE gray area. 

Grooming

Grooming someone for abuse is all about exploiting gray area. You can do a Google search for a few resources on how abusive grooming works. It starts with a small test. Will you do this thing for me? Or, a small touch. A small comment. The comment or touch might make the intended victim mildly uncomfortable, but if it works, the predator continues. This predatory behavior continues to push and see what they can get away with. And our culture is terrible at teaching healthy boundaries; we are constantly pushed and manipulated into saying "yes" even when we want to say "no."

When we have better consent education, it's easier to see when our boundaries are being pushed. Or--if you're like most people, you will begin to see the places where you've learned bad habits as far as pushing people's boundaries. In the culture I grew up in, people are pressured to say yes, and also trained that "No" means we should push for a yes. "No, I don't have time to go out tonight." "Awww, come on. Just for a little bit?"

And here's something that requires a post all of its own: Sometimes the boundary pushing feels good, because many abusers get away with their behavior because of what's called love bombing, and what leads to something called trauma bonding. Heck, there are whole books on how trauma bonding works. The point is that sometimes, the predatory folks who are the most dangerous are the ones who are over-the-top friendly in the beginning. They compliment you, pay attention to you, they are shiny and you like being around them because they are deliberately triggering your dopamine. They don't start the uncomfortable boundary-pushing til you're already sucked in and high on the reward center of your brain spitting out neuro-chemicals. 

Reducing the Gray Area

When we weed out the gray areas, someone pushing our boundaries becomes a lot more clear. It's much harder for them to hide in plain sight. It's not that things won't happen, it's that it's easier to see it when it is happening. It's also safer to call it out because it's a topic that has been overtly discussed in your group/at your event. 

Consider what you might need to do in your group, or for your event, to make it a safer space. Background checks for staffers? Certainly for anyone working with kids. Do you have anyone who could offer some safety/consent/boundaries education? Could you hire a local domestic violence shelter to offer some education, or a rape crisis center?

What are ways you can educate your community beyond workshops? Social media, posters at the event, announcements during your opening ritual? How can you build consent awareness into your culture?

Sample Policies

Here's the short version, and the long version, of Paganicon's safety policy. This one is a great template. 

http://www.paganicon.org/safety-policy-2015/

http://www.paganicon.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/TCPP-Safety-Policy2015.pdf

Pantheacon's policies:

https://pantheacon.com/wordpress/about/policies/anti-harassment-policy

https://pantheacon.com/wordpress/about/policies/limited-access-events-policy

Coru Cathubodua's policies:

https://www.corupriesthood.com/statement-hospitality-safety/

https://www.corupriesthood.com/inclusion-diversity-policy/

 

Does your group have a policy? Post it in the comments and I'll take a look, and perhaps add it to this post as an additional resource. 

Last modified on
An artist, author, ritualist, presenter, and spiritual seeker, Shauna travels nationally offering intensive education in the transformative arts of ritual, community leadership, and personal growth. She is the author of The Leader Within, Ritual Facilitation, and Dreamwork for the Initiate’s Path. She’s a columnist on ritual techniques for Circle Magazine, and her writing also appears in several anthologies. She’s also the author of several fantasy and paranormal romance novels. Her mythic artwork and designs are used for magazine covers, book covers, and illustrations, as well as decorating many walls, shrines, and other spaces. Shauna is passionate about creating rituals, experiences, spaces, stories, and artwork to awaken mythic imagination.  

Comments

  • Mark Green
    Mark Green Saturday, 09 February 2019

    Here are the policies I use for my Atheopagan events:

    Conduct standards: It is the intent of the producers that this event will be a safe, responsible and egalitarian event. Accordingly, we have established the following code of conduct. At no time shall anyone attending the event engage in any of the following behaviors:
    ● Physical or verbal threats of any kind
    ● Harassment, bullying or coercion of any person in any way
    ● Racial, religious, gender-based, sexual preference-based or ethnic slurs
    ● Possession of firearms, knives or any other instrument used as a weapon
    ● Defacing, damaging or destroying property
    ● Fighting, annoying others through noisy or boisterous activities, or in any other way
    creating a disturbance which is disruptive or dangerous to others or the programmatic
    activities of the event.

    Harassment includes, but is not limited to:

    ● Verbal comments that reinforce social structures of domination [related to gender, gender
    identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size,
    race, age, religion or ethnicity.]
    ● Deliberate intimidation, stalking, or following
    ● Harassing photography or recording
    ● Sustained disruption of talks or other events
    ● Inappropriate physical contact
    ● Unwelcome sexual attention
    ● Advocating for, or encouraging, any of the above behaviour

    Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately.
    If a participant engages in harassing behaviour, event organisers retain the right to take any
    actions to keep the event a welcoming environment for all participants. This includes warning the offender or expulsion from the event [with no refund].

    Event organisers may take action to redress anything designed to, or with the clear impact of,
    disrupting the event or making the environment hostile for any participants.
    We expect participants to follow these rules at all event venues and event-related social activities.
    We think people should follow these rules outside event activities too!

    Reporting

    If someone makes you or anyone else feel unsafe or unwelcome, please report it as soon as
    possible to event staff. Harassment and other code of conduct violations reduce the value of
    our event for everyone. We want you to be happy at our event. People like you make our event a better place.

    When taking a report, event organizers will ensure you are safe and cannot be overheard. They may involve other organizers to ensure your report is managed properly. Once safe, we'll ask you to tell us about what happened. This can be upsetting, but we'll handle it as respectfully as possible, and you can bring someone to support you. You won't be asked to confront anyone and we won't tell anyone who you are.

    Our team will be happy to help you contact hotel/venue security, local law enforcement, local
    support services, provide escorts, or otherwise assist you to feel safe for the duration of the event.

    We value your attendance.

  • Virginia Carper
    Virginia Carper Tuesday, 12 February 2019

    I agree. One step is enforcement of policies. How is that to be done? I think that people don't like to "upset" others with their bad actions.

  • Greybeard
    Greybeard Sunday, 17 February 2019

    Maybe someone needs to get a life and stop playing "Boo hoo I'm a VICTIME!" Over several decades I've seen a lot more bigotry, prejudice, and abuse done in the name of "protection" than any other excuse.

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