Marion Zimmer Bradley’s daughter, Moira Greyland, just released a new book called The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon.
While the book overall speaks of horrible things (and the author herself is problematic in several ways), one of the bombshells within is the accusation that ADF founder Isaac Bonewits not only asked Bradley for permission to rape six-year-old Moira, he was apparently already raping another child.
“When I was at Greyhaven, I had some unfortunate run-ins with an individual from the Pagan community named Isaac Bonewits. Some people called him the ‘Pagan Pope’. He was a frequent visitor to Greyhaven and a friend of my parents… One day Isaac came to my mother when I was six years old, and told her he wanted to have sex with me. He told her there was a girl just my age at the commune he lived in and she had had sex with all the men there [which would have included Bonewits], and she was so ‘free’ and so ‘uninhibited’ that it would be ‘good for me’ to do the same thing with him.” ~Moira Greyland, The Last Closet
Greyland later alludes to some time spent unwillingly in a basement with Bonewits but refrains from giving further details.
Bonewits and Bradley are both dead. In the era of #metoo, what are we to do with this information?
The ADF’s Statement
The ADF has already released a statement about these accusations on their Facebook page:
To Our ADF Members and the Pagan Community:
It has recently come to our attention that an allegation of sexual
misconduct has been made against a late, former leader of ADF, Isaac
Bonewits. This claim has been made in a newly released book and dates back
to a time prior to ADF being founded in 1983.
To all who have experienced any form of harassment or abuse, we understand
that the process of reaching out for support and reporting your experiences
can be extremely difficult and the impacts of those experiences can often be
felt for months, years, and a lifetime after the fact. Please know that we
reach out to all who have been so afflicted with compassion and care.
In our commitment to create a safe and respectful space for all ADF members
to worship, we have created clear organizational policies and practices.
Leadership Conduct and the safety of our members are taken very seriously.
Our Sexual Misconduct Policy can be found at
(https://www.adf.org/…/org/docs/policy/sexual-misconduct.html) [and then they quote from the policy]…
With the creation of the new Human Services Specialist position, we seek to
make ADF a place that is safe for all of its members, visitors, and leaders
alike. We strive to extend our hospitality to all and to insure that
everyone can worship and interact without fear of being harmed in any way.
Rev. Jean (Drum) Pagano
This statement, in my opinion, is weak. They don’t directly confront the accusations at all. They simply mention them and quickly move on to stating their love and care for victims. Then they reference their established policy and mention a new staff position (which is fab, and gives me hope that we’ll see a better response in the coming days).
So ok. Maybe they’re still working out a response. What about the policy they reference, though? Is that better?
ADF’s Official Policy
I find the ADF’s policy severely lacking.
- At no point is consent mentioned.
I’ve blogged about consent before, especially in this post. Without a clear and unambiguous understanding and promotion of consent as a guiding concept, from the most established clergy to the newest member, I think we’re going to keep having problems with this. And here the ADF falls short.
They “commit to practice” things like “love” and “respect”, but that’s not specific enough. How does that look in practice, specifically with sexual situations? We really need to see this spelled out a little more. I’ve addressed this before with my Six Rules for Safer Pagan Sex, and still stand by what I said there. While an understanding of consent culture as a whole won’t stop cases of abuse, I know from first-hand experience in other communities that it will greatly reduce them.
Openly navigating sexual situations is frankly a skill most Americans aren’t taught, and any organization that hopes to be safe for all people needs to step it up in that area. That includes the ADF.
- Sexual misconduct is defined too narrowly in one crucial area.
According to the policy as written, “sexual misconduct occurs when a person with authority [emphasis mine], either real or perceived, uses their position to obtain sexual favors or behaviors of any kind. These persons in authority include, but are not limited to, clergy, elected or appointed ADF officers, ADF employees, sub-group volunteers, and Grove/Protogrove leaders.”
So… by definition, a member can’t sexually harass or assault someone of equal or lower rank within the organization? Really, ADF? I’m hoping they didn’t mean it to come out that way, but that’s certainly how it reads. That could convince someone looking for reporting how-tos that their situation doesn’t qualify, stopping them before they start.
And speaking of…
- The three steps of the reporting process are bloody AWFUL, y’all.
“The first step in stopping sexual harassment is to directly inform the person involved that his/her conduct is unwelcome, a violation of ADF policy, and that it must stop immediately.”
Ok, fair enough on the surface. But. What if the victim can’t speak? Is frozen? Doesn’t specifically mention ADF policy when rejecting advances? Uncomfortably, nervously waves down a friend and runs towards mutual support instead of directly confronting their harasser and possibly escalating the situation? Are they per this policy now unable to report what happened? And more importantly, if they consult this document before reporting and realize they didn’t follow all of those steps, do they now believe that they can’t make a report, even if the ADF would in fact consider it valid?
“If the allegation is about a criminal act, it must be reported to the appropriate civil authorities.” [emphasis mine]
This straight up tells victims that, in order to report what happened, they have to agree to get the cops involved. From what I can tell this is unlike all other official complaints made to ADF, which have an array of options with which a victim might be more comfortable, including mediation (as outlined here in the ADF’s Standard Operating Procedure, although that appears to be a member’s only document).
There are many, many reasons a victim might be hesitant to pursue legal options. Doing so involves police involvement, rape kits, possibly testifying in court, reliving the event over and over again, opening themselves up to the horror/rage/disbelief/judgment that might be directed at them by other ADF members (which we’re already seeing in the Bonewits case), etc. Maybe they’re still closeted, even, and coming out as a sexual assault victim under their particular circumstances would also mean coming out as Pagan (which is still dangerous for many people).
This policy blocks all other avenues, meaning folks who don’t want to jump through legal hoops simply won’t make a report.
There’s also a time limit on criminal prosecution. Thirty-four states have a statute of limitations on reporting rape. Does the ADF follow those guidelines in regards to internal reporting? Can a victim deliberately wait until after that limitation to make a report and so bypass the required reporting rule? If the statute of limitations applies to ADF reporting, the justification for such a decision needs to be explained. If that statute doesn’t, the ADF needs to justify the criminal reporting requirement in the first place.
- Those making “false accusations” are threatened with expulsion from ADF, but no guidelines are given for what is required to substantiate an accusation. That alone could make victims hesitate to come forward.
“[T]hose making false allegations and/or providing false information will be subject to disciplinary action by the Mother Grove, up to and including expulsion from ADF.”
Statistically, “[o]nly about 2% of all rape and related sex charges are determined to be false… [but] people claim that allegations are false far more frequently than they are and far more frequently than for other crimes. Put another way, we are much more likely to disbelieve a woman if she says she was raped than if she says she was robbed, but for no good reason.”
With that in mind, what are the criteria for determining an accusation is false? The accused not being convicted in a court of law? Statistically, only 310 of every 1000 rapes is reported. Out of the 310 rapes reported, only 6 lead to a conviction. Using those numbers, does a victim have a 97.1% chance of being drummed out of the ADF – their spiritual home and source of comfort in trying times – when their report doesn’t end in conviction either? Is some other standard used to determine truthfulness? We need some more clarification here.
The document isn’t that long. I shouldn’t have this many questions after reading it. Addressing these points in the near future would, in my opinion, go a long way to proving ADF’s ethical stance.
Where To From Here?
Regardless of Bonewits’s actual guilt or innocence in this case, it’s well known that there’s a sexual harassment/assault problem in Paganism. There has been for quite some time. We’ve all heard stories – big names all the way down to randos at festivals.
For instance, I blogged about Kenny Klein and the Pagan approach to sex in general in 2014. At the end of that post I offered a series of suggestions for addressing the issue of sexual harassment and assault in the Pagan community.
I offer the same suggestions to ADF and its members today.
I’d like each and every one of us to start taking responsibility for what’s happening around us. If you see something that makes you or someone else feel unsafe, say something. Speak up for those who, for whatever reason, have difficulty speaking up for themselves. If someone isn’t being heard, add your voice to theirs. Do not be silent. Safety wins out over secrecy every time.
I’d like to see our communities stop silencing those who speak out and start taking complaints seriously, especially if more than one complaint is brought against the same person.
I’d like to see communities adopt safe space guidelines and then enforce them.
It would be wonderful if someone in each area stepped up to serve as an educator and advocate for those who have questions or encounter problems.
Every young person in our community needs to be taught these rules as soon as possible, so they know how to draw a boundary and what to do if that boundary is not respected.
If there’s a big community Beltane ritual consider offering a class on Safer Pagan Sex – even if no sex will be occurring at the event. Let’s do our best to get everyone on the same page where this kind of thing is concerned.
I’d also like to see every festival and group hold regular classes on what is and is not ok when it comes to Safer Pagan Sex – especially if that festival or group is either having ritualized/magickal sex or has an officially-sanctioned “sex area”. Even better would be making this kind of class required for anyone who wants to participate in the ritualized/magickal sex or visit the designated sex area.
Along with this, festivals and groups would ideally specifically designate people to serve as educators and advocates, just like I suggested above for individual communities. That person should be both very visible and easily available, so they can be found quickly if they’re needed.
I’d like to see training offered to anyone and everyone who wants more information on how to help out newcomers, how to handle complaints, and how to address ritual/magickal sexual abuse in a Pagan-centric way that is healing and sacred.
Imagine what changes such policies could make in our community!
At minimum the ADF would do well here to acknowledge the accusations, distance themselves from Bonewits (like maybe taking his picture off of their Facebook page’s banner), not attempt to silence those speaking out, update and revamp their reporting standards, and perhaps incorporate lessons on the FRIES version of consent into the new Dedicant Path framework (whatever that ends up looking like) and any further clergy training.
Any work beyond the minimum would be gladly welcomed and appreciated. Anything less than that simply isn’t acceptable from an ethical Pagan organization. And certainly isn’t acceptable for one I continue to be a part of.