“If we were starting over, we wouldn’t call it child pornography,” says Ernie Allen, president of the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “This is different. This is not pornography. These are crime scene photos. These are photos of the abuse of a child.” from He Was Supposed to Take a Photo by Nicholas Kristof
Many people are writing about author, musician, and photographer Kenny Klein. I’m not going to. Not in specific, anyway.
There are issues surrounding dangerous and abusive behavior in our communities. I’ve written on this topic before, and hope you read my three part essay on the Frosts and sexual ethics. There is a lot there, touching on questions for communities such as:
What are our responsibilities to ourselves and to one another?
What are our sexual ethics?
What are our ethics around consent?
This piece is now about to get long, so I hope you have a cup of tea or take breaks when you need to.
I have two stories that relate to Kenny Klein, one that is about a leader and teacher, and one that is about a predator.
There was a teacher in one of my communities who had sex with his students. He had sex with me when I was 18 and only two years into studying the Craft. He was my first formal teacher. I left off studying with him when my skin literally felt like it was jumping away from his touch. Was the sexual relationship consensual? I certainly said yes to it, but there was a skewed power dynamic, both because of age and because I was student to his teacher.
He didn’t understand that. Years later, we had conversations about it – there were many years when I refused to talk with or deal with him, and other times when I would feel more generous. I won’t get into the ins and outs of either my compassion or my anger toward him. There were good reasons for both.
One time, we were arguing on the phone about him having sex with his students when I got it: He felt unlovable and not sexy. Therefore, these people – mostly men, but sometimes women – that he was having sex with were in the power position in his mind. I tried to talk to him about the fact that he was the one in power. I think he died not getting that.
How did I deal with this in community? I talked with his students if they came to me for help. When people asked me about studying with him, I would tell them that he and I had very different sexual ethics and that he sometimes had sex with his students.
For me, he crossed ethical boundaries. In other people’s minds, he did not. Did I err on the side of not doing enough? Perhaps.
Abuse can happen anywhere. To anyone. It is up to us to not give in to fear or complicity. To be aware. It is up to us to listen, and let others know it is OK to speak.
The Charming Man:
A young man came to a workshop I was co-teaching in a small town in the middle of Illinois. He was around 16, and had a permission slip from his parent to be there. He was precocious and charming. After he turned 18, he studied with me for a couple of years, at a distance. At our weekend classes together, I never sensed anything wrong.
I didn’t see him for many years, barring one hour-long visit while he was in college and I was in town. Even after he moved to Northern California with his pregnant partner and got involved with a local community, we weren’t in touch. He started a photography business.
Then a series of events happened in quick succession. I’m not even certain of the proper order.
He’d been helping at a Pagan teen camp and later tried to set up meetings with a thirteen year old from the camp. Steps were taken. Parents alerted. I think the police were called. He was barred from that community.
Then came a Child Protective Services case, which I can’t really talk about, which ended in tragedy, and was the cause of huge upheaval involving three communities. People were writing and calling me, asking for information about this person they had known, or been friends with, or who had come to rituals, or had taken classes, or asked for initiation. I was under a gag order and forbidden to talk about it. All I could say was “Tread carefully.” So he was able to continue to influence people into thinking he was a nice guy who was being wronged.
He wasn’t. He was and is a very sick man.
I asked a psychotherapist how I had been so fooled by him when he was young. She replied that there are certain diseases that lay dormant until hormones change in a person’s early 20s. Perhaps that is what happened here. Or perhaps I wasn’t yet savvy enough as a teacher to notice. Or perhaps there were other reasons.
All I know is: from the minute I saw him again, outside the CPS hearing, before knowing details about the case, it was clear he was deeply disturbed. He may have sensed I knew it, because he could barely look at me, though he was greeting others. By this time, his late 20s, it was clear to me something in him had twisted.
During the course of the meeting, he was thoroughly unmasked to me. The words that came out of his mouth struck me as the classic reasoning, blaming, and deflections of an abuser. Why would I think this? I heard enough similar things in my family of origin.
Some people said they knew for years something was wrong with him. I didn’t. Nor did other people much closer to him than I, though by more recent years it had apparently become clearer to some that he was disturbed.
But not so clearly disturbed that a local community didn’t offer him the chance to assist at a camp for teens.
Not so clearly disturbed that people didn’t still defend him, including someone else at the same meeting I was in.
Not so disturbed that he couldn’t move back to Illinois and begin affiliation with a magical lodge.
Not so disturbed that he couldn’t run a successful photography business. One that enabled him to take school portraits.
That is the job that, thank the Gods, led to his arrest.
He was caught in a school bathroom taking surreptitious camera photos of boys urinating.
He is currently in prison and a registered sex offender.
I could have let this ride. I could have not written about this. But he gets out of prison in 2018, unless he is eligible for parole, in which case release could be sooner. He has already affected at least three communities I know of. He may be back.
So I'm telling you now: his name is Benjamin K. Sangraal. Sometimes known as Sabre. He is handsome. Sometimes charming.
And like Kenny Klein, I wouldn’t let him near your children. And I would never let him take your photograph.
[Edit: projected parole date of Benjamin Sangraal is September 12, 2015]
After the CPS hearing, I wrote a letter to the caseworkers that I was told ended up being read in court.
I’ve edited that letter for content and am posting it in case others may find it a useful template to start community discussions on ethics and boundaries, to help us get clear on what we believe, or to use should, Gods forbid, the need arise in any official matter. Please adapt it for your use. I recognize that the words below do not reflect the beliefs or practices of all Pagans. Please keep in mind that I was trying to write for people who knew nothing about Paganism and doing so under extreme circumstances at short notice.
X Tradition and Y Tradition are subsets of contemporary Paganism, which is sometimes called neo-Paganism. Pagans try our best to honor Nature as sacred, and divinity as immanent to our cosmos (meaning that the Divine is here with us, all the time, not off in some distant, transcendent place). We find Divine expression in the natural world, in humans, animals, sun, sky, and in various Gods and Goddesses as well. There is a variety of belief and practice in Paganism, which can make things seem confusing. But just think of the variety of people who call themselves Christian, and that might help.
1/ Our religion does honor sexuality as sacred. Sexual coercion is not allowed. Anything that smacks of sexual coercion is an aberration. Therefore, sex between children and adults, for example, would be anathema to anyone of our religion who is in her or his right mind and ethically sound.
2/ Personal power and autonomy are also cultivated. Any relationship that would seek to put one person under the thrall of another would also be an aberration. No one has authority over another, all we can do is attempt to guide others.
[Edit: I removed one non-essential and confusing sentence from #1. #3, below, dealt with some particulars in the CPS case and certainly would not be useful in many cases. I leave it here in case someone ever needs this sort of statement for any reason.]
3/ Our religion has no strictures around medical care. There are those among us who are Registered Nurses and research scientists as well as those who are herbalists and acupuncturists. Therefore, saying that a medical procedure is against our religion would not be true, and would only be a matter of personal conviction. Personal convictions, of course, are often informed by people’s religious backgrounds or spiritual inclinations.
In summary: Anyone who abuses a child or adult, or says they cannot do some medical procedure because of their religion is not speaking on behalf of X Tradition, Y Tradition, nor of Paganism in general. They are speaking simply from their own personal convictions or in some cases, from their own personal emotional imbalance.
Addendum #2, March 30, 2015
Note about comments:
Most comments coming in have been respectful - people sharing personal stories, resources, and ideas. Thank you all.
Comments that can be construed as personal attacks will not be unscreened.
I will no longer unscreen comments about Kenny Klein. There are enough of them floating around already.
Let's keep the focus on ideas regarding boundaries, ethics, and community responsibility.
I do not agree with all comments and opinions posted here.
If it starts to feel like I am spending too much time fielding comments, I may shut down further commentary. I don't want to do this, but I have other work to do as well.
Thank you all again.
Comments are now closed. Thank you all for your thoughtfulness. Let us please continue these discussions in our homes, groves, lodges, covens, festivals and other groups.
(there are a few comments pending right now for various reasons, so a few more may be unscreened.)
I have reposted my old LiveJournal entries on the Frosts here at my blog, because they feel germane:
And this post itself feels like Feet of Clay (part 4)