One doesn’t like to dwell on the negative, but at the same time, you can’t fix a problem until you are willing to admit it exists. This year I’ve seen a lot of posts go by my computer as people examine the problem of “creepers”, and other sexual predators in our midst. This past week the pagan community got to witness one of their own being charged with pornography (and admitting to it). A few years ago the SCA had to deal with watching one of their, pardon me, OUR members be charged with abusing children he was supposed to be teaching to fight. The Science Fiction cons are acknowledging and cleaning up their acts, recognizing that they’ve been winking at well known authors being widely known as sexual predators, and not supporting their victims.
Each of these communities is part of the greater modern American community that is trying to recognize that our culture has been providing too much support for not just rapists, but all the behaviors that lead to sexual predation. While it’s not pleasant to think about the world we participate in being a “rape culture”, we cannot formulate any effective sort of healing, if we don’t admit that there’s a problem.
Each of the groups I’ve been closest to has been shocked to see it happen in their sub-culture. “We’re all about chivalry, and protecting women and the innocent, and being heros!” “We see sex as sacred, and we’re supposed to be psychic, and know if there’s something wrong before it happens!” “We’re supposed to be smarter than other people, and able to see new ways of solving problems!” “But we’re friends! We’re not like that!” recurs throughout; and I’m willing to bet that the same stories are playing out in just about every subculture you can mention. “But we’re healers! We stand for law! We’re Christians! We don’t do that!” No- you don’t. Maybe the first thing you have to do is accept that it’s not you, it’s the individual who, for whatever reason, did the things that others don’t do. If you don’t stop identifying with the one who did it, you’re not going to be very effective at stopping them. Maybe one in three women will be raped during her lifetime, but that doesn’t translate to one in three men will rape a woman in his. Criminals are criminals and you aren’t.
The other part of the equation is what part of our behavior has allowed this? In most of these cases, we are flooded with storied from people who already “knew” but didn’t say anything. We ask ourselves, was I one? Are there people I find creepy but I don’t say anything about? Is my silence setting the stage for them to go further in their bad behavior? Possibly. Possibly not. One thing we worry about with reason is that one is innocent until proven guilty. When we create a “crimen exceptum“, a crime where the very thought of it is so bad that all legal protections are suspended, the way witchcraft was treated in the 17th century, and some say accusations of “terrorism” are treated now, we set ourselves up for abuse of the accused. I have seen the accusation of sexual abuse ruin the lives of innocent teachers. Therapists are required by law to report any possible sexual abuse to the police, the police are required to investigate. This means that a confused young girl wondering in therapy if a touch was accidental or not, can lead to the accused being treated as if he were a sexual predator, when he may not even have been aware of whatever led to the child’s therapy. We have seen how over zealous defenders of children have inadvertantly coached and even planted memories in them. We don’t want to be the ones who destroy an innocent person’s life, even as we don’t want to be the one that lets the real predator slip through their watch. The chances are that every one of us has at some point been accused of something that we didn’t do, and when the truth does not protect you, it feels horrible. Not only are you being punished, but people you love believe horrible things of you. We don’t want to do that to anyone else.
I think that the pagan community is especially hard hit because we feel that we are psychic, we are sensitive, we are empathic, so we should be better than others at catching the clues. We are ashamed at our failure at the thing we’re supposed to be good at. Perhaps we need to suck it up and acknowledge that psychic abilities, although real, aren’t any more infallible than any other technique for gathering information. And we are as capable as anyone else of lying to ourselves.
Recently I watched The Lone Ranger movie, and was impressed at how brilliantly the villian controlled the military man. He sent him out to fight the Indians based on a lie, and when the truth came out, he asked if he could bear to live with that. No, it was easier for the captain to go back to believing that he had only killed the guilty, and was fighting on the side of right. The slaughter of the Jews in the 20th century couldn’t have taken place if people who tried to be good, but felt helpless to do anything about what evidence they saw, retreated into the safety of believing what was told them. It is hard to accept that we are a part of anything we personally feel is very wrong. We allow ourselves to be mislead because it’s easier than taking responsibility for having contributed to something horrible.
Sometimes it’s a bit more conscious. Think about politics, each person in congress is probably working very hard to help people with the problems that they know about. In order to get help or cooperation with their projects, they go along with other people’s projects even though they may worry that they aren’t a good idea. It’s not that they want what is wrong, but they are focused on the good they are trying to do. One of my friends who worked in the Red Cross office reported some horrible behavior he’d seen in one of his bosses, but instead of removing her, the superiors removed him. It wasn’t that they believed him, but that the Red Cross functions on its reputation. If the story came out, that would be damaged and they might lose the contributions they need for their programs. They felt that individual cruelty and unfairness was just the price they had to pay to protect their beneficial activities. This is the kind of thing we all need to worry about and look for in ourselves. Are we making compromises? Are we turning blind eyes because we’re afraid that we may be mistaken?
Have you ever seen an adult try to restrain a child having a tantrum? Who gets hurt? Usually the adult, because although he has reach, strength, and experience, the kid doesn’t care if he hurts the adult (or may not be aware of the possibility), while the adult is trying hard not to let either of them get hurt, but mostly worrying about the kid. The ones who are hurting others have a huge advantage in not worrying about the pain. We are trying hard to make sure that we don’t do something wrong that we can immobilize ourselves. This is not wrong, it’s a good thing. What we need to do is recognize the possibility of being wrong, and create ways to investigate that are not built on protecting impossible standards, fallicies of virtue. We have to recognize that we live in a world where we’re all making mistakes, making bad choices, hurting each other for stupid reasons, all the while trying to be good. Can you think of a better thing to do for someone than preventing them from hurting someone for a bad reason? Weigh that against the possibility of making them defensive by inquiring what they are up to.
We are a nation and culture of individualists, we want to make our own choices, so we don’t want others butting in on ours. But we are also members of multiple communities, and communities, like families, are functional when each member in them is better because they are in that group, and the group is better because of the inclusion of each member. We need to stop letting our fear of hurting the feelings of the innocent stop us from what we beleive is right. We need to not let our guilt over everything bad that we have done, or allowed to happen, keep us from trying to stop the next bad thing. We are humans, therefore we are fallible. It should not be such a shock when we find out that all the people who do bad things aren’t in “other” groups. As Pogo said “we have met the enemy, and he is us.” Wouldn’t you want someone to stop you?