Every year, there are reports. People stop showing up to circles, events are populated by new people while old, familiar faces disappear. Well-meaning people will shepherd new faces away from over-eager ones, the laughter not quite reaching their eyes when they advise them to “stay away from that guy, he’s a…hugger” or “try not to piss her off, she knows a lot of people.” These people, the ones who come with warning labels attached, never seem to go away. They’re either BNG, what some call “big name pagans”, donate a large amount, or are simply friends with organizers. People are advised to “work around them”, to “get along for the sake of the community.” The phenomenon is called “the missing stair”, and was coined by a blogger in 2012.
“People had gotten so used to working around this guy, to accommodating his “special requirements,” that they didn’t feel like there was an urgent problem in their community. They did eventually expel him, but it was after months of it being widely shared knowledge that he was a rapist. […] I think there were some people in the community who were intentionally protecting him, but there were more who were de facto protecting him by treating him like a missing stair. Like something you’re so used to working around, you never stop to ask “what if we actually fixed this?” Eventually you take it for granted that working around this guy is just a fact of life, and if he hurts someone, that’s the fault of whoever didn’t apply the workarounds correctly.” — Cliff Pervocracy, Blogger
Speak up and there will be repercussions. You’ll be labeled a “trouble maker”, “full of negative energy”, or “just not one of us.” Even when these people are (rarely) arrested by police, many group leaders will still hold votes to see if (alarmingly) these abusive people should be allowed back in the community. If the abusive people are leaders, the situation can be even worse: harassment, rumors, and ostracization are standard for those who dare to speak against them. If (again, rarely) these leaders are eventually expelled, do not expect apologies to their victims. That’s if you can find them: many of them give up on the communities that turned on them.
Sarah Anne Lawless experienced this first hand when she left her abusive ex and spoke out against abusive people in the Pagan community. Her business was targeted by supporters of the abusers resulting in it being temporarily shut down, horrible things were said about her, her local community turned on her, and even media outlets refused to cover the storywhen they couldn’t find anyone else brave enough to speak up. But looking at how Sarah was treated…can you blame them? For the sake of privacy Sarah was even forced to shut down her original Facebook account and site that spoke out about the abuse (though you can read an excellent article on what happened over on Gods & Radicals).
For those who have endured abuse and looked at the lack of response in the community as symptomatic of the festering problem within Paganism, there is hope: Sarah Anne Lawless has begun a closed Facebook group for abuse survivors at Neopagan / Occult / New Age Abuse & Fraud Support Group. It is a place for people to be heard, to be able to tell their stories without fear of judgement or ridicule, and, most importantly, it is a place kept safe from the intrusion of those abusers who are still given free run of our community. The community description puts it into beautiful, needed words:
A non-denominational and non-discriminatory space for people who need help and support with identifying and outing frauds & abusers or for leaving neopagan, occult, and new age faiths, communities, and groups.
The main goal of this group is to educate about different types of abuse in modern spiritual communities as well as provide guidance and resources on different types of abuse such as: physical abuse, verbal abuse, psychological/emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, and religious/spiritual abuse.
Who this group is for: if you think you are in an abusive group, if you want out of a group or community, if you feel threatened or trapped by a group, if you’ve been abused/assaulted by a leader or other member of a spiritual community, if you’ve found a spiritual leader or teacher to be fraudulent, if you are questioning the beliefs and practices you are being taught, if you need help recovering from a negative experience or harmful beliefs, if you don’t know what to do or who to talk to — this support group is a safe place to share your story, ask questions, get help, and find resources. This group is also for proactive groups and communities seeking information and help to create policies for creating inclusivity and dealing with fraud, abuse, and sexual assault.
It doesn’t matter what spiritual path you used to identify with or what faith, or lack of, you follow currently — everyone is welcome. The intention of this group is to be inclusive. We are here to listen and help people, not judge, bully, or troll.
If you have suffered abuse within the Pagan community, or if you want to learn methods of dealing with abuse, or even if you just want to provide support, I encourage you to join this group. As I discovered myself when I joined, sometimes the most healing thing is just being able to speak about what you went through and be believed.Ev0ke: Witchcraft + Paganism + Lifestyle
[Ashley Nicole Hunter sits on the board of directors for Bibliotheca Alexandrina and has been published in a few reputable (and otherwise) publications.]