Yesterday, I had the opportunity to be part of some team reporting, which gives me a taste of what it must have been like back when newspapers had big budgets. After Cara Schulz detailed the challenges faced in one Wiccan community when complaints of sexual misconduct were brought forth, I followed up with some best practices for handling sex-abuse cases in Pagan groups.
Team reporting makes me better at this job, but it can become frantic. I regret leaving out a point which probably is as controversial as it is important: abandoning abusers isn’t a solution. When we banish, ostracize, or push out offenders, we hand the problem off to strangers and miss the opportunity to fix things.
While the high recidivism rate for sex offenders is a common topic of conversation, I learned through my interviews that treatment actually works. While pushing someone out of one’s group might solve the immediate problem, without the tools to deal with the problem it’s pretty likely that there will be other victims at some point. Is kicking the can down the road an ethical response?
Some sex offenders are ready to admit they have a problem, I now understand. Among them, there’s a fear of reprisal and consequence for coming clean; being able to accept that fact is part of treatment. Are there ways to continue to include a known offender without putting people at risk? Of course, but it’s going to take work, and it’s going to take compassion for someone who may well have done some terrible things. There’s also the question of potential offenders, who would prefer not to harm anyone but are afraid to admit they have a problem due to rejection. Isolation does not help that work, which is all but impossible to do without help.
In Pagan and polytheist communities, we are moving toward a better understanding of how to support victims. That includes believing them, and encouraging them to talk to the police. We are not there yet, and it’s been a painful process to get even this far. Finding ways to support offenders as well as victims is going to be a lot more painful, but I think it’s work we need to do if we are actually interested in healing.