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Addressing Harassment in Ordo Templi Orientis

Addressing Harassment in Ordo Templi Orientis

by Brandy Williams

O.T.O. US Grand Lodge Policy states:

It is no secret that Aleister Crowley’s writings include a number of statements that are demeaning to women and to specific racial or ethnic groups. We make no attempt here to justify or explain away those statements. They are what they are, and they are now part of our history as an organization. However, at this time, we find that ideas of the inherent superiority of one sex over the other, or of the inherent superiority or inferiority of specific “races” or ethnicities of humanity, relative to each other, are not supported by the best science, and are contrary to our stated goals of promulgating the Law of Thelema and realizing the age-old vision of the Universal Brotherhood of Man, which includes all Humankind. Therefore, the U.S. Grand Lodge of Ordo Templi Orientis hereby formally and unequivocally rejects all such ideas. O.T.O. draws strength from diversity; we welcome the participation and friendship of Thelemites of all sexes, genders, “races,” and ethnic groups, and from all cultures; and we are committed to opposing their unfair treatment, within and without the Order. We further remain committed to opposing ideas and doctrines–whether religious, political, philosophical, or pseudo-scientific–that tend toward the enslavement of the human spirit, which indwells “every man, every woman, and every intermediately-sexed individual.”
Adopted unanimously, An. Viii Sol in Leo, Luna in Leo; 20 August, 2017 e.v.

Sexual, gender, racial, and LGBTQ harassment directly prevent implementation of this policy. Sexual harassment is on the rise everywhere in America, including within the order. Since the publication of the policy racial harassment incidents have come to light which mirror the increased hate speech trend in American culture.

The existing Path of Mediation does not address the specific nature of these complaints and as a consequence actively discourages reporting harassment. It is clear that new processes are urgently required to address this and ensure the implementation of the policy.

Limitations in the existing Path of Mediation

Merriam Webster defines mediation as an “intervention in a dispute in order to resolve it”. A dispute is “a disagreement, argument, or debate”. Mediation is applicable where the parties to a dispute are more or less equally powerful.

Harassment, on the other hand, is “aggressive pressure or intimidation.” Sexual harassment is not about sex, racial harassment is not about race, LGBTQ harassment is not about orientation or presentation. Harassment is about power. Someone who has power forces a less powerful person to do something they would not otherwise do.

The Path of Mediation starts with examining yourself to see how you have contributed to the situation, then talking with the person with whom you have the dispute. Only after this has failed to resolve the dispute do you take the matter up the escalation chain to the body master, Committee of Four and Grand Tribunal. This process covers disputes between equally powerful parties but does not address harassment where the parties are not equally powerful.

Looking inside yourself for how you contributed to the situation: in a harassment situation this is victim-shaming. The cause of the harassment is not the target’s behavior, it is the harasser’s willingness to use a power differential to touch or talk to someone against their will. What makes “look inside yourself” particularly unsuitable is the pressure the harasser often places on the target to take responsibility for it. The target did not initiate the action and is not responsible for it and our process should reflect this.

Speaking directly to the other party: fighting back against harassment is very often more costly than enduring the harassment. Whistle blowers lose their jobs and their careers in retaliation. For this reason harassment is often not reported, in the workplace, in school, and in the order. Targets of harassment in O.T.O. report they fear that complaining will affect their standing in the community and their advancement in the order.

Escalating to the body master: this is the minimal starting place for a harassment complaint. This may be less feasible if the master is a friend of the harasser, and completely unfeasible where the master is the harasser.

Committee of Four: where the complaint cannot be made to the master, the starting point for the complaint will be the Committee of Four. As per the COLMH, the master may also choose to involve the committee for assistance immediately and directly.

In the case of a harasser who has achieved some rank in the order, the committee may also know the harasser well and significantly better than the complainant(s), or one member of the committee may be the harasser. However the fact that the body is composed of four individuals gives the group some flexibility and increases the chances that the complaint will be heard, taken seriously, and acted on. Also a master might be a Man of Earth, while committee members are Lovers and hopefully bring more experience and composure to bear.

Grand Tribunal: the GT has heard and will undoubtedly continue to hear complaints. Some who have served on Boards of Inquiry report that handling these complaints carries an emotional tariff which contributes to volunteer burnout.

Costs of harassment

Failing to address harassment as a significant issue continues the harm to the targets, costs membership, and may expose the order to liability.

Effect on the victims: targets of harassment experience emotional harm, including anxiety, depression and shame, which can also cause medical issues. Harassment presents a bar to the full development of the individual both personally and in the order. It is a theft of their freedom.

Loss of membership: In America it is estimated that 70% of harassment incidents are never reported. Targets of harassment often leave the site of harassment; those who experience harassment in the order may leave the order, and they may leave magical studies altogether. We cannot at present calculate how members and prospective members who have left have done so in response to harassment but we can be certain that we have lost membership to this.

Liability: The Society for Creative Anachronisms paid a $1.3 million settlement to settle a child sexual harassment case involving the director of one of their children’s programs. The order may have a legal as well as ethical responsibility to curtail harassment at O.T.O. sponsored events and at O.T.O. venues.

The impact of secrecy in handling harassment incidents

Multiple layers of secrecy affect the ability of individuals and the order to address harassment.

  • Whistle blowing serves the function of drawing attention to a behavior that is not being addressed. However whistle blowing activities are not generally available to order members who are constrained by the need to follow the path of mediation, a situation analogous to workplace agreements to engage in arbitration.
  • Members are required to keep the membership of others secret. This affects the ability of targets to blow the whistle on harassment activities, as naming a harasser publicly may be grounds for discplinary action against the complainant.
  • Since actions taken against harassers are not publicized, there is no deterrent affect, and no visible sign of the order’s activities in taking harassment seriously.

Harassment thrives in secrecy. Since arbitration is the only recourse available to a member who wishes to remain in good standing it is imperative to create and manage a process which specifically addresses harassment, protects members, and provides relief to targets.

Process improvements

Other communities have developed strategies to address the special challenges of harassment.

Military justice

As we are a military order we might profit from studying US military strategy. In 2014 the Senate unanimously approved the Victim’s Protection Act. Among other provisions, the act specifically:

  • Established a Special Victim’s Counsel. Every complainant is assigned an independent lawyer.
  • Eliminated the “good soldier” defense. A good military record no longer cancels an assault charge.
  • Required a minimum sentence. Those convicted of sexual assault automatically receive a dishonorable discharge.
  • Independent prosecution. The follow-up Military Justice Improvement Act, not yet approved, seeks additionally to overturn the requirement that the commanding officer decides whether to move forward with a complaint. This is exactly analogous to the requirement for a local master to file a complaint.

These steps could be implemented in the order.

  • A victim’s counsel could develop a course of training in harassment and in order process. This counsel could be drawn from Committees of Four or GICs or both.
  • A clear communication path to report harassment outside the chain of command can be established and advertised. The ombudsman-female gathers sexual harassment complaints today; this mechanism can be widely advertised.
  • Once a complaint has been lodged the target can be assigned an advocate from the victim’s counsel.

Restorative justice

Punitive justice focuses on the perpetrator. A punishment is levied, and once it is complete, the perpetrator may continue with their life as before. With punitive justice the questions might be: what is an appropriate punishment? What factors mitigate the punishment? How can the perpetrator navigate the situation and be able to return to community?

Restorative justice puts perpetrators together with their victims. Restorative justice methodology as currently practiced works best where the perpetrator is genuinely remorseful and wishes to make amends but it works less well where the perpetrator resists accountability. Victims rights advocates note that victims need more than apologies, they need a clear path to safety and return to their normal lives.

To implement truly victim-centered restitution, the questions might be: what enables those affected to continue their work in the order? What makes the order safe for them? Is it possible for the perpetrator to continue their work in the order while enabling the people affected to also participate? We must admit to the possibility that the answer may be no.

Next steps

Where official processes fall short communities create new processes. Member-led initiatives include:

  • Consent Culture: a community discussion developed by Brandy Williams (GIC), offered through the education committee, and implemented at Horizon Lodge, Sekhet-Maat Lodge and Blazing Star Oasis (so far).
  • Sexual Harassment and the O.T.O.: presented at Ladies of Force and Fire, 2016, by Lori Lent and proposed to add to Kaaba Colloquium.
  • #RespectTheNoInOTO: campaign with more than 60 participants drawing attention to the need to combat sexual harassment within the order.

These campaigns point to the urgent need to address these issues and establish processes to rapidly respond to harassment and provide relief to targets so that we are aiding, not hindering, the accomplishment of their wills.

Supporting material

USGL policy

Consequences of reporting and under-reporting sexual harassment

CBS NEWS. “Gretchen Carlson on sexual harassment in the workplace“. October 15, 2017:

“This overwhelming fear is one reason studies show 70 percent of women never report workplace harassment.”

Heather McLaughlin, Christopher Uggen, Amy Blackstone. “The Economic and Career Effects of Sexual Harassment on Working Women“. First Published May 10, 2017:

“Many working women will experience sexual harassment at some point in their careers. While some report this harassment, many leave their jobs to escape the harassing environment. This mixed-methods study examines whether sexual harassment and subsequent career disruption affect women’s careers. Using in-depth interviews and longitudinal survey data from the Youth Development Study, we examine the effect of sexual harassment for women in the early career. We find that sexual harassment increases financial stress, largely by precipitating job change, and can significantly alter women’s career attainment.”

Consequences of racial harassment

“There can be various consequences of such experiences: fear of going out, increased levels of stress and anxiety, low self-esteem and poor mental health.” [Source]

Diane Chinn. “What Is the Consequence of Racial Harassment in the Workplace?

“Workers subjected to racial harassment by their coworkers and supervisors experience high levels of work-related stress that may lead to medical problems, such as high blood pressure, depression and heart disease. In addition to feeling humiliated, rejected and hurt, they are often reluctant to object to the harassment or report it for fear of retaliation. Frequently, they tolerate it in silence until they find another job.”

Retaliation against harassment complaints

Yuku Noguchi. “Advice For Dealing With Workplace Retaliation: Save Those Nasty Emails“. September 14, 2016:

“Experts say between 50 percent and 70 percent of retaliation cases are perpetrated by managers, but retaliation can also include bullying as a form of retribution.”

SCA lawsuit

SCA Will Pay $1.3M To Settle Abuse Case“…

“Ben Schragger, then 43, was convicted in 2005 of charges including rape of a child, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent assault and corruption of minors, all crimes committed against 11 children participating in SCA programs to make medieval-style armor and weapons for mock combat.”

Military justice

  • Victims Protection Act: “In a 97-0 vote, the Senate approved S. 1917, the Victims Protection Act. The new bill eliminates the ability to cite a soldier’s good record when defending that soldier against assault charges… It also allows the victims of sexual assault to say whether they’d prefer their cases handled in a military or civilian jurisdiction, and includes sexual assault as part of commanders’ performance assessments.” [Source]
  • Military Justice Improvement Act: “Unfortunately, each year, thousands of service members are raped and sexually assaulted. In many of those cases, the assailant is someone in the survivor’s own chain of command. Only a small fraction of the perpetrators are ever held accountable for their heinous, violent crimes. Last year, the Department of Defense announced a record number of sexual assaults reported against service members,and the lowest conviction rates for their assailants on record, at just 9%.Worse yet, despite repeated efforts to stamp out the scourge of retaliation against military sexual assault survivors, the most recent Pentagon survey found that nearly 6 out of 10 survivors say they have experienced some form of retaliation for reporting the crime.” [Source]

Restorative justice

  • Overview of restorative justice as currently practiced: “Restorative justice views crime as more than breaking the law – it also causes harm to people, relationships, and the community. So a just response must address those harms as well as the wrongdoing. If the parties are willing, the best way to do this is to help them meet to discuss those harms and how to about bring resolution. Other approaches are available if they are unable or unwilling to meet. Sometimes those meetings lead to transformational changes in their lives.” [Source]
  • Improvements to restorative justice: “Repairing the harm is often far more complicated than apologies and restitution and relationship-building. It can require long-term sophisticated counseling, assistance with safety planning, relocation and any number of services required to rebuild a life–emergency day care for the parent who needs to get a job to handle new crime-related expenses, substance abuse treatment for the traumatized victim who has turned to drugs, an escort service for the victim now too afraid to leave home or go to the store alone, employment counseling or training for the victim who no longer can perform their old job–or even something as simple as new locks or windows for their home.” [Source]


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6 thoughts on “Addressing Harassment in Ordo Templi Orientis

  1. 93
    The Path of Mediation seems to always be presented as the catch-all solution, but I think it’s clear that PoM is just not suited to issues that require reporting. Unfortunately, attempting to follow the Path in such instances can lead to retaliation, hostility, and further intimidation against those targeted for harassment. MoEs need to know they can report without being forced into arbitration with the person who’s targeted them for harassment. Thanks for pointing this out and trying to improve the process.

  2. Can’t someone just look inside themselves and determine they weren’t at fault in any way?

    1. Perhaps. Although asking someone to even consider whether they are “at fault” in a situation involving racism, for example, is just uncalled for. Requiring it from someone on the receiving end of harassment is pretty uncalled for as well – the question should be, “Is this harassment”, not, “Did you have it coming”. A larger issue is the expectation that someone being harassed needs to confront the harasser before anything else is done. Again – the focus needs to be on the behavior – is it ok or not. Not on how the person being harassed is reacting. By definition they should not be harassed in the first place, so they do not bear the responsibility for dealing with it by themselves.

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