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Sexual Harassment in OTO: Confronting the Issue

Sexual Harassment in OTO: Confronting the Issue

by Brandy Williams

We of Thelema say that ‘Every man and every woman is a star.’ We do not fool and flatter women; we do not despise and abuse them. To us a woman is Herself, absolute, original, independent, free, self-justified, exactly as a man is. Commentary to The Book of the Law, III:55

Women have been exchanging information about our experiences of gender and sexual harassment within O.T.O. It is becoming clear we are not fulfilling Aleister Crowley’s vision for an order which is equally supportive to all genders. What would it take for women and other non-male genders to experience the same freedom as men in the O.T.O.?

US law defines two categories of harassment:

  1. Quid pro quo, “this for that”. For example, an employee could be offered a promotion in exchange for sexual interaction. In the magical communities, a candidate could be required to engage in a sexual act before being approved for initiation, be ordained, or hold an office.
  2. Hostile work environment, unwelcome conduct that renders the atmosphere intimidating, hostile, or offensive.

O.T.O. US Grand lodge has an explicit policy prohibiting sexual harassment. There is also a system that addresses complaints which is outlined in the Path of Mediation. Despite this longstanding policy and process sexual harassment continues to be an issue.

One reason this should not be a surprise is that the O.T.O. is the kind of organization which can be predicted to be at risk for harassing behavior. The three things that make organizations more prone to sexual harassment are that they are hierarchical, male dominated, and forgive harassment. This profile describes the O.T.O. It is hierarchical by nature; this is not a concern in itself but is identified as a contributing factor. Women are moving up in the ranks of leadership which is a positive development and one reason that the organization is moving toward addressing these issues. However there is at present no woman in the tenth degree, that is, ultimate authority in a given grand lodge (country).

Most importantly the organization has a history of forgiving harassment. Research indicates the biggest predictor of sexual harassment “is how permissive an organization is of this conduct. Permissive organizations are ones in which employees feel it is risky to report sexual harassment, think that their complaints won’t be taken seriously, and believe that perpetrators will face few to no consequences.”

A Harvard Business Review article notes:

Minimizing or excusing sexual bullying by star employees affects the targets of their harassment even more than the harassment itself, research has found, and it sends a clear message about priorities. When sexual harassment isn’t taken seriously by managers and others in positions of authority with the standing to discipline the offender, employees know that speaking out is likely to carry more risk than reward. The result is a workplace where people know they can get away with mistreating their coworkers. This demoralizes not only victims, but witnesses and bystanders (including men)…

The order has responded to public reports of harassment by calling on the women reporting the behavior to stop speaking about it in public. Sister Georgia reports being counseled by multiple people to keep silent about her experiences and the experiences others have shared with her. This is not the only public report of an attempt to silence, it is only the most recent (and incandescently articulate) example. The tendency of the organization to date has been to treat the report as if it is the actual harm rather than addressing the harassment. The fact that harassment occurs in O.T.O. settings is not a secret and is not news. Thelemic community in general and the O.T.O. in particular has a longstanding reputation among the magical communities as a place in which gender and sexual harassment is commonplace. The effort to silence targets of harassment registers as a cover-up of the behavior and acts as a confirmation that the behavior itself is condoned. It is the cover-up, not the initial report, that constitutes the PR crisis.

There is an important point to be made here about the connection between sexual harassment and gender harassment. The EEOC found in a survey that 25% of women reported experiencing sexual harassment. When questions shifted to gender harassment that percentage jumped to 60%. While sexual harassment describes unwelcome touch and requests, gender harassment includes displays, jokes and comments. Women are reluctant to report these and endure them as normative. When we ask ourselves why twenty years of prosecuting the anti-harassment policy has not resulted in a cessation of the behavior, one answer is that we have failed to address the hostile environment. For our anti-harassment policy to be effective we must actively dismantle the culture of gender harassment which permits sexual harassment to flourish.

Another answer is that our prosecutions have not resulted in significant relief to the targets of the harassment. Public harassment reports are not a problem, they are a wake-up call. When women take their complaints to the court of public opinion this is a clear signal that internal processes have failed. The O.T.O. does not issue statements about the results of internal investigations. Again, this is not problematic in itself. Internal investigations are confidential in every organization – no employer will confirm that an employee has been dismissed due to harassment. That does not mean that the action itself is unknown to the other employees. When a problematic individual’s employment is terminated it is clear to the other employees that the employer has acted. Similarly when harassers continue to function in an organization and even receive advancement that sends an overt message to the entire membership.

There are a number of reasons that addressing gender harassment is a priority. Failing to address both sexual and gender harassment exposes an organization to legal liability. This is not just a workplace issue but a risk for any incorporated entity; the Non-Profit Risk Management Center points out non-profits are also at risk for sexual harassment claims.

In addition to the legal liability surrounding harassment there is also the damage to the organization’s reputation which is not mitigated but instead exacerbated by the attempts to control information. There is the loss of the contributions of those who were targeted and left the organization, as well as those who choose never to join. Finally, of course, there is the damage done to the emotional and spiritual lives of all members through participating in an organization in which harassment is tolerated.

How do we change a culture which condones harassment? We don’t have to invent processes to do this. This is a common issue with widely articulated solutions. An organization can begin to recover a culture which condones sexual harassment when its response is clear and credible. Legal advisors list steps to take:

  • Define anti-harassment policies.
  • Express support from the top through repeated messages from leadership that harassment is not tolerated.
  • Make anti-harassment education a priority and renew frequently.
  • Encourage reporting and protect those who report.
  • Review processes frequently.

Finally, prosecuting harassers by terminating their involvement in the organization is a necessary step to establish credibility and back up policy. Organizations have found that “cracking down on harassers, severely and transparently, discourages the behavior across an organization.”

It is uncomfortable to confront these issues and to contemplate severe actions that affect people we know well. Reforming a toxic culture requires making discomfort a priority. In an interview humanitarian Zainab Salbi offers a firm but reassuring path to a more equitable and safe environment. “There will be a way out of this, and the only way for all of us to get out of this is actually if we have the uncomfortable conversations today—not tomorrow, today. If we each own what we need to own, our own complicity and complacency in it.” Each of us is responsible to advocate for this change and to hold each other accountable to implement it.

Other articles by Brandy Williams:

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6 thoughts on “Sexual Harassment in OTO: Confronting the Issue

  1. This is an incredibly important post.

    Many of the problems with the way OTO fails to deal with sexual harassment of women are attended by identical problems with the way OTO fails to deal with abuse of all kinds, towards both men and women.

  2. This article moved me. I recently had a terrible experience with the abuse of power for sex in the OTO. My fiance left for a gnostic mass after we got into an argument and a high level member of the OTO took advantage of the situation and fucked her for three days straight and got off as much as he wanted and then let her hang out to dry. She returned to me and told me about it and it destroyed our love and now he’s happy as a clam and nicely satisfied and her and I are in hell (especially her, because I don’t love her anymore after that betrayal). I’m heartbroken and our whole relationship, which we built together with so much love over the past 5 months is in the toilet. We walked under the moon ever night. I was recently told that he couldn’t be punished because he’s a high level member of the OTO. I don’t even know him, but he clearly took advantage of his power within Thelema to get off over and over with my fiancee and now he’s going to get away with it. The catholic church has a new home, but the powerful priests get to take advantage of women sexually now, not just children.

  3. If the OTO was actually serious about ending sexual harassment and the quid-pro-quo system, they would make the program of advancement transparent and based on merit. The truth is, the fact that priests and priestesses can be limited in their functions (i.e. denied the right to baptize, confirm, and ordain) by their bishop places great power in the hands of bishops who may or may not have the best interests of the congregation or the order at heart.

    The entire OTO/EGC system is designed to be abused by the people further up the food-chain than the chum just below the surface. If the OTO was serious–if the OTO CARED–then restructuring, renaming, and reorganizing systems for dealing with allegations of abuse would end and actual would be taken. Of course, for the pencil-pushing PRS (Princes of the Royal Secret? No–Public Relations Spin-doctors) to actually do something would mean taking a good, hard look at themselves individually and collectively in the mirror and then changing–not just chanting and waving arms and burning incense and playing Crowleyer-than-thou–but actually changing as human beings. We will know this has happened when most of the grand lodge officers have resigned or been forced out and the OTO issues a blanket apology to all of those abused.

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