We will gather peacefully for silent meditation the morning of July 4th, 2018 from dawn until noon; and a peaceful assembly of free speech and expression from July 1st through the end of Vision Counsel; in the southern Appalachian Mountains. DIRECTIONS TO THE GATHERING ARE HERE (and contain road closure info, and other critical information. This post is updated frequently so check back for the latest.To learn how to get into the gathering without getting a mandatory court appearance ticket, click here.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Karin's 2 Cents on Sexual Assault at the Gathering


Many kind siblings have shared knowledge with me over many years and I have been included in or guided my own share of movies addressing the aftermath of sexual assault.

I am not the master of this by any means, but want to take the time to share with you what I have learned over the years either by my own experiences or by others sharing their experiences with me and others.

The big picture

First off, every situation is unique. Each individual involved in a situation is a unique being on this planet. In a true loving, caring, and creative community, I do not believe in a one size fits all approach to dealing with sexual assault.  Some of the most beautiful moments I have experienced at a gathering have been when we came together as a community to address issues of sexual assault.

Just to be clear, what I mean by sexual assault is non-consensual sexual activity or sexual activity with children.  Just to be clear on my perspective, I don't automatically believe sex with a minor in the 15-17 age bracket is sexual assault. Specificity counts with me.  The perspective of the 15-17 year old counts with me.

So this leads into two important terms.  "Victim" and "accused" or "suspect."  A victim is anyone who feels they have been sexually assaulted.  The voice of the victim should be in the center of anything that happens next. The wishes of the victim (short of inciting violence) should be at the center of anything that happens next.

The  "accused" or "suspect" is just that. The suspect has been accused by the victim of a sexual assault. Please keep in mind that just because someone is accused, does not make them guilty. Keep in mind that some situations are muddled and some people are muddled. Keep in mind that people at the gathering do mind altering substances that complicate people's perceptions, emotions, and actions. Keep in mind that this is tough stuff to deal with but the more we address it the better we all get at it.

However, we can't forget about the "Community."  The gathering is a community and when ever someone feels they have been sexually assaulted, the community suffers as well.

Please note I use the phrase "feels they have been sexually assaulted" not to dismisses the incident as unreal, but to honor the feelings of the victim.

When Sexual Assault Happens

If you feel you have been sexually assaulted, I strongly encourage you to seek assistance but I understand that you have the right to handle the situation in the way that works best for you (short of inciting violence).   My personal recommendations are that you confide in a close friend, talk to a trusted gatherer, and/or visit CALM, INFO, or one of the many camps with strong, peaceful and experienced family.  If you are new to the gathering, CALM and INFO are safe spaces with experienced gatherers who can support you.  If you are in immediate danger, please yell SHANTI SENA as loud as you can and family will be there to help you.

If someone you knows feels that they have been sexually assaulted, please lend an ear and ask them what kind of support you can provide. Ask the person if they are physically injured, have a safe place to stay, get them medical care if it is needed and wanted, and/or talk to someone else about the situation while maintaining everyone's privacy.  Anytime an accusation of sexual assault it made, the community needs to address it at some level.

So what next?

As with most gathering related issues, calling a circle is always a good option. Including a wide range of gatherers in the circle is always important. When we put our hearts together, the path forward will unfold our collective wisdom. This doesn't mean you need a circle in Main Meadow open to every gatherer.  Sometimes counciling in a remote calm space helps everyone listen from their hearts. In fact, many of these councils I have attended have been in somewhat private areas to help everyone feel safe.

Who participates?

In my opinion, both victim and suspect need to be included in a circle if they are willing. This doesn't have to mean the same circle although it can. There can be one circle for the victim and one for the suspect. Sometimes these circles are five or six people, sometimes they are twenty-five people. However, we always want to maintain the victim's privacy if the victim wants it maintained.

Having circles is important even if the victim and the suspect have no interest in participating.  When someone is sexually assaulted at the gathering, each and every one of us have been violated on some level and we need to address the situation. We address things by circling together and listening from our hearts. Circling can help us all increase our awareness, learn new strategies to prevent sexual assault in our community, and create the culture of caring which so many of us believe in deeply.

What happens in the circle?

No two situations are the same. No two circles are the same. I have experienced victim's tears, my own tear's, anger, lynch mob mentality (we are better than violence), people cross-examining victims / suspects / other gatherers. I've seen an accused wave a knife in people's faces. I've prayed with indigenous grandmothers. I've seen fights break out and get shut down quickly. I've experienced an emotional roller coaster and felt calm and focused.  I've experienced many people not wanting to press charges, but the circle asking the accused to leave the gathering and not return until they have learned the walk of peace and love. I've turned the accused over to the sheriff and cried about the lack of perfect justice in the world.

I've seen sister only and brother only circles when the assault took place between a sister and a brother. I've seen multi-gendered circles address the situation.

When we can circle with vulnerability and love, the universe generally reveals a path forward. Now I'm not saying the path forward is perfect, but finding a peaceful path forward for the victim, the accused, and the community is where the healing begins. I do not believe that using violence to address violence creates peace in this world.

No matter what else is happening, we respect the wishes of the victim (short of inciting violence) and protect the suspect from those whose journey on the peace way is a bit shaky.  Just to repeat: we protect the suspect from harm.

Keep in mind that just because you think you know who the accused is, doesn't mean you won't mix up that person with another random gatherer.  How many of you were in Wyoming in 2008? I walked a mother around the gathering for three days looking for her son. Many gatherers swore they had seen him last night, at the shitter, at dinner circle, etc.  Unbeknownst to anyone, he had been dead for at least a week before people "met him."

Violence never makes the less conscious more conscious. 

What about legal action?

Anytime someone is a victim of any crime at a gathering, they have the right to press charges against the suspect.   If the victim wants to press charges, we (meaning the gatherers on the land excluding Forest Service Personnel) need to call the local Sheriff and ask for the sheriff or the deputy to come take a statement.  If we have identified the suspect, we peacefully escort the suspect to the sheriff and/or deputies.  We should NEVER hit, harm, take property or be hateful to a suspect.  Be the love you want to see in this world. It's easy to love people who are kind. It's hard to love those who are less kind. Hating people does not increase the level of love in the world.  Hating people does not make the situation any better.  Hate does not erase what happened.

Other options

Sometimes we have a person who refuses to leave the gathering when asked by many people.

One good option is for peaceful people to supervise that person's every move. Following them around while keeping a respectful distance is important. Sitting outside the person's tent at night is important. With a 24-hour peaceful escort, many people decide they want to leave the gathering.

Giving someone green energy to help them get down the road can help.  Gas money or a ride to the nearest Greyhound station is one way to encourage someone to leave.

Healing circles with the accused can sometimes help someone learn new behavior if they are done in a respectful fashion with positive intentions and if the accused is open to learning from their mistakes. Many people come home attracted by new ideas and are willing to grow and learn and change their paradigm. We all can use some paradigm shifting.

Preventative Actions

I'm a firm believer that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In my blog post on Shanti Sena Basics I cover a lot of pro-active steps every gatherer can take to increase the peace and safety of each and every one of us. But the single most important part of creating gatherings where sexual assault does not  happen is to build our communities, connect with each other, and be our siblings' keepers.

Peace is a journey, not a destination


  1. I love your clear, consise, but thorough writing style, Karin. Thank you for writing this right now. My daughter's Me Too story happened at a Rainbow Gathering. You and I have been in several of these post-rape councils and even though they can be heartbreaking, they can be very healing as well. It's so important to stress to everyone that the accused is never to be harmed! Many folks online brag about how they will hurt someone who has raped someone. Well we are peaceful people and we aren't judge and jury. Your reminder that often folks are intoxicated or otherwise unable to remember things clearly sometimes is welcome. We certainly don't need to add assault to the equation. I want to add that we should always take an accuser seriously and listen carefully, even if she's upset and scattered. Try to calm her down, have her drink some tea and be comfortable. To make her feel safe and valued and respected. Never forget, men can be raped too. Consent must be enthusiastic, at best verbal assent before engaging. Not just a s(he) didn't say no.

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