Forgiving psychedelic abusers should never be at the expense of their victims

By Oriana Mayorga and Patrick Smith | May, 10, 2019

Forgiving psychedelic abusers should never be at the expense of their victims

By Oriana Mayorga and Patrick Smith
May 10, 2019

Content notice: this piece contains discussion of sexual abuse and spiking

Being a member of the psychedelic community is a unique and beautiful thing.

We have access to resources and magic that very few people in the world are privileged enough to encounter. We are surrounded by many wise, loving and compassionate beings. We are united in our desire to forge a new story of connection, freedom, and life.

Yet there is also danger at every corner. We have no regulator; no overseeing body to keep us safe. Many of our activities are illegal, and it falls on the shoulders of individuals to protect others from systemic, institutional, or isolated acts of violence.

For abusers, the psychedelic community is a fertile hunting ground. Vulnerable people are often drawn to psychedelics – sometimes looking for treatment of mental health conditions, sometimes looking for meaning in a world with increasingly little.

In a society with an already woeful understanding of consent, and where we are all exposed to powerful patriarchal standards, this mixture is potentially lethal.

Unsurprisingly, we’ve seen a rash of powerful men – often therapists or shamans – abusing their power and authority to manipulate, spike, and rape people who are in some of the most vulnerable states imaginable. 

Daniel Pinchbeck, a bestselling psychedelic author, admitted to using psychedelics as “tools of seduction,” and several women (including former employees) came forward with stories of sexual misconduct. Rick Ingrasci, a psychiatrist and MDMA therapist, surrendered his medical license and left his practice after being sued by two former patients over alleged sexual abuse. Gerry Sandoval, a Bufo alvarius “healer,” has been accused of rape and druggings by a number of different women. Neal Goldsmith was removed from the board of Horizons in 2018 after a community effort, led by co-author of this article Oriana Mayorga, confirmed allegations of sexual misconduct.

And these are only the most public cases.

Everywhere are stories of shamans using their power to abuse, rape, and drug. From ayahuasca to MDMA, every substance has its share of fraudulent practitioners and immoral opportunists.

Clearly, the question of how we deal with this problem is going to be a determining factor in the evolution of the new psychedelic renaissance. What shape is our community going to take in order to confront this unique evil?

A recent article published by Chacruna has contributed to this discussion by suggesting that forgiveness and understanding are going to help us overcome the problem of abuse in the psychedelic community. Only by offering a path toward redemption can we hope to turn some abusers (many of whom are suffering themselves) away from potential violence.

I and many others in the community agree that redemption must be offered to abusers if we are to develop into a tolerant and compassionate group. However, we also believe that this forgiveness should never be given at the expense of victims and that accountability for abuse is a prerequisite for forgiveness.

We believe that Chacruna has not approached this issue with balance and care. Here, we aim to point out where we believe those failings lie, and to suggest the approaches that the community must take when the question is asked: Where will abusers fit into our future?


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Pinchbeck: Handing the Microphone to an Abuser

Daniel Pinchbeck is an author and community organizer who has also abused multiple women, using psychedelics as “tools of seduction,” in his own words. Although he has publicly shown remorse for his actions, many in the community feel that he still lacks true humility, and refuses to take personal responsibility for his actions.

In March, the microdosing advocacy website The Third Wave decided to cancel a scheduled public event that headlined Pinchbeck as the sole guest, after an internal protest and a social media backlash from the community.

Now, Chacruna have headlined Pinchbeck in an interview, allowing him to explain his abuses in terms of his own suffering, and using him as a vehicle to promote a recently published guide on protecting yourself from psychedelic abusers.

The article opens with a long summary of Pinchbeck’s qualifications and publications before even mentioning his abusive behaviors. And when they are eventually brought up, there is no focus on his own (admitted) guilt, but rather on the “widespread criticism and attacks from within the psychedelic community” he has received for his “outspoken admissions.” He is made to sound like a martyr.

Throughout the interview itself, there is no real attempt to confront Pinchbeck’s abuse. Pinchbeck is not prompted to consider the trauma he has caused in his victims. He is not challenged to prove what he has actually done to contribute to the community. He is not asked why we should take anything he is saying at face value.

Instead, Pinchbeck offers us advice on consent: “One idea might be that people define their boundaries verbally before they take substances together, especially if they do not know each other well.” Although Pinchbeck is right about this, should we really be hearing it from an abuser? Why not an expert on sexuality and consent instead?

Perhaps we are sending out the wrong message if we hold up a microphone to abusers (no matter how reformed they are) to let them dictate the rules of consent.

In the discussion about whether it’s possible to consent to sex while on psychedelics, let’s fill in what was missing in the Pinchbeck interview and hear some expert opinions on what substances do to our ability to consent:

“Someone taking advantage of someone [already] on MDMA is just as serious [as someone giving it to them] because that person knows the other person cannot honestly consent.” – Tracey Wise, founder of Safe Gigs for Women.

“[MDMA]’s purpose is to create a feeling of bonding, euphoria, relaxation, etc., so a person is not able to accurately judge a situation’s risk of threat. The flight or flight instinct is therefore impaired.” – Kathryn Stamoulis, PhD, LMHC, educational psychologist and sex educator.

“If the drug is used as a means to affect someone’s ability to consent to sex, then this is rape and the drug is used to rape someone.” – Chardonnay Madkins, Project Manager for End Rape on Campus.

Source for these quotes.

What was missing in the interview with Pinchbeck was the presence of contrasting views; an expert, maybe even an abuse survivor. Instead, Pinchbeck is given uncontested space to make excuses (“The use of substances as tools of seduction is quite common in the psychedelic and festival community”) while deflecting his own role in the abuse (“A great deal of my personal shadow material was trapped in my wounds around sexuality”) and shifting the blame to the victims (“I am concerned that the #MeToo movement […] will push many powerful, creative men toward the Right”).

We are concerned that the approach Chacruna have taken in this interview potentially emboldens abusers and denies that this issue requires balance and grace.


Yes, Abusers Should Have The Chance To Reintegrate – With Utmost Caution

We believe the biggest oversight of this interview is that Pinchbeck’s victims were not considered. The authors decided that the best way to heal the community was by handing the microphone to Pinchbeck, without any attempt at balance or accountability.

The fair consideration of Pinchbeck’s victims doesn’t necessarily need to go as far as contacting them directly; certainly there are good reasons for Chacruna deciding not to do this. However, we feel that the authors were negligent by handing so much power to Pinchbeck, without considering the potential harm to his victims.

It is the responsibility of the powerful members of our community to make sure that any process of accountability or reintegration of an abuser is done with utmost care. We must avoid perpetuating the kind of power imbalance between abuser and victim that enabled them to abuse in the first place. Survivors must always take precedence.

We should learn from accountability processes such as the one carried out for Reid Mihalko. After his sexual misconduct, Mihalko (a sex therapist) underwent a uniquely public and thorough reintegration process, that involved a group of experts and members of the sex positive community overseeing his potential re-acceptance into the community over the course of a year’s worth of intensive work. At no point was he given the opportunity to grandstand or proselytise. At no point was he given room to uncontestedly blame others for his actions.

This is what our community must look like. One where we protect the vulnerable, and hold the powerful accountable, as a group of peers, always.

If we become a psychedelic community that forgives and platforms abusers without holding them accountable, and without considering the people who they’ve hurt the most – then that’s not a community of morality, integrity, and love. And we should want no part of it.

This article was contributed to and edited by several anonymous community members in addition to the two co-authors.

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