Image from National Sexual Violence Resource Center
26 October, 2018
The following is a public letter of support for Deer Prunus, Gwynnie Brân Hale, and Jessica Ring. They have come forward as survivors of sexual and emotional abuse inflicted by Sean Donahue. The letter contains a public statement from Deer Prunus, a group statement of support for the survivors of Sean Donahue’s harm, and a call to action.
We believe the account detailed below of the sexual and emotional abuse they, and possibly others, have experienced at the hands of Sean Donahue while in a professional herbal teaching setting. Abuse was also suffered on the online social media platforms in the herbal community, and in personal homes. This letter does not include suggestions for restorative justice or frameworks for healing; that is yet to come. It is a representation of events and appropriate responses, including a call for immediate harm reduction.
Public Statement from Deer Prunus
Below is the statement from Deer Prunus which was crafted after their call out and consequent erasure of their posted story. Content warning for sexual and emotional abuse, spiritual abuse:
“Hey folx! I AM STILL HERE!! A full human, with my own thoughts, feelings, and desires. Today, I want to talk about my thoughts regarding Sean Donahue failing to tag me in posts. ABOUT ME. I'm also wanting to address some of the facts that have been posted by Sean, and that I've seen “floating” around lately.
Sean was understood to be posting about me because he ABUSED ME and was called out publicly after many other laborious conversations by myself and other femmes to get him to address his inclination to abuse his sexual advancements. It was part of his accountability and amends process to speak frankly about this and include his communities in supporting him to make necessary changes. He has failed to adequately represent the timeline of what he did to me and others, and has gone above and beyond to erase what has become OUR voices.
Erasure is serious, and has serious life-changing consequences. When he fails to tag me and my team of supporters on his posts concerning me, he erases my story and my capacity to engage in public discourse. When he fails to adequately represent what occured between us with stories of “free and honest” relationships and consent that never happened, he removes himself directly from the harm that he has knowingly caused. When he blocks my support team, he erases my access to voices that know more about what happened than his community does, and he erases the little affirming public regard that remains. When he erases their comments, he removes their invitation to truth and reconciliation. When he refuses to delete the comments that support a false story of what happened, or comments explicitly shaming me, he erases my access to the public forum intended to encourage him to grow, and to reduce the harm he perpetuated (and continues to perpetuate) in the community.
This growth is *not* limited to the victim. This process is also intended to help Sean Donahue address his predatory ways in a community that had access to the victims’ story and truth, with the aim of having as many femmes as possible be aware of this man in the herbal community. He has extensive knowledge of the pain of femmes that he has caused, and has also co-opted their terminology, which is why he acknowledged the need for reparations in the first place. This harm is willfully committed, even though an affront is often used by the perpetrator to claim otherwise. We need to challenge the isolation that other survivors ARE feeling.
He has chosen IN MANY WAYS to erase my story of my experiences, and the harm that he caused me and others. It might make him "look good" or it might make him "feel better" and ease the internal guilt from the actions he committed toward myself and others. It might otherwise support his one-sided fictional story of his engagement toward me. I wish to amend what he has spoken.
I was 22 years old when I first attended his classes under the professional umbrella of Pacific Rim College, and sought him out for help with chronic illness. Sean Donahue was twice my age at that time. I had just left a string of abusive relationships, had no family or friends in the area and was coming from a broken family. Sean knew all of that. I was 23 when he sexually assaulted me. I was 27 when I called him out, privately, after hearing another story of his abuse. And then I left behind everything associated with him- including my future, and my support. I'm 28 now, and I'm still realizing the extent to which the behaviors he chose were horrific, and how deeply he harmed me.
His erasure of these details, erases me. It serves NOTHING. At worst, it's a mirror image of the very corruption that he claims to “dismantle.” At best, it is masterfully used to confuse me, disorient me, and retraumatize me. This was much in the same manner that he manipulated and utilized me and my physical and intellectual resources- and that of other femmes for years.
I mourn the time that I spent around him. I resent those that saw us and were not critical of what they saw. I loathe those who TODAY perpetuate his harm- on me and ON OTHERS.
When you think that you care, do you share my posts so that other survivors of him might have connection rather than isolation? Do you stand up to him? You are not his “friend” if you are enabling him to evade accountability for his hurtful wrongdoings. Is this the kind of “healing” you want to enact in your community? Is it okay that so many youth are violently abused within the very communities they are seeking out “healing?” What are you doing to prevent and illuminate the ongoing and future harm of these people within our communities? What kind of legacy are we mindfully creating? We must intercept the abuse and isolation of survivors, many of which live inside marginalized bodies. There is nothing radical about silencing the voices of people speaking out against those who have enacted harm against them. There is no healing without accountability. There is no strength in a community if there is no attempt to repair damages made. There can be no reconciliation, no healing, no way to repair hurt and harm, until we centre Truth and the voices of those risking everything by speaking of the abuse they endured. Good people don't STAND BY and let others be abused. Check your complicity.”
Group Statement of Support
We believe survivors. As herbalists, we believe survivors even or especially when their abuser is another herbalist. We believe survivors even or especially when their abuser is a well known teacher with a large following. We know how much harder this must make it for the survivor to come forward. The aggressive backlash against survivors who speak about their abuse is real. It is the not-so subtle gaslighting by the supporters of those who abuse, the harassment, and the physical and mental illness inducing pressures against those who come forward. It is the loss of finances, of confidence, of self.
The denial of sexual assault and abuse is a problem of paramount concern to the herbal and pagan communities at this time, considering the disturbing abuse patterns that continue to be unearthed. When you disbelieve a survivor, you lend affirmation to the perpetrator and enable future abuse. It is the victim(s) who are in considerably more need of support and safety.
Sean Donahue has revealed himself as a threat and a predator. To date, three survivors have come forward exposing Donahue’s patterns of predation. Others may still be out there, isolated. It is not safe for Donahue to continue to teach. He uses his authority as a teacher to draw younger women/femmes into sexually abusive, manipulative relationships, within a skewed power dynamic. These relationships may cause tangible harm that extends beyond the traumas of his initial abuse. Donahue’s supporters perpetuate this harm when they put him on public class and conference lists, for his victims to see.
Accountability must include the voices of the survivors. We need to protect Deer, Gwynnie, and Jessica immediately. We need to protect victims because they are attempting to protect others from the same abuse they suffered. We need to create a healthy framework from which they can secure safety, support, and necessary resources for wellbeing and healing. We need to offer our humility and apologies for failing to protect them, and the many others that have suffered within the herbal and pagan communities. We MUST commit to creating stronger, safer communities as we move forward.
Call to Action
We welcome other individuals, schools, organizations, business or committees to please share this letter on their platforms to support the victims of Sean Donahue’s abuse. Please share freely in your communities to warn potential targets of this man. He targets femmes who are younger than him and who are often dealing with complex traumas/complex illnesses and/or physical disability.
In an effort to initiate harm reduction, we call on all herbal, pagan, and magical schools and conferences to stand in solidarity with his victims and bar Sean Donahue from teaching. We ask you to stand in solidarity with your own students and keep them from harm. We ask you to stand in solidarity with any person he may harm in the future through his influential position as a well known herbalist and magic teacher.
We urge schools, conferences, retreats or other gatherings to cancel classes taught by Sean Donahue, and cancel speaking engagements by him. Tell your students why the event is being cancelled, so they can avoid him in the future and convey the information among their community for their safety.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. May we all step into our higher selves and begin dismantling the power structures that uphold the abuse of peoples in our communities.
We, the undersigned commit to standing in solidarity with survivors:
Shelley Cater A.K.A. Gumby Cascadia
Joanne Kewageshig of Honey Pot Herbals
Pennie Magee, PhD
Stormie Sarah Kirk of Hedge & Hollow
Jordan Ashley Hocker
Lina Joksch of Truth and Clarity Coaching
Juliet Blankespoor of Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine
Lauren Giambrone of Good Fight Herb Co.
Sara Eschen + Gage Willis of Sierra Herbal Society
Dana L. Woodruff of Dandelioness Herbals
Danielle Gehl Hagel of Root and Bone Herbals
Vadi Arzu Erdal of Nazar Gonca
Anna Alexandre of Multiflora Botanicals
Stephanie Morningstar of Skyworld Apothecary
Mandana Vasseghi-Boushee of Wild Gather: Hudson Valley School of Herbal Studies
Jennifer Patterson of Corpus Ritual
Lauren Cooper of Greenstar Farm and Apothecary
Dani Morningstar of Folk Method Oxymels
Tara Ní Máire of Catalyst Community Herbals
Amber Westfall of The Wild Garden
Lisa Fazio of the Root Circle
Fern Wynn of a Wild Light Apothecary
Carla Vargas Frank of Yerba Nomadica
Aaron Ambrose of Well Worn Apothecary
cheré suzette bergeron of Sassafras Healing Arts
Azrael Avey Nim
Brittany Ducham of Spellbound Herbals
maya brown of mayamade apothecaries
Ari Kirk of Liminal Gallery
Naomi Townsend of Kitchen Bitchery
Nikki Darrell and Alex Duffy of the Plant Medicine School
Marc N. Williams of Plant and Healer International
Dave Pike, Street Medic Trainer
Jennifer Zumba of Ambrosia Herbals
Autumn Angel of Blue Jays and Vervain Herbals
Valerie J. Yoder
Brunem Warshaw of Well Deep Remedies
Kristen Funk, RHT
Rebecca Beyer of Blood and Spicebush
Meisha Heij Mariano of Heks Botanicals
laura marie ruocco
Nathan Thompson of NGT Herbals
Emma Day of Black Spruce Herbals
Cheyenne Caza of Wisewood Apothecary
Miel Rose Leslie of Flame & Honeycomb
Amanda David of Rootwork Herbals
Lori Anne Honey Frost of Santa Fe Botanicals
Nori Rose-The Bluebonnet Witch
Dandelion Seed Conference
Adrian White of Deer Nation Herbs & Jupiter Ridge LLC
Henriette Kress of Henriette's Herbal
Catherine Foley of Help Your Self
Jessica Erin Keeler Sellner
Alison Garber of Native Apothecary
Madalyn Sarena Peratoner Berg of The Community Medicine Cabinet
Laurel Irons of Amphoterica Botanicals