Annual Report of the Association for the Protection of Vaisnava Children
by Dhira Govinda dasa
Posted February 27, 2003


Dear Maharajas and Prabhus,

Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

In this posting and as an attached RTF file is the annual report for 2002 for the Association for the Protection of Vaisnava Children. I look forward to continued service to the Vaisnava community through the child protection office. Please contact me if you have any questions or comments on the report, or in connection with any child protection concerns. Hare Krsna.

Your servant,

Dhira Govinda dasa
APVC-Director


Annual Report of the Association for the Protection of Vaisnava Children for 2002

In 1997 the GBC formed the ISKCON Child Protection Task Force. This committee produced the ISKCON Child Protection Task Force Report and submitted it to the GBC in 1998. At the annual GBC meetings in 1998 the GBC ratified this report, which proposed the establishment of a central office of child protection to coordinate the child protection activities of the movement. On April 1, 1998, the ISKCON Central Office of Child Protection (a.k.a. the Association for the Protection of Vaisnava Children) began functioning. The Task Force Report mandates the Association for the Protection of Vaisnava Children (APVC) to conduct activities in several child protection areas, and this report describes the activities of the office in its various capacities.

Resource and Guidance Center

The APVC receives hundreds of contacts each year from devotees requesting guidance and information on child protection concerns. Examples of some typical scenarios addressed during the past year and the subsequent intervention from the APVC are provided below.

A child sexual abuse perpetrator contacts the APVC. His term of complete ban from the ISKCON organization, as defined in an APVC Official Decision several years ago, has expired, and he seeks confirmation that he can now visit ISKCON temples. The APVC reviews his compliance file and contacts senior devotees with whom he has been in contact, to determine whether the abuser has adequately complied with the rectification plan. Some temples contact the APVC and state that, even if the ban is lifted, that temple won't permit this person to visit. The APVC confirms that this is legitimate, as the APVC Official Decisions define minimum restrictions, and temples and other ISKCON entities can impose more severe restrictions.

A woman devotee, whose husband holds an administrative position in ISKCON, reports to the APVC that, based on comments her 10 year old daughter has made, she suspects that her husband has acted in sexually inappropriate ways towards their daughter. The APVC provides guidance to the mother for gaining more concrete information from the daughter, and pursues the investigation of these allegations. In such cases it is important to protect the child if she is endangered, while exercising caution to avoid propagating rumors and false allegations, and to avoid unnecessarily disrupting the family and the devotional community.

A mother reports that her former husband, who now resides in an ISKCON temple on a different continent, regularly physically abused their son. An APVC staff member interviews the boy to determine whether there is compelling evidence of child physical maltreatment. Based on the statements of the boy, the APVC contacts the father by email and asks him to complete a questionnaire based on the accusations. The investigation is pursued to determine facts and, if necessary, appropriate rectification for the father.

A devotee father contacts the APVC to inquire about an Official Decision on a child abuse case that was resolved a few years ago. This decision banned a child sexual abuser from the ISKCON organization. This abuser has now appeared, in sannyasa dress, in a non-ISKCON asrama in South India. The father's teenage son is in this asrama, as are the sons of other Vaisnavas with whom this devotee father is close. The APVC sends the decision document as well as other documentation from the case file to this parent, who shares it with the asrama managers. The APVC offers its assistance and availability to the parent in responsibly addressing this situation.

The APVC receives a report that two adolescent girls have provided recorded testimony stating that they were severely sexually abused for several years by a family friend. This alleged abuser is a respected member of an ISKCON community in India. Their testimony indicates that several persons may have been involved in the abuse. One parent of the girls expresses doubt in the veracity of their testimony. The APVC obtains the tapes of the interviews, and pursues the investigation, in cooperation with the parents as well as State and temple authorities.

A temple president inquires from the APVC about how to handle a case of alleged child abuse. A boy has disclosed that a senior temple resident has been having sexual interaction with him for many years. The boy's parents, while very concerned about his protection and emotional health, do not want to pursue the case, for fear that the boy will be stigmatized and this will damage him more than the abuse itself. APVC staff provides guidance to the temple president and the director of the temple child protection team on dealing with the alleged abuser, the boy and his parents, and the Vaisnava community.

The Vice-president of a large city temple contacts the APVC regarding an incident that occurred at the Sunday Feast the previous day. She describes that a temple cook allegedly touched a teenage girl in a way that the girl perceived as sexual. After the girl revealed this, the girl's two sisters also indicated that this cook had touched them in similar ways in recent months. An APVC staff member gives guidance to the Vice- president on how to interview the girls and, based on the report of the youth, to interview the alleged abuser. Additionally, the APVC provides guidance on State laws regarding mandated reporting of suspected child abuse. Then the APVC contacts and speaks with a senior congregation member, whom the Vice-president feels would be an appropriate person to conduct the interviews, due to his respected position in the community and the trust that the cook and girls have in him. The APVC gives direction on conducting interviews and other aspects of investigative protocol, and assures him that the APVC is available for further counsel as necessary.

Outreach and Education

Outreach activities of the APVC include helping temples to establish child protection teams, institute effective screening procedures for staff and volunteers, and develop child protection education programs for children, parents, teachers and administrators.

The APVC sends packets of information on outreach programs to temples, and follows up with the temple leaders and child protection team members regarding utilization of this information. A leader in a Vaisnava community wrote "My compliments to the devotees working with the child protection office. Your latest mailout with the application/screening form, interview questions, etc., was excellent, informative, and above all, useful! We will be incorporating as much of it as is applicable to our situation. Also, I plan to update the membership application for our community to include abuse screening. We already require a criminal record check."

We urge ISKCON leaders throughout the world to take personal responsibility to ensure that child protection safeguards, such as education and screening, are in place at the temples under your jurisdiction. Please contact the APVC for any assistance or information you may require in this regard. Also, the office now has a website, www.apvc.org, describing APVC functions and serving as a child protection resource for devotees.

In Mayapur in 2002 the APVC Director made several presentations on child protection, including two at the GBC meetings and one at the temple presidents meeting. The presentations at the GBC meetings were followups on the full-day child protection education seminar conducted by the APVC Director at the 2001 GBC meetings, which was attended by about 100 ISKCON leaders.

Devotees who serve on panels for APVC-related child maltreatment cases participate in a 4-day intensive training on child abuse and child protection issues. Speakers at these courses have included Dr. Kathryn Kuenhle, a world renowned expert on child abuse investigations and treatment of children who have been abused, Dr. Howard Rogers, Medical Director of the Alachua County, Florida, Child Protection Team, and Dr. Michael Teague, a forensic psychologist with the police department of Raleigh, North Carolina, and a leader in the field of forensic psychology applied to child abuse cases. Dr. Teague stated "I very much applaud the work of the Association for the Protection of Vaisnava Children. I am impressed by your commitment and sacrifice. So many groups do lip service to protection of children, but your organization really epitomizes the ideal of taking action in this area."

Case Investigation and Adjudication

One of the directives of the Task Force Report is for the APVC to investigate and adjudicate cases of alleged child abuse connected with ISKCON. The office has established systems, consistent with the guidelines of the Task Force Report, for investigating and adjudicating accusations of child abuse connected with the movement. These systems are not meant to supplant governmental social service and law enforcement systems. Rather, the internal system addresses issues and cases that State systems will not. For example, if a child abuser is convicted and serves time in prison, when he is released the government authorities will not directly concern themselves with whether he is permitted to give a Srimad-Bhagavatam class in an ISKCON temple, or join the staff of a gurukula. As members of ISKCON, dedicated to protecting the children of our spiritual society and preserving the integrity of Srila Prabhupada's organization, we are naturally concerned about such things. Also, many cases, for various reasons, such as duration of time elapsed and unwillingness of the alleged victims to press charges, will never be heard in the State court system. It is important that accusations are dealt with responsibly within our Vaisnava society. The APVC advises all members of Srila Prabhupada's movement to learn and follow their local laws concerning child maltreatment and mandated reporting of child abuse and child neglect, and to fully cooperate with government authorities in their investigation of allegations of child mistreatment.

Since the office opened in 1998 the APVC has received accusations of child maltreatment allegedly committed by more than 300 alleged perpetrators. While some of these accusations involve alleged incidents that happened in ISKCON temples, or by persons representing ISKCON, many of the accusations relate to alleged incidents occurring in the congregation, or alleged incidents having no connection with ISKCON whatsoever, but involving an alleged abuser who now has some relationship with ISKCON. When an accusation is received, the APVC works with leaders in the devotee community to deal with the situation in a balanced and fair way while the investigation is pursued. The adjudicatory system involves sending a case, after it has been investigated, to a panel of child protection judges. Mr. Stephen Johnson, a lawyer for more than thirty years who has worked with and helped ISKCON in various capacities, including serving as the legal representative for an alleged child sexual abuser connected with the organization, wrote "I have been very impressed with the efforts of the APVC on behalf of ISKCON International in dealing with child abuse situations. I reviewed their adjudicatory process, their procedures, their definitional sections and the training involved in becoming judges in that adjudicative process. I find that process to be one which affords due process to the person who is the alleged perpetrator, as well as opportunities for rebuttal, and strikes the necessary balance between fundamental fairness and the search for truth. In this regard, APVC's initiative is a very important one. The APVC shows sensitivity to the victims as well as understanding of the perpetrators and provides for opportunities for those perpetrators to make amends and continue on their spiritual path, while making sure the Vaisnava children are protected."

Official Decisions on cases have been issued by the APVC since 1998, with many items in the rectification plans of those cases being time-dependent. The extent to which the APVC can determine compliance is largely dependent on reports and documentation it receives from local devotees. Thus, it is very important that temple leaders and child protection team members, as well as other devotees in the community, have access to the Official Decisions, and report relevant information to the APVC.

For protection of children and the integrity of Srila Prabhupada's movement it is essential that ISKCON leaders strictly enforce the Official Decisions on cases of child maltreatment. The APVC is available for guidance in this regard.

The father of a former gurukuli wrote to the APVC, responding to the copy he had received of the Official Decision on the case of his son's abuser, and also commenting on assistance that the office has provided to his son: "You [the APVC] are doing something very wonderful and necessary for the children of Srila Prabhupada. You are providing a rallying point. A place from which they can unload their anger and hopefully get on with their lives. An umbrella to protect them. You are giving relief to their feelings of helplessness, of having no shelter and of being unwanted. You are explaining the thing honestly, and asserting in a very strong voice, just like Maharaja Pariksit, that the influence of Kali against our major asset, our youth, will neither be tolerated nor covered up. Your office stands up for integrity and gives these kids a necessary boost. The panel showed great balance and restraint and Krsna conscious integrity. You folks exhibited a lot of courage and spunk by not making it a political/PR ploy."

Another devotee wrote "Just imagine if the APVC had not stepped in to bring some sanity to the [name of child abuse perpetrator] situation. We had been screaming for months - sending out hundreds of letters around the world - but with no practical result. Until your office became involved, nothing was being accomplished, and the abuser was simply laughing at us. (And this is only one example.) So please rest assured that your service is most valuable and appreciated indeed."

This past year the APVC has worked extensively on processing cases of appeal of the original Official Decision, and also on determining compliance with decisions, and encouraging ISKCON leadership to enforce compliance.

Grant Program

Since 1998 the APVC has issued more than $230,000 in grants to youth who were maltreated when they were children under the care of ISKCON. These grants have been used for educational and vocational development, and for mental health therapy. The APVC has received a targeted donation of $6,000 per year for tuition for Vaisnava youth to attend specific, therapeutic seminars. Several youth have been recipients of these grants and have expressed that they've benefited greatly from these workshops. Other than these targeted contributions, the APVC does not at present have funds for the grant program.

Here are some comments from youth who have received grants from the APVC. "Thank you, thank you, thank you, for the kind, considerate manner you have shown me- for giving me hope that perhaps I do have a place in ISKCON, and for restoring, to a degree, my faith in Krsna and Srila Prabhupada...I wanted to make sure I let you know how much I appreciate all you have done....Almost a decade has passed since I began losing my faith, so this replenishment is somewhat unfamiliar." Another grant recipient wrote "Thank you very much. I've spent so much time being negative towards people in ISKCON that it's somewhat difficult to change. It's hard to know what to say. Thank you." Other responses include "The service the Child Protection Office is doing for the gurukulis is wonderful. I am very grateful for your help. In the past I had no motivation or goals in life. Now I am going to college...Through Krsna's smooth arrangement and your kind help I am doing wonderfully in college, dreams I have are being realized and I actually feel happy- no longer hopeless and sad," and "My heartfelt thanks and gratitude goes out to everyone who has made this all possible. I feel that through these wonderful gestures and helping, gurukulis attain a measure of security and relative peace in this material world. This is all bringing us closer together, and we know that ISKCON really is trying, and that a lot of devotees do care about us in many ways. Thank you sincerely."

Finances

In 1999 the GBC made a million dollar pledge towards helping the youth through the APVC. Since the inception of the APVC the GBC has provided about $710,000 to the office. Since its inception in 1998, funding for the APVC has decreased each year, including a significant drop in funding in 2002. The office has endeavored to secure grants from outside agencies, though thus far no grants have been obtained. Plans for the Upcoming Year

APVC staff will continue to be available to provide guidance to parents, temple leaders, and other members of the Vaisnava community who have child protection concerns and questions. Also, the office will continue with its outreach and educational endeavors. Additionally, the APVC is developing courses for youth to acquire practical life skills and cultivate self-awareness towards healing the wounds stemming from abusive experiences during childhood. The office is working cooperatively with Children of Krishna in this project. During the upcoming year the office will continue to respond to allegations of child maltreatment, and to investigate and resolve cases, in conjunction with the dozens of trained child protection judges around the world, and the hundreds of devotees internationally who serve on child protection teams and in other capacities connected with child abuse prevention. The APVC staff is available to address your concerns and answer your questions regarding functioning of the office and all child protection issues. We will assist you in any way we can to help make your community safe for the children of our Vaisnava society. Hare Krsna.


(Click here to download this as an RTF file)