Report On the Status of the ISKCON Child Protection Office [June, 2004]
Posted June 15, 2006
By the late 1980s there were widespread reports about extensive child maltreatment throughout ISKCON. In 1990 the ISKCON Governing Body Commission (GBC) passed resolution 119, which attempted to establish a system of investigating, reporting, and preventing incidents of child abuse. Though this resolution did not contain significant power of enforcement, it did provide some common-sense guidelines for child protection, and it sent the message that ISKCON recognizes that mistreatment of children in its communities is a serious issue.
Increasing numbers of Vaisnava youth voiced themselves, in forums such as newsletters and reunions, and their stories of abuse and neglect were increasingly publicized. At a meeting in Florida in May1996 a group of former gurukula pupils addressed the assembled devotees, including most of the leadership of ISKCON North America, about the suffering they experienced as children under the care of ISKCON. This resulted in the formation of Children of Krishna, an organization that issues grants to assist Vaisnava youth with educational and vocational development, as well as mental health therapy. Children of Krishna also facilitates the organization of devotee youth projects, such as camps and reunions.
In 1997 the GBC established 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 for the movement. On April 1, 1998, the ISKCON Central Office of Child Protection began functioning. Legally, the organization is incorporated as a non-profit organization in the State of Florida called The Association for the Protection of Children (APC), also sometimes known as The Association for the Protection of Vaisnava Children (APVC). This report will refer to the APC as the ISKCON Child Protection Office (CPO), and will discuss the history and present status of its functions, including serving as a resource and guidance center, investigating and adjudicating cases of alleged child maltreatment connected with ISKCON, providing grants for youth who were mistreated when they were children in ISKCON, and facilitating temples and schools to institute child protection education and prevention systems. For more extensive description and analysis about the prevalence, background, causes of and response to child maltreatment in ISKCON refer to the chapter Child Abuse and the Hare Krishnas: History and Response, in the book The Hare Krishna Movement: The Postcharismatic Fate of a Religious Transplant, published by Columbia University Press in 2004.
Investigation and Adjudication
As per the Task Force Report, an important function of the CPO is to investigate and adjudicate cases of alleged child abuse and neglect connected with ISKCON. Consistent with the Task Force Report guidelines, the office has established systems 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 a 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.
Within about two years of its inception, the CPO had received accusations of child maltreatment allegedly committed by more than 300 alleged perpetrators. Since that time the office continues to regularly receive accusations, though not with the frequency of the initial couple years. When an accusation is received, the CPO 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 trained child protection judges. Though not all cases are processed through the full adjudicatory system, the CPO has adjudicated several dozen cases. By late 2000 the 30-40 high-profile cases in ISKCON had been investigated and adjudicated by the CPO, with “high-profile” defined as at least one-quarter of the leadership of the movement having heard about the case.
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, APC’s initiative is a very important one. The APC 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.”
In approaching a case, the CPO assumes a judicial, rather than a prosecutorial or defense stance. That is, the CPO is as interested to find evidence that will acquit as evidence that will convict. Generallly the comments that the CPO receives on its case processing are that the decisions and processes are balanced, professional and reasonable. Amongst those who express dissatisfaction with the decisions and processes, members of the GBC body tend to opine that the CPO processes and decisions are biased against the accused. Amongst those who are not members of the GBC body and who express dissatisfaction with the processes and decisions of the CPO, the tenor of the objections is that the CPO processes and decisions are biased against the plaintiff.
For the past 2-3 years the investigative and adjudicatory functions of the CPO have been less emphasized compared with the formative chapter of the office. In part this is a natural development, from focus on clearing the past to refocusing on proactive measures for the present and future.
Compliance and Enforcement
Another reason for diminished emphasis on adjudication is the difficulty with compliance and enforcement of CPO decisions. Restrictions on perpetrators as defined in CPO official decisions which result from adjudicatory processes are, according to the Task Force Report, ISKCON law, which ISKCON leaders are required to enforce. Though some temples and leaders are very cooperative with this directive, many have been negligent about it. This has further led the CPO to concentrate on proactive outreach, education and healing work with sectors of the movement that are receptive. The CPO encourages temple leaders and child protection team members, as well as all members of Vaisnava communities, to report relevant information to the CPO, so that the office can track compliance. 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 CPO is available for guidance in this regard. Research has shown that the trauma for a child abuse victim is lessened if he or she sees that there are consequences for the offender, and that those consequences are publicized.
Favoritism and the Appeal Process
Shortly before the Task Force Report was issued, a committee of devotees, separate from the Task Force, critiqued it. The committee’s main concerns with the system proposed by the Task Force were that it contained “Loop holes that can be used by abusers who have ‘friends in high places’”, and that the body of appeal for CPO Official Decisions is the GBC Executive Committee. These concerns have proven to be warranted.
Though the GBC has allowed the CPO to process and adjudicate the great majority of cases, the few instances where the GBC has intervened are cases involving persons closely involved with the ISKCON power structure. Also, systemic GBC involvement with the appeal system has in several instances caused at least the perception of cronyism and bias towards alleged perpetrators.
Processing Cases of Leaders in Supervisory Positions
An issue for the CPO is whether and to what extent to prioritize the processing of cases of persons who served in the line of authority of schools and temples where extensive and rampant child abuse occurred. These are not persons who directly physically or sexually abused children, or even the supervisors, or school headmasters in the first line of authority for the actions of the perpetrators. In addressing cases of neglect of supervision by gurukula headmasters in schools where abuse was extensive, the CPO met with impassioned resistance from GBCs and other leaders who have worked closely with the headmasters, or former headmasters, under investigation. In a first world justice system acting within a society holding contemporary views toward child protection, cases of the supervisors of the managers would likely be processed. Considering the extent of child suffering and maltreatment in some ISKCON locations, a secular court would very possibly find criminal neglect on the part of the overseers of the administrators. To date, the CPO has not substantially investigated or in any way adjudicated the cases of upper-level leadership.
Outreach and Training
The CPO guides and assists temples and schools to establish child protection teams (CPTs), institute effective child protection screening procedures, and ensure that the members of its community, children and adults, are sufficiently educated about child abuse issues. It is especially important that children are knowledgeable about how to protect themselves. Whatever precautions are taken to prevent abuse, there is in this age a significant likelihood that at some point during childhood or youth a youngster will be approached by someone with abusive intentions. Thus, education about self-protection is an important line of defense.
It has been more than two years since the CPO has taken a consequential survey of CPTs, screening procedures and education programs around the world. An updated assessment and its publicity around ISKCON will be an important goal for the CPO to pursue. Even the surveys that were done from 1998-2002 primarily focused on North America and Europe, and somewhat on India. The child protection situation on all continents needs to be assessed, and especially areas where such assessment has not yet been conducted. 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.
From 1998-2001 the CPO conducted three intensive 4-day child protection trainings. These were held in North Carolina, Italy, and Florida. Most of the 50+ participants in these trainings have served as child protection panel members for CPO adjudicatory panels. These trainings covered a wide range of child protection topics, including types, causes and symptoms of maltreatment, governmental systems to address child abuse, the psychology of sex offenders, adolescent sex offenders, interviewing and communication techniques, myths and misconceptions about child abuse, treatment for survivors of child maltreatment, forensic issues, personal issues in assessment and evaluation of cases, legal issues related to child abuse and spiritual/religious organizations, and establishment of preventative systems. The workshops included presentations from internationally recognized experts in fields such as forensic psychology and child abuse cases, medical assessment of alleged child abuse, and therapy for child abuse survivors. 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, made presentations at two of the 4-day workshops. He stated “I very much applaud the work of the Association for the Protection of 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.”
In addition to these 4-day trainings, CPO staff has presented many shorter seminars to diverse audiences, including the ISKCON leadership in Mayapur, continental ISKCON meetings, gurukula students, parents, and CPT members.
We suggest that the CPO regularly organizes intensive trainings, so that at least a few persons in each Vaisnava community is trained in child protection topics. Also, shorter seminars by trained personnel, whether from the CPO, the local devotee community, or the secular social service world, are important to maintain and expand the awareness of child protection.
Grants for Youth
In accord with the suggestions of the Task Force Report, the CPO operated a grant program for youth who were abused when they were children under the care of ISKCON. During the first three years of the CPO more than $200,000 were given in grants. These monies were used for mental health therapy as well as vocational and educational development. For more than three years there has been very limited funding for grants. Altogether the CPO has granted about $250,000, with grants during the past 1-2 years mainly funded by a few donations targeted towards specific healing modalities.
Late in 2002, as part of its proactive refocusing effort on healing wounds and facilitating positively transformed lives for Vaisnava youth, the CPO, in consultation with a GBC representative, developed training programs for devotee youth. Some comments from participants in these programs are given below:
“Regarding abuse that happened when I was in gurukula, I released a big load of painful emotions connected with that…I really appreciate that these seminars are being done by devotees, and how expertly it is all tied in with Srila Prabhupada’s teachings…I strongly recommend that every gurukuli should do this seminar. And all devotees who were abused by the negative aspects of institutional life. It’ll transform your life.” [Govinda dasa]
“This Life Skills Course facilitates us systematically to overcome our deficits and inhibitions regarding effective communication, listening, goal-setting and goal-achievement…Through this course we learned to utilize a set of highly effective skills that opens eyes to an existence that is both empowering and invigorating. I truly hope more and more youth participate so that we can serve Lord Caitanya’s mission with optimum cooperation and commitment to each other.”[Kartamasa dasa]
“I have benefited tremendously from these seminars. I attended the Foundational Course with a fair amount of skepticism. But after I applied myself to the concepts and exercises, I gained practical tools that factually enhanced my life and relationships with others. Thus my interest and desire to participate in the Advanced Course was born. My experience in the Advanced Course has changed my life for the better emotionally, physically and spiritually. I have been able to change behavioral patterns that blocked me from tapping into the areas of strength and talent that Sri Krsna has given to me.” [Ganga dasi]
Resource and Guidance Center
The CPO responds to thousands of contacts related to a multitude of child protection matters. These include concerns related to aforementioned functions such as case investigations, screening, and education, as well as calls for counseling, crisis-intervention, and a host of other concerns. Some examples include: Temple managers contact the CPO for guidance in dealing with a confessed sex abuse perpetrator in the community. The perpetrator also contacts the CPO. He is cooperative and sensitive to the situation, and is apparently sincere about rehabilitation. CPO staff provides guidance and direction for handling the situation; A devotee in a Vaisnava community reports to the CPO about a single mother living on temple grounds who apparently neglects and physically mistreats her baby and her toddler. The CPO interfaces with temple authorities, the mother, and the devotee making the report, providing assistance in making decisions about calling State social service authorities and other delicate aspects of the situation; A temple president requests guidance from the CPO regarding a case of a visitor to the temple acting in sexually inappropriate ways towards teenage girls; A temple authority asks the CPO to check its files to determine whether the office has received allegations against two persons who are new members of that Vaisnava community; A Vaisnava youth speaks to CPO staff about a known sex abuse perpetrator, specifically in regards to apparent lack of compliance with the CPO Official Decision on his case; A CPT member of a large city temple asks for guidance in dealing with a situation involving a young adolescent apparently sexually aggressive towards young children. The parents of the adolescent are not open to counseling for the child or themselves, and seem to minimize the situation.
In 1998 The Child Protection Task Force suggested a minimum annual budget of about $170,000 for the CPO to effectively fulfill its mission. Funding for the CPO has been almost exclusively from contributions from members of ISKCON leadership. For approximately the first two years of its operation CPO annual funding was about $160,000-$170,000. For the next two years funding dropped to about $120,000 per year, and for the past two years the funding has been substantially below that level. In 1999 the GBC made a pledge to help the youth through the CPO by committing to contribute $1,000,000 through the end of 2002 to CPO efforts and especially to the youth grant fund. As described above, approximately $250,000 has been given in grants, and the cumulative CPO budget to date has been about $760,000. The office has endeavored to secure grants from outside agencies, though thus far no grants have been obtained. It may be worthwhile for the office to continue to pursue outside funding.
Culture of Accountability
Since the creation of the CPO in 1998 there has been considerable consciousness-raising about child protection and child abuse issues throughout many segments of Srila Prabhupada’s movement. For example, in one community with a history of extensive mistreatment of children, the attitude and behavior towards children and youth, as of 1998, was characterized by neglect and disrespect. Within a few years, after several of the child abuse cases connected with that temple had been investigated and adjudicated, and the local CPT and international CPO had conducted extensive educational and investigative work there, the consciousness about child protection and towards children and youth markedly changed, to one of respect, consideration, and genuine protection. Despite improvements in awareness and productive action about this issue, a culture of accountability about child protection has not taken root in the ISKCON organization as a whole.
This is evidenced, for example, in some places that achieved significant progress in the field of child protection, and that have slipped back to previous patterns, such as disbanding their CPT, when the CPO’s direct involvement in the community was lessened. This points to the continued importance of a well-funded international office.
Amongst ISKCON leadership there are varying degrees of responsibility and common sense regarding child protection issues. “Responsibility” is used in the sense of “able to respond” to child protection concerns in a manner that is rational, protective, reflective of integrity, and possessing common sense. “Responsibility” is herein used differently than “accountability”. Lack of “culture of accountability” refers to an organizational culture that does not necessitate, or even highly value, a call to account for actions or words. Consider, for example, the following actual scenario.
The CPO receives allegations, in the form of first-hand written testimony from the alleged victim, of child sexual abuse that allegedly occurred almost a decade prior. The allegations involved accusations of consensual sexual intercourse on several occasions during a period of about one year with a girl in early adolescence by a middle-aged adult. CPO staff contacts the accused, and begins an investigation. After some preliminary investigative steps, the accused engages a lawyer to represent him. The lawyer is a member of the GBC body and a GBC Minister.
As per standard CPO procedure in cases such as this, the CPO informed leaders, including several members of the GBC body, in the locality and on the continent where the alleged abuser was serving, in the capacity of temple president, that an investigation was being conducted. This also included standard CPO precautionary recommendations that during the process of investigation the accused not have service connected with children and not assume a position of leadership.
The advocate for the defense questioned these recommendations, and the local and continental leaders declined for a substantial time period to follow the recommendation of removing the accused from a leadership position. The CPO confirmed that the suggestions were consistent with other recommendations from the office through the years, in similar cases, and that the office recommendations at that point were not binding, and were presented for the protection of children and the integrity of Srila Prabhupada’s movement.
The CPO was repeatedly challenged by ISKCON leaders about the reasoning and impartiality of such recommendations, and the CPO wrote several letters of explanation. An excerpt from one of them is included below.
“… the criteria used to make the recommendation in this case is consistent with the criteria used in all cases processed by this office since the opening of the office. Based on these criteria, this case does not even fall into a legitimate grey area with regard to the advice given. Of course, those criteria can be questioned, and I'm open to and interested in that discussion. If any of the receivers of this posting would like me to define more clearly the criteria by which these recommendations have been made, I will do so. Briefly, the APVC has received first-hand, written testimony of statutory rape against a minor. In his initial responses to questions about this, the alleged perpetrator did not clear himself, based on criteria of written content analysis as used by world renowned experts in the field (names and credentials available upon request). The above in no way proves that the alleged perpetrator is guilty of sexually abusing a child. It does, however, constitute credible evidence, by what I consider to be reasonable criteria, that the testimony of the allged victim warrants an investigation, and that, during the course of the investigation, the alleged perpetrator should not be in a position of leadership in Srila Prabhupada's movement, and that he should not be in a service that involves connection with children.”
The CPO compiled an investigative file, including analysis from a renowned expert in written content analysis, who confirmed the apparent authenticity and truthfulness of the statements of the alleged victim, writing “Generally speaking, this is a very strong assertion of truthfulness, which is very rarely found in deceptive people.” Regarding analysis of the writing of the accused the forensic authority pointed to “definitely a very strong signal that the subject is ‘problematic’ or ‘cannot be cleared’.”
The accuser and accused were both personally interviewed by two of the panel members on the case. After analysis of evidence the panel issued an Official Decision, determining that the allegations of sexual activity with an adolescent of minor age are, at the preponderance of evidence criteria, true. Shortly thereafter the defense appealed the case to the GBC Executive Committee.
To check and confirm its processes, and with a view to learn and improve, the CPO sent the case file to a practiced lawyer, with extensive experience in criminal defense. The lawyer reviewed the file and wrote “After reading the correspondence, statements, notes, test results…I came to the conclusion that your committee made the right decision in deciding that [ ] was guilty of the charges leveled against him.” The lawyer’s response provided extensive reasoning and explanations for his conclusions.
During the months following the issuance of the Official Decision the CPO received many challenges, provocations and denunciations from ISKCON leaders about the Official Decision. One wrote “…I consider the APVC’s statement an insult to the intelligence of ISKCON’s leadership…There is NO EVIDENCE AT ALL in the APVC’s document…” The CPO responded to each of these letters, addressing each point and query regarding procedure and content, with reference to the GBC’s mandate for CPO case processing and adjudication.
On the basis of this case several ISKCON leaders called into question CPO procedures, CPO use of power, the process for selecting panel members for the case, and many other aspects of office functioning. The CPO responded with openness, within the bounds of professional confidentiality, inviting any individual or group to review the procedures followed in this case, and in any case. Also, the CPO reminded the protesters that the CPO was simply following guidelines and procedures established by them, the members of the GBC, as described in the GBC Child Protection Task Force Report. In fact, the CPO director demonstrated that in this particular case, in several ways, the office applied unusually expansive measures to ensure fairness and consideration for the defense. Repeatedly the CPO asked for specifics regarding where or how the CPO procedures differed from those authorized by the GBC and used, without incurring protest, in all other cases. Such specifics were not forthcoming.
Based to some degree on this case there was a move amongst the GBC to adjust the evidence criteria to something more stringent than preponderance. This motion has not succeeded for several reasons, included amongst them that many amongst the leadership are reluctant to make a change that will likely result in more child abusers in ISKCON being found not guilty.
Also based to some degree on this case is a move to adjust the appeal system, and a move to review office procedures. At present this situation is, at least to the extent that the CPO staff has been informed, quite muddled, to the point where it seems that restrictions on a perpetrator, as confirmed and defined by a CPO Official Decision, can be suspended simply by submitting an appeal to the GBC Executive Committee. The GBC has expressed that appeals are suspended till the CPO procedures are reviewed. Practically, the GBC has not moved forward on appeals for an extended period of time. Though a review procedure has been discussed for years, and the CPO welcomes and invites this, the CPO director was not informed about the review process, or the members of the review team. One GBC member suggested that, as per “a USA court of law”, the accused should be essentially freed of restrictions during the appeal process, and inquired whether the CPO follows this due process. Others, however, pointed out that, in standard judicial systems, during the appeal process the defendant generally spends time in prison, and it is after arrest and prior to verdict that, for some allegations, bail and freedom from some restrictions may be applied.
In the particular case under discussion, various ISKCON leaders have grasped for ways and means to extricate the accused from CPO investigation and restriction. This discussion is not about the contents of this case itself, but rather it is about the dynamics amongst the leadership, especially in regards to a culture of accountability in child protection issues.
Restrictions in this case, as described in the Official Decision, include that the person should apologize and pay some restitution. If he does this, then he may participate with ISKCON on several conditions, which are specified in the decision document. These include not leading kirtana or giving class at an ISKCON function or on ISKCON property, and showing the decision document to the temple manager if he regularly visits a temple. The decision includes clauses such as “If [ ] violates any of the above conditions, then he is prohibited from any connection with ISKCON or ISKCON-affiliated organizations until his case is reviewed by the APVC,” and “The Official Decision described in this document is effective immediately, and the perpetrator must abide by its guidelines during the appeal process, should he choose to appeal this decision.”
Lacking legitimate, rational agency for accomplishing their goals, the leaders simply disregarded their own policies, and allowed, even facilitated, the accused to flagrantly violate the constraints of the CPO decision. Such transgressions were flaunted, as in articles on popular Vaisnava websites proclaiming the accused leading kirtanas at ISKCON functions.
The accuser, now a young adult, as well as her friends and family members, patiently and regularly inquired about the case after the decision was issued. Some correspondence follows:
11/4/03: From the young adult: “I was wondering if there are any new updates on the case. Please let me know.”
11/4/03: Response from the CPO Director: “Thank you for your letter sent earlier today. As you know, the GBC decided to hear the appeal, but to delay the process till after the Mayapur meetings of 2003. Now, I’ve been informed that they decided to delay the appeal till after completion of a review of the child protection office. I’ve heard for almost a year that the GBC is planning to review and assess office procedures, but I’ve not yet heard anything practical about how or when they plan to do this. But they have stated that the case of [ ] will be delayed till they process the office review. I’m sorry you have to experience this delay. I’m sure it’s frustrating for you. I’ll keep you informed with information as I receive it.”
The accuser wrote to a member of the GBC Executive Committee: “The specific violations I am thinking of are his leading of kirtans, performing sacrifices, and visiting temples without letting them know the verdict of the case…My best friend…has heard that he is leading kirtans and did some sort of sacrifice at the [ ] temple. Also a long-time friend of my sisters has said that she saw him lead a kirtan at the [ ] Rath….Will the original consequences stated in the decision be followed through on once his actions of not complying are found to be true? …This is all I am asking at this point. I feel that I have been very patient in this whole process. Please let me remind you that it is still very painful for me over ten years after it occurred…It is once more a plea to please not take any part in letting this happen again to another girl…”
A member of the GBC Executive Committee, in this and other letters, assured her: “If he has been violating the decision and we receive clear evidence of this, then yes we will take it further…We will also look into whatever sanctions we can impose on [ ] directly, should clear evidence be presented to us confirming what you say is factual.”
On the day that the CPO Director received the above letter from the member of the GBC Executive Committee, he sent to the GBC member abundant clear evidence, such as website articles depicting the violations of the CPO restrictions, and the implicit, obvious awareness, and apparent complicity of the transgressions, of ISKCON leaders.
For years, the CPO Director has regularly spoken to several members of the GBC body about the apparent lack of integrity, responsibility and propriety about this case, and the likely damage to the credibility and image of Srila Prabhupada’s movement, what to speak of the possible risk to children and youth. Frequently this was met with assurances of remedial action, with no action, or at least no results, actually ensuing. In one recent exchange the CPO Director mildly requested “an accountable explanation” from some of the leaders for their actions and inactions in connection with this case. A GBC who heard this request responded with belligerence, “Well, you may not get it!” He was apparently incredulous towards the simple appeal for accountable explanation from ISKCON leaders.
As of the writing of this report the subject of the case under discussion is advertised throughout ISKCON temples as a featured speaker at public events, celebrations, and festivals, and, with the approval of ISKCON leadership, disregards CPO restrictions.
Perhaps the reader has the impression that this case is connected with an undeveloped area of the world where awareness about child protection has not yet been cultivated. Actually, the above case relates to North America. Also, many of the ISKCON leaders mentioned in the scenario have demonstrated enlightenment and sensitivity in child protection matters over the years.
This case illustrates that, although individuals within the system may act at various times responsibly and prudently in child protection matters, the system lacks a culture of accountability. This lack, when combined with fears and needs inherent in the group dynamic, for acceptance, approval, and maintenance of position, prevents rational decision-making in regards to child protection. The machinations described in this case are quite typical. In many instances where ISKCON leadership has a vested interest in the confirmed or alleged child abuse perpetrator, the intrigues, inconsistencies and paucity of reasonableness are considerably more involved and severe than in this case.
Areas to Give Attention
In determining whether and how much attention to devote to investigation and adjudication, the CPO will need to use discretion in efficiently utilizing its resources while boldly and uncompromisingly executing its mission. This is especially true with regard to cases of those in top leadership positions, and perhaps still in those positions, in places and times when extensive child abuse occurred. Ideally, the CPO should compile an updated and detailed compliance report for cases that have been adjudicated, to assist ISKCON leaders in knowing which restrictions apply to whom, and for how long. Again. the emphasis on this function will depend on the CPO’s decision about the practical efficacy of this endeavor. As described above, the appeal process should be clarified, and appeals should progress to completion, lest the judicial system for child abuse cases deteriorates.
It will be helpful for the CPO to create an updated list of CPTs and their members, as well as an inventory of the screening procedures and education programs of each temple and school. Also, it has been almost three years since the CPO held an intensive child protection training, and ISKCON would benefit from additional child protection seminars on a regular basis. We recommend mandated child protection training for all ISKCON leaders.
In past years there have been semi-functioning regional child protection offices in India and Europe. There is talk of providing funding to revitalize the European office. This is very encouraging, as is the idea of establishing active child protection offices in each area of the world.
Many devotees benefit from the CPO’s function as a resource and guidance center, and hopefully funding will allow that to continue. Regarding funding, in addition to the current sources, the CPO may do well to investigate outside funding sources from, for example, charitable funds that support child protection activities. It is important that, whatever the funding source, the CPO know as much in advance as possible what its budget will be, so that it can clearly and effectively plan its operations. The CPO should continue to focus on proactive training programs for youth. Preventative and proactive programs will likely be more appealing, compared to, for instance, investigative functions, for potential funding sources.
In past years the CPO regularly issued newsletters about its activities and that provided helpful tips on child protection matters. Resuming these newsletters, along with maintaining and expanding the CPO website, will serve an important informational function for the worldwide Vaisnava community.
There is continued need in ISKCON for an internationally-coordinated child protection effort. Child abuse in the history of ISKCON may account, as much as or perhaps more than any other factor, for the loss of trust in ISKCON leadership. Compared to when the CPO opened more than six years ago, understanding of the fundamentals of child protection has dramatically increased. Still, there are gaping pockets of unawareness. Additionally, experience has shown that even where there is cognizance of the importance of child protection, the consciousness easily slips back to that of less enlightened times. Further, a systemic deficiency in accountability creates a need for the CPO to vigilantly safeguard justice and the protection of children within Srila Prabhupada’s movement.
A few years ago the Pope expressed the need for the Catholic Church to develop “open and just procedures to respond to complaints in this area [child abuse]” and commitment to “compassionate and effective care for the victims, their families, the whole community and the offenders themselves.” Essentially the Pope seeks to establish systems that ISKCON has begun to effectively put into place with the CPO. Hopefully, ISKCON will continue this effort, and make the organization a safe place that is a model for the world for child protection.
I’ve served as director of the CPO since its start more than six years ago. I feel deeply fortunate for this opportunity to serve the Vaisnava community. Many devotees around the world, from the temples, from the congregations, and from the leadership, have sacrificed themselves to serve and protect the children and youth of Srila Prabhupada’s movement. I am grateful that I’ve had the chance to assist them. For the first three years of the CPO Ijya Prabhu worked tirelessly to establish organizational and administrative systems and lay the groundwork to satisfy the needs of so many sectors of Srila Prabhupada’s movement that looked to the CPO for guidance and action. For about the next three years Malini Prabhu fully dedicated herself through the CPO to serving the children, youth, families, and many others in Srila Prabhupada’s movement with her caring, personal, and enthusiastic attention and creativity. I thank both of them for their extraordinary contributions as CPO staff members. Without the sacrifices and support of Anuttama Prabhu for the past several years the CPO would have closed, and I want to express my heartfelt appreciation to him for his devotion and vision for this child protection project. Several months ago Krsna Kesava Prabhu accepted the responsibility as Secretary of the CPO, and it has been a pleasure to work with him. A few weeks ago Tamohara Prabhu accepted the position of Director of the CPO. I have had many hours of talks with him, and will continue to serve his efforts in a consultative capacity. Tamohara is perceptive and capable, and I am inspired that he has embraced this mission.