Chakra Discussions

ISKCON Child Protection

a response by Dhira Govinda das (David Wolf, PhD, LCSW)

Posted June 30, 2009

In recent weeks I've seen a few articles implying that the activities of the ISKCON Child Protection Office (CPO) have been somehow opposed to or in place of the functions of civic law enforcement and social service authorities. I served as director of the CPO from 1998-2004, and I want to clarify that a major emphasis of the CPO was to strongly recommend that everyone connected with Srila Prabhupada's movement learn and follow local laws and policies regarding reporting suspected child abuse, and to train persons concerned about child protection in ISKCON to cooperate with government authorities. The CPO's endeavors were intended to complement, not supplant, the efforts of State agencies. I fully trust that this has continued to be the case with the CPO.

In a chapter entitled Child Abuse and the Hare Krishnas: History and Response, in The Hare Krishna Movement- The Postcharismatic Fate of a Religious Transplant, I wrote on page 334: "It should be noted that the investigative and adjudicative procedures of the APVC are not a replacement for the functions of state authorities. The APVC merely determines the relationship of an alleged perpetrator with ISKCON. It directs and assists all temples, schools, and projects in learning and following their local laws regarding child abuse and mandated reporting of it."

Several authors, including Sanaka Rsi prabhu (Click Here) and Kapila prabhu (Click Here), effectively address issues related to the need of internal intervention, even in cases where civic authorities do become responsibly involved. Consider for example the situation of someone who was accused of child sexual abuse, and who was acquitted in criminal court due to lack of sufficient evidence at the criteria of beyond a reasonable doubt. Then he applies to be a swim instructor at a devotee youth summer camp. Would the Vaisnava community want him to serve in such a capacity (This is a genuine example from a CPO case file)? And, as described in other articles, the vast majority of cases do not come to the attention of the State. Of course in responding to such delicate situations it is essential that the suspected or accused is treated with honor, respect and commitment to fairness, while also upholding our responsibility to protect children.

I present the above to raise awareness of the complexities involved in real life situations connected with balancing principles such as protection, fairness and due process. "Dial 911. End of story," as suggested by Vrindavana dasa, would be a wonderfully complete solution, if the world operated in such a simple manner. Unfortunately it doesn't. In my service with the CPO I encountered hundreds of diverse situations, requiring the subtle and nuanced considerations on the part of many persons, in order to effectively respond to the circumstances with integrity.

I'm not necessarily advocating that an international central office is the best way to manage the child protection needs of a spiritual society, though I do know that without the central office there would have been, worldwide, many fewer persons and teams trained in child maltreatment prevention and intervention, much less awareness of the issues involved in child protection, and much greater difficulty in accessing important information connected with handling challenging situations that regularly surfaced. "Important information" could mean, for example, checking a centralized database for background checks to determine if rumors about someone who arrived at a temple or project were substantiated, or false.

Regarding ISKCON's efforts at establishing a Central Office of Child Protection, throughout my years with the CPO, also called the APVC (Association for the Protection of Vaisnava Children) the office regularly received commendations and appreciation from social service, mental health and legal professionals, such as this one from Stephen Johnson, a lawyer with several decades of experience in Florida. He commented: "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."

With regard to case investigations, the CPO was equally interested to find evidence to acquit, as to find evidence to convict. In reference to the specific case discussed in some recent website articles, I appreciate Pandu prabhu's (Click Here; Click Here) handling of substantive issues related to that case, and also Sanaka Rsi's (Click Here) comments on several salient points, including the nature of the involvement of ISKCON leadership in that case. To enhance understanding of substantial issues connected with the processing of that case I refer the reader to the letter from Kirtan Rasa prabhu, including in Pandu's article (Click Here). For further insight into jurisdictional and procedural aspects of that case, at the end of this article I am including excerpts from a letter dated July 18, 2008, that I sent to Dharini prabhu in response to her letter to me dated July 10, 2008.

[[[Excerpts from letter from Dhira Govinda dasa to Dharini, in response to Dharini's letter to Dhira Govinda dasa dated July 10, 2008]]]

David B. Wolf, Ph.D., L.C.S.W.
P.O. Box 1694
Alachua, Florida 32616
Tel: 386-418-2037

July 18, 2008

To: Danielle Beauvais

In 1997 the ISKCON Governing Body Commission (GBC) established the ISKCON Child Protection Task Force. This Task Force consisted of Akandadhi dasa, Anuttama dasa, Badrinarayana dasa, Dharmaraja dasa, Laxmimoni dasi, Manu dasa, Pancaratna dasa, Sesa dasa, and Yasoda dasi. Please note that I was not involved in the formation of this Task Force, and neither was I a member of it. The Task Force wrote the ISKCON Child Protection Task Force Report. In 1998 the GBC accepted the Task Force Report, and it became ISKCON policy. An integral aspect of this report was the establishment of the ISKCON Child Protection Office (CPO). The GBC asked me to establish and direct this office, and I agreed. In April, 1998, we opened the CPO, incorporated as The Association for the Protection of Vaisnava Children (APVC), later renamed The Association for the Protection of Children (APC).

I served as director of the APC from its inception till June, 2004. In my service in that capacity I endeavored to apply and integrate the guidelines of the Task Force Report in addressing the child protection concerns and issues connected with ISKCON. ...

With regard to the case of [[[.......]]], I believe that the procedural soundness of the case, with respect to the guidelines of the Task Force Report, is amply demonstrated in the documentation of the case file. For example, my letter to [[[.......]]], dated Dec. 30th, 2000, clearly delineates and informs him of CPO procedures, and mentions that he has the opportunity to appeal any of the panel members. In that letter I ask if he has any questions regarding case procedures. Concerning panel selection, and the activities of the panel itself, I herein reference a letter I wrote on Aug. 11, 2002, to various ISKCON leaders: "Concerning the panel selection in the case of [[[.......]]], I invite you, or anybody, or any group, to review the processes of that panel selection, and also to review the processes and work of the panel. The APVC endeavored quite a bit to form a panel, as it was difficult to find devotees trained in child protection to serve on the case. When we found trained devotees who were willing to serve on the panel, both parties in the case had opportunity to appeal the selection of the selected panel members. The defense did appeal the selection of a panel member, and the APVC accepted that appeal, and the appealed panel member was replaced. The three panel members who eventually served on the case were all approved by the defense and the plaintiff. I believe that the APVC made special endeavor to ensure that the process of selecting panel members was fair to the defense. If you decide to review the process of that selection, and you determine otherwise, I will be glad to hear the results of your findings...Concerning the work of the panel members in the [[[..........]]] case, I stand behind it. I believe that all three panel members did an excellent job. I believe that they conducted themselves in a fair-minded, balanced, and astute manner. If you examine their processes and deliberations and arrive at a different conclusion, please let me know..."

Please note that, in accordance with the procedures outlined in the Task Force Report, I was not on the panel that determined the validity, or lack of it, of the allegations against [[[.......]]]. I did not serve on that panel, nor did I participate in the interviews with [[[.......]]] or the accuser in this case.

With reference to questions of jurisdiction, with relation to the procedures outlined in the Task Force Report, this, I believe, is definitively answered in my letters to various ISKCON North American leaders, dated February 3rd, 2002, as well as their responses, especially the response of Virabahu dasa dated Feb. 10th, 2002. For me it is not clear how you or anyone could read this correspondence, in the context of section 7.1 of the ISKCON Child Protection Task Force Report, and maintain doubt about the jurisdiction of the case. If after studying this documentation you continue to have questions about this, I invite you to communicate with me about this matter.

Other procedural elements of the case involving [[[.......]]] are included and, I believe, reasonably comprehensively explained, in my letters to Mr. Seth Spellman, dated May 20, 2001, June 22, 2001 and Jan. 22, 2002.



David Wolf