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“For the sake of the healing of the survivors of abuse, and for the health of our movement, the Office of Child Protection must have the resources to help survivors heal.”

Support for the Child Protection Office
By David Gould

The abuse of children within ISKCON has many dimensions. Such abuse can include sexual abuse, physical maltreatment or violence and psychological abuse. In a spiritual organization, such as churches or ISKCON the common denominator is spiritual abuse.

Child abuse experts tell us of a hierarchy of abuse, starting with the family. Secondly comes abuse from a position of trust - a schoolteacher, rabbi, minister or priest, scoutmaster etc. The bottom line is that within ISKCON we have had a gross misuse of spiritual authority, spiritual responsibility and duty of care, by a minority of devotees whose predilection for asserting their own psychological, spiritual, sexual or physical power over a child or other devotee has blinded them to the very morality and spiritual principles enunciated in sastra and by Srila Prabhupada.

The victim of such abuse receives secondary abuse from a religious organization, which shields perpetrators, denies clear evidence of abuse, or asserts the needs of the organization as a whole, over the well being of the victim, and the truth. As a survivor of priestly sexual abuse I know the enormous pain and difficulty that inhibits you from going to spiritual authority and telling what happened.

A personal sense of shame and failure, guilt, and transferred responsibility, from the perpetrator to oneself often characterizes the response of victims of abuse. This can be compounded enormously by the passage of time that exists between the abuse, and the time when courage to tell the truth finally happens.

Posttraumatic stress disorder can manifest itself in self-destructive behavior, chronic depression, addictions, compulsive behavior and neurosis. Such behavior can often place one at odds with other people, and with the community of devotees. Often the subconscious of the victim screams out for healing, for justice and for resolution of the huge emotional and psychological pain that the soul is living through day by day.

Any survivor of abuse within ISKCON that comes forward to the Office of Child Protection deserves the prayers and gratitude of every devotee, because the truth must come out for Srila Prabhupada's family to get back on track. I can testify that it is so hard to come forward, especially when one may be met with institutional hostility because of fears of public disgrace, law suits etc.

For the sake of the healing of the survivors of abuse, and for the health of our movement, the Office of Child Protection must have the resources to help survivors heal. This means money, access to professional support, the ability to network with welfare workers, police, lawyers and doctors, therapists and counselors. This means that the decisions of the Office of Child Protection must be upheld by all devotees at all levels - unless an appeals process can show gross errors of fact or judgment.

This requires the GBC to be fearless, as Prahlada Maharaja was fearless in the face of his demoniac father. Child abuse is a demon haunting our society. It must be slain, and can be if we adhere to the principles of Krsna consciousness and acknowledge the truth.

The truth is many devotees lives have been scarred, perhaps irreparably in this lifetime by abuse and neglect, that in some cases was benign, and not vicious, but in many cases reflected the fact that we have had leaders, teachers and other devotees in positions of authority who lacked the morality, the integrity and the character to hold positions of trust. The truth is that we need to give no shelter to pedophiles and abusers. The truth is that survivors deserve - and demand the resources to heal. The truth is, that no money, no compensation can make your life the same as if one was not abused, raped, bashed or psychologically tortured. A child who was abused in gurukula will never know - and cannot know the experience of being raised in a school as Srila Prabhupada wanted our children raised. The truth is that the health of ISKCON will require sacrifice of our time, our emotions and money to right this matter.

The truth is that devotees who were abused deserve help from our society, to enable them to heal, to grow, and to restore their faith in the integrity of ISKCON. The truth is that survivors of devotee abuse deserve our loyalty, our commitment to see perpetrators behind bars, where the criminal law has been breached. The truth is that perpetrators of abuse - be they temple presidents or gurus - have no place in positions of trust and authority over the lives of other devotees and especially children, if they have violated our children. The truth is that there can be no rehabilitation of pedophiles to preach, teach, lead or direct the affairs of the lives of any devotees - let alone children.

The truth is, that the pain that a survivor of sexual abuse feels can be as strong today as it was 15 years ago. The truth is, that for many survivors of abuse, including myself, the ability to think about what happened, to feel in your heart and soul what happened, might not happen for many years. The ugly truth is, that because we may not have children or young adults coming forward today to testify what they suffered 4 or 5 years ago is meaningless. We are almost certainly not free of child sexual abuse within ISKCON. The truth is that the pain of current victims is almost certainly too strong to bear, and it may be 10 years before they can speak.

The Deputy Public Prosecutor for the State of Tasmania, told me recently that despite the fact that a new 1994 law strengthened his ability to prosecute child abusers, the fact that victims take so long in the main, to report the crimes to which they have suffered, means that he will be long retired before the 1994 law can be applied to post 1994 crimes.

The truth is that child abuse is not an issue about the mistakes of our past. Child abuse is not eradicated. The Office of Child Protection should be funded and acknowledged as having long-term responsibility for the welfare of our children, and the subjection of perpetrators of abuse to the fullest punishment of our ecclesiastical laws and the civil and criminal law.

© CHAKRA 4-June-2000

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