By Tamohara das, Director - ISKCON Central Office of Child Protection
Recently, there has been a widely circulated petition calling for a “zero tolerance” policy towards child abusers. Specifically, devotees are demanding that no confirmed child abuser should hold any position of authority in ISKCON.
As the Director of the Child Protection Office, I am grateful and encouraged by the heightened awareness of the devastating consequences of child abuse, which is reflected by the demand that perpetrators of abuse have no place within our leadership. This vocal show of conviction attests to a deepening understanding of these issues over the last twenty years.
Many devotees may not be fully aware of the work of the Child Protection Office. Since its inception in 1998, the CPO has investigated over 300 allegations of child abuse. Of course, in all cases, CPO policy and ISKCON law (enacted by the GBC in 1991) requires reporting alleged child abuse to the civil authorities for possible criminal prosecution. Additionally, our internal CPO system makes determinations of the relationship between the abuser and the Society. Of the cases investigated, about 80 cases with substantial evidence were fully adjudicated through the CPO system of rulings by panels of trained judges. According to the severity of abuse, a range of restrictions is placed on the abuser, as well as any requirements deemed necessary.
In the 80 cases adjudicated, over 90% of the decisions restricted the abuser from any future position of leadership, consistent with the aim of the zero tolerance petition. In effect, the CPO practically has a zero tolerance policy. The only exceptions are those cases where restrictions may be less severe, or more time limited, due to findings of milder forms of abuse. The devotee must have been shown to be of minimal risk to children, and they must meet all requirements imposed by the CPO. So, while I support the spirit of this petition, I feel that the CPO judges should have some latitude to invoke a range of restrictions appropriate to the facts of each case.
Additionally, in 2005 the GBC ratified a CPO proposal for more strict “zero tolerance” language in certain cases. There are some cases of such severe abuse, where the judges will be allowed to totally restrict the abuser from any connection with our temples whatsoever, including a ban on even visiting ISKCON property. Again, this is handled on a case-by-case basis, and invoked where the severity of abuse presents an unacceptable level of risk to our children and Society.
But what about the case of Dhanurdhara Swami? First, the CPO decision of 1999 restricted him for life from any position of leadership within ISKCON. However, while the CPO restricted his ability to initiate disciples for five years (which has recently expired), the CPO did not make a definitive ruling on his position as guru. Rather, it left the decision of guruship up to the GBC. It is the position of the Child Protection Office that the GBC must decide upon this important issue, and has advocated strongly that they take action in this case.
Currently, the GBC is actively discussing and will soon decide this issue. As of Thursday, June 21, 2006, a call for a vote on the issue is being sent to the full GBC body, at the request of the North American GBC and other leaders. Soon, we will see a decision on this important issue.
My personal feeling is that in all future CPO decisions, any restrictions on leadership should also include restrictions on the right and privilege to act as spiritual master. I will introduce a clarifying proposal on this matter at the next GBC meetings.
I hope that this helps clarify the situation. The CPO is working hard to assure that our children are protected and that ISKCON is represented by men and women of integrity and character.
Tamohara das Director, ISKCON Central Office of Child Protection