Enforcement by Child Protection Office
by Bhaktin Miriam
Jul 15, USA (SUN) - At the beginning of June of this year, 2005, I heard that a devotee who committed child abuse was being honored and allowed to give classes and lead kirtans in Gita Nagari despite the fact that he is prohibited from doing so by the Child Protection Office. I am not naming him because the police never arrested this man, since the family of the victim did not press criminal charges. Nevertheless, the victim did write a 10-page letter detailing how this man had sexual intercourse with her for about a year when she was only 13 years of age. Even though the sex was consensual, she was much too young to give her consent. Under the law, because of her tender age, this act is considered statutory rape.
Members of the Child Protection Office investigated this case and realized that the devotee perpetrator gave inconsistent testimony about what happened. Meanwhile the victim provided consistent details that she wouldn't have known unless the perpetrator took her to those places.
The CPO report states that if the devotee that committed the sexual abuse doesn't apologize to his victim and gives her restitution of $3,000, or more, he would be banned from ISKCON. It looks as though he didn't; therefore, he has to be banned from ISKCON. Yet, the current Child Protection Office director is not answering my inquiries concerning this. Also, the CPO report states that he should not be allowed to give classes, lead kirtans or hold managerial positions. Yet, he has been giving classes and leading kirtans many times since the beginning of his "sentence" - in some cases while GBC members were also present.
The former Child Protection Office director, Dhira Govinda Prabhu, complained to the GBC and the leaders of ISKCON many times, but nothing was done to stop this practice. The victim herself complained to the leaders, but nothing was done. Lately, before Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja passed away, this sexual abuser had been in Gita Nagari giving classes and leading kirtans. In fact, it was Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja's desire for this man to do this.
Since Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja favored this man, Maharaja's disciples give this statutory rapists great honor. The disciples want to believe that this man is innocent. What other explanation could be found if their guru favored him? So, these disciples have been spreading rumors that the victim fabricated the whole thing. They are saying that the Child Protection Office, along with the GBC, dismissed the case, or at the very least, they lifted the injunctions while Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja was preparing to leave this world.
On June 23, 2005, I e-mailed Tamohara dasa, the new Director for ISKCON's Child Protection Office. about this whole affair. All he said to me was that this perpetrator filed an appeal and that the appeals panel upheld the original CPO decision on this child abuser. Still, the panel reduced the time that this child abuser had to follow the CPO's injunctions from five years to three years.
I asked Tamohara prabhu what was the reason for reducing this child abuser's "sentence", but he did not reply. I then sent Tamohara prabhu another letter asking him if the abuser apologized and paid restitution to the victim (if he didn't, according to the CPO's injunction he must be banned from ISKCON). He did not reply to that letter either. I then wrote another letter asking him if it's true that this perpetrator's injunctions were lifted while this sexual abuser was in Gita Nagari for Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja's passing away. That letter also went unanswered. I then wrote another letter asking Tamohara prabhu if this perpetrator will get punished for not following the Child Protection Office's (CPO) injunctions. No answer to that letter either.
Tamohara prabhu promised me a copy of the report of the Appeals panel decision. But he never sent it to me. He has not been responding to any of my letters for more than two weeks now. I've heard that he has not been responding to other people's inquiries concerning this case either. The only thing that he would say is that the appeals panel reduced this child abuser's sentence from 5 years to 3. But he refuses to give any details, and would not give the appeals judicial report to those who are interested or following this case.
This child abuser had a member of the GBC as his lawyer, which in itself is a conflict of interest. But when I asked Tamohara prabhu who defended the victim, he would not answer. The only thing that he would say is that he, Tamohara prabhu, did not get involved in the appeals procedure except to appoint the panel.
This sexual child abuser has to follow the CPO's injunctions until July 26, 2005. So far since the beginning of his sentence in 2002, this abuser has failed to follow the CPO's injunctions numerous times. For details of this please read my article entitled "The Persistent Child Abuse Problem in the Hare Krishna Movement".
What is also disturbing is that he is being honored in Gita Nagari just because Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja favored him. Also, if this sexual abuser has not been following the injunctions, then the only alternative is for him to be banned. Otherwise, what is the meaning of a Child Protection Office? Is this office just a public relations campaign? If the Child Protection Office doesn't have any way to enforce their injunctions, then what is the use of having a Child Protection Office? Please, if you can help me bring justice for the victim, I would greatly appreciate it
The Ongoing Saga of a Child Abuser Protected by ISKCON
by Bhaktin Miriam
Jul 19, USA (SUN) - [Editors note: This article has been revised, and the individual's name has replaced previous anonymous references to him.]
A panel of ISKCON Child Protection Office judges determined that Vakresvara Pandit dasa committed sexual abuse with a 13 year old girl in Dallas, Texas. After investigating the case the Child Protection Office issued an Official Decision on July 26, 2002. The Official Decision found enough credible evidence of sexual abuse on the part of Vakresvara Pandit dasa, and issued the parameters that defined this devotee's relationship with ISKCON.
On top of the list, the Child Protection Office stipulated that he must write a letter of apology to the claimant, fully acknowledge his transgressions against her, take complete responsibility for his actions and sincerely offer to rectify himself. The letter was to be sent to the CPO. It also stipulated that he must pay the victim $3,000 in the next three years starting from July 26, 2002. $1,000 of that had to be paid within one year of the decision. The official decision stated that if the abuser did not comply with the apology letter and the restitution of $3,000, then he must be completely banned from ISKCON and ISKCON related organizations.
As of last June 2004, Vakresvara Pandit had not complied with the above stipulations. I contacted the current CPO director, Tamohara prabhu to find out if Vakresvara Pandit dasa had complied with these two stipulations during this past year, but he, Tamohara prabhu refused to answer this question. So, in all probability Vakresvara Pandit dasa did not send a letter of apology nor did he give restitution to the victim. Yet, at no time at all was he ever banned from ISKCON.
The Official Decision also stipulated that this devotee must not assume any leadership positions in ISKCON. This included leading kirtans and giving classes on ISKCON property or at ISKCON functions. Yet, there is ample evidence that he led kirtans and gave classes numerous times throughout ISKCON from July 26, 2002, to the present. The leaders of ISKCON had been informed of this numerous times, but he nevertheless continued to give classes and lead kirtans throughout the United States and India, right to the present moment. He was even the temple president of Puerto Rico throughout 2002 and for a good part of 2003.
The Official Decision also stipulated that he must not reside or stay overnight on an ISKCON property. Yet on many occasions and while he was the Temple President, he did just that. The Official Decision further stipulated that if Vakresvara Pandit dasa violated any of the conditions, then he was prohibited from any connection with ISKCON or ISKCON-affiliated organizations until his case was reviewed by the Child Protection Office. There is plenty of documentation to prove that he did violate many of the stipulations, numerous times, yet he was never banned from ISKCON. This devotee appealed his case, and a new panel of judges was appointed to review it. His representative was a member of the GBC. Apparently the victim had no one to represent her. It was an appeals process where only the abuser had a lawyer, the victim had no one to defend her. When I contacted Tamohara prabhu about this he would not reply. On June 8, 2005, the CPO issued the Official Appeals Decision on this devotee. The appeals judges once again reviewed all the evidences, including the extensive appeal presented by his lawyer. The appeals panel's conclusion was that they did not find any evidence that supported the abuser's claim that there was prejudicial treatment of him in the original hearing of the case. The panel also stated that they found no compelling reason to overturn the original decision. Therefore, they upheld it. However, after reviewing everything and coming to the conclusion that the original official decision was valid and also that Vakresvara Pandit dasa was treated fair by the original CPO panel judges, the appeals panel decided to reduced the time that Vakresvara Pandit dasa had to follow the CPO's injunctions. It was reduced from the original 5 years to 3 years. He will not have to follow any injunctions as of July 26, 2005. The only thing that they kept is the fact that he cannot be on the same premises with his victim unless she asks him to. Last month, I asked Tamohara prabhu what reason or explanation did the appeals panel offered for reducing the time 5 to 3 years, but again he would not reply. Since Tamohara prabhu was not replying to my inquiries for several weeks, I was hoping that the Official Appeals Decision might have some explanations. However, the appeals panel judges did not offer an explanation, except that Vakresvara Pandit dasa has served the movement for a long time and that he had to live with this decision since it first came out. Apparently, the appeals panel judges overlooked the fact that the original decision, which they themselves upheld, stipulated that Vakresvara Pandit dasa should be banned if he does not give a letter of apology and restitution to his victim. So, if they have upheld the original decision, then why aren't they following it? The appeals panel of judges have also ignored another stipulation from the original decision which they have upheld. That is, that if Vakresvara Pandit dasa fails to follow any of the other injunctions against him, he must be banned. As we know, or should know, there is plenty of evidence that on numerous occasions, too numerous to list here, he has not been following the injunctions. The GBC was kept informed that Vakresvara Pandit dasa was not following the injunctions. On some occasions, members of the GBC themselves were present with him while he lead kirtans. It is very disturbing that the appeals report does not say anything about banning him for not following the injunctions. In fact, he was not even penalized for that. The only statement that can be taken as any kind of justification for reducing the time that he must follow the injunctions from 5 years to 3 years is that he had only one incident of consensual sex with the minor on his record. That statement is inaccurate. Vakresvara Pandit dasa had sex with the child for almost a year. According to her testimony, they had sex 7 or 8 times. The second reason for the appeals panel judges to justify reducing Vakresvara Pandit dasa's time for following the CPO's injunctions from 5 to 3 years is that the sex was consensual. Now, that justification is so bizarre! How can this panel not acknowledge the gravity of what happened to the victim? It's true the victim might not have been physically forced; nevertheless, under the Texas law, a person under the age of 14 cannot give consent to sex under any circumstances. The original panel judges were well aware of the victim's age when they came up with an appropriate punishment. Apparently, the appeals panel judges ignored the victim's age so that they could reduced Vakresvara Pandit dasa's required time to follow the injunctions. The Texas criminal law considers sex with a minor "aggravated sexual assault." Furthermore, the Texas law stipulates, "if the child victim is under the age of 14, the offense is enhanced to a felony of the first degree, punishable by imprisonment for life or for a term of not more than 99 years or less than five years, and a fine not to exceed $50,000."
Consequently, to reduce Vakresvara Pandit dasa's time to follow the injunctions because she consented to sex does not hold water under the criminal judicial system, nor with any moral conscious society.
Another thing that the panel of judges in the appeals procedure overlooked is the sexual abuser's total lack of remorse or sense of responsibility for what he had done. And in many instances, he even failed to follow the injunctions against him. In fact, he blatantly broke as many of the CPO's injunctions as he could. Many complains were issued against him and the GBC did not take any action to try to stop him. On the contrary, they made things very difficult for the former CPO director because he wanted them to enforce the injunctions and they would not, despite their false promises that they would.
When I again started investigating this case last month, in June 2005, I found the current CPO director uncooperative. He responded minimally, saying only that the appeals judges upheld the original decision and that Vakresvara Pandit dasa's restrictions were reduced to 3 years. Besides that, Tamohara prabhu would not respond to any other inquiries, and he also did not send me the appeals report as he promised.
Sexual abuse is a very serious crime. According to Texas law, having sex with a minor is consider "aggravated sexual assault." The Child Protection Office determined that Vakresvara Pandit dasa was guilty of having sex with a 13 year old child. Texas law stipulates that a child under the age of 14 cannot give consent to sex under any circumstances. There is lots of documentation that Vakresvara Pandit dasa did not follow the CPO's injunctions. In some cases, members of the GBC were present when he was leading kirtans. Members of the GBC have also received several notices that Vakresvara Pandit was not following the injunctions. But nothing was ever done. He did not write a letter of apology or gave restitution to his victim. He was supposed to be ban if he did not comply with both stipulations. He was also supposed to be ban if he did not follow the CPOs injunctions. Yet, he is still in ISKCON. To add insult to injury, the appeals panel judges reduced his term to follow the injunctions by two years because he only had one child abuse victim and because she consented. Yet, the law says that she couldn't possibly consent under any circumstances. Despite being found guilty by both the original and the appeals panel judges appointed by the Child Protection Office directors, Vakresvara Pandit dasa has not shown any remorse, nor did he accepted responsibility for what he has done. Yet, he was awarded leniency by reducing the term to follow the injunctions. This whole case is nothing but a sham and an insult to all the child abuse victims.
A Response to Tamohara Prabhu
by Bhaktin Miriam
Jul 21, USA (SUN) - [Revised] Dear Tamohara prabhu, Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada. Prabhu, also, I apologise if your feelings were hurt.
With all due respect, this is not about our feelings. We are forgetting the main focus here, which is justice for abused sons and daughters of devotees. It is about protecting children. It is about doing this ugly service right now and doing it right so no devotee ever has to take it up again. It is about instilling zero tolerance for child abusers in ISKCON And my frustration, prabhu, comes from seeing four glaring and demonstrable facts:
1) Vakresvara Pandit never apologized to the victim and defied this stipulation of the CPO.;
2) VP never compensated the victim and again defied this CPO decision, also.
3) VP participated and was active in leading kirtans and giving lectures at several temples and has been for years since the official decision by the CPO that prohibited him from doing these activities. At home, I even have a c.d. still sold in NY of him featured as a kirtan leader from two summers ago at a temple gathering which includes Radhanath swami giving lecture! So, again, prabhu, this injunction of the CPO was disobeyed - and with impunity.
4) VP was supposed to show a letter of the injunctions to the presidents of every temple he went to, and, once again, he defied yet another of the CPO's resolutions.
So, prabhu, given these facts, which no one contests, how is it that VP gets reduced terms on his injunctions? Why are we rewarding VP for his defiance of the CPO's resolutions and thereby making a mockery of the whole process? In ISKCON culture we have a lot of trouble with facts, prabhu. In fact, in ISKCON we have a lot of trouble with honest language. And honest language, along with a willingness to confront truth, is a necessary tool against obfuscation and propaganda. I am quite sure many devotees who are in denial about child abuse in ISKCON would rather all this was discussed in Sanskrit, for example.
Another instance of thought control, is our fixation on proper tone, etiquette, offenses, etc., etc., all tried and true Vaisnava tactics to discourage critical thinking and rational analysis by an authoritarian culture with no accountability standards and not accustomed to being challenged on any issue. Only, on this matter of child abuse, I will not play along.
Prabhu, you say that you provided as many facts as you could. How unfortunate that you feel that way. The questions that I asked and which you did not reply were very legitimate. I think all devotees have a right to know these things. We have not only a right, but also a duty to ask how this could happen. You say that you cannot comment on the appeals panel's motivations, discussions and deliberations. But, prabhu, I never asked you those things. What I asked is if the victim also had a lawyer. You didn't answer that. I also asked if the sexual abuser sent a letter of apology and gave restitution to the victim. You didn't answer that either. I also asked what was the justification (which has to be in the report) for reducing the sexual abuser's "sentence" when he had defied most of the injunctions and has not shown one iota of remorse or concern for the victim. You didn't answer that either. You never even sent me the appeals report as you promised.
Sorry for rubbing this on you again. But, prabhu, please try to see things from my perspective and that of the victims of child abuse. I was asking legitimate questions and my letters were not responded to. I felt very, very frustrated being ignored like that. Prabhu, please try to see that things cannot be done behind close doors. I can understand the issue of confidentiality. But my questions were not the sort of things that have to be kept secret. Devotees have the right to be kept informed about how such an important decision could be so flawed - even after a 9.5 million-dollar child abuse lawsuit. Transparency, Prabhu.
It's a fact VP did not follow the injunctions on numerous occasions. You know this is true, and there is plenty of documentation about these facts because he never took the trouble to hide his defiance. I also found out that not long ago he gave a lecture in India. Prabhu, your assertion that there was only "one" instance when VP did not follow the injunctions is simply not an accurate statement at best. At worst, its yet another misrepresentation of the facts that are readily available to anyone willing to make a few phone calls.
I ask, what is the use of the GBC writing a letter saying that the injunctions should be followed if they themselves saw him breaking the injunctions with their own eyes and didn't do anything to stop it? What is the use of the GBC letter if to this day they know fully well that VP was breaking the injunctions stipulated by the CPO? That letter had the net effect of just one more public relations stunt because VP recently broke the injunction yet again by leading kirtan and giving lectures in Gita Nagari. And all this just begs another question: what exactly does the CPO do? What is its purpose if it cannot even enforce even the most elemental of injunctions and then even rewards the perpetrator for not following them?
You say that in the past, VP was not following because some of these temple presidents didn't know of his status. Prabhu, it's not up to the temple presidents to make sure VP is following the injunctions. Its up to VP to follow regardless of whether the temple presidents know or not, and his open defiance of the injunctions should carry more sanctions not rewards! Besides this, all temple presidents received a copy of the CPO reports. So, they were informed. Also, didn't Vakresvara Pandit have to show the temple leaders a letter stating his status? So why are we being so disingenuous, prabhu?
Prabhu, you say that the judicial system is basically working and we must back up the decision. How are all the well-known and demonstrable facts that I just mentioned above supporting this statement of yours? How can you say that a judicial system is effective when there is no justice? And, prabhu, Vakresvara Pandit's case is not the only case in which the perpetrator did not or is not following the CPO injunctions. We both know this, prabhu. So, if you insist the system is working, please, explain to the concerned devotees how this is so in light of the recent developments because, sincerely, this is not what we are observing.
None of these so-called "flaws" has to do with "proposing and enacting better methods and process", as you say. The best process and methodology or a beautiful document full of words of pious concern for children may be created anytime, but if the political will is not there to enforce it, the "process" is meaningless no matter how good it is on paper.
It's not about "process", prabhu; its about the CPO rewarding a perpetrator who defied its injunctions after he had been found to have committed a felony of the first degree, aggravated sexual assault, against a 13 year old girl, punishable in a criminal court from anywhere, life imprisonment to no less than five years, and a fine not to exceed 50,000 dollars. That's what we are talking about. These are facts, prabhu.
What all this data regrettably illustrates is how all these scandals-even after a 9.5 million child abuse settlement-still can't make ourselves think and act on child abuse with responsibility and grave concern. And devotees like me, who are concerned about child abuse in Prabhupada's movement, have not only every right, but, also, a duty, to ask and find out why VP is being rewarded for defying the relatively mild injunctions of the CPO.
You say that you fully support the appeals panel decision to reduce VP's sentence. But you forget to mention on what grounds, with what facts, you support this travesty that rewards VP for violating and making a mockery of the whole process, and, thereby, adding more insult to the injuries that the victim has had to contend with to this day.
That is why I wrote the article. This decision was one more insult and injustice added to the life time and painful memory that VP represents to the victim. I thought that the CPO was established to see justice and protect children. But now we are telling the world that even after a 9.5 child abuse settlement, we still "don't get it!" The demonstrable truth is that VP and others like him were punished mostly on paper. And now the CPO has not only validated that artificial posture, but, also, presented the defiance of VP with a prize and a reward, as if he had shown exemplary maturity and concern about the damage that he caused!
But this is not the way out of this dark issue. To accept yet another instance of injustice passively is merely not only to increase the arrogance and contempt that this child abuser has already shown, but also the arrogance and contempt of the authorities that refuse to get real about this blight.
Again, I apologize for "my tone". I didn't write the paper with the intent to hurt your feelings. I am sorry if I did. But I do want to get down to the bottom of this thoroughly disagreeable subject, not only in my life, but also in the life of the victims and ISKCON.
Click here for a collection of news articles on this subject.
Click here for more ISKCON gurukula information.
Click here for an index of all child abuse information available through this site.