CNN Coverage of ISKCON Apology
This segment played on "Paul Zahn" 18 Aug. and "Live From" on 19 Aug. 2005
Kyra Phillips: Hare Krishna, a name that evokes images of hippy like devotees who sold books at airports years ago, who chanted mantras, and danced in the streets, but there was a much different side to the Hare Krishnas at that time. A side that was out of the public eye. It was a world of brutal psychological and physical abuse that targeted the most vulnerable members of that organization. Here's CNN's investigative reporter, Drew Griffin.
Drew Griffin: Anya Pourchot says she escaped the Hare Krishnas at seventeen. It's been twenty years, but she says she still gets physically sick the moment she hears the chanting.
Anya Pourchot: When I hear it I have to physically run so I can keep myself together.
Drew Griffin: Joe Fournier, who was brought into the Krishnas at age seven says it's taken him years to be able to talk about what's happened.
Joe Fournier: Very painful. I've gone through years of therapy, to come out of it, yeah, to survive.
Drew Griffin: What they and hundreds of others survived as children in a movement that in the 1960s and 1970s attracted thousands of youthful seekers. Followers were expected to devote themselves a life of pure living, chanting, and pleasing god, and chanting praise. But behind the saffron robes and shaved heads, many Hare krishnas were hiding a dark secret. A secret kept inside the Krishna boarding schools, where the children of devotees were sent for training. This lawsuit filed in Texas in 2001 pulled back the veil from Krishna society, and according to the attorney who filed it, was plagued by violence and sexual exploitation of children.
Windle Turley: This is the worst case of abuse of children I've ever seen.
Drew Griffin: Dallas attorney Windle Turley sued the International Society of Krishnas on behalf of ninety-two people who complained of years of emotional and sexual abuse.
Windle Turley: When you take a little six your old girl who has not behaved and for her punishment she is locked in a dark closet, told that it's filled with rats and the rats will eat her if she whimpers, and she's told to stand up on this wooden crate and not cry. She's told to stay there for hours. That kind of terror as a way of enforcing discipline is just beyond the pall of anything civil.
Anya Pourchot: I just remember walking down a hallway and having this horrible experience of hearing a blood curdling scream of a child and all the other children shuffling around like it's something that happened everyday.
Drew Griffin: Did it happen every day? Did it happen to you?
Anya Pourchot: Oh yeah.
Drew Griffin: Anya Pourchot was four when her parents joined the movement, whose teachings discouraged family life and parental affection. Anya was sent to a Krishna boarding school. By sixteen she found herself promised to a thirty-two year old man she didn't know. [to Anya] He raped you?
Anya Pourchot: Yeah, well he convinced me to masturbate him and it was not a very nice experience.
Drew Griffin: The lawsuit details the claims made by the Krishna children: beatings, children forced to live and sleep in filth, to eat garbage, children denied medical care, and some tied up and placed in trash barrels. And, according to Fournier, constant sexual abuse.
Joe Fournier: Fondled, raped, stuff like that. It was pretty bad.
Drew Griffin: Fournier was just nine years old when he was sent to a Krishna boarding school in Dallas. Within months of his arrival, the nightly visits began.
Joe Fournier: You would pretend you weren't awake or conscious, or something, just to survive it.
Drew Griffin: The International Society of Krishna Consciousness admits no one was looking out for the children. During the 1970s and 80s, when most of the abuse is alleged, children were sent away to boarding schools so their parents could focus on begging and recruiting other converts.
Windle Turley: They were literally asked to give up all parental control over their children. Great efforts were made to sever the parental relationship.
Drew Griffin: With their parents out of the way, or off raising money, the children were sent to boarding schools like the one run here in Dallas. The victims say this is where some of the worst abuse took place. In what the organization now admits was a horrible lapse of judgment, the Krishna converts unfit for other duty were the ones assigned to watch the children.
Anuttama: Too many of them were former hippies and people who were trying to get away from social constraints and things like that and were looking to get an opportunity to find easy solutions to some of the problems that they faced.
Drew Griffin: What sets this story apart from so many other lawsuits with religious organizations and abuse, is what the Krishnas decided to do this past spring. Krishna communications director Anuttama dasa says the society admits it was wrong, admits the abuse took place in many of its schools, and has agreed to pay compensation for the horrible abuse. The society is also begging for forgiveness.
Anuttama: This is really part of an ongoing healing process we're organizing meeting around the country and later in Europe and probably in India for people in leadership positions within the organization to meet with the young people and hear more about what else we need to do and offer our own genuine apologies to them for the suffering that they've undergone.
Drew Griffin: Fearing the impact of a multi-million dollar lawsuit, six temples of the Krishnas declared bankruptcy. In the reorganization, nearly $10 million will be set aside for victims. More is being sought from insurance companies. And across the globe, Krishna temples are collecting even more money. Krishnas have opened the door to anyone with claims of abuse. Since the original lawsuit, more than five hundred former children have come forward. And, says Windle Turley, the Krishnas have done what no other religious organization charged with sexual abuse has done, at least not to this extent. The Krishnas, he says, have truly apologized.
Windle Turley: "We were wrong. You were trusted to our care. We are to blame and we are profoundly sorry." That was a real apology and to many of these children, that was just as important as the amount of money they're going to recover in this settlement.
Drew Griffin: Joe Fournier says the apology has helped, but insists he true abusers and predators of his childhood have gotten away. Anya Pourchot says no apology will ever be enough. Her childhood is lost forever. She struggles to retrieve what she can for a book she is writing. It's titled "Traded for Cattle." It's a reference to how the Krishnas handed her into an abuser's arms in exchange for a promise of a cow.
Anya Pourchot: I hope this never happens to anyone else again.
Drew Griffin: The Hare krishnas say they have that same hope and a new vow to make sure it doesn't. [back in the studio with Kyra Phillips] The krishnas plan to be paying out damages from their own pockets for years to come. Not just to compensate the victims for their pain, but also they say so current members of the society feel some pain too, as a way of preventing abuse in the future.
Kyra Phillips: Now this is such a closed society, as we know. How do we know that the abuse is not going on right now?
Drew Griffin: The Krishna society has set up an office, much like the Catholic church has, for reporting any troubles, any inconsistencies. Also, t teaching their own members about abuse, what it is, how to look out for it, and then urging parents to pay particular attention to their children. Also, they've closed all the boarding schools in the US.
Kyra Phillips: They're all closed?
Drew Griffin: All closed.
Kyra Phillips: So I'm just curious. Anya, does she still talk with her parents?
Drew Griffin: An interesting note, her mother and her sister are still in the Hare Krishna society. Limited contact there. Anya has nothing to do with the Krishnas. She says she really gets physically sick anytime she sees or hears them, but she does intermittently talk with her relatives.
Kyra Phillips: Wow. I don't blame her after what she says she went through. Thank you Drew, very much.
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