10/10/1998 - 2341
Report Details Hare Krishna Child Abuse
USA (VNN) - by Mrigendra das
This has become one of the top stories of today. Itappears that most newspapers and broadcast media have it as oneof the top 10 national stories and may have follow upinvestigation and coverage. The AP story that follows wascarried in many papers, including, but not limited to, Las VegasSun; Waco Tribune-Herald; FOX News; The AtlantaJournal-Constitution; CNN; Cleveland Plain Dealer -- Mrigendra das
Report details Hare Krishna child abuse
By JULIA LIEBLICH
The Associated Press
10/09/98 6:22 PM Eastern
For years, rumors circulated about child abuse at Hare Krishnaboarding schools in the 1970s and '80s. But ultimately it was thegroup itself that confirmed the problem, exposing many of theshocking details just this week.
In an extraordinary display of candor by a religious group,the Hare Krishna movement published the findings in an officialjournal, recounting sexual molestation, beatings, publichumiliation and isolation in roach-infested closets. Teachers,administrators and monks were among the abusers.
The report was written by an independent sociologist,Professor E. Burke Rochford Jr. of Middlebury College in Vermont.He said Friday he did not know how many children were abusedmentally, physically or sexually, but his interviews of parentsand children showed it was a sizable number.
One girl recalled she was spanked and made to wear dirtypanties on her head as punishment for bedwetting: "I would cry... for my mom, but that wasn't allowed. So I would say I wascrying in devotional ecstasy."
A young man said it got to the point where he wasn't afraid ofbeing sexually molested: "Sexual molestation, all of us, man,we'd just take it, you know. We didn't even consider it abuseback then."
Critics have attacked Hare Krishnas since the sect was foundedin New York in the 1960s by Srila Prabhupada, an Indian whobelieved it was his destiny to spread the teachings of the Hindugod Krishna.
For more than two decades, Rochford studied the sect'sdevotees, known in the 1970s for shaving their heads and handingout flowers and literature at airports. He said he has a fondnessfor many of its members, even agreeing to serve on its NorthAmerican board of education. So when he uncovered the abuse, "Iwas devastated."
One of the sect's official publications, the ISKCONCommunications Journal, reported Rochford's findings in itscurrent issue.
"We want people to be aware of the depth of the problem and doeverything possible to protect kids in the future," said AnuttamaDasa, the movement's North American director of communications."The first step is to put everything on the table and doeverything to rectify past mistakes."
Rochford said the stage for abuse was set by the HareKrishna's elevation of celibacy and its belief that only thespiritually weak pursue sex and marriage.
"Children were abused in part because they were not valued byleaders and even, very often, by the parents who acceptedtheological and other justification offered by the leadership,"he wrote.
Many members of the sect, he said, had no clue of themistreatment because the estimated 2,000 children who passedthrough the schools were removed from families at an early age --some as young as 4 -- and sent to institutions throughout theworld.
Children had only occasional visits with their parents, andletters home were often censored by school officials.
By 1986, all boarding schools in North America were closedexcept for one high school in Alachua, Fla., where a childprotection office was established.
Steven Gelberg, a former monk and academic liaison for theHare Krishnas, said he feels ashamed he wasn't aware of theabuse.
"There were rumors of isolated incidents of abuse, but thekind of systematic abuse of kids in part based on religiousideology shocked me," he said.
At its peak in the early 1980s, the sect claimed 5,000 U.S.members living in communities centered around their temples,according to Anuttama Dasa. Today there are about 90,000 U.S.members, with only 800 living in the spiritual communities, hesaid.
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