CNN Special: Stories Surface of Hare Krishna Abuse
Stories Surface of Hare Krishna Abuse;
Aired August 19, 2005 - 14:29 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS: Hare Krishna. It's a name that evokes that images of hippie-like devotees who sold books at airports years ago, chanted mantras, and danced in the streets. But there was a much different side to the Krishnas at that time, a side that was kept out of the public eye. It was a world of brutal psychological and physical abuse that targeted the most helpless members of that organization. Here's CNN investigative reporter Drew Griffin.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Anya Pourchot says she escaped the Hare Krishnas at 17. It's been 20 years, but she says she still gets physically sick the moment she hears the chanting.
ANYA POURCHOT, VICTIM: I usually have to just run so that I can keep myself together.
GRIFFIN: Joe Fournier, who was brought into the Krishnas at the age of 7, says it's taken years for him to be able to talk about what happened.
JOE FOURNIER, VICTIM: Very painful. Yeah. Gone through years of therapy to come out of it, yeah, to survive.
GRIFFIN: What they and hundreds of other survived were childhoods inside a movement that in the 1960 and '70s attracted thousands of youthful seekers. Followers were expected to devote their lives to pure living, pleasing God and chanting praise. But behind the saffron robes, shaved heads and happy songs, 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, exposed a movement plagued by violence, abuse and sexual exploitation of children.
WINDLE TURLEY, ATTORNEY: This is the worst case of abuse of children I have ever seen.
GRIFFIN: Dallas attorney Windle Turley sued the International Society of Krishnas on behalf of 92 people, who complained of years of emotional and physical abuse.
TURLEY: When you took a little 6-year-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 that the rats will eat her if she whimpers. And she's told to stand on this wooden crate and not cry, and stay there for hours, that kind of terrorizing as a way of enforcing discipline is just beyond the thought of anything civil.
POURCHOT: I just remember walking down a hallway, and having this horrible experience of hearing the blood-curling scream of a child. And all the other children shuffling around like it was just -- you know, something that happened every day.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Did it happen every day?
POURCHOT: Oh, yeah.
GRIFFIN: And it happened to you?
POURCHOT: Oh, yeah.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Anya Pourchot was 4 when her parents joined the movement, whose teachings discouraged family life and parental affection. Anya was sent to a Krishna boarding school. By 16, she found herself promised to a 32-year-old man she didn't know.
(on camera): He raped you?
POURCHOT: Yeah. He convinced -- well, he convinced me to masturbate him. And it was not a very nice experience.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): 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.
FOURNIER: Fondled, raped, you know, stuff like that, yeah. Pretty bad.
GRIFFIN: Fournier was just 9 years old when he was sent to a Krishna boarding school in Dallas. Within a month of his arrival, he says, the nightly visits began.
FOURNIER: You had to pretend you weren't awake or conscious or something, to survive it, you know.
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 parents could focus on begging and recruiting other converts.
TURLEY: And they were literally asked to give up all parental control over their children. And that -- great efforts were made to sever the parental relationship. GRIFFIN (on camera): 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.
(voice-over): In what the organization now admits was a horrible lapse in judgment, the Krishna converts unfit for other duty were the ones assigned to watch the children.
ANUTTAMA DASA, INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY FOR KRISHNA CONSCIOUSNESS: Too many of them were former hippies and people that were trying to get away from social restraints, and things like that. And were looking for an opportunity to kind of find maybe some easy solutions to some of the problems that they faced.
GRIFFIN: What sets this story apart from so many other lawsuits involving 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 school, and has agreed to pay compensation for the horrible abuse. The society is also begging for forgiveness.
DASA: This is really part of an ongoing healing process. We're organizing meetings around the country, and later in Europe and probably in India, with people in leadership positions within the organization, to meet with the young people, to hear more about what else we need to do to try to help them, to offer our own personal, genuine apologies to them for the suffering that they'd undergone.
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.
The Krishnas have opened the door to anyone with claims of abuse. Since the original lawsuit, more than 500 former Krishna 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.
TURLEY: We were wrong. You were entrusted to our care. We didn't take care of you. We are to blame and we're 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.
GRIFFIN: Joe Fournier says the apology has helped, but insists the 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, for the promise of a cow.
POURCHOT: I hope that this never happens to anyone else again.
GRIFFIN: The Hare Krishnas say they have that same hope, and a new vow to make sure it doesn't.
GRIFFIN: 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 society will feel some pain, too, as a way of preventing abuse in the future.
PHILLIPS: Now this is such a closed society, as we know. How do we know that the abuse is not going on right now?
GRIFFIN: They have set up -- the Krishna society has set up an office, much like the Catholic Church has, reporting any troubles, any inconsistencies. Also 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 when their children are saying something. And also they've closed all the boarding schools in the United States.
PHILLIPS: They're all closed.
GRIFFIN: All of them.
PHILLIPS: So I'm still curious, Anya, does she still talk with her parents? Are her parents still in the....
GRIFFIN: Interesting enough, her mother and a sister, an adult sister, are still members of the Hare Krishna Society. Limited contact there. Anya has nothing to do with the Krishnas. She says she really gets physically sick any time she sees or hears them, but she does intermittently talk with her relatives.
PHILLIPS: Wow. I don't blame her, after she says what she went through. Drew Griffin, thank you so much. We're going to take a quick break. More LIVE FROM right after this.
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