Krishna temples urge victims of abuse to make formal claim

Los Angeles Times/April 30, 2003
By Larry B. Stammer

Los Angeles -- The six Hare Krishna temples in California, along with several other Krishna organizations here and in West Virginia, took steps yesterday to identify minors who may have been sexually abused or mistreated at boarding schools during the 1970s and '80s.

A lawsuit over the alleged abuse prompted the Krishna movement, known officially as the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, to file for bankruptcy last year to protect its assets and, the group said, to prevent closing of temples and other facilities across the United States.

As part of the bankruptcy process, the Krishna temples plan to publish legal notices today in major newspapers and magazines and on websites, urging victims to make claims if they want to be compensated under a proposed bankruptcy reorganization plan.

The move is the latest development in a three-year legal battle over the abuse allegations.

In charges that echo the sexual-abuse scandal in Roman Catholic dioceses across the United States, plaintiffs allege they were raped or otherwise physically and emotionally abused while living in Krishna boarding schools away from their parents.

The US boarding schools, known as ashram-based gurukulas, were all closed by the mid-1980s. In the United States, schools were located in Los Angeles and Three Rivers, Calif., Moundsville, W.Va., and Dallas. Other boarding schools were located in India.

A suit was filed in 2000 in Texas against the Los Angeles, Moundsville, and Dallas schools. The six California temples were also named as parties in the suit, which seeks millions in damages on behalf of more than 90 alleged victims. A lawyer for the victims said the number could rise to as many as a thousand victims.

Victims were subjected to ''the most unthinkable abuse and maltreatment of little children which we have seen,'' said Wendell Turley, the Texas plaintiff's lawyer who is handling the suit. ''It includes rape, sexual abuse, physical torture, and emotional terror of children as young as 3 years of age.''

A Los Angeles lawyer for the Krishna movement, David Liberman, said yesterday that he had no idea how many victims might step forward. He said that ''well over'' 2,000 to 3,000 children went through Krishna boarding schools during that period.

Liberman said the lawsuit ''threatens to close places of worship and punish innocent families that had nothing to do with these allegations.''

The movement reports about 75,000 members in the United States. Worldwide it says it has 10,000 temple devotees, who live at Krishna temples, and 250,000 congregational devotees.

An article on child abuse within the movement between 1971 and 1986 appears on the movement's website. In it, E. Burke Rochford Jr., professor of sociology at Middlebury College in Vermont, said US Krishna boarding schools first opened in 1971 in Dallas.

''It was here that some children were physically, psychologically, and sexually abused,'' Rochford wrote. Estimates of the number of students abused have ranged from 20 percent of all students who attended an ashram-gurukula to as many as 75 percent of the boys enrolled at a boarding school in Vrindavan, India, according to Rochford.

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