On Saturday May 5th, the appearance day of Lord Nrsimhadeva—Lord Krishna’s half-man half-lion form known for protecting His devotees—ISKCON North America’s Child Protection Office launches its official website.
The site, www.safetemple.org, helps both adults and children understand what abuse is, and tells them what steps to take if they’re concerned about child abuse or neglect. It gives contact details for both ISKCON and local State child protection authorities, and describes services the North American CPO offers.
These include a screening service temples can use to verify volunteers and employees, both through ISKCON itself and through a criminal background check service. The CPO also offers education and training for both adults and children. Temples can invite North American Child Protection Officer Lilasuka Dasi to work with their management in establishing risk prevention steps, as well as to speak to their congregation about community awareness, and give age appropriate Safe Touch presentations to their children.
Lilasuka also assists temples in organizing and maintaining their own child protection teams—small group of devotees that are prepared to respond to local concerns of child abuse or neglect.
The website’s launch date is not only significant because it is on Lord Nrsimhadeva’s appearance day, but also because it comes at the conclusion of the US national Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Seeing the alarming rate at which children were being abused and neglected, the US Senate and House of Representatives first proclaimed April as Child Abuse Prevention Month in 1983. And ever since, initiatives and events have been coordinated during this month by The Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, and encouraged by State governors across the country.
They’re fighting nothing short of an epidemic. According to childhelp.org, 3.3 million reports of child abuse, involving six million children, are made in the United States every year.
People tend to be most shocked by sexual abuse, and the statistics are stark: one in three girls, and one in six boys, will be violated before eighteen. But it’s only 7.6 per cent of all abuse, with neglect the most widespread type at 78.3 per cent.
“That is something I’m concerned that ISKCON as a community becomes more aware of,” says North American Child Protection Officer Lilasuka Dasi, citing the common practice of children running around at ISKCON temples unsupervised.
And ISKCON North America certainly is putting a lot of effort into more awareness these days. Previously there were no official regional Child Protection Offices in ISKCON, only one international Central Office, run by Champakalata Dasi in Durban, South Africa. But in January this year, North American ISKCON leaders created the first regional office in Alachua, Florida to locally carry out the Central Office's mission of increasing child protection, communication and legal compliance.
“Out of many important projects and aspects of our Society, the leaders have recognized and committed to increasing child protection with action by investing in this initiative,” Lilasuka enthuses.
The North American CPO, while still in the process of establishing itself, participated in Child Abuse Prevention Month this year by holding two special educational events at the Alachua Learning center—a local charter school with mostly ISKCON devotee students and teachers.
The first, held on April 14th, was a three-hour program in English, while the second, held on April 21st, was in Spanish.
“Two very kind and generous devotees from Gainesville’s Krishna House, Bhaktin Estefania and Ananda-Seva Prabhu, translated the entire Power Point presentation and brochure into Spanish,” says Lilasuka Dasi. “Then Gopi-Prema Dasi of the Dominican Republic, who is the local child protection team representative for ISKCON Alachua and works at the community’s Bhaktivedanta Academy primary school, did the Spanish language presentation. It was so wonderful to be able to reach out to a segment of our Society that may not otherwise come to such an event.”
After the safetemple.org website launch on May 5th, Lilasuka will take her presentations around North America for a month. Her tour, running from May 9th to June 10th, will take her to ISKCON communities in Prabhupada Villagae, North Carolina; New Vrindaban, West Viginia (for the Festival of Inspiration); Columbus, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Houston, Texas; New Talavan, Mississippi; and New Orleans, Louisiana. The full schedule is listed at http://www.safetemple.org/2012/01/08/events.
Types of presentations Lilasuka offers that temples can choose from include child protection team training; a safe touch presentation for the children; a parent teacher discussion; a meeting with management; and a community awareness presentation.
In the latter, Lilasuka lists and defines the different kinds of abuse and neglect, and discusses the effects of child abuse; characteristics of an abuser; the role that temples, devotees and communities play in child protection; how to report a case; the value of doing screening and background checks; education and training; and contact information for organizations both inside and outside of ISKCON.
She also explains what ISKCON’s Central Child Protection Office does and offers, what the North American CPO does and offers, and what exactly a child protection team is.
Finally, she gives statistics and facts to show why child abuse is such a major concern, and how community awareness and educational efforts decrease child abuse and neglect.
“I hope these educational events will create a general shift in attitude, where each person in our community feels more empowered to make a difference,” says Lilasuka. “I hope they will open more eyes and ears to the reality of the abuse going on around us, and that when there is a concern of abuse or neglect, devotees will feel more comfortable to reach out to someone who can help."
The North American CPO is just getting started: Lilasuka will do a second tour, of the East Coast of the United States, in September 2012, and a third, of the West Coast, in early 2013. She’ll also continue building resources and materials for child protection, showing devotees how they can tap into their county’s family services as well as creating ISKCON’s own materials, including a coloring book for ages Kindergarten through fifth grade, and a brochure for parents on how to talk with their children or teenagers.
Lilasuka says that being aware about child protection is important for every member of a community, no matter who they are.
“The old adage—‘It takes a village to raise a child’—is appropriate in regard to child protection,” she explains. “Whether one has children, grandchildren or no children, we all affect each other and invariably we are affected by those we care about. Participating in creating safe and healthy communities benefits everyone.”
She concludes: “Safe communities afford the opportunity for growing healthier and stronger families, and are very important for us to open our hearts to Krishna—we need to feel safe to do that.”