Policy guidelines for understanding and managing domestic abuse in ISKCON —2020
The Problem of Domestic Abuse
Domestic abuse (sometimes referred to as domestic violence) is a serious global problem within society at large. Domestic abuse is the leading cause of injury to women in most countries and from many reports currently exceeds injuries from car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.
Domestic abuse and child abuse are linked. Statistics show that sixty-five percent of adults who abuse their partner also physically or sexually abuse their children. The cycle also continues in children, as research shows that boys who witness domestic abuse are twice as likely to abuse their partners and children as adults. Children who witness abuse may also accept abuse in their adult relationships as the abuse has become normalized through childhood experiences.
Children may display the following Behaviors:
· Inability to concentrate
In brief, domestic abuse is defined as an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, committed by a spouse or domestic partner. Domestic abuse can include, but is not limited to, the following:
Coercive control(a pattern of intimidation, degradation, isolation and control with the use or threat of physical or sexual violence)
· Psychological and/or emotional abuse
· Physical or sexual abuse
· Verbal abuse
· Spiritual abuse (using scripture to put down a spouse/partner)
· Financial or economic abuse
· Harassment and stalking
· Online or digital abuse
Vaishnava Response to Domestic Abuse
As a Vaishnava spiritual community, we are mandated by our scriptures and tradition to protect the vulnerable and those placed in our love and care. This includes, per the Srimad Bhagavatam, “the brāhmaṇas, the cows, the women, the children and the old men” [Srila Prabhupada’s Purport 1.8.5]. Marriage partners in particular, wherein husbands and wives are bound by vows of love and service to each other and theSupreme Lord, are called to care and protect one another, and never do each other any harm.
Domestic abuse is a severe violation of the essential practices of Krishna consciousness and Vaishnava culture. Vaishnava culture includes cultivating the qualities of mercy, austerity (or self-discipline), truthfulness, and cleanliness. These are sometimes referred to as the pillars of religion. Domestic abuse undermines and destroys these qualities.
Abuse of one’s spouse or intimate partner is never acceptable behavior for one hoping to make spiritual advancement and please the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna. Domestic abuse blocks spiritual advancement because it violates the teaching of ahimsa, or non-violence, and violates the principle of compassion. It is a serious offense to one’s partner, who should be seen first and foremost as an eternal daughter, or son, of God.
While our temple communities and spiritual practices can offer some solace in the case of domestic abuse, both the victim and abuser are advised to seek professional help when this is possible or available.
For victims, this includes seeking specialist counseling, education, and victim advocacy as appropriate from a local domestic abuse response agency. Professional education and rehabilitation programs are also available for perpetrators of abuse in many areas. Where services are not available devotee mentors can be helpful to guide and counsel couples dealing with domestic abuse.
As a Vaishnava spiritual community, we are mandated by our scriptures and tradition to protect others. The Srimad Bhagavatam states that: “In the glorious days, or before the advent of the Age of Kali, the brāhmaṇas, the cows, the women, the children and the old men were properly given protection… the protection of women maintains the chastity of society, by which we can get a good generation for peace, tranquility and progress of life.”
Staying in a marriage relationship, wherein sacred vows were taken, should always be a priority. At the same time, sometimes for one’s own safety or the safety of one’s children, it is best to separate from a situation where domestic abuse occurs. There are examples of Srila Prabhupada separating his married disciples for an extended period of time when the wife was not properly cared for.
Leaders are Obliged to Help
Despite ISKCON’s condemnation of domestic abuse, we are aware that it exists within congregations and among initiated members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).To help address this problem we direct that ISKCON leaders should teach and minister to their communities so as to:
· Promote the sacred duty of partners in marriage to honor and protect each other, and to not allow violence or abuse to enter their relationship, against either wife or husband
· Promote marriage courses, counselors, sastra classes, etc., and the understanding that domestic abuse is displeasing to the Lord, Srila Prabhupada, and the Vaishnava community
· Promote understanding of the negative consequences of domestic abuse
· Understand that any person causing domestic abuse is in violation of sastra and Vaishnava values, and should be required to seek professional help
· Be watchful for members exhibiting the symptoms of abuse
· Support members to identify domestic abuse when it exists
· Take action and advise persons to seek professional help in cases of abuse
· Whenever possible, appoint a community representative who is knowledgeable about local domestic violence prevention programs and who can provide appropriate resources for victims in the community
· Consider the severity and frequency of any abuse and determine appropriate consequences for the abuser; which may include steps to ban perpetrators of serious or repeated acts of domestic abuse from participating in temple services.
Advice for ISKCON Community Leaders
1. Make available and require premarital counseling prior to performing a wedding ceremony. Professionally trained, counselors are often able to discern and prevent destructive relationships and generational patterns before they fully develop. This may also prevent a tragic marital situation if patterns have already developed in courtship.
2. Educate your congregation about domestic abuse. Our tendency in temple communities is to focus on teaching scriptural truths and instructions for marriage, while not fully addressing the real challenges that many in the congregation are already living within their marriages.
3. Interact with local law enforcement and domestic abuse shelters. Learn from them, and partner with them in addressing abuse in your community.
Temple leaders should not get sidetracked by deeply held hopes for restoring relationships. Despite the sanctity of marriage vows, in cases of severe domestic and family violence, the first obligation of the temple leader must be to get victims to safety –not save the marriage. While we rightly embrace the sacredness and 9importance of marriage, when there is abuse and control asserted in the relationship, we must recognize that this ideal is already shattered.
Following expert professional (rather than just pastoral devotee counseling wherever possible) intervention, the couple might be able to look at whether the marriage can be re-established. Alternatively, the victim might recognize that the relationship is simply not safe enough to be repaired. This decision must always be made by the victim, and temple communities must avoid pressuring them over this decision.
RESOLVED: The ISKCON GBC accepts the GBC Statement Against Domestic Abuse and the Guidelines contained therein that give guidance to devotees and also provide resources to leaders and managers who are called upon to deal with domestic abuse in their communities.
Resolution: Domestic abuse is indefensible, illegal in many countries, and never acceptable within the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). Any interpretation of Vaishnava religious or social teachings that condones, endorses or justifies domestic abuse is rejected by the Governing Body Commission (GBC).
- ISKON Governing Body Commission AGM Minutes-2020
- ISKCON Child Protection Office Policy & Operational Guidelines -2018
- Tridandeeswami Bhakti Kusum vs Mayapore Sree Chaitanya Math And Ors – 22/04/1983
- Certificate of incorporation of ISKCON – 13/07/1966