[From an Email sent on Aug 23, 2022]
Dear members of the SABHA, please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada and your services to him.
I know that some of you feel that the case regarding Lokanatha Swami should be “re-reviewed” (i.e. retried) by the CPO. And you feel this way because the CPO’s diagnostic and investigative abilities in the matter of child protection are based on the “state of the art” in the fields of psychology and social science. Thus, those ISKCON decision-makers who lacked direct training from the CPO or who did not have advanced degrees in the social sciences were never really competent to decide the matter.
However, I, like many others, feel that there are also strong reasons to believe that the CPO’s scientific orientation may be neither objective nor the best way to deal with this case specifically, or even with the some of the big problems in child protection generally. Most of you have heard shastra-based objections and remain unconvinced by them. But in my opinion (I have an MS in Statistics), some of the strongest reasons to doubt the CPO’s science-based approach to social justice come from the field of science itself.
Not only myself, but none other than the late Sadaputa Prabhu (whose PhD was also in Statistics) expressed a similar fear more generally about ISKCON leaders adopting the non-theistic, mechanistic world-views of modern science just to appear respectable to society at large.
Commenting on modern science’s challenge to religious institutions generally, Sadaputa Prabhu writes,
“Today, the Catholic Church has responded to this by creating a Pontifical Academy of Sciences staffed by a host of scientific luminaries, including several Nobel laureates. The Academy discusses current scientific issues from a mainstream scientific viewpoint, and it recently proclaimed that, “We are convinced that masses of evidence render the application of the concept of evolution to man and the other primates beyond serious dispute.” Meanwhile, Catholics continue to believe in such things as the miracles of Jesus Christ, which are part of a world view completely alien to the mechanistic, evolutionary world view of modern science.
“For those who are ignorant of the issues, or who are able to enter into a dissociative state of double-think, this contradictory situation may be tolerable. But for thoughtful, well-educated people, it leads ultimately to one conclusion: science is right, religion is wrong, and there is no God in any traditional sense of that term.”
Before taking any decision, I encourage you to read Sadaputa’s essay, titled “On Preaching to Scientists and Scholars”.
And since the CPO is also a science-based institution, Sadaputa’s general concerns also apply to the CPO. And here I will briefly discuss some of the concerns Sadaputa generally presented as they could apply to the case of Lokanath Maharaja.
The high recidivism rate of convicted child sexual abusers is used to justify considering even a single offense no matter how slight as unpardonable. Once a child-abuser, always a child-abuser. This is the CPO’s policy and also the policy generally followed in law in secular society. But this argument is susceptible to being undermined by the statistical effect called Simpson’s Paradox.
A Simpson’s Paradox occurs when a trend appears in two or more different groups of data but disappears or reverses when the data from all the groups is combined into a single group. The Wikipedia entry on Simpson’s Paradox gives the example of a famous gender-bias study conducted at UC Berkely in 1973. In that study, the overall acceptance rate of men across all programs was found to be higher than the acceptance rate of women. This outcome suggested that there was indeed an effect of gender-bias against women in favour of men.
But on closer investigation, it was found that men tended to apply to departments that were larger and less competitive (and therefore had higher acceptance rates), and that women tended to apply to departments that were smaller and more competitive (and thus had lower acceptance rates).
And once the necessary corrections were made, the data actually showed that there was a “small but statistically significant bias in favour of women.” Indeed, in 4 of the 6 largest departments, women had a statistically higher rate of acceptance than men.
Thus, by removing distinctions between subgroups in data, Simpson’s Paradox masks or reverses the actual trends present in subgroups.
How does Simpson’s Paradox apply to Lokanatha Maharaja’s case?
There is reason to believe that Maharaja belongs to a subgroup whose recidivism rate would be very low to nil. That group would consist of saintly people who fully take shelter of the Lord as the means for atoning for their sins. As per Bhagavad-gita 9.30, and Srila Prabhupada’s purport, for such people, only taking shelter of the Lord’s devotional service is the only requirement, and such people remain saintly. The liberation of Ajamila and also Jagai and Madhai from the reactions of their sins shows that bhakti not only pardons them for their sins but they are cleansed of the tendency. This subgroup would have a low to nil recidivism rate.
But the problem with child abuse science is that no one wants to fund studies to identify subgroups of child abusers who have low recidivism rates. Politicians and other grant-giving institutions do not want to pay for that kind of research. Scientists who find child abusers with high recidivism rates will get grant money for more research; finding subgroups with low recidivism rates will not. Hence, the scientists and the science in the area of child abuse is biased toward a socially favoured outcome.
Confounded Variables and Theoretical Perspective
Confounded variables occur when two or more characteristics (variables) in your observed data can explain a particular effect and there is no way to reliably distinguish the strength of the effect of one variable from another.
For example, conservative estimates of child sexual abuse broken down by gender are that at least 90% of all victims are female and at least 90% of their abusers are male. Although a female child is certainly less able to defend herself than a grown woman, you cannot understand from these statistics whether being a child or being female has a greater effect in causing a child sex abuse event to occur. Thus, the variables “child” and “female” are confounded.
If your policy for child sexual abuse prevention depends on these variables, then knowing whether “child” or “female” has the stronger effect will determine what kind of policy and institution you put in place to deal with your problem. But if your variables are confounded or not subject to accurate investigation, then you have to make some guess as to which of the variables are more important. Once you make this guess, then you can go about creating your science experiment or building your institution.
This “guess” comes from a “theoretical perspective,” which is a set of unproven assumptions held by scientists about the causes and effects they see in the data they investigate. Often, the science researchers create experiments in order to confirm or reject the assumptions of their theoretical perspective.
But more often than not, a theoretical perspective remains unproven yet still becomes widespread in a particular scientific field, just like the Big-Bang Theory in Astrophysics, where it has become a virtually unchallengeable orthodoxy. And because it’s an orthodoxy, there is grant money for Big-Bang Theory-based research and almost nothing if you want to challenge it.
And scientific fields like psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics, etc., must rely more on theoretical perspectives than do any other scientific fields. This is because humans as compared with atoms and chemicals are much more difficult to reliably investigate. Atoms do not care if you blow them up or just want to look at them, but humans do. And humans typically don’t like you looking over their shoulder and often lie about who they are or what they did. So, in place of reliable data and inference, these fields rely more on unproven beliefs about their subject of study (humans) than any other field. Indeed, the science in these fields is significantly dependent on the researchers’ personal or shared but unproven beliefs.
The CPO and its theoretical perspective
So, what is the CPO’s theoretical perspective? What are some of the shared, unproven beliefs that motivate their policies?
Children are vulnerable and deserve protection, but so are women. Thus, in the field of child sexual abuse, the question as to whether child or gender is the more significant factor is confounded. So, as with the science that informs it, an unproven belief in the CPO’s theoretical perspective is that child is more important than gender. Therefore their solutions like “good touch, bad touch” tend to be child-centric and gender-neutral. As the CPO’s name implies, the “child” in “Child Protection Office” gives more weight to being a child than to any other factor.
Gender Neutrality and Power Relations
The CPO’s own definition of child abuse tells us much about its theoretical perspective. Not only is it gender-neutral to a fault, it also gives differences in power-relations as a causal explanation for impetus to abuse a child in the first place.
As per the CPO’s website:
“Child abuse is when a person exerts his or her power over a child in ways that harm and/or exploit the child. The abuser is powerful; the child is vulnerable. The abuser can gain power over the child through size, position, knowledge, or money. All of these work to make the abuser feel he or she is able to behave inappropriately toward a child and that the child will be unable to stop the abusive behavior.”
This is the CPO’s fundamental definition of child abuse, and its commitment to gender-neutrality and power-relations as a causal factor will tell us much about the CPO’s theoretical perspective and its origins.
Power-Relations Theory and its Marxist Origins
In the broader field of the social sciences, the concept of power-relations, has several contributing theoretical perspectives. But perhaps one of the earliest and most influential among them is the Marxist perspective on class difference.
The Marxist theory of class difference is that differences between social classes in society itself gives rise to exploitation, since the people who are in a superior class necessarily act to preserve their status, which must come at the expense of exploiting others in the inferior class.
The CPO definition of abuse closely follows this understanding by noting that differences in power between an abuser and a child gives rise to desires to abuse the child (highlighting added):
“The abuser is powerful; the child is vulnerable. The abuser can gain power over the child through size, position, knowledge, or money. All of these work to make the abuser feel he or she is able to behave inappropriately toward a child.”
Note that possessing power generates the feeling that “he or she” is able to behave inappropriately toward a child.”
This close resemblance to classic Marxist class-conflict theory is hardly surprising, as the field of sociology itself is significantly Marxist in its own origins. As per C. Wright Mills, author of The Sociological Imaginiation,
“So very much of modern social science has been a frequently unacknowledged debate with the work of Marx and a reflection, as well of the challenge of the socialist movements and communist parties.”
This does not imply that members of the CPO are secret Marxists. But given the historical development of the social sciences, it would be naive of them or anyone else to continue to believe that their perspectives and methods are not deeply influenced by Marxist thought.
Power Relations Theory explains commitment to gender-neutrality
The CPO’s belief in power-relations theory is related to their gender-neutral definition of child sexual-abuse, in which sexual gratification is described in gender-neutral terms (bolding added):
“When perpetrators (male or female) use a child to meet their own sexual needs, where a child is coerced (physical / verbal), induced, persuaded, enticed, seduced, exposed, or entrapped into sexual acts with another person. The coercion can be either physical or verbal. Examples of sexual abuse may include fondling, intercourse, incest, and the exploitation of and exposure to child pornography or prostitution. It is important to note that the child is never truly capable of consenting or resisting such contact.“
Why does the CPO say “It is important to note that the child is never truly capable of consenting”? Because if a child were able to give consent, then it wouldn’t be abuse. Again, power-relations, or power-difference, is implied as the cause of abuse. That also explains why child marriage, for example, would also be considered abusive—even if both families of a boy and girl agreed to the proposal.
The power-relations theory also explains why the CPO and advocates for it want to give the harshest punishment to Lokanatha Maharaja, which may include not only ending his authority to act as a diksha-guru but also require him to give up the sannyasa ashram. By curbing power-relations, or by minimizing class difference, Marxists believe that curbing the power of the elites restores equality and therefore reduces exploitation.
Power Relations Theory to avoid being accused of homophobia
But a more important reason for the CPO’s adherence to gender neutrality is the social science community’s belief that homosexuality is natural and not evidence of any kind of disordered condition. Otherwise, if gender was fundamental to the definition of child sexual abuse, then being openly homosexual would automatically mark one as a likely child abuser.
It should also be noted that until about 50 years ago, all civilized countries considered homosexual behaviour criminally punishable. The modern social science community considers this view to be repugnant, perhaps more than any other. And the typical way to avoid this accusation is to explain child abuse, including sexual abuse, in gender neutral terms and power relations so as not to be accused of being homophobic.
Members of the CPO know that to be suspected of being homophobic in any measure will be professional suicide. Therefore the CPO itself has taken shelter of power-relations theory to preserve their public respectability and authority.
CPO theoretical perspective clashes with Krishna Consciousness
Sadaputa Prabhu’s primary worry was that if ISKCON leaders adopt scientific perspectives in order to appear respectable, that this would result in a loss of faith among ISKCON’s own people. And the CPO is a particular example illustrating that concern.
Much could be said about the differences between the CPO’s theoretical perspective and Krishna conscious perspective, but the most important with regard to child sexual abuse is that according to the Bhagavatam, sex attraction itself is the fundamental basis of material life (pumsa-striya mithuni bhavam etam, SB 5.5.8), and hence despite the best of training a man simply being within close proximity of a woman is liable to be attracted by sex.
mātrā svasrā duhitrā vā nāviviktāsano bhavet
balavān indriya-grāmo vidvāṁsam api karṣati
“One should not allow oneself to sit on the same seat even with one’s own mother, sister or daughter, for the senses are so strong that even though one is very advanced in knowledge, he may be attracted by sex.” (SB 9.19.17)
The implications of this are that when gender difference is considered the causal impetus for sex attraction, regardless of whether it is a child or not, then the emphasis is no longer on the child but on segregating society by gender.
Furthermore, being attracted by sex is no longer considered a product of power relations or class difference as per the Marxists. Instead, the sex attraction is acknowledged as a power outside of one’s own self, and therefore controlling it requires arranging social relations in such a way that the possibility of the genders coming within close contact is minimized.
In other words, the theoretical perspective in Krishna consciousness is that gender, not child, is the fundamental causal factor for child sexual abuse. Therefore the Krishna conscious solution to child sexual abuse is to rearrange the society such that women come only into minimal contact with men. If 90% of child sex abuse victims are female, and 90% of the perpetrators are men, then minimizing the chances for contact between the genders will reduce the great majority of child sexual abuse incidents.
Would the CPO advocate for this? The CPO has its own theoretical perspective, which is compatible with modern social science but not with Krishna consciousness—at least not in certain fundamental ways and certainly not fully.
Krishna Kirti Das
ISKCON India Scholars Board
p.s. Due to constraints of time, I did not include references for many of the points. If you have any questions about sources or references, please correspond with me privately. Ys, KKdas