Recently, a contributor posted a link here to a video entitled ‘Safeguarding Children in Faith Activities’. The video was produced for the ‘NSPCC Multi faith safeguarding hub’ and related to safeguarding young children in a ‘Buddhist’ context, more specifically within the centres of the Triratna Buddhist Community [TBC]. The NSPCC has a long and distinguished history of caring for vulnerable children and is unquestionably one of the leading organisations in the field in the UK. Let us examine an example of safeguarding in the TBC to establish whether the latter organisation is worthy of the role and exemplary status it holds in being listed by the NSPCC on such issues.
Between February and March 2016, a former, long standing TBC member and close associate of Sangharakshita, ‘K’ appeared at Norwich Crown Court, along with 5 other men, on charges related to the rape and indecent assault of 14 young men, under the age of 16, that took place in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. This was basically a paedophile ring where the person who masterminded the abuse befriended families he met through owning a café in Norwich. He and his associates abused the young boys by giving them toys, sweets, money and alcohol in return for sexual favours. The youngest victim listed in the successful convictions was 9 years old. 5 of the men received lengthy prison sentences.
‘K’ however, was found not guilty because no evidence was offered; it seems the main, though not only reason for evidence not being offered is usually because the victim feels unable to face the trauma of trial. This is hardly surprising when one considers that ‘K’s victim was approximately 6 years old at the time of the alleged offence.
The assault which it is claimed ‘K’ carried out was said to have taken place at Padmaloka Men’s Retreat Centre near Norwich. ‘K’, a former resident of the centre and long standing close aide to Sangharakshita, was well known in the TBC, indeed somewhat infamous for his vociferous appetite for young men. For instance, in a post to Shabda, the Order member only magazine in 2003, an accusation was made that a senior Order member carried out a serious sexual assault on an underage, prospective Order member. The alleged perpetrator was ‘K’. The victim, ‘Yashomitra’, was a 17 year old schoolboy when the assault took place in May 1980, and was therefore under the age of consent at the time. Since Shabda magazine is distributed to all Order members and the article caused significant discussion, it seems safe to say that a number of Order members were aware of ‘K’s reputation and proclivities.
Be that as it may, the outcome of the particular case is somewhat irrelevant. What IS relevant however are questions arising in relation to safeguarding procedures and how they were not applied in relation to this particular case. Moreover, the fact that information concerning ‘K’s history of deviant behaviour was not shared with the relevant authorities, both police and social services, despite the high likelihood that some in the TBC had knowledge of such, raises serious concerns about how this could have affected the outcome of the case. Why was this information not shared?
Discussion of how to deal with the situation should ‘K’ be found guilty took place at an emergency meeting called at Norwich Buddhist Centre on November 1st, 2015, soon after it was learned that ‘K’ had been charged. The meeting was chaired by Order member Aranyaka. Several other Order members were present, including Padmaloka trustees.
Of course, one would expect that the primary concern at any such meeting of an organisation held up for its exemplary safeguarding standards by an organisation of such standing as the NSPCC would be establishing the welfare of the alleged victim, as well as addressing his or her needs in a proper and professional manner.
“In summary, little or no consideration was given to the victim or his family at the meeting; safeguarding standards were ignored, and the main issues addressed were the potential financial consequences for, and damage to the reputation of the TBO and its members, should ‘K’ be found guilty.”
However, much of the discussion at the meeting focused on protecting the finances and reputation of the TBC. One trustee present voiced his fears regarding the potential financial implications for Padmaloka, the TBC and himself, should ‘K’ be found guilty and compensation sought by the child’s family; where a charitable trust is found guilty of negligence, a plaintiff can lay claim to the personal financial assets of its trustees. Moreover, directly contravening recognised standards in safeguarding procedures, the identity of the alleged victim along with his family were clear to all present. In a small village environment this meant that those in attendance would know the exact whereabouts of the complainant and his family.
In summary, little or no consideration was given to the victim or his family at the meeting; safeguarding standards were ignored, and the main issues addressed were the potential financial consequences for, and damage to the reputation of the TBO and its members, should ‘K’ be found guilty.
Furthermore, thus far, no one from within the TBC has made any effort to inform the relevant authorities of ‘K’s previous assault on a minor, despite this incident being a well known event in the history of the organisation. and one which seems highly likely to have been known to at least some of those present at the meeting.
Of course the TBC, as a private body, has no legal obligation to reveal knowledge of ‘K’s history to the police; such a duty applies only to official, public bodies such as schools and hospitals. However, from a safeguarding perspective, if they were aware of it, those present at the meeting would have had a moral duty and obligation to share this information with the relevant authorities; such knowledge would surely have affected the outcome of the case. However, the alleged abuser went free and the young victim, who would no doubt have been seriously affected by such an experience, was left to deal with the consequences, consequences which can often take a lifetime to come to terms with, if indeed one can ever come to terms with such.
This inaction on the part of TBC members mirrors a tangible, long standing tendency within the organisation to cover up indiscretions by senior members for the sole sake of preserving their reputation and financial status. This tendency would appear to be further confirmed by the fact that two TBC members were co-opted to act as witnesses for the defence. Surely, by this time the issue of K’s history must have been discussed. Surely, if they had discussed this issue, both would have been reluctant to stand in K’s defence? Moreover, despite being asked publicly to address questions concerning the conduct of those present at the meeting, the Chair of the meeting has so far failed to respond.
In summary, though safeguarding measures are now, supposedly, ‘in place’ at all UK Triratna centers, their representatives have, as far as is known, so far failed to contact the relevant authorities over this issue and ultimately, it has been left to a former member to do so. In late February 2017, police renewed their interest in the case and anyone with relevant information is invited to contact them.
In a related development, ‘K’ Is alleged to have defrauded thousands of pounds of charitable donations which he is then said to have used to finance ‘tours’ in SE Asia. Attempts to ascertain whether this theft has been reported to either the police or Charity Commission have so far been unsuccessful.
Note: This article was updated based on complaints received between 28th February – 04. March 2017. This blog values accuracy and always welcomes new, verifiable information.
BBC / Guardian (Observer)
- Apology sought over ‘abuse’ at Buddhist retreat – BBC (2016)
- BBC’s “Inside Out East” documentary in which Jo Taylor examines allegations of historic abuse at the Padmaloka Buddhist Retreat Centre // → Watch that documentary on Vimeo (2016)
- Fears mount over scale of Buddhist sect sexual abuse – The Guardian / Observer (2017)
- BBC documentary on YouTube “Going for Refuge“
- Yashomitra’s Shabda Article March 2003
- FWBO / Triratna – Sangharakshita – Cases of Sexual Abuse (on Buddhism Controversy Blog with more than 650 comments, 2016)
- Whitewashing, Dishonesty & Culture of Abuse in the Triratna Buddhist Order (TBO) 2017/02/19
- Triratna Buddhist Community – The Friends of the Western Buddhist Order’s New Disguise by British Buddhism Blogspot
- Resignation letter from 88 Indian FWBO members (1999)
- Ex-FWBO (A great collection of background material, including testimonies)