Sexual harassment in Buddhist organizations

Yesterday I went to small claims court with a case against Tibetan Nyingma Meditation Center (TNMC), to recover funds they offered to pay me after I was sexually harassed by one of their long-time, senior members.

The person representing TNMC was Jack Petranker, lawyer, and another long-time member. Although Mr Petranker was not the person who sexually harassed me, he had also engaged in inappropriate behavior towards me, though thankfully, he had the sense to back off when I told him that it was unwelcome and should never happen again.

I presented evidence that representatives of the organization who were handling my instance of sexual harassment (there apparently have been many) suggested that I go to India on pilgrimage to recover, and offered to pay for the trip and additional money so that I would have resources to re-orient myself when I returned to the US after my travels.

Mr Petranker, who was a party to nearly all the e-mails that were exchanged at the time, in response to my evidence, said nothing about the harassment or the original intent of the committee to help me recover from the harassment and the brutal retaliation that followed when I said no.

In his attempts at putting up a defense to my claim, Mr Petranker showed his character. He tried to lie and misdirect the court from the facts of the case, which were that I was harmed, and the organization was responsible and had offered to provide compensation to remedy that harm.

A wonderful friend who spent the whole day with me, driving me to court and staying in the courtroom until my case was called pointed out that Mr Petranker did not acknowledge the harassment or express any regret or sorrow about what happened. Mr Petranker, a long time member of TNMC and allegedly a long time Buddhist, showed no kindness or compassion. And in his very first statement to the court, he deliberately lied, in an effort to mislead the court into simply dropping the case.

Then the judge asked him “Procedure aside, what would you like to say regarding the merits of the case? Can you dispute the plaintiff’s claim that someone from your organization offered her money to recover from the harassment?” He could not. Instead, he offered more lies and misdirection, which I then refuted.

How different it could have been if Mr Petranker had been willing to apologize and to acknowledge the harm done. How much more humane, let alone Buddhist. You don’t have to be a Buddhist for 40 years to be kind; in fact, if you have been a Buddhist for 40 years and the best you can come up with in the face of someone’s pain and suffering, particularly pain and suffering that you had a part in causing, is lies and denial, then it seems to me that those 40 years have clearly been a big waste of time.

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