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Buddhadharma : Summer 2018
LAMA WILLA MILLER 53 Getting a full picture begins with deep listening to all sides. Many teachers who offend will either lie about their conduct or try to deflect responsibility onto others. It is important, therefore, to hear the accounts of survivors and witnesses in detail, if possible. The details often hold key information about the severity of the abuse, the patterns of abuse, and the depth of the harm. Some time ago, I was part of a community in which women began to report sexual advances by the teacher. One of these women described how her relationship with this teacher began. In a dharma interview, she had confided to her teacher a history of prolonged early childhood sexual abuse by a close relative. Soon after, he invited her onto his lap and began kissing her. This behavior contin- ued during dharma interviews at public retreats over the course of years, until it eventually was consummated in sexual intercourse. Details such as these provide critical information. In this case, the teacher sought cues of emotional vulnerability, such as a history of sexual abuse, and chose the location in a private room in a retreat space controlled by the teacher and his supporters before initiating sexual contact. This was followed by a gradual habituation and escalation of the behavior over time in the same context (known as grooming). The details point toward a teacher’s habits of perpetration. Unfortunately, the more disturbing the details, the harder it is for a survivor to talk about them. Just saying it aloud takes great cour- age. Survivors are afraid of not being believed, of being shamed, of being rejected, of their confidence being breached. They are caught in the typical dilemma of incest victims; they may feel some affection for and protectiveness toward the perpetrator while simultaneously feeling disgust, anger, and distrust. Voicing these conflicting feelings is hard. Most survivors will be hesitant to share what happened with the wider community, for all the same reasons (and more) that they are If a community is going to heal from misconduct, it is important not just to address the misconduct but also to unveil the underlying culture that enabled it.