When Yolande was a young child her mother and stepfather joined the Hare Krishna movement and became involved in the local temple. Yolande’s mother was instructed by her ‘guru’ to engage in as much altar worship as possible, and as a ‘disciple’ she was expected to obey. As a result, Yolande was often neglected and left to her own devices.
It was the 1980s, and at the time the Australian Hare Krishna movement was experiencing a significant shortage of people, particularly men, to assist with altar worship. Yolande told the Commissioner that she ‘grew up being told that women were less than men. That females are less than men, that they’re there to serve men’. To address the shortage of temple priests, the business entity that ran the movement sponsored migrants from overseas. One of these migrants was Rasala.
Rasala was approximately 35 years old at the time, and from the moment he arrived he took an interest in the 11-year-old Yolande. Initially he would try to talk to her, make her laugh and playfully hide her shoes, but this quickly escalated to presents of flowers and sweets, followed by declarations of love and marriage proposals.
Yolande was frightened by Rasala’s attention but also flattered, especially after being neglected by her family. She knew she should tell her mother but was worried she might get Rasala into trouble, so instead she decided to just avoid him.
Rasala continued to pursue Yolande and after several months convinced her to join him for a beach walk after morning prayer. Yolande believed he would honour his promise to not touch her, and so their morning walks on the beach became a regular occurrence for about three weeks. Yolande never told anyone about it.
One day after temple, Rasala saw Yolande was alone and invited her to an abandoned house up the street. When they arrived he suddenly pushed himself hard against her back, pressing his erection into her while reaching around to fondle her breasts. The terrified Yolande begged him to stop but he continued. When she was finally able to escape, she cried and vowed to stay close to people so Rasala could not approach her again.
A week later Rasala apologised, said he was ashamed of what he did, that they could still be friends, and that he would explain his behaviour if Yolande met him on the beach the following morning. Yolande was scared but reluctantly agreed.
During their walk Rasala told Yolande that he loved her but her rejection made him angry. After they stopped for a rest, he suddenly pulled her down and lay on top of her, violently holding her wrists with one hand while trying to remove her clothes and digitally penetrate her with the other. This caused Yolande ‘unbelievable pain’ and she screamed but he continued to abuse her for approximately a minute before getting up and leaving her there.
Yolande did not tell her mother about the incident because she felt ashamed and guilty, but instead disclosed it to a friend, who then went on to tell Yolande’s mother. Yolande’s mother was disgusted with her daughter and told her husband, who beat Yolande until she nearly passed out before heading to the temple to confront Rasala.
The following day, the temple president came to visit the family home, advising them not to report the incident to the police because it would cause problems with Rasala’s visa. Yolande’s mother agreed, believing that Rasala was merely provoked by Yolande’s ‘unchaste’ behaviour.
‘They do actually have in the philosophy a comparison between men being butter and women being fire, and I was categorised as being fire, so being something that would melt butter. So even though I was 11 they were using that analysis and putting the blame on me.’
Yolande continued to participate in temple activities but wasn’t permitted to attend without her parents. The family were threatened with excommunication and isolation should they report the matter to the police.
‘Rather than encouraging victims or alleged victims and alleged offenders to go to police or counselling or anything like that, they’ve actually actively discouraged them from going to police or any other secular body for assistance.’
For years afterwards Yolande was mistrustful of boys until she married a much older man. ‘I think that was a very unhealthy relationship. I mean I was 19, I didn’t have a single boyfriend or anything like that. I sort of stayed away from boys and men until that age and then I married that person. We divorced four years later.’
Yolande completed university and became successful in her career, however she developed an anxiety disorder and drug dependence. ‘I still battle every day with staying away from opiate-based medication because I do find that it provides a mental and emotional relief from anxiety and suffering.’
Yolande married a second time and her husband has been extremely supportive. A couple of years ago after making a formal report to the police regarding Rasala’s abuse, Yolande became retraumatised and attempted suicide. ‘It was an intentional overdose which I got mental health help and support for. And I’m definitely back on track after that. So I’d say that I’m not at risk of doing that again. That was a very low point.’
‘I’ve been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder. So I have been getting trauma-specific counselling, and that’s been helpful.’
Yolande continues to practice the Hare Krishna faith but in the privacy of her own home. Her mother and stepfather separated, and although her mother has since left the faith she does not support Yolande’s sexual abuse claim and their relationship is strained.
Yolande told the Commissioner that many of her friends from the Hare Krishna faith were also sexually assaulted or raped, but have not felt comfortable coming forward.
‘Some of them feel that what happened to them wasn’t enough to constitute sexual assault, which isn’t true at all. And some of them just want to forget it and not deal with it, just pretend it didn’t happen. Very stressful for them.’
‘I’m quite angry at the response that … the Hare Krishna managers have gone for, which is to cover up, deny, victim-blame and basically not even apologise for what they’ve done.’