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Bikram yoga founder breaks silence on rape accusations

April 02, 2015 4 min read

The founder of Bikram yoga, Bikram Choudhury, who is facing civil lawsuits from 6 women accusing him of unwanted sexual advances, finally broke his silence. He told CNN that women love him so much he wouldn't need to rape them to get sex. Statements like that almost make me wish he'd stayed silent. Choudhury pioneered the practice of working out in a room heated to 105F. This practice is so popular that his name is attached to 720 schools in 220 countries and he can count Chelsea Clinton, Madonna and Demi Moore among his followers. Choudhury told CNN that his success means that he wouldn't have to rape women. He said, "Women likes me. Women loves me. So if I really wanted to involve the women, I don't have to assault the women. He also said, "I never assaulted them. The answer is I feel sorry for them... They're entranced by somebody -- the lawyers." Maybe. Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 12.50.10 PM One of his accusers, Sarah Baughn, told CNN that Choudhury began 'targeting' her when she took his teaching training course in the mid-2000s. "I was asked by him to come into his office and he sat down," she said. "And immediately went into, 'What should we do about this? What should we do about us? We need a relationship'." She was even advised by a staff member to avoid being alone with him. But one night, after the group had watched a movie, he cornered her. 'He crawled on top of me,' she said. 'He put his hand on the inside of my thigh and the other hand he wrapped around me, and he was holding me there.' Baughn says Choudhury made it clear to her that she would only advance in her career if she had sex with him. She told him she could do it herself but when he responded "No you can't, there's no way, " she got up and left the room. Baughn has said that the Bikram community is cult like and she endured the abuse, believing it to just be something that came with the territory. Other people had told her to separate the man from the teacher. Baughn has quit practicing yoga and is waiting for her case to go to trial in August. Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 12.51.08 PM The most recent accuser is Canadian, Jill Lawler. Lawler filed her case on Feb 13, claiming that Choudhury raped her during a 9 week class when she was just 18 years old. She said she was expected to massage him while watching Bollywood movies. As they watched, he would grope her. Weeks after giving her an apology, Lawler claims that Choudhury invited her to his hotel room where he sexually assaulted her. Her lawsuit states that Lawler continued her practice and the abuse continued on several occasions with the most recent incident coming in February 2013. At the time, Choudhury's lawers and his Yoga College of India, said he never sexually assaulted anyone and the prosecutors did not bring charges. Spokesman Ricardo Santiago, said the Los Angeles district attorney declined to bring charges against Choudhury in the same case in 2013 because of lack of evidence. When Choudhury was asked how his wife responded to the accusations, he said "My wife never look at me anymore. Twenty-four hours a day, I work harder than any human being in this Earth... and this is my reward? I'm a rapist? Shame [on] your Western culture.' Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 12.55.57 PM Hmm. I'm not sure Western culture is to blame here. Don't get me wrong, I am not presuming to know what happened between Choudhury and these women. I don't know if he is guilty of anything. But I do know that telling people that "you don't need to rape women" isn't a reasonable defense. If nothing else, Choudhury needs to be called out for that statement. It doesn't make him look any more innocent and it contributes to a rape culture that is shrouded in myth and misunderstanding. Rape is very seldom, if ever, about access to sex. It is about power and control. Even if women throw themselves at you every 5 seconds, you can still be capable of rape. And his claim that the women are 'entranced' by someone like their lawyers when he is the biggest celebrity in the mix is just strange. If they were entranced and manipulated by anyone, it would probably be this great yoga pioneer who had thousands of followers who more or less worshiped him, no? The lack of evidence seems to support Choudhury's claims of innocence but this wouldn't be the first (nor likely the last) time lack of evidence has prevented rape charges from being filed. At the very least, Baughn's claims of a cult like atmosphere feel like they could be accurate. It troubles me that Baughn claims to have been told to 'separate the man from the teacher." If she is telling the truth, that sort of statement and attitude does damage to us all. This is a tough one. Who do you think is telling the truth?

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