Levine Report: the Back Story

Leaked Internal Report: Famous Buddhist Leader Noah Levine Was Accused of Rape and Assault 

In mid-August, Jezebel wrote about the murky sexual abuse allegations surrounding Noah Levine, an influential Buddhist teacher based in Los Angeles. In the time since our story was published, the meditation society that Levine founded has dissolved under the weight of those allegations and the community he was at the center of has scattered, bitterly divided. Even so, the situation remained opaque: Most people didn’t know exactly what Levine was accused of, except that the allegations were sexual in nature. That was an intolerable and painful state of affairs for many people, who watched their religious community dissolve without understanding precisely why.

Last week, we were sent anonymous email. It contained a detailed, 44-page internal report produced for Against the Stream, the meditation society Levine founded. The document, which we believe to be authentic after having taken steps to verify it, shows that Levine has been accused of rape by one woman and sexual assault by two others, all of whom spoke to an investigator.

Levine will not be facing criminal charges, however. In mid-August, LAPD Detective Kendra Browne told us there was an open investigation into Levine, writing, “This is still an ongoing investigation involving multiple Victims. I am not at liberty to provide further information or details at this time.” On October 24, she wrote to say that the District Attorney “has declined to file criminal charges at this time.

Levine and his lawyer Joseph Leveroni didn’t respond to two emails, a phone call to Leveroni, a phone call to Levine and a text message to Levine requesting comment.

Levine built a devoted following with his punk rock ethos, typified by his slogan, “Meditate and Destroy.” He founded Against the Stream Meditation Buddhist Society (ATS), and contributed to the development of the Refuge Recovery program, an addiction help program and manual that incorporates Buddhist thought. Levine also created Refuge Recovery Treatment Centers, a for-profit addiction treatment facility in Los Angeles. He also helped develop a non-profit entity, also called Refuge Recovery, which supports local, peer-led groups around the world which use the Refuge book and model.

For months, dating to around March 2018, many in the ATS community knew Levine was being investigated for some type of sexual impropriety, though that hardly clarified anything: Sexual misconduct can encompass a lot of things in Buddhism, from rape to adultery to a teacher sleeping with a student. Many also knew that the organization had retained an independent investigator to evaluate those claims, and that Levine had taken a leave of absence from the ATS and the non-profit Refuge Recovery board and wasn’t currently teaching at ATS. (Most people, even some of Levine’s friends, didn’t know there was also an active police investigation.)

As the internal investigation stretched on and no decision was reached and no announcements were made, something seemed to shift: Levine openly referred to “false allegations” in at least one, now-deleted Instagram post. And he started teaching again, leading meditation classes in a room at the for-profit Refuge Recovery facility in Los Angeles as well as at retreats across the country.

In late August, ATS announced that they were closing their doors, saying that the investigator, attorney Roberta Yang, found that Levine had likely broken Buddhist precepts against “creating harm through sexuality.” ATS wrote that Yang “concluded that, based on her evaluation of the evidence she reviewed, the preponderance of that evidence showed such violations.” (Yang didn’t respond to several requests for comment from Jezebel, for either our first story or this one.)

The ATS statement didn’t go into detail about the accusations themselves, but said the “controversy arising from these events” had a “devastating” fiscal impact on the organization, totally eroding its ability to function.

“During the course of the investigation, the Board of Directors, Teachers Council and Executive Leadership explored a number of financial models and collaborative arrangements that would allow ATS to remain a viable, healthy organization,” ATS leadership wrote in an open letter to their community. “We were unable to find a solution.”ATS permanently dissolved on September 30, and its teachers have begun teaching at other Buddhist organizations or begun trying to create independent businesses of their own.

In a separate open letter, Levine himself denied that he’d ever been sexually inappropriate. But he added that he believed he hadn’t take into account “my power/privilege and status as a dharma teacher in my personal dating life.” He also apologized to anyone who felt harmed by his behavior:

To the women who have come forward and expressed a sense of suffering because of interpersonal experiences with me, I am sorry I caused you harm and I ask your forgiveness. I wanted to connect and to explore a relationship. This has been a deeply painful learning experience. I want to take full responsibility for any harm I caused to anyone and everyone with whom I have had a dating relationship. I want to make amends for my behavior if it didn’t feel good to them. I don’t want to defend or minimize. It is important to me that any woman who felt harmed, now feels heard. I want to understand. It matters. I was shocked to hear (months later) that someone was unhappy in any way with our interactions. I was not aware at the time that anything was amiss with how we connected. Whenever a boundary was stated – physical, emotional, or otherwise – I always honored it.

An anonymous person evidently connected with ATS begin emailing us in August, shortly before our first story was released. (The emails came from an untraceable Proton Mail address.) Last week, that email address sent a PDF of the report, with the names of the people interviewed redacted.

The person who sent me the report has consistently declined to identify themselves. After sending the report, they told me they were motivated to share it because, in their words, “I found it disturbing that he was able to control public discourse, using identical bullying tactics (threats of litigation) to suppress the truth and preserve his public persona.” The only people who would have access to the report were those who sat on Against the Stream’s board or were part of the society’s Grievance Council, about ten people in all.

As I read the report, I recognized several detailed anecdotes in it, which matched things that had been told to me by people directly involved. Some of those details wouldn’t have been known to anyone else, and not all of them made it into my piece. I contacted two of my sources, who confirmed that they were quoted in the report and that quotes I read to them matched what they had told Yang. I also reached out to several people at ATS who would have seen the report; none replied.

The report shows that Levine is accused of rape in at least one case, rather than harassment, inappropriateness in dating relationships, misusing his “power as a dharma teacher,” or some other, murkier offense. The report quotes a “Witness 1,” who was interviewed by Yang at a police station in the presence of Detective Kendra Browne of the LAPD. According to Yang, Witness 1 declined to share some details of her interactions with Levine in order not to compromise the police investigation, but did state that the two had been in a dating relationship and had had consensual sex twice prior to October 30, 2017. On that day, Witness 1 said, Levine raped her, which she clearly defined as having sexual intercourse with her without her consent.

“She made it clear that she did not want to have sex with Levine at that time,” Yang wrote in her report. “She was clear that in her view, Levine raped her.” Yang found Witness 1 “credible,” she wrote.

Yang next reported an allegation that she wasn’t able to substantiate. She wrote that ATS received an anonymous email from a Proton Mail account, which stated that the emailer had been sexually assaulted by Levine and had filed a police report, only to learn that he was already under investigation. The emailer attached a photo of Levine and what appeared to be a redacted LAPD police report. However, Yang wrote, “The sender of the emails could not be identified. Levine denied knowing anyone by this name. No interviews could be conducted of either the sender or Levine. I was unable to make any credibility assessments under these circumstances.”

A third woman, “Witness 3,” told Yang that she met Levine on Bumble and that they went on a dinner date. The second time they met was at her house; she reported to Yang that as she was giving Levine a tour of the house, he sat down on her bed, where the two briefly “snuggled and flirted” on her bed before she felt uncomfortable and sat up. She led him to a couch in her living room and asked him to sit on the other side, she told Yang, only for him to attempt to take his shirt off, ask her to take her shirt off, and ask her a series of questions about “how she masturbates,” which she told him she was uncomfortable answering.

At that point, Witness 3 told Yang that she got up and indicated to Levine that he could leave. At the door, with her not wanting him to “leave angry,” they kissed again, at which point, she told Yang, Levine stuck his hands down her leggings, touched her buttocks, and spanked her. The woman told Yang that Levine then pushed her down on the couch and put her hands down her leggings again:

She pushed away and managed to physically roll off the: couch out from under him. Witness 3 immediately stood up. She told him to leave now and moved towards the front door. Witness 3 looked for her neighbors in case she needed help. As Levine moved towards the door, Witness 3 said it didn’t have to be like this and they kissed one last time. Levine left.

Witness 3 told Yang that she emailed Levine’s ex-wife about the incident, as they knew each other through Instagram, then eventually contacted Valerie (also known as Vimalasara) Mason-John, the president of the Buddhist Recovery Network.

Levine didn’t talk to Yang in person, but instead submitted a written statement through his attorney, Joseph Leveroni, to respond to all of the allegations in the report. His version of that night with Witness 3, according to the statement he provided Yang, was that at her home, the two talked for an hour and then he decided to leave.

“As I was leaving she asked me to kiss her,” Levine wrote. “I was not aware at the time of Witness 3’s deep psychological confusion and history of compulsive behavior. At no time during our interaction did Witness 3 express discomfort or concern about our interaction.”

Another woman, identified in the report as Witness 4, is clearly someone that Jezebel also interviewed. She described to both us and Yang the same series of events: After meeting on Bumble and going on two dates, she said, she and Levine were sitting his car when he abruptly climbed across the seat and got on top of her.

Yang wrote, “Witness 4 described this encounter with Levine as the most sexually aggressive incident she had ever experienced. She was not going to let Levine’s actions go any further and made sure to push back hard. Witness 4 felt that it was a very close, scary incident, alarming, inappropriate, disappointing, and disturbing.”

Levine, meanwhile, only recalled going on one date with Witness 4, and told Yang, “I declined the date because I had learned that she was a recovering alcoholic in the midst of relapse.” (Witness 4 told Yang that she’d told Levine she’d recently made a personal choice to cut back on drinking but occasionally drank socially, and that in fact she felt he’d pressured her to drink more on their first date. She related the same allegations to us.)

Yang wrote that she found both Witness 3 and 4 to be “essentially credible,” adding that she found Levine’s version of events “minimally credible” in both instances.

Taylor Minas is one of the people quoted in the report who I have also interviewed. Minas was a part of the Against the Stream community for about a year, and told both me and Yang that she became concerned after hearing multiple, separate allegations of sexual abuse concerning Levine.

“I received an email from Yang in April 2018,” Minas told me last week. “She told me that she was investigating allegations against Levine. By this time, I had heard from six different people in the Against the Stream community about separate incidents in which women had reported experiences with him ranging in degree from sexually inappropriate behavior to rape and physical assault.”

Minas agreed to be interviewed by Yang, she said, “as I felt that it was important to provide any context and information that could assist the investigation in finding the truth.” She ended up leaving the ATS community, in part because of her concerns over the allegations she’d heard about Levine.

Minas also believes that the report may have originally included more people making allegations against Levine. A few months after participating in an interview with Yang, she says, the investigator followed up to tell her “that Noah had decided to participate in the investigation. She explained that this would involve sending him a copy of the report including full names and statements. She said that as a consequence, multiple people, including some of the alleged victims, had redacted their statements, and asked if it was still okay to use mine.”

The report also makes clear that Levine interpreted some of the allegations against him as a side effect of the MeToo movement. One of the only people quoted by name in the version of the report we saw is Vincent “Vinny” Ferarro, a longtime ATS teacher and friend of Levine’s. Ferraro is quoted as telling Yang that in both private conversations and in communications with the ATS Teachers Council, Levine implied that the women accusing him of assault were overreacting to interactions they’d had because of MeToo.

“Ferraro stated that Levine left the impression that it was nothing, that nothing was wrong,” Yang wrote of one conversation, “and that Levine had been targeted because of the Me Too movement.” Another unnamed person, identified as Witness C, told Yang that when Levine was first suspended by ATS after the allegations surfaced, he told them “that it was a terrible decision for the sangha [Buddhist community] and an overreaction to the Me Too movement.”


According to numerous people Jezebel spoke to during the reporting of our first story, the ATS report was never released publicly due to fears that Levine would sue the organization.

“There is a real concern about litigation from Noah’s side,” one person connected with ATS told us, requesting anonymity to discuss a sensitive legal issue. “We were advised not to say anything at all. Of course, that wasn’t an option given the nature of our community.”

Many former ATS teachers also haven’t commented publicly on the situation, beyond expressing sadness over ATS’ closure and letting their former students know where to find them. (Many, as noted above, may not have seen the ATS report at all.)

As a result, Levine has been able to present his version of events with little pushback. In a dharma talk at Refuge Recovery Treatment Center, the for-profit facility, on August 27, Levine talked about the accusations and the shutdown of Against the Stream in a general way, denying that he had engaged in sexual misconduct or assault. He told the room his lawyer had instructed him “not to share anything about this process” with the community, but added, “If somebody brought to me the specifics of the situation that I’m in, I would not see it as sexual misconduct. I would not see it as a breach of the Third Precept,” the Buddhist rule against committing sexual misconduct. “I would say sounds like some unskillfullness, some stuff to look at for sure.”

As the rest of the ATS teachers regroup elsewhere, Levine has continued to teach and lead retreats and offer a $4,000 “facilitator training” program for people wishing to learn how to become dharma facilitators (people who are a step below teachers but can still lead classes). Many of the retreats are with the Rebel Saints Meditation Society, a Seattle-based group, where Levine is assisted by Rachael Savage, a co-founder of Rebel Saints. Savage previously told us that she would “continue to support Noah, or any other teacher, in teaching until there is evidence, from the professionals in our justice system, in the form of a charge or a civil trial.”

Throughout the reporting process for our first story, people more sympathetic to Levine said he was never accused of impropriety as a teacher. The report alleges otherwise. Although he is not accused of assaulting any students, two women told Yang that they met Levine while he was their teacher, that they suspected he’d used his position as a teacher to obtain their contact information, and that both were made “uncomfortable” after he contacted them with an apparent intent to interact socially. (The subtext is that he contacted them with a romantic or sexual intent, but that’s not made explicit in the report. Levine told Yang that he had “no memory of ever contacting anyone from his email list for social purposes.”)

The sexual assault allegations also came at a time when Levine had already admitted to inappropriate sexual contact with a student. Levine admitted to the ATS Teachers Council in a January 2018 phone meeting that he slept with a married student after meeting her at Esalen, the famed Northern California retreat center. (That information came from an interview that Mary Stancavage, an ATS teacher, gave Yang, who writes: “Levine told the Council that he had slept with a student earlier in the year after meeting her at Esalen.”)

In that instance, Levine put the blame on the woman, according to what Stancavage told Yang.

“He also told the Council that the student had pursued him and later seduced Levine at his home after he attempted to resist her,” Yang writes. At the same meeting, according to Stancavage’s recollections, Levine also told the Teachers Council that he’d been accused of sexual assault, “that it was not true, that he did not want to say anything more about, and that he already had an attorney.” At first, Stancavage told Yang, “most of the participants on the call were shocked by what they heard.” At the time, though, they believed Levine.

This story has been updated to more clearly delineate between the Refuge Recovery Treatment Center and the non-profit, peer-led Refuge Recovery organization.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: