Vong Chet, who on Sunday confessed to raping 10 boys at the rural pagoda in Siem Reap province where he was chief monk, was charged over the abuse Tuesday as officials revealed that he was almost completely isolated with the young monks in his care.
Mr. Chet was defrocked and arrested Sunday evening after families of the 10 came forth with allegations that he had raped the children over a period of six months and paid them to remain silent, police said.
“Investigating Judge Lim Sokuntheary charged him with purchasing child prostitution and having sex with minors,” said Duong Thavary, chief of Siem Reap’s anti-human trafficking police, adding that Mr. Chet, 46, had been remanded in provisional detention.
The crimes carry maximum prison sentences of 15 years and 10 years, respectively.
Ms. Thavary on Monday explained that Mr. Chet’s victims were aged between 11 and 17 and said that he had paid them between $12.50 and $25 to keep each abuse secret.
Tuesday, local police told how the Ratanak Moni pagoda in Kralanh district provided Mr. Chet with a secluded environment to molest the boys.
“This pagoda has 15 monks including the chief monk, Vong Chet, who was the oldest in the pagoda,” said Soeun Ret, chief of Rongkor commune. “Thirteen of the monks are aged under 18 years, and the other is about 30 years old.”
The Ratanak Moni pagoda is at the end of a dirt road in a rural area, according to commune police chief Khun Savut, who said that all he knew of Mr. Chet’s background was that he was from Battambang province and had been chief monk for two years.
“The pagoda is 200 to 300 meters from any homes,” he said.
In response to the monk’s arrest and confession, Khim Sorn, head of the Mohanikaya Buddhist sect in Phnom Penh, said on Monday and Tuesday that all pagoda chiefs and monastic officials would be reminded of Buddhist doctrine.
Suong Chhorn, who heads the clergy in Kralanh, said this was the first case of rape between monks that he had heard of, and attempted to distance Buddhism from the actions of the defrocked leader.
“He has affected the reputation of Buddhism. It could cause people to deduce that this is a result of poor Buddhist discipline, but it is an individual person,” he said.
Alastair Hilton, a technical adviser at First Step Cambodia, an NGO dedicated to supporting male victims of sexual abuse that has extensively researched institutional abuse, said in an email Tuesday that while they had not specifically checked on abuse inside pagodas, Mr. Chet’s case was “not an isolated incident.”
“If I were to say that sexual abuse within institutions is likely to be an epidemic, there would be a great deal of denial understandably —we have witnessed decades of this within the Catholic church on a global scale—but I have no doubts at all that this is a considerable problem,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Matt Blomberg)
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