Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Siem Reap village rocked by pagoda abuses

Siem Reap village rocked by pagoda abuses

The accommodation building for novice monks stands in the Rottanak Mony Rongko pagoda grounds yesterday in Siem Reap, where chief monk Vong Chet committed numerous acts of sexual assault.
The accommodation building for novice monks stands in the Rottanak Mony Rongko pagoda grounds yesterday in Siem Reap, where chief monk Vong Chet committed numerous acts of sexual assault. Thik Kaliyann

Siem Reap village rocked by pagoda abuses

Sitting on a bamboo mat inside the quiet Mony Rong Ko pagoda, 70-year-old Kean Sek yesterday was still trying to come to grips with the accusation that has rocked his community – that a once widely trusted abbot, Vong Chet, had raped at least nine of the boys in his care.

“I could not believe he would do such a disgusting thing to those boys,” Sek, now tasked with the pagoda’s upkeep, said. “He was so kind and calm . . . I was so shocked to hear his confession.”

Sek described the Kralanh district pagoda’s former chief as a kindly middle-aged man no one suspected of doing harm.

The image stands in stark contrast to the one known by the alleged victims in the case, who still live in fear of the man who stands accused of raping at least nine novices between the ages of 9 and 16 during a five-month period.

Police said Chet, 46, threatened to “punish” his victims should they inform their parents, while Chet himself confessed to paying the children under his care between 30,000 to 100,000 riel (about $7.50 to $25) to have sex with them.

In an interview yesterday, the mother of one of the alleged victims expressed her deep feelings of betrayal.

“He earned our family’s trust . . . He acted like he was a kind person, bringing things over for my son, and telling me that he loved my son as if he was his.”

Her son, 11, was raped 18 times by Chet, she said.

“I feel so hurt and angry, because I never thought the chief monk could do this to my son,” she said, standing in front of her home, a stilt house surrounded by rice fields just a kilometre away from the pagoda.

The abuse may have continued had it not been for one 16-year-old novice who broke the silence.

The boy, who moved into the pagoda in early November, said Chet raped him while he was asleep about a week into his stay.

“I shouted for help and tried to get out of his arms, but it was useless, as he was so strong,” he said. “The next morning, it felt so painful, and I decided to call my parents, and then my relatives reported it to the police.”

The boy said that the novices remain terrified of the monk, even though he is in provincial jail and faces a lengthy prison sentence for buying child sex and having sex with a minor.

“Before, we slept in our own rooms [in the pagoda], but now we all sleep in one room, because we are afraid that he will come back and hurt us,” said the novice.

There are now fears the monk’s alleged abuse has wrought havoc on other communities in the past places of worship he worked in.

According to Duong Thavary, head of Siem Reap’s anti-human trafficking police, Chet worked in three other pagodas during his time as a monk. Authorities will now investigate all three.

By Chet’s own account, he first worked at the Ta Kea pagoda in Siem Reap’s Puok district for one year, then for two years at the Wat Keo pagoda in Battambang’s Ek Phnom district, and then another two years at the Tranap Russei pagoda in Kampot’s Chhouk district, said Thavary.

But even if they only consider the case in Kralanh, provincial officials said they remain shocked at the scale of the alleged abuse.

“This has never happened before; it’s the first case for Siem Reap,” said Chea Heng, deputy chief of Siem Reap’s Provincial Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Unit.

Authorities are now saying the case has spurred them to pay more attention to the poorly policed rural pagodas.

“We, the authorities, have to pay more attention to all pagodas in our area and encourage villages and parents to cooperate with local police if they think anything unusual is going on,” said Chheun Chean, Kralanh district governor.

“The abbot has affected the religion and condition of the young novices, and the law will find justice for them.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia maintains 'Kun Khmer' stance despite Thailand’s boycott threat

    Cambodia has taken the position that it will use the term "Kun Khmer" to refer to the sport of kickboxing at the upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, and has removed the term Muay from all references to the sport. Despite strong reactions from the Thai

  • Chinese group tours return to Cambodia starting Feb 6

    Cambodia is among 20 countries selected by Beijing for a pilot programme allowing travel agencies to provide international group tours as well as flight and hotel packages to Chinese citizens, following a three-year ban. As the days tick down until the programme kicks off on February 6,

  • Capital-Poipet express rail project making headway

    The preliminary results of a feasibility study to upgrade the Phnom Penh-Poipet railway into Cambodia’s first express railway indicate that the project would cost more than $4 billion and would take around four years to complete. The study was carried out by China Road and

  • Thai boxers to join SEA Games’ Kun Khmer event

    The Cambodian SEA Games Organising Committee (CAMSOC) – together with the Kun Khmer International Federation (KKIF) and Khmer Boxing Federation – have achieved a “great success” by including Kun Khmer in the upcoming biennial multi-sports event on its home soil for the first time, said a senior

  • Bullets to bracelets: Siem Reap man makes waste from war wearable

    Jewellery is often made from valuable gemstones like emeralds or diamonds and precious metals like gold or silver, or valueless things like animal horns. But a man in Siem Reap has approached the manufacture of delicate pieces from a different angle. His unique form of

  • 61% of 2022 imports came from just 3 markets

    The three largest exporters to Cambodia – mainland China, Vietnam and Thailand – accounted for 60.94 per cent of the Kingdom’s total merchandise imports last year, at $18.245 billion, which was up 11.99 per cent over 2021, according to the General Department of Customs and Excise. Cambodia’s total imports