An elderly, recently ordained monk confessed on Thursday to raping two 9-year-old girls multiple times in Battambang province, after being defrocked and arrested on Wednesday morning, police said.
Euv Thon, 68—who had been a monk for just one month—took up residence at a pagoda in Sampov Loun district two weeks ago, allegedly using his position to sexually abuse two girls who attended a local school, said deputy district police chief Ly Rum.
“The monk persuaded the schoolgirls to come to his room by offering them some cake and money,” he said, adding that Mr. Thon raped both girls multiple times on January 6, 8 and 9, offering them a few more thousand riel before each incident.
“After the victims’ parents heard about the rapes from other kids, they asked their children if they were sure they had been raped. When the kids confirmed…their parents went to file a complaint to the commune police,” he said.
Mr. Rum explained that, in order to arrest the monk, local authorities had to detain Mr. Thon in his room on Tuesday night before taking him to another pagoda the next morning to be defrocked with the permission of officials from the provincial cults and religion department.
Deputy provincial police chief Born Vannara said the suspect initially denied his guilt, but eventually confessed under questioning.
“The suspect confessed that he raped the schoolgirls, and I will send him to the court tomorrow,” Mr. Vannara said.
Niv Ang, deputy chief of Chamka Tabun village—where the pagoda is located—said because Mr. Thon had arrived recently, he did not believe the man’s actions compromised the integrity of fellow monks.
“None of us knew this monk before the rapes happened,” Mr. Ang said, adding that both girls’ parents were rice farmers who worked most of the day. “I’m not worried about other children in the village, because he was one of the only monks who lived there.”
Cases of abuse by monks have long been treated as aberrations by the Buddhist hierarchy, a problem highlighted last year after the clergy repeatedly distanced itself from sexual abuse scandals that took place in pagodas across the country.
In early November, Vong Chet, 46, the chief monk at a rural pagoda in Siem Reap province, confessed to raping 10 boys in his care, and an investigation was launched into whether he had committed similar crimes at his other postings across the country.
Alastair Hilton, technical adviser for NGO First-Step Cambodia, which has done research into institutional abuse in Cambodia, said that while monks did not necessarily commit crimes at a higher rate than the general population, their place in society insulated them to a greater degree.
“People who are employed and work in the monkhood, they’re just ordinary people and ordinary people abuse others,” Mr. Hilton said, adding that monks who committed atrocities were often written off as “bad apples.”
“They’re often described as, or seen as, the fly in the ointment; the one bad apple. Which may be true, but the problem is it may be more systemic,” Mr. Hilton said. “If you don’t have safeguards in place, you’re placing children at risk.”
(Additional reporting by Taylor O’Connell)