The Siem Reap Provincial Court sentenced a former pagoda chief to 15 years in prison on Thursday for raping at least 10 young boys in a case that has become a lightning rod for criticism of the monkhood.
“The court sentenced [Vong Chet] to 15 years in prison for purchasing child prostitution and having sex with minors,” said court spokesman Yin Srang.
Mr. Chet, who is in his late 40s, was defrocked and arrested in November when the families of 10 young monks living at Wat Ratanak Moni in Kralanh district filed complaints against him. He subsequently confessed to having sex with the boys—all between the ages of 11 and 17—and paying them to stay quiet.
Despite announcing last year that police would expand their investigation to three other pagodas where Mr. Chet previous served —in an attempt to identify further victims—Siem Reap anti-human trafficking police chief Duong Thavary said the provincial court had stymied the probe.
“We waited for the court’s warrant in order to investigate the other pagodas, but the court did not issue it,” she said. “I think that maybe the court questioned him and received enough information [to convict him] and so…did not issue the order to investigate.”
Chhuon Sophea, a deputy prosecutor in charge of the case, could not be reached. Mr. Chet’s lawyer, Bun Chan Heng, declined to comment on record.
Alastair Hilton, a technical adviser at First Step Cambodia, an NGO that focuses on the sexual abuse of boys and men, said on Friday that Mr. Chet’s victims were now in the care of the organization’s staff in Siem Reap.
Mr. Hilton said that while he was “pleasantly surprised” by the severity of Mr. Chet’s sentence, the damage had been done.
“For many victims…being abused is a life sentence for them, quite frankly,” he said, referring to the emotional trauma and stigmatization suffered by abuse victims.
Mr. Chet’s is just one of many recent cases involving crimes committed inside pagoda walls—including rape, child rape, murder, violence and drug use—but the country’s senior monks have refused to acknowledge systemic problems within the clergy.
Mr. Hilton, however, said that abuse cases should not be treated as outliers.
“Abuse in pagodas is not new; it goes back so long,” he said, noting that in a 2008 First Step study, “plenty of young men and older men disclosed…abuse in pagodas by monks.”
He added that while local and international efforts to combat child sex abuse focused on girls, boys were often more vulnerable, due to gendered ideas about victimhood.
“They’re given more freedom —they’re actually more vulnerable. The fact that nobody ever talks to boys about the prospect of being violated and abused means they’re more vulnerable,” he said.
“When boys do disclose, they can be ridiculed, disbelieved. People might suspect they are less than a man because they should fight their attacker off, and if they didn’t fight their attacker off, [people think] maybe he’s gay, maybe he wanted it, maybe there’s something else behind this.”