For Abusive Monk, Past Remains a Mystery

For almost a year, Vong Chet was able to exploit his position and power as the chief monk of a rural pagoda in Siem Reap province to rape at least 10 young boys in his care.

Arrested in November, Mr. Chet was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Thursday, a verdict that authorities said reflected the severity of his crimes and the lasting effect they would have on his victims.

But despite knowing that the serial rapist and former military man shuffled through three other pagodas since his ordination just a few years ago, court officials and senior members of the clergy said on Tuesday there were no plans to investigate his past for more potential victims.

After Mr. Chet’s arrest last year, Duong Thavary, the top anti-human trafficking police official in Siem Reap, said investigators would expand their probe to the defrocked monk’s previous pagodas for fear that he had victimized other young boys before moving to the province.

But on Tuesday, Ms. Thavary said police would not follow through on their pledge without explicit permission from the court.

“We have reports that he used to stay at other pagodas but we don’t have evidence that he committed offenses [there],” she said.

Siem Reap Provincial Court spokesman Yin Srang said judges had already done their job, by convicting Mr. Chet for his crimes in the province.

Despite knowing the locations of Mr. Chet’s former pagodas in Battambang and Kampot provinces, he said any other potential victims would have to come forward and file complaints for the court to take further action.

“We don’t know their addresses,” he said, referring to other potential victims. “But if new victims come to file complaints, the court will continue the procedure.”

James McCabe, director of operations for the nongovernment Child Protection Unit, which assisted police in their investigation of Mr. Chet, also said last week that the unit was not actively looking into the other pagodas—echoing Mr. Srang’s rationale.

“If any victim wishes to come forward and complain, we will treat it exactly as the others were,” he said.

But there is ample evidence to suggest that male victims of sexual abuse do not come forward of their own volition and instead need to be sought out and questioned directly.

Findings from the Cambodian Violence Against Children Survey, compiled by various government ministries in cooperation with Unicef in 2013, found that boys not only failed to report sexual violence, but they often did not see it as “violence” at all.

“Males did not volunteer sexual violence as a type of violence, although they were open to discussing it when asked direct questions,” the study says. “Boys said that they did not tell anyone about specific incidents, because they were too shy, they felt that there was no point because no one could help, and feared being accused of gossiping about adults.”

Like those who investigated Mr. Chet’s crimes against boys in Siem Reap, Khim Sorn, chief of the secretariat of the country’s Mohanikaya Buddhist sect, said the clergy was not attempting to identify other potential victims.

He said efforts to determine the scope of Mr. Chet’s crimes—and those who may have known about or abetted them—would remain at a standstill unless the country’s senior-most monks decided to take action.

“If we receive a report we will investigate the pagodas where he used to stay to find out whether he committed offenses or not, but right now we don’t have a report,” he said.

Seng Somony, a spokesman for the Ministry of Cults and Religion, said the court had done all the work that needed to be done in the case.

“We don’t have to take further action because the court followed its procedure in accordance with the law,” he said.

“The ministry has held workshops about Buddhist rules, morality and virtue, and we have received more positive feedback than negative,” he added.

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