Buddhist monk at OC temple accused of sexually molesting 2 women when they were little girls

Jessica De Nova Image
Wednesday, December 7, 2022
Buddhist monk at OC temple accused of molesting 2 women as young girls
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A Buddhist monk at an Orange County temple is accused of sexually assaulting two women when they were just little girls.

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- A Buddhist monk in Orange County is accused of sexually assaulting two women when they were just little girls. The women say they want the public to know about the suffering they've been enduring for years.

The monk is set to go on trial next week on criminal charges. The two women hope the trial leads to justice.

Thy Nguyen said she felt anger every time she was told the trial was postponed.

"I'm so angry. I cry, not because I'm sad, but I cry because I'm so angry," she said.

Nguyen said she will use that rage to carry her through the long-awaited trial, which is scheduled to start Dec. 12.

She and her friend, Tina Le, sued the Meditation Institute of the United States of Bat Nha America in Santa Ana, known as the Bat Nha Buddhist Temple, and one of its monks, Thich Nguyen Tri.

The two said when they were young girls between the ages of 6 and 10, Nguyen Tri sexually molested them. They said it happened when the temple was at a different location and when Nguyen Tri was the head monk.

"I fell asleep and I woke up to him on top of me. The lights were off. The TV was on and then he's trying to pull down my pants and I'm holding on to it," Le said, describing one of several alleged incidents.

The women said around 1997 through 2008, Nguyen Tri groomed them with candy and praised their behavior and looks. Uncomfortable hugs turned into the suspect looking for ways to get them alone, they said.

"He asked me to sit on his lap. When I do so, he would run his fingers, you know, just all over my body, my buttocks, my thighs. His hands would wander to my chest," Nguyen said through tears.

Though they spoke out, the two were told the head monk was a person they could trust.

"I really needed somebody to protect me at the time and I just remember having to protect myself. So I ran out looking for help and I found this lady that was there and I ask her if she can stay until my sister comes back and she wouldn't," Le said, crying.

Both women said growing up in the Vietnamese immigrant community, it was common for people to not challenge authoritative figures, especially religious leaders.

"'Don't take it like it's anything bad. You should think of it as an opportunity to be close to someone so high,'" Nguyen remembered her mother telling her.

The girls avoided the suspect until they finally left the temple altogether.

Years later as an adult, Le sought closure and spoke out. She discovered at least four other women had similar accusations, including Nguyen.

They worried more victims were out there and said other temple leaders and volunteers also sexually molested children placed under their care.

"It's done. What's done is done to me, right, but we have tons of children out there. I have kids of my own. Every time I take a look at them, my heart breaks," Nguyen said.

In 2017, the women pursued a criminal case against Nguyen Tri with the Santa Ana Police Department. The department filed charges with the Orange County District Attorney's Office, but according to an OCDA spokesperson, the case was rejected because of insufficient evidence.

Eyewitness News tried several times Tuesday to speak with Nguyen Tri at the temple, but temple officials said he was ill and sleeping or not available.

Hue Chieu, a woman who identified herself as being in charge of management of the temple, said she was not aware of the lawsuit, the upcoming trial or the allegations against Nguyen Tri.

Chieu said Nguyen Tri was still present as head monk for special ceremonies, but she later said he had retired.

In a phone conversation, the attorney representing the temple and Nguyen Tri told Eyewitness News the defendants refute the allegations and said his clients would not be giving any public statements.