Women say OC Buddhist temple fostered culture of sexual molestation of young girls

They said they were teenagers at the time of the abuse.

Jessica De Nova Image
Friday, December 9, 2022
Women say OC Buddhist temple fostered culture of sexual molestation
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A Buddhist monk in Santa Ana is accused of sexually molesting two women when they were just little girls. Now, more women are speaking out with similar accusations.

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- As two women prepared for a trial scheduled to start next week in their lawsuit against a Buddhist temple and monk, more women said they were also molested at the same temple as young girls, this time accusing a youth leader.

The tears, pain and trauma two women shared were all too familiar for Ivy Pham.

Tina Le and Thy Nguyen said when they were young girls, the head monk of the Bat Nha Buddhist Temple in Santa Ana sexually molested them. Their story empowered the 26-year-old to speak out.

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

"This is the first time I'm giving my inner child a voice, like, I'm standing up for her," Pham said.

She said when she was just 11, a youth leader at the temple, a man in his 50s, grabbed her breasts.

She said she and the youth leader had been separating flowers for a celebration alone while her mother worked in the kitchen when he came up behind her and groped her.

"I was just in shock and I was frozen," Pham recalled. "I couldn't move and then I felt his penis, just like, on my back."

She said she tried to tell other girls, but most told her she should not say anything because she would bring shame to the temple.

Pham felt shamed and silenced. She said it took her a while to open up to her mother. Her mom reported this to the head monk Thich Nguyen Tri, the same man Le and Nguyen sued, but Pham said the head monk did nothing.

"Seeing the monk not take any action to remove him at all, that like infuriated me," she said.

Two other women who did not want to be identified spoke with Eyewitness News over the phone Thursday with similar accusations against the same youth leader.

They said they were teenagers at the time of the abuse.

One said the man touched her breasts twice, once over her shirt as he gave her a ride and the second time under her shirt with other students present. She said the youth leader pretended to fix her uniform badge both times.

The other woman said he hugged her and kissed her on the cheeks and lips in the garage of her home during a dance practice when no one else was there.

She pushed him off, ran and told her friends. This woman said her peers called the youth leader "creepy," encouraging her to tell the mothers, but said when she did, they dismissed her accusations.

All three women who spoke with Eyewitness News Thursday said they were considering going to police and hoped their stories brought awareness.

Pham said she was still dealing with this incident through therapy, fighting nightmares and anxiety.

She didn't want others to suffer the same trauma and was hopeful, "justice was around the corner."

"It's not just for me, but it's for other people as well. I hope this kind of guides young girls, or boys, to speak up if this incident ever happened to them," Pham said.

Court documents showed Le and Nguyen originally went to Santa Ana Police in 2017 to press charges against Nguyen Tri, but the suspect wasn't interviewed by officers until 2021.

In a deposition of one of the officers assigned to the case by opposing counsel in the lawsuit, the SAPD officer admitted four years passed because the file was misplaced.

The case was filed with the Orange County District Attorney's Office this past summer, more than five years after the women originally reported this to police.

A spokesperson with the OCDA's office said they rejected the case, "because of insufficient evidence."

Eyewitness News asked both the SAPD and OCDA whether the lag time was involved in the rejection of the case by the DA's office.

An SAPD spokesperson told Eyewitness News they only knew it was rejected because of insufficient evidence.

As of Thursday evening, ABC7 has not heard back from the DA's office.