The Sunday Leader

Witnesses Give Details Of Alleged Rape And Sex Abuse By Chief Monk

By Emma Wallace - reporting from London

Ven. Pahalagama Somaratana

The rape and sexual abuse cases against Ven. Pahalagama Somaratana, chief monk of Selsdon Buddhist Temple in London, continued proceedings at Isleworth Crown Court this week.
When Somaratana first arrived in England, in 1978, he was 32 years old. He was part of Chiswick Temple from 1978 to 1981, and thereafter went on to create his own Temple in Selsdon, South Croydon, where he remains today.
Key prosecution witnesses took to the stand to tell their account of what had allegedly occurred during 1978-79 and 1984-86. Both witnesses were aged between 9 and 10 when the first was allegedly raped and both were sexually abused.
The court heard that a majority of the alleged rape and indecent assaults occurred primarily after the Temple’s Sunday school. The accused would routinely visit classes where approximately 20 children, aged between 4 to 16, attended each week.
The first victim brought forward 10 abuses, which included 5 counts of indecent assault and 1 count of rape, which allegedly occurred in the spring of 1978 when the victim was just 9 years old.
The reason as to why she had not come forward when the alleged rape and abuse occurred, the witness stated, was because Ven. Somaratana had threatened that her “parents would be angry and that her father would die”.
Ven. Somaratana claims that he does not remember the first victim during the time of the alleged rape and sexual abuse. He further exclaimed that as a monk “he does not touch people, especially women as it is wrong and considered a sin”.
When asked by his own lawyer did you attempt to rape the first victim or touch her in an inappropriate way, at some point between 1978 and 1979, Somaratana said “not at all no”.
The defense team or even the chief monk has not contested the alleged rape of the first victim in the Buddhist Temple in Chiswick, during 1978-79. What remains to be confirmed is whether it can be proved that it was Pahalagama Somaratana like the victim has said.
The prosecution  brought attention to the statement that the chief monk had made in his first police interview, after he was arrested in September 2011 at Heathrow Airport.
He had suggested to the police that the first victim might have got him mixed up with someone else and also that she may have said it was him due to the victim’s family having issues at that time with the monk.
The prosecution team stressed that this simply could not have been the case. In regard to the victim getting Ven. Pahalagama Somaratana mixed up with someone else, the chief monk himself confirmed that “priests in their robes were distinctive” and could be told apart.
Further to this, the issues that he said he had with the victim’s family which would have encouraged the victim to accuse him of rape and sexual abuse, was confirmed by both the chief monk and the prosecution team as only having occurred very recently in 2010. The victim had made the complaint about Ven. Somaratana to her sister much earlier, between 1991 and 1992.
The second witness, who was allegedly sexually abused by the chief monk in the mid 1980’s, described to the court that she remembered ‘being alone’ in Ven. Somaratana’s room on the pretence of discussing upcoming temple services. Describing the placing of furniture in precise detail, the witness stated that it was “no bigger than a box room”.
The crown court was told of incidents of abuse when the witness was taken to the bedroom alone with Ven. Somaratana. She told the court that she has memories of “sitting on his lap”.
Court had to recess briefly to give the witness time to compose herself. Later she continued on describing the alleged sexual abuse that she was subjected to during the course of 2 to 3 years.
When questioned why the second witness had only come forward approximately 25 years following the alleged assault, she stated that at the time she thought that the monk’s actions were an accident.
“At the time as a child, I thought it was all an accident. Looking back on it now as an adult, I know that this was definitely not the case.” The Chief monk is charged with repeatedly sexually abusing the witness for 2 to 3 years.
One prosecution witness was the former hypnotherapist of the second victim. The alleged victim had visited the witness back in 2009.
The witness had asked the victim to complete a routine assessment form that would provide an insight into why it was that the victim had visited the hypnotherapist and to also ascertain the problem. The witness then told the court that the victim, when asked what is wrong that needs putting right, had said that she “had been touched as a child.” The case continues next week when the defense plans to bring witnesses, from London and from Sri Lanka via video call, to confirm to the jury the nature of the monk’s character.
65-year-old Ven. Pahalagama Somaratana, chief monk of Thames Buddhist Vihara at Dulverton Road, Croydon, has pleaded not guilty of all charges.

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