Indonesia: 'Struggling to survive sexual violence'


Survivors of sexual violence in Indonesia face an uphill battle in recovery as a result of an inadequate legal system, police inaction, and prevailing societal attitudes that tend to be suspicious of victims, say activists.

Survivors are often reluctant to come forward because of attitudes within the family. Herna (not her real name), 27, was abused by her mother’s partner between the ages of 9 and 16 but her family did not fully understand her trauma. “I knew that what had happened to me was wrong,” she said. “I asked my stepfather for an apology, but he never gave it. Instead, my mother said to me that not everyone was perfect. After that, I left home for good.”Santi (not her real name), 28, was molested by her swimming instructor when she was 14 years old. “I didn’t say anything because I thought people would blame me if I reported it,” she said. “Maybe they would say I shouldn’t have been in the pool with that man. I never sought help. For years I didn’t even acknowledge that it had happened to me and I had serious problems in relationships afterwards.”;

Indonesia is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW),which aims to strengthen the human rights of women, but the National Commission on Violence Against Women notes that between 1998 and 2010 there were close to 94,000 cases of sexual violence reported against women, including rape, trafficking of women for sexual purposes, sexual harassment, sexual torture and sexual exploitation.

The commission also highlighted that 20 Indonesian women a day experienced sexual violence, and in its annual notes, released in March 2012, reported some 4,335 cases of sexual violence in 2011 alone.

According to the Jakarta Police, in 2011 there were 1,787 cases of sexual violence across Indonesia, around 2,500 cases less than those recorded by the commission.

‘Archaic’ criminal code

The reasons for these numbers vary. In an October 2011 report submitted to the UN CEDAW committee, the commission said sexual violence experienced by women had yet to be fully recognized, and had not been given the handling and attention victims required. Andy Yentriani, an official of the commission, told IRIN that the Indonesian criminal code was archaic and could not properly deal with sexual violence.

“It’s based on a system that is four centuries old,” said Yentriani. “Rape is only understood as the insertion of male genitalia into female genitalia. Oral sex or anal sex are off the radar. The law also does not recognize that rape can be experienced by adult males.”

Barriers to reporting

Wulan Danoekoesoemo, the founder of Lentera Indonesia, an NGO survivor support group based in the capital, Jakarta, spoke of the challenges faced by survivors when reporting their ordeal.

“There’s very little immediate medical assistance for women in this country,” she said. “Rape survivors… may want to get themselves medically checked within 24 hours to provide physical evidence, but that’s a challenge due to bureaucracy, and because hospitals aren’t sensitive to the concerns of rape survivors.”

‘Insensitive’ authorities

Photo: Mark Wilson/IRIN
A group of women wait for a minibus to take them home

Police spokesman Senior Commissioner Rikwanto explained how the police were tackling the problem of sexual violence against women. “We’re patrolling in the evening when workers are returning home and appealing to women to wear polite and proper clothing in public.”

Neta Pane, coordinator of Indonesian Police Watch (IPW), an independent police monitoring organization, said this attitude was undermining efforts to help survivors.

“Women are being asked not to provoke sexual violence,” he said. “So if something does happen, it’s the fault of the woman for not dressing properly.”

Pane pointed out that the maximum punishment for rape was 12 years, but perpetrators mostly received sentences under a year.

Vitria Lazzarini, executive coordinator of the Pulih Foundation, a women’s crisis centre in south Jakarta, said police attitudes toward survivors lacked sensitivity.

“They ask whether she enjoyed it, what she was wearing at the time, and what she was doing outside at that time of night. It’s completely inappropriate for a woman who is suffering substantial trauma,” Lazzarini said.

“Women are also worried that police won’t believe their claims, and will make them public,” said IPW coordinator Pane. “They are afraid that once people know of their experience, they will be shunned. It’s a fear that we particularly see in rural areas.”

‘Re-occurring theme’

Activists point to the need of a change in culture in Indonesia, and a shift in the way men view and treat women.

Commission official Andy Yentriani said current attitudes were partly the result of violence committed against women during Indonesia’s past conflicts in Timor, Papua and Aceh, and in the widespread societal violence in 1998. This was largely being ignored which had led to the image of women being tarnished.

“Violations against women are a re-occurring theme in Indonesia”, said Yentriani. “Today they are not even mentioned in the national curriculum.”