The recent gang rape of a 15-year-old Indonesian girl by six young men in Tangerang, West Java, is the latest in a string of horrifying cases this year that have brought rape culture and misogyny onto the country’s national agenda.
Public awareness of sexual violence was first raised in May this year following the gang rape and murder of Yuyun, a 14-year-old school girl, by 14 men and boys, including her ex-boyfriend, in Bengkulu regency, Sumatra. Her body was discovered naked and tied up at a rubber plantation two days later.
The case initially went unnoticed, until feminist activists began a social media campaign demanding justice.
The latest victim to make local headlines, identified only as S, boarded a public minivan driven by two of the alleged perpetrators at 1 am on Thursday, Nov 24, according to police statements reported by local media. But instead of taking S to her destination, they drove to a rented house, where four of their friends were waiting. The victim was then forced into a bathroom and raped by the suspects.
After their assault, the suspects then let S go. She eventually reported the incident to the police on Sunday, after which four of the suspects were arrested. Two remain at large.
The suspects may be charged under child protection laws, and could each face up to 15 years in prison.
Statistics show increasing sexual attacks on women
According to the National Commission on Violence Against Women (KP), an average of 35 women are victims of sexual violence in Indonesia every day.
“But much sexual violence goes unreported, often due to stigma, family and societal pressure. So this could just be the 'tip of the iceberg'," said Mia Olivia, a KP spokesperson.
Rising levels of sexual violence have coincided with a general increase in violence against women, rising to 321,752 recorded cases in 2015, up from 293,220 in 2014. In approximately 70 percent of these incidents, the perpetrator is the partner or former partner of the victim.
UN report backs up the rise in sexual crime against women
A U.N. report released in 2013 that polled men across Asia found that 31.9 percent of respondents in Indonesia admitted having forced a woman to have sex. And almost three-quarters of those who committed rape said they did so for reasons of “sexual entitlement.”
Many have sought to blame inadequate law enforcement and sentencing of offenders for Indonesia’s sexual violence. After public outcry was eventually stirred by Yuyun’s rape and murder, President Joko Widodo introduced harsh new punishments for sex offenders, including chemical castration or even the death penalty for child sex offenses.
Harsh laws in place
In an interview with the BBC in October, the President said “chemical castration, if we enforce it consistently, will reduce sex crimes and wipe the them out over time.”
But activists say the measures are inhumane, reactive and do nothing to address the broader attitudes that legitimize rape.
“We don’t support this because we believe in human rights. And it won’t help, even with the previous legal framework very few rapists received the maximum punishment anyway,” said Tunggal Pawestri, a Jakarta-based women’s rights activist. [Reactive punishments] are not the answer, you need to think about how you can overcome these issues by giving more education — sexual and social education so that men learn to respect women.”
Indonesia tradition puts women at disadvantage
In Indonesia’s highly patriarchal society, the responsibility for rape is often placed on women. In the view of many Indonesians, it is first the responsibility of the woman to protect her “purity” rather than for a man to contain his desire for sex. And in many relationships and marriages, the woman is expected to provide sex to her partner as he pleases.
“Women have been treated as possessions for too many years,” said Tunggal.
Although some have more progressive views, conservative attitudes permeate through all levels of society and flippant misogyny can be regularly observed in senior officials and politicians.
In 2013, a candidate for Indonesia’s supreme court suggested to a parliamentary commission that victims of sexual violence enjoy being raped. Commenting on the topic of a rape case in 2014, then Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo said women riding public transport should dress conservatively to avoid “unwanted consequences.”
New laws in place but much remains to be done
Until 2004, rape was catalogued in the Indonesian Penal Code as a “crime against decency,” which meant in many cases that the presiding judge was more interested in establishing the “morality” of the female victim rather than whether or not a rape had actually taken place. The law also provided no legal protection for rape within marriage.
Since 2004, women have been protected against sexual violence within marriage by a domestic violence law, but activists say many are unaware of these protections.
Sexual harassment is rampant
Currently, there remains almost no legal protection against the sexual harassment that is experienced by Indonesian women every day.
For Aditya, a young professional who commutes from Tangerang to work in Jakarta and who did not want to give her full name, sexual harassment is a part of daily life. On Jakarta’s packed public transportation, groping of women is common, and catcalling is an everyday occurrence. As a consequence, certain coaches on the TransJakarta busway and train services are designated as women-only and are policed by security.
New legal moves in the works
To help prosecute sex crimes a new anti-sexual violence bill is currently being drafted by the Indonesian parliament, which will codify offenses from sexual harassment to forced abortion to sexual torture.
The bill will be a positive step, but activists say much more needs to be done to empower women at a grass-roots level.
Olin Monteiro, a feminist film-maker and founder of Women’s Coalition Indonesia (KPI), has set up many groups around Indonesia to facilitate training about women’s rights.
According to Monteiro, most rural women are not familiar with feminist terminology, but a sense of oppression is shared by many. She has also met survivors of rape with similar stories from across the sprawling archipelago.
“So many adult women are raped [in Indonesia],” she said. “This is what I don’t understand with the case with Yuyun. Everyone is so shocked that a child got raped. But I’m like, yeah… this happens to so many women, why are you suddenly so angry now?”