Jakarta Globe | Insight

Sexual Violence in Indonesia

Jakarta. It has been decades since Rhesya, a facilitator at Lentera Sintas Indonesia, was first molested by her stepfather. Rhesya, who wishes to keep her last name private, said the first incident happened in her bedroom, when she was 7-years old. She was assaulted everyday after that for almost a decade.

Rhesya, now 31, said it took a while for her to understand that what her stepfather did to her is categorized as sexual assault. She only understood the meaning of consent when her friends started dating.

“I knew [about consent] by watching my friends and it really hurts. A lot of people said, ‘but you were not raped.’ Well, there’s no difference. I was molested every single day. And it happened from when I was a child, so there’s nothing I could do,” she recalled.

The continuous assault left her with trauma. Rhesya said her high school years were some of the most difficult times of her life. She would lock her bedroom door with a padlock and even keep a knife below her pillow. After she graduated high school, Rhesya left her family home and began working.

Rhesya said what really hurts her is the fact that she was assaulted at home, but her suffering went unacknowledged by her family: her mother stayed married to Rhesya’s torturer. She said she rarely visits the family house anymore.

“I really miss my siblings, but I hate their father and I told them so. They understand. As for now, I am just grateful I have a very supportive husband,” she said.

In February, 27-year-old L. Ayuningtyas was finally declared healthy by her psychologist after a series of treatments that went on for four years. She first went to see a psychologist in 2014, a year after she started dating her now ex-boyfriend, who often forced himself sexually onto her and verbally abused her.

“He kept telling me to lie to my parents and stay at his place. I was obliged to satisfy him. I was told to do things I did not want to do. I never had sexual intercourse with anyone, because I only wanted to do it with my husband. He did not care,” she said.

Ayuningtyas said her relationship was kept a secret because her ex-boyfriend portrayed himself as a pious Muslim man and a member of a Muslim student organization at their university. That made it difficult for her to tell anyone about her problem of having a controlling and abusive boyfriend.

“He’s really contradictory. He told me to start wearing a hijab. At the time, I did not wear headscarves. He also kept talking about how I should not work after I graduate, and that men should be the breadwinner. If you saw his Instagram today, he posts Islamic quotes from Prophet Muhammad. But he also forced himself on me,” she said.

Throughout the year, she was often asked to finish his homework. She even wrote for him an essay that awarded him a scholarship to a university in Europe. Ayuningtyas failed at her first attempt to get a scholarship from the same program. Soon, they broke up. Later on, she was accepted into the same scholarship program and enrolled herself at a university in the UK.

For a while, she stopped seeing her psychologist, but when her ex-boyfriend tried to make contact with her in 2017, Ayuningtyas had a chronic panic attack.

“I threw up multiple times, my body wouldn’t stop shaking and everything went dark. I was really, really scared. That’s when I knew something was wrong with me, and I had to continue seeing my psychologist,” she said.

A study by the National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan) revealed that violence against women increased by 25 percent in Indonesia in 2017. The commission recorded a total of 348,446 cases of gender-based violence that year.  The report also noted that 71 percent of the reported cases of violence against women took place in private or domestic environments, followed by cases of public abuse, which accounted for 26 percent of incidents.


Latest study by the National Commission on Violence against Women reveals that more women find the bravery to report violence against them.

In private environments, a total of 5,167 cases of violence against wives, 2,227 cases of violence against young girls and 1,873 cases of violence against dating partners were recorded last year.

Mariana Amiruddin, the commissioner at Komnas Perempuan, said that increase means more victims are willing to come forward and make an official report.

“Komnas Perempuan views the higher number of cases of violence against women as indicating that victims are beginning to come forward to report what has happened to them. In 2017, we recorded a higher number of violence against young girls compared to 2016,” Mariana said, alluding to 1,799 such cases recorded that year.

Sri Suari Wahyudi, a National Police spokeswoman, told the Jakarta Globe that they also noticed a rising number of domestic and sexual violence incidents. Reports usually come from major cities, but lately police have been receiving reports from smaller districts as well.

In the wake of #MeToo movement in the United States and across the globe, women activists in Indonesia have been campaigning against sexual harassment. On Saturday (03/03), thousands of women showed up at the Women’s March in 13 cities in Indonesia, demonstrating a significant improvement in awareness of sexual violence, as the first Women’s March in 2017 drew only 400 participants in Jakarta.

“Last year, Jokowi declared that sexual violence is an extraordinary crime. If it is indeed an extraordinary crime, then it is time for the government to take concrete steps to ensure that no more women are subjected to violence,” Komnas Perempuan chairwoman Azriana Manalu said in a speech during the march, referring to President Joko Widodo by his popular nickname.

As more women begin to show up on the streets and exercise their political rights, women activists are holding the ground to create supportive establishments through a number of organizations.

Wulan Danoekoesoemo, founder of Lentera Sintas Indonesia, said she established the Jakarta-based support group for victims of sexual violence in 2011 because she wanted to use her educational background in clinical psychology and help survivors heal themselves. Prior to Lentera, Wulan worked as a counselor with Yayasan  Pulih, a trauma recovery center for victims of natural disasters and bomb blasts. She also joined Doctors Without Borders in Aceh to provide mental health support for tsunami victims. It is there that she heard about a number of sexual violence cases that went unreported.

Lentera holds a closed support group for survivors on a monthly basis. For more severe cases, they also offer one-on-one assistance sessions on an appointment basis. Lentera volunteers also go on school tours to talk to high school students and enlighten teenagers about what a healthy relationship should look like. In 2016, they went to 78 high schools in Jakarta and reached out to more than 15,000 students.

“We are very much a volunteer-based organization because not all of us have a background in law. What we do at Lentera is a business of trust. We know that trust cannot be forced. Statistically speaking, the assaulter in most sexual violence cases is a person who is close to the victim. So, the violation of trust is so severe,” she said.

Wulan said one of the biggest problems for women in Indonesia, and anywhere else, is a culture of victim blaming.

“Most survivors who come to Lentera had their own doubts about showing up to our support group. They are afraid of getting the same bad treatments that they get for telling people about what happened to them,” she said.

“If victims were afraid that people would blame them, it means we are the ones who need to change. We must check ourselves if we ever doubted or made judgments about these victims.”

Wulan said Lentera also actively teaches the concept of healthy masculinity to young men in schools.

“We understand the peer pressure for teenage boys to make jokes about girls, even strap their bras. So we ask them, ‘if boys will be boys, why can’t boys be gentlemen?’ Ask your girlfriend before you hold her hand, before you hug or before you kiss. You must not force yourself because that’s violence,” she said.

In Wulan’s experience, a lack of sex education leads to misunderstanding of consent in not just young children, but in adults as well.

“Yes is yes, quiet means no, indecisiveness means no, head shaking also means no. Drunk means no, because the person is clearly under the influence. And even when that person gives consent and says yes, they must be allowed to change their mind. We could all learn from Aziz Ansari’s case, which was borderline sexual violence.”

As a survivor and now facilitator at Lentera, Rhesya echoed the group’s tagline, Start Talking (Mulai Bicara), as the first step to healing.

“The most difficult phase to get over is guilt. I was at that phase where I blamed myself for not telling my mother about what my stepfather did. I cried for a week. I realized, even though I was a child, I was already afraid about what would happen to my mama.”

Additional reporting by Sheany