by: Dessy Sagita
Indah Kristina, a working mother with a 5-year-old daughter, is deeply concerned about the string of media reports on sexual abuse of children in Indonesia over the past few months.
“I’m scared to think that it could have been my child. I don’t even want to take my eyes off of her because I noticed many victims were raped or sexually abused by people they knew and trusted,” the 31-year-old event organizer told the Jakarta Globe.
However, as a single mother, Indah must work and leave her daughter in the care of teachers or a nanny from time to time. Indah said she started giving her young daughter lessons about her own body in very simple ways that she could easily understand.
“I can’t watch her 24 hours a day, so I told her that not everybody can touch her private parts. My daughter also knows she’s not allowed to let any man enter her room without supervision,” she said.
In the past few months, Indonesia has been rocked by shocking cases of children being sexually abused.
In January, an 11-year-old girl fell into coma for six days and later died of infection. Doctors confirmed she had been sexually abused and contracted sexually transmitted diseases from her rapist.
It was later learned that the girl was raped several times by her own father.
In late February, the family of a 5-year-old boy filed a report to the police after he was allegedly sodomized by his neighbors, a police officer and a construction worker.
The boy was severely traumatized, and medical examination revealed he had been sexually abused.
Shortly after the case went public, the family had to evacuate after being intimidated by neighbors who did not believe the boy’s claim and thought the family was trying to stir up trouble.
“We have already declared 2013 as a year of national emergency over child sexual abuse. This is totally unacceptable,” said Arist Merdeka Sirait, chairman of the National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas PA), a nongovernmental organization advocating children’s issues.
Arist said there had been a worrying escalation in the number of child sex abuse cases. In 2010, Komnas PA received 2,046 reports of violence against children, 42 percent of which were sexual.
In 2012, the figure had risen to 2,637 cases, 62 percent of them sexual abuse.
“Remember this is just the tip of the iceberg, many more cases go unreported,” Arist added.
Maria Advianti, secretary of the Indonesian Commission on Child Protection (KPAI), said the most worrying part was that most rape or sexual abuses were committed by family members.
“In such cases, the probability of the victim filing a report is even lower.”
Maria said rape committed by family members usually went unreported because the family could not bear the shame if it was publicly known.
“We have heard cases where daughters were raped by their own fathers for years, in such cases where it would be impossible for the mothers to be totally ignorant, she said.
“I believe the mothers knew but were too afraid to say anything out of shame, or because the fathers were the bread-winner, and if the fathers went to jail the family would not have any means to survive.”
“We need to change society’s mindset. People must know that there is nothing private when it comes to rape or domestic violence,” Arist said.
“The neighborhood has a shared responsibility to be aware of what’s happening in their surroundings, and if the neighbor knows something but doesn’t say anything about it because they believe it’s none of their business then they too must be held accountable.”
Gregorius Pandu Setiawan, a prominent psychiatrist and former director of mental health at the Ministry of Health, echoed that sentiment, saying communities must be alert all the time.
“Children are the easiest prey for sexual predators because they are completely powerless against adults, physically and psychologically, not to mention most abuses come with a threat, so terrified children do not say anything. It’s society’s job to notice if something is wrong,” he said.
Pandu said that in urban areas there was a growing trend of people gradually stopping to care about what’s going on in their surroundings.
“It has happened in a densely populated city like Jakarta: with so many stress triggers in their life, people simply do not care about what’s going on,” he said.
Arist said children would continue to be victimized by sexual predators as long as Indonesians did not perceive sex abuse as a serious crime.
“Sadly it has been deeply ingrained in our permissive society that women and children are sex objects, and we need to re-educate our people so that nobody should be subjected to such atrocities. We need to speak up,” he said.
In late 2012, a 14-year-old student in Depok was expelled from her school after she was kidnapped and raped by a man she met online.
The growing use of the Internet and social media in Indonesia has also played a role in the escalating number of cases of sexual abuse against children.
Last week, a 15-year-old junior high school student was raped by several men after she agreed to meet someone she befriended on Facebook.
“In the social media era, even 10-year-olds have started using Facebook or Twitter. Parents must take control before it’s too late,” Arist warned.
“Internet use is inevitable in this age, and we can’t stop our children from using it, but we can teach them how to use the Internet healthily.”
Arist said many children spend excessive amounts of time in front of computers or gadgets because their family was dysfunctional and did not provide them with security or a sense of protection. He said unhappy children would resort to the Internet to seek attention and could easily fall prey to seduction by strangers.
“Many of those children who agreed to meet their captors were loners who did not get the affection they wanted from their family. Strengthening family values and spending more quality time with our children might change this, he added.
Maria proposed that parents monitor what their children were doing on the Internet carefully.
“Don’t give them limited access to the Internet but assist and guide them. Parents must also check what the children have been browsing,” she said.
Tougher laws, or better enforcement?
Arist said the growing prevalence of child sexual abuse indicated a failure in the Indonesian legal system.
“Clearly our current law isn’t working, it doesn’t provide any deterrent for the perpetrator,” he said.
Under the 2002 Law on Child Protection, anyone who has intercourse with a minor can face up to 15 years in prison and a maximum fine of Rp 60 million ($6,200).
“We need to revise the law; the minimum punishment for child sex abuse should be at least 15 years while the maximum sanction should be a life sentence,” Arist said.
“There should be additional punishments if the perpetrators were the parents, teachers, or police officers of the children, and supposed to protect them.”
But Maria said Indonesia did not need to revise the law, just make sure law enforcement was upheld.
“I think the current law is sufficient, it’s the enforcement that concerns me; many times prosecutors only demand seven to eight years for the perpetrators, so they could walk free in a few years,” she said.
University of Indonesia criminologist Erlangga Masdiana said harsher punishments alone would not be enough to reduce the rate of sexual violence in Indonesia.
“The problem is much more complex than that. There’s the demoralization problem and the poverty issue [for example]. The government must address these issues individually, and we need to strengthen our fading spiritual values, be it religion or anything else,” he said.
For victims of sexual abuse, serious counseling sessions are needed to help their psychological recovery.
Maria said there were several counseling or trauma centers run by the government or private organizations that provided assistance to rape victims.
“But the number is nowhere near enough compared to the number of children being victimized by sexual predators, that’s why we need to empower our society so everyone can take part in healing traumatized children,” she said.
Pandu added that victims of sex abuse must be handled very carefully to properly heal their trauma, with the counseling done in a very private and safe environment.
“It really angers me to see children who have been sexually victimized interviewed on TV with their faces covered by a mask, it’s really dangerous for their mental health,” he said.
Pandu said it was very unlikely for victims to forget what happened, but with proper care their pain could be eased.
“The counselors must have the capacity to handle these vulnerable children, and all of society must ensure they can return to a safe environment without any stigma and without any worry that the horrible experience could happen again,” he said.