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COVID-19 and Protection From Sexual Violence in Indonesia

Summary:

  • This blog highlights the urgent need for legal protection for women facing sexual violence in Indonesia.

  • This blog identifies factors inhibiting the ratification of The Sexual Violence Elimination Bill (RUU PKS) in Indonesia.

  • The post concludes that the problems of sexual violence must be overcome by ratifying RUU PKS so that access to justice for Indonesian women can be achieved.


Introduction

After 21 years of Reformasi, Indonesia has not shown significant progress in the fulfilment of justice for women survivors of violence. Violence against women comprises a wide range of acts, from verbal harassment to other forms of emotional abuse, to daily physical or sexual abuse. [1] The current pandemic has brought to the forefront the staggeringly wide gap of injustice and inequality. The National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan) is seeing a surge in violence during the Covid-19 pandemic. Violence not only involves physical, but also psychological and sexual abuse. [2] Meanwhile the existing law that deals with sexual violence, the Indonesian Criminal Code (KUHP), remains stuck in the past, relying on a rigid definition of what constitutes sexual violence. Especially during the pandemic, access to justice for sexual violence victims cannot be put on hold.


The Urgency of Ratifying The Sexual Violence Elimination Bill to Get Access to Justice

Komnas Perempuan has found that reported sexual harassment and abuse, particularly online, has risen significantly this year as the nation endures the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the commission, 21,841 sexual abuse cases were reported to Komnas Perempuan from 2016 to 2019, 40 percent of which were rape cases. Moreover, 659 cases of online sexual harassment or abuse were reported from January to October last year. The number is more than double that of 2019, with 281 cases. These are red flags. However, less than 30 percent of the rape cases were processed in court. The main factors that prevented victims from obtaining justice were an insufficient legal framework for certain cases, a burden of proof that lay heavily with victims and a persistent victim-blaming culture. [3] Moreover, the justice system in Indonesia is still unable to listen well to victims, Indonesia’s prevailing laws do not recognise the definition and complexity of sexual violence. For example, there is not yet an acceptable definition of sexual harassment in the law, which largely relies on Articles 281 and 289 of the KUHP, which only recognises forcible penile penetration of a woman’s vagina. It does not recognise other forms of sexual violence including sexual harassment [4]. Kissing, sexual jokes and porn pictures sent online that create an uncomfortable feeling should also be categorised as sexual harassment.


Source: The Asean Post, Indonesia is ASEAN’s most unsafe country for women


Among many victims and survivors of sexual harassment in Indonesia, is Baiq Nuril, an Indonesian women who was sentenced to jail for reporting sexual harassment because KUHP regulations do not recognise the complexities of sexual violence. She had recorded conversations between her superior and herself to be used as legal evidence of sexual abuse. But to the shock of many, The Supreme Court found her guilty of violating strict anti-pornography laws and she was then sentenced to six months in jail and fined IDR500 million (US$34,000)[5]. This indicates that law enforcers from the police to judges have failed to consider Nuril’s effort in obtaining evidence of sexual abuse. This decision was influential and set a precedent, allowing perpetrators of sexual violence to criminalise victims and deterring other victims from reporting abuse. This case demonstrates that Indonesia urgently needs to stop the prevalence of sexual violence, by providing comprehensive legal protection for victims, to give them access to justice.


Thus, the Women's Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry has urged lawmakers to pass the sexual violence eradication bill into law to fill the country’s legal gaps pertaining to sexual violence prevention and mitigation. But in fact, RUU PKS, first proposed in 2016, was removed from last year’s National Legislation Program (Prolegnas) priority list. The Deputy chairman of House Commission VIII, said this was because of the “difficulties” in arranging the bill's deliberation[6]. Reasons the bill has not been passed include a concern expressed by some that the bill promotes premarital sex. In practice, the bill aims to prohibit and prevent sexual violence including rape, forced prostitution, sexual slavery and sexual torture in the household, workplace and in public. [7] The bill includes detailed provisions for the protection and support of victims of sexual violence. It consists of the element of prevention, treatment, protection and counselling for victims, as well as punishment for perpetrators. It also expands the definition of sexual violence into nine categories, namely sexual harassment, exploitation, contraception coercion, abortion coercion, rape, forced marriage, forced prostitution, sexual slavery and torture that are not represented in the country’s law such as KUHP.[8]



Conclusion


The unavailability and derailment of a legal framework to protect victims of sexual abuse is a form of negligence and a violation of women's constitutional rights as citizens protected under the law. It is hoped that the Indonesian government will look into all these statistics and surveys and realise that it is facing a serious issue that needs to be tackled immediately, since sexual abuse has devastating consequences for the mental wellbeing of survivors, who often do not get justice at court. Indonesia must become safer for its sisters, mothers, and daughters. This means that the ratification of the bill as a product of legislation is extremely urgent, despite the fact the government has re-entered RUU PKS as the priority in the Prolegnas in 2021, monitoring is needed so that RUU PKS can be approved immediately in order to give access to justice.

References


[1] Andi Misbahul Pratiwi and Naimah Talib. “The Long and Endless Struggle to Pass Anti-Sexual Violence Bill in Indonesia”. Magdalene. 2020. https://magdalene.co/story/the-struggle-to-pass-anti-sexual-violence-bill-in-indonesia. [February 10th, 2021]


[2] Tempo Staff. “Komnas Perempuan: There Has Been Increase in Domestic Violence During Pandemic”. Tempo. 2020. https://en.tempo.co/read/1392734/komnas-perempuan-there-has-been-increase-in-domestic-violence-during-pandemic. [February 12th, 2021].


[3] The Jakarta Post Team."Online sexual abuse has more than doubled during pandemic". The Jakarta Post. 2020. https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/11/25/online-sexual-abuse-has-more-than-doubled-during-pandemic.html. [February 11th, 2021].


[4] Valentina Sagala. “Difficulties' Surrounding Sexual Violence Eradication Bill”. The Jakarta Post. 2020. https://www.thejakartapost.com/academia/2020/07/04/difficulties-surrounding-sexual-violence-eradication-bill.html. [February 11th, 2021].


[5] The ASEAN Post Team. “A Dangerous Place For Indonesian Women”. The Asean Post. 2020. https://theaseanpost.com/article/dangerous-place-indonesian-women. [February 10th, 2021].

[6] Valentina Sagala. “Difficulties' Surrounding Sexual Violence Eradication Bill”. The Jakarta Post. 2020. https://www.thejakartapost.com/academia/2020/07/04/difficulties-surrounding-sexual-violence-eradication-bill.html. [February 11th, 2021].


[7] Reuters Staff. “Indonesia's top court jails woman who reported sexual harassment”. Reuters. 2019. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-indonesia-rights-idUSKCN1U00X8. [February 12th, 2021].

[8] The Jakarta Post Team. "Ministry urges House to pass sexual violence bill immediately". The Jakarta Post. 2020. https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/09/08/ministry-urges-house-to-pass-sexual-violence-bill-immediately.html. [February 11th, 2021].


Authors


Devi Yusvitasari and Desi Yunitasari are students from Indonesia. They are currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in law at Ganesha University of Education in Bali. As they are passionate about human rights field, they served as Youth Advisory of Amnesty International Indonesia and Legal Advocacy Team of Mata Hukum.







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