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Jakarta Student Rape Puts Spotlight on Indonesian Sex Abuse

  • Kate Lamb

FILE - Indonesian boys walk in front of the Jakarta International School.

FILE - Indonesian boys walk in front of the Jakarta International School.

A case of sexual abuse at a prestigious international school in Jakarta has been making waves in Indonesia - a country where discussing sex, and sex abuse, has long been taboo.

The rape of a six-year-old kindergarten student by janitorial staff at the Jakarta International School has attracted widespread media attention in Indonesia.

The school is an elite, expensive institution where many diplomats and affluent expatriates choose to send their children.

But the allegations of abuse that first emerged earlier this month have been followed by more claims, indicating the incident was not isolated.

This week another young student said he was also abused at the school. The education ministry ordered the kindergarten closed, saying it lacks an official permit.

In a separate case, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has revealed that a former American teacher at the school, William James Vahey, is allegedly one of the worst child sex offenders they have ever identified.

Vahey, who worked at the Jakarta school from 1992 until 2002, committed suicide in Minnesota last month after the FBI obtained his flash drive, which contained 90 pornographic photographs of young men he had allegedly molested.

Speaking at a forum on child protection Thursday, Tim Carr, who heads the Jakarta International School, described the recent incident of rape at the school as an unimaginable tragedy.

He said the school is taking great lengths to prevent a repeat occurrence.

“We have been cooperating closely with the police to ensure the perpetrators and found and justice is done. We have also been focusing resolutely on the safety and security of our campus to make sure that we have done everything possible to make sure this horrendous event never occurs again,” said Carr.

Incidents of child sex abuse are frequently reported in the Indonesia press, but they rarely generate the media attention this case has attracted.

Also this week, a police officer in the North Sumatran province Aceh stands accused of raping five children. In neighboring Medan province, a father has been accused of molesting his 18-month-old daughter.

The number of reported rape cases is on the rise. But child psychologist Seto Mulyadi said these represent only a small percentage of sexual violations committed.

Of the 3,000 cases of child abuse reported, 60 percent of those are cases of sexual violence. However, Mulyadi said, many cases are never reported.

Last year the Child Protection Commission declared child rape a “national emergency,” but without reliable statistics it is difficult to quantify the true extent of the problem.

Cases often are not reported because victims are afraid to come forward, fearing they will cause embarrassment to their family or community. In 2012 a student who was raped in Java was expelled for ‘bringing shame’ on her school.

At the government level, religious lawmakers have continued to block moves to implement mandatory sex education in schools, arguing it will only encourage young people to have “free sex.”

Talking about sex and sexual abuse is still considered taboo by a large part of Indonesian society.

Andi Yetriyani, from the National Commission of Violence against Women, said that although awareness is growing, there are huge gaps in terms of prevention.

Crucial measures such as a national database of sex offenders still do not exist in Indonesia.

“Particularly without a database of sexual abuse perpetrators it will be very difficult for anyone to prevent those who have a track record as a sexual abuser to work in a very close area with children,” said Yetriyani.

The Jakarta International School scandal has prompted calls for stricter punishment for sex offenders.

Under current laws, sex offenders in Indonesia face a maximum sentence of 15 years in jail.

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