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Indonesia Gang Rape Latest in String of Horrifying Cases

FILE - Five men, part of a gang of 14 men and boys convicted of raping and murdering a 14-year-old schoolgirl, sit before judges during sentencing in Curup, near Bengkulu, on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, Sept. 29, 2016.

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 rose in May following the gang rape and murder of Yuyun, a 14-year-old schoolgirl, 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 a.m. 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 allegedly was forced into a bathroom and raped by the suspects.

After the assault, the suspects then let S go. She reported the incident to police on Sunday, after which four suspects were arrested. Two remain at large.

The suspects could be charged under child protection laws, and each could face up to 15 years in prison.

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 spokeswoman.

Rising levels of sexual violence have coincided with a general increase in violence against women, with 321,752 cases reported in 2015, up from 293,220 in 2014. In approximately 70 percent of these incidents, the perpetrator is the victim's current or former partner.

FILE - A Muslim girl holds a balloon during a morning prayer marking the Eid al-Adha holiday on a street in Jakarta, Indonesia.
FILE - A Muslim girl holds a balloon during a morning prayer marking the Eid al-Adha holiday on a street in Jakarta, Indonesia.

UN report

A 2013 U.N. report 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 the public outcry over 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

"Chemical castration, if we enforce it consistently, will reduce sex crimes and wipe the them out over time," the president told the BBC in October.

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.”

Tradition disadvantages women

In Indonesia’s highly patriarchal society, the responsibility for rape is often placed on women. Man see it as a woman's responsibility 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 as her partner pleases.

"Women have been treated as possessions for too many years," said Tunggal.

Although some have more progressive views, conservative attitudes permeate 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 a rape case in 2014, Jakarta's then-Governor Fauzi Bowo said women riding public transport should dress conservatively to avoid "unwanted consequences."

FILE - A Balinese girl, right, tries to avoid a kiss during the "Omed Omedan" kissing festival in Bali, Indonesia.
FILE - A Balinese girl, right, tries to avoid a kiss during the "Omed Omedan" kissing festival in Bali, Indonesia.

New laws in place

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 female victim's "morality" rather than whether a rape had actually taken place. The law also provided no legal protection against rape within marriage.

Since 2004, a domestic violence law has offered legal protection against sexual violence within marriage, but activists say many women are unaware of such protection.

Currently, there remains almost no legal protection against the sexual harassment 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 for 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 being drafted in the Indonesian parliament, aimed at codifying offenses from sexual harassment to forced abortion to sexual torture.

That's a positive step, but activists say much more needs to be done to empower women at a grass-roots level.

Olin Monteiro, a feminist filmmaker and founder of the Women’s Coalition Indonesia (KPI), has set up many groups around the country to facilitate training about women’s rights.

According to Monteiro, most rural women are not familiar with feminist terminology, but many share a sense of oppression. She has met rape survivors 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?”