A man groped my breast in broad daylight when I was walking with my coworkers after lunch near our office in Palmerah, just 10 minutes’ walk from the House of Representatives compound.
I froze when that happened. The next day, I went on Twitter to tell my story. Somehow it was easier to speak to a faceless mass than to tell my closest friends and families about the details. My tweets went viral, and some people from the Jakarta Police contacted me, urging me to make a report. They even came to the office, equipped with CCTV video of the incident, and promised that they would catch the perpetrator.
The attitude from the police emboldened me. With a legal official from the office, I went to the Jakarta Police headquarters to file my report. I was asked to retell my story and describe what happened.
Then came the question that surprised me: What articles would they use to charge the perpetrator? The police officers discussed this in front of me, consulting what I assumed to be a battered copy of the Criminal Code (KUHP). There was no article that regulated groping. Finally, they decided on Article 289, which regulates “pencabulan” (perversion) — if it sounds vague to you, trust me, that’s because it is.
Weeks after I reported my case, there were no updates from the police. After I asked them about my case, the officer from the Jakarta Police told me that they had transferred the case to the Women and Children’s Protection Unit in Central Jakarta. Through a text message, I was asked to come to their office to once again retell my story.
This happened in late August 2018. Almost two years have passed and I have not been fully able to put that chapter behind me, as the perpetrator was never found, let alone caught and brought to justice.
In a nation where rape culture reigns, I realize many people would dismiss what happened to me as an everyday occurrence that I should just accept as a consequence of being a woman, instead of a traumatizing experience or a crime.
On July 2, there came the news that added insult to the injury. The sexual violence eradication bill was officially dropped from this year’s National Legislation Program (Prolegnas) priority list.
Two days before, Marwan Dasopang, the deputy chairman of House Commission VIII overseeing social affairs, said that the proposal to withdraw the bill was caused by “difficulties” in scheduling.
The statement sparked public outcry, and not only because the poor choice of words, but because it reflected how little our lawmakers actually cared about sexual violence survivors.
By not prioritizing the bill, the lawmakers are perpetuating the rape culture in Indonesia. The sexual violence eradication bill first entered the national conversation in 2016, after a 14-year-old girl was raped and murdered by 14 men in Bengkulu. Besides regulating the punishment for perpetrators and aid for survivors, the bill would include other forms of sexual violence that had hitherto never been classified as crimes, and thus provide better protection for women.
Besides articles covering what is stipulated in the KUHP and Domestic Violence Eradication Law, the sexual violence eradication bill has more than that.
The inclusion of other forms of sexual violence is more important than just as a legal basis for criminal charges.
Making harassment and other forms of sexual violence crimes is an acknowledgement to the survivors who have been wronged. Making sexual violence a crime not only means that perpetrators can be punished, but also relieves victims of the blame that has been far too common in our society.
The passing of the bill could even lead to a profound change of mindset in the country.
Soon after the “difficulties” statement from Marwan, the lawmaker, dominated the online discourse, I took to Twitter to share the hardship I went through while reporting my case. To my surprise, two women sent me a private message. They thanked me for speaking out, and told me that they too had been victims of sexual assault.
One of them experienced the exact same thing as I did while she was still a minor. She said that she went home, startled by what had just happened. She told me how she cried silently, because she couldn’t tell anyone, because she was so ashamed.
She knows now that she should not have felt ashamed. That in sexual violence, as with other crimes, the guilt and the shame should entirely lie with the perpetrator.
But this is not always clear because without acknowledgement of sexual violence as a crime, the thin line separating the victim and the perpetrator is blurred, hence the widespread victim blaming in our society. Victims are often judged, rather than helped.
Their gender alone becomes a basis of complicity, as if solely having a female body is an open invitation for sexual violence.
By not prioritizing the sexual violence eradication bill, Indonesian lawmakers have collectively decided that sexual violence is not an urgent matter, thus perpetuating the rape culture. They too have supported the entrenched patriarchy in this country, by treating women as second-class citizens who are not worthy of better protection and recognition of their personhood. Most horrendous of all is the message that they sent to the public: since many forms of sexual violence are not yet crimes, almost everything is still permissible.
By not calling sexual assault a crime, the lawmakers, who are only 10 minutes away from where the crime happened to me, have sided with those who put the blame and guilt on the victims.
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