Rising public anger over a gruesome gang-rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl by seven teenage boys and seven men has brought together activists and much of the Indonesian public in a show of solidarity for the victim, at the same time raising national awareness of widespread sexual violence, which one critic called a “national emergency.”
The death of the girl has sparked a rare national dialogue in Indonesia, where a strongly patriarchal society has often hindered victims of sexual assaults from getting justice. Members of the legal system often lack sensitivity, activists have claimed. There is a strong feeling on the part of many that rape is the victim’s fault. Women who dress in what is considered to be immodest fashion are widely believed to have had it coming. Many rape victims decline to report their cases to the police because far too often the law sides with the aggressor rather than the victim. Sentences are regarded by critics as far too short.
The girl, named Yuyun, went missing on April 2, on her way back from school in a Bengkulu province on Sumatra Island. A strong stench led villagers to her naked body three days after her disappearance. Her hands had been bound. A police investigation quickly discovered that 14 individuals were suspected of having been involved in Yuyun’s rape and murder. Twelve of the suspects, who reportedly had been drinking palm liquor before the attack, were quickly arrested. Two other suspects are still on the run.
In a surprisingly quick response in comparison to other rape cases in the country, a local court in Curup district sentenced seven of the underage boys to 10 years in prison and added six months of job training this week, creating an uproar from public who believed the sentence was far too light for such a horrific crime.
That uproar is in stark contrast to Indonesia’s more traditional approach to the question of rape. Although the incident took place in early April, it has only now become a nationwide issue and a trending topic on social media as more people become aware of it. After that, protests were held outside the presidential palace in Jakarta and many others areas as a show of solidarity for the dead girl. For weeks, angry Indonesian netizens have been publicizing the case under the hashtag #NyalaUntukYuyun (Light for Yuyun), many of whom have expressed their disappointment that such an abhorrent case has not received enough attention from the public, with some suggesting that people’s ignorance was due to the fact that the incident happened in a remote village in Bengkulu.
Besides the hashtag, people have also showed their solidarity by posting videos or photos of them lighting a fire in their social media channels with hashtags #KamiBersamaYuyun (We are with Yuyun).
According to Kate Walton, a Jakarta-based women’s-rights activist who first brought the case to the attention of the public, Yuyun was one among 44 women and girls killed by men and boys in the first four months of 2016, although her case “is certainly one of the most brutal.” According to the Indonesian National Commission on Violence Against Women, an average of 35 women are victims of sexual violence every day. Nearly 70 percent of cases are committed by family members or partners.
By Walton’s count, 30 of the 44 females killed by males this year died at the hands of their current or former sexual partners. She points out that around the world, the vast majority of women are murdered by men they know, often their husbands or boyfriends — and Indonesia is no exception.
However, a United Nations Multi-Country Study on Men and Violence in 2013 found that in some rural areas of Java and Jayapura, the lifetime perpetration of rape against females was 19.5 percent and gang rape 7 percent. When rapists were asked why they had perpetrated rapes against women who were not their partners, 76.5 percent said they were sexually entitled to do so. 55.2 percent said they were seeking entertainment and 29.7 percent said they did it out of anger or for punishment.
Several NGOs held a joint press conference in Jakarta calling on President Joko Widodo to fast-track a draft bill on sexual violence before Parliament. They said that the president in contrast had moved quickly to stiffen laws after the Islamist terrorist attacks outside the Sarinah shopping mall in January and on funding infrastructure but was dragging his feet passing the bill to protect rape victims.
Jokowi, as the president is universally known, has now begun to move fast. He reportedly is set to issue an executive order for punishment that could include the possibility of castration, saying that sexual violence against children needs to be made an “extraordinary crime.” The draft bill is said to stipulate a maximum prison sentence of 20 years for sex-crime offences and seeks better protection for rape victims. Female activists also called for the government to include gender equality in national school curricula.
Jokowi later commented on the case by saying through his official Twitter account that: “We all mourn the tragic Yuyun. Arrest and punish the perpetrators as severely as possible. Women and children have to be protected from violence.”