27 September 2011

Jakarta rapes bring calls for renewed efforts to combat sexual assault

Jakarta Globe - September 25, 2011

Fidelis E. Satriastanti -- In the wake of the rapes of two female passengers on public transportation in recent months, the National Commission on Violence Against Women said the government had a long way to go in meeting its responsibility to protect citizens.

The commission, also known as Komnas Perempuan, outlined recommendations on Friday that ranged from improving security for women on public transportation to toughening the way sexual assault is treated under the Criminal Code.

Andy Yentriyani, head of public participation at the commission, said the legal system did not provide sufficient protection for women against sexual assault.

"[The law] is insufficient, because sexual assault is categorized as a social misconduct. Hence, it is dealt with in a moralistic way as opposed to a serious crime," Andy said.

"In one clause, [the penalty] can be 12 years. In another, it can be two years, eight months," she said. "For children, it is only classified as abuse, which reduces the degree of seriousness."

Sexual assault is not a specific crime under Indonesian law, and is only treated as an "unpleasant act," with an accordingly mild law enforcement response. Komnas Perempuan hopes to fix this with new legislation.

"Hopefully in 2014, we will have a good draft text to amend the law on this," Andy said. "Not just a definition of the crime, but provisions on rehabilitation of victims, because no matter how long one waits, a victim is not necessarily going to be rehabilitated. This is because the stigma of rape can persist."

Komnas Perempuan's data shows that from 1998 to 2010, a quarter of 295,836 total cases of violence against women involved sexual assault. Every day, 28 women are sexually assaulted in Indonesia, the agency said.

In the two widely reported recent cases, the perpetrators were public transportation drivers. This revelation brought widespread calls for better screenings and additional security.

"Right now, the focus is on how law enforcers are handling these cases, so there is an impression that the nation is truly serious about dealing with cases of violence against women," Andy said. "But we need improvements in our transport system."

Andy said the investigations of the two recent cases showed a troubling information gap.

"It's puzzling when the police say they find it difficult to track down the perpetrators, yet the victim herself has already said she recognized them, including the driver, because he has a regular route," Andy said.

"If things continue this way, there will be a suspicion that the police aren't serious."

She called for a comprehensive review of public transportation to prevent assaults -- one focused on making a real, long-term impact, not just scoring political points.

"And not just because the media is paying attention to these cases," she said. "The solution is not to allocate special women-only spaces, such as on trains, because there is no guarantee that segregation will prevent assaults," said Andy.

She also voiced concern that if a woman was assaulted while traveling in a mixed space, she could be accused of looking for trouble.

"It also feeds into the idea that men can't control themselves," she said. "That assumption is just as bad as the assumption that women's actions or dress are the cause of violence against them."

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