A death in Indonesia highlights the issue of consent and puts new focus on sexual violence law

After standing still for nearly a decade, Indonesia’s House of Representatives is expected to debate a bill on sexual violence next Tuesday.

WARNING: This story discusses suicide and alleged sexual violence.

Last week, President Joko Widodo called for the bill to be ratified immediately so that there would be maximum protection for victims of sexual violence.

Renewed public pressure to pass the bill emerged after the suicide of a 23-year-old woman, an alleged victim of sexual assault.

“I have also asked the government’s task force, which deals with the bill on sexual violence, to immediately draw up an inventory of the problems against the draft law that is being prepared by [Indonesian House of Representatives]”said Mr. Jokowi.

The bill proposes a ban on and prevention of sexual violence against Indonesian men, women and children and contains detailed provisions on protection and support for victims of sexual violence, including health services and legal assistance.

It aims to prevent sexual violence, including rape, forced prostitution, sexual slavery and sexual torture in the household, in the workplace and in public.

The bill has been languishing for years and is facing opposition from the conservative Islamic party, despite being diluted.

Although Indonesia’s #MeToo movement never really got off the ground, high-profile cases have put the bill in the spotlight.

The latest political pressure was triggered by the death of Novia Widyasari Rahayu last month.

‘Because they date, it’s logical with consent’

The 23-year-old woman’s body was found next to her father’s grave in a public cemetery in Mojokerto, about 40 kilometers from the capital East Java, Indonesia.

Novia Widyasari's consent
Novia Widyasari Rahayu wrote about the alleged violence she was subjected to and filed a complaint. Her photo has been published with permission.(Delivered)

Mrs Rahayu’s family rejected an autopsy on her body, but authorities suspect she took her own life.

For Indonesian users of the social media platform Quora, Ms. Rahayu’s name is not a foreign name.

There she had written about how she was depressed and claimed that she was raped by her boyfriend Randy Bagus Hary Sasongko – a policeman and son of a local official.

She wrote that she was forced to have an abortion twice.

The story of her suicide went viral, trending on Twitter and becoming the source of public discussion about consent in relationships.

Following the public outcry, police arrested Mr Sasongko.

Police said so far that he had been accused of intentionally aborting or killing a fetus by forcing his girlfriend to have two dismissals, and he had been dishonorably dismissed from the force.

He risks up to five years in prison.

But in an official statement shortly after his arrest, police said there was no “element of rape” when Mr Sasongko dated Mrs Rahayu.

” Because they date, it’s logical with consent. That means the rape element is not met, “Gatot Repli Handoko, the head of PR for East Java Police, said at a news conference last month.

When asked for clarification on whether police would investigate the rape charge, Mr. Handoko to ABC: “The suspect said, ‘It’s consensual’.”

Consent Randy in custody
Randy Bagus Hari Sasongko was arrested shortly after Rahayu’s death.(Provided: East Java Police)

“There is still a possibility [of other charges], it depends on the development of the investigation later, “Mr Handoko said.

Seeking help from overwhelming services

According to the National Commission on Women (Komnas Perempuan), Rahayu had tried to seek help and she had reported her case to the Commission in mid-August 2021.

Komnas Perempuan, however, said they only managed to contact Ms Rahayu about three months later.

Theresia Iswarini, commissioner of Komnas Perempuan, said at the time that the commission was receiving an increase in the number of cases related to violence against women and sexual harassment – around 400 to 500 cases per month – and that there were limited staff in the complaints and referral unit. .

Consent of Theresia Iswarini
Theresia Iswarini, a commissioner for Indonesia’s National Commission on Women, says the system is overwhelmed by the number of reports they receive.(Delivered.)

“We have tried to make internal improvements and increase our staff capacity, but [the cases] was still not handled, “she said, adding that there are currently seven employees on duty in the unit.

According to Komnas Perempuan, Rahayu claimed that she was a victim of alleged repeated dating violence for almost two years since 2019 and that it had affected her mental health.

Dating violence and lack of understanding of consent

Between 2015 and 2020, 12,000 cases of dating violence were reported to Komnas Perempuan. This accounted for about 20 percent of the total cases of violence against women in Indonesia they received.

The Commission said the complaints they received often ended up being unresolved – although they can refer them to the police for further investigation, many victim survivors chose not to because of a combination of stigma, fear and distrust of the police.

Commissioner Ms Iswarini said social misunderstandings about consent were fueling violence within Indonesia’s dating scene.

Consent of Dian Indraswari
Dian Indraswari says Indonesia’s patriarchal community tends to blame the victims instead of supporting them.(Delivered.)

Dian Indraswari, CEO of Yayasan Pulih – a psychological aid agency that offers counseling to victims of sexual violence – said in a patriarchal society, there was an assumption that if women denied sexual advances, they were not always serious about it.

“Men saw this rather as a signal of a challenge to oppress women, as women and children are often placed in a subordinate position in society,” Ms Indraswari said.

She said many victims of dating violence were reluctant to report sexual assault for fear of being blamed and not being trusted by friends, teachers and even parents.

“Instead of protecting, a patriarchal society is more likely to blame the survivors or victims, including the media in Indonesia, who focus more on the victim’s background than the perpetrator’s actions,” she said.

According to Mrs Indraswari, a healthy relationship requires equality and respect for partners, so consent is always necessary.

A decade of waiting

Past tragedies have at times brought the languishing bill back into sharp focus, but so far no one has led to the bill becoming law.

Before Ms Rahayu’s case came to light, pressure for the bill gained new momentum following the public gang rape and murder of a 14-year-old schoolgirl by 14 drunk men in Bengkulu in 2016.

But the question and the bill disappeared from public view.

The bill was initiated by Komnas Perempuan in 2012, proposed by the Indonesian Democratic Party, the National Democratic Party and the National Awakening Party.

But the Islamic Conservative Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) has consistently rejected it.

Three women wearing hijab with plastered mouths holding papers that say 'reject the TPKS bill' in a protest.
Some activists have kept quiet protests against the bill in Jakarta.(Delivered: ANTARA / Reno Esnir / ama)

A PKS MP, Ledia Hanifa, argued that the law would legalize infidelity because of phrases such as “consent to have sexual relations” or “sexual consent” in the draft law.

The Commission said there were many misunderstandings about the legislation, asking all parties to read its contents “from a fair perspective for women, to victims, from a more empathetic perspective so that there are no misunderstandings”.

Do not be led by prejudices, such as “This bill promotes infidelity” and “legalize same-sex relationships”, which are not regulated [in the bill] at all, “said Mrs Iswarini.

Another reason for the delay in the ratification of the bill is, according to Ms Iswarini, the lack of understanding of sexual consent.

Over the past decade, there have been several amendments to the bill – the official name has been changed from the “Bill on the Elimination of Sexual Violence” to the “Sexual Violence Crime Bill”, and it has been cut from 128 articles to 43.

A room with people in parliament sitting.
The Folketing must consider the bill again next week.(Delivered: ANTARA)

Although there are pros and cons to the changes, many women’s rights activists believe that the spirit of the bill remains the same and represents the victims of violence.

Komnas Perempuan said the new name emphasizes that sexual violence is a “criminal act”.

Although the term “sexual consent” is no longer explicitly written in the bill and there were some significant changes, PKS still refused to approve it.

Women’s rights activists said Rahayu’s tragic case should not only end with the arrest and dismissal of an individual alleged perpetrator, but should also serve as a call to finally ratify Indonesia’s law on sexual violence.

They hold on to the hope that the bill will be put back on the agenda and passed next week.

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