Commentary: High Hopes for New Law That Would Curb Sexual Violence

Speakers at a public consultation session lighting candles in a symbolic gesture of hope that the path to the ratification of the elimination of sexual violence bill will be bright. (Photo courtesy of Komnas Perempuan)

By : Jack Britton | on 7:22 PM November 08, 2016
Category : Opinion, Commentary

Indonesia is currently in the midst of a sexual violence crisis. As the National Commission on Violence Against Women, or Komnas Perempuan, previously noted, the number of instances of violence against women continues to rise from year to year. In 2015, the total number of reported cases reached an all-time high of 321,712, with a large percentage of these constituting sexual violence.

Indonesia is by no means a homogenous country and the forms of violence against women that plague the nation society are as diverse as the archipelago itself. From canings carried out by shariah police in the western-most province of Aceh, to violence committed by the armed forces in Papua, the types of violence suffered by the women of Indonesia are numerous and widespread.

Sexual violence is a massive problem. There is a culture of virginity testing in the police and armed forces, while female circumcision is still practiced by various cultural groups. Child marriage is also widespread and polygamy remains legal under national law. Sexual assault and rape are daily occurrences, with victims often facing stigmatization, criminalization and a lack of access to justice.

It is clear that major changes are needed.

A potential catalyst for the start of this change is the elimination of sexual violence bill, currently waiting to be discussed in the House of Representatives (DPR).

The bill, which entered the 2016 National Legislation Program, has been drafted in a cooperation between Komnas Perempuan and the Service Provider Forum (FPL).

In simple terms, the bill clearly defines the different forms of sexual violence and sets out the responsibilities of the state in dealing with such cases. The bill provides for the protection of victims and witnesses, increased access to justice, recovery and reparation mechanisms for victims, and the rehabilitation of offenders.

On Oct. 14, Komnas Perempuan hosted a public consultation regarding the bill. The audience heard from an array of speakers about shortcomings in the current law to protect victims of sexual violence, and about their hopes for a new, comprehensive law.

Speakers included Komnas Perempuan staff, counsellors specializing in sexual violence, human rights lawyers, Islamic scholars and an inspiring survivor of the 1965 killings.

Two female House members, Rahayu Saraswati of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerinda) and Amy Amalin of the National Mandate Party (PAN), also attended to lend their full support to the bill and to show their commitment of being at the forefront of the push for its ratification by the national legislature.

If it is passed into law, the bill would update current archaic laws on sexual violence (which were drafted more than 100 years ago, during the colonial era) and provide victims with more comprehensive legal protection and recovery mechanisms.

Broadly speaking, only two forms of sexual violence are currently recognized under the Indonesian Criminal Code (KUHP). These are rape and molestation. The crime of rape is extremely narrowly defined in the KUHP and limited to vaginal intercourse only. This does not reflect current internationally accepted definitions and acts to deny thousands of rape victims their right to have access to justice.

The elimination of sexual violence bill is much broader in its scope and includes nine distinct forms of sexual violence. These include sexual assault, sexual exploitation, forced prostitution, sexual torture and a more comprehensive definition of rape.

Sentencing options have also been broadened to include provisions for the reformation and rehabilitation of offenders. Community service, removal of the right to practice a profession, and the removal from office of public officials are also stated as sentencing options that will operate alongside traditional forms of punishment.

In terms of the protection of children, there is a provision to terminate parental rights in cases of sexual violence that occur in a domestic setting. This will help to keep children safe from chronic abuse.

The progressive new bill clearly defines the state's responsibilities in handling cases of sexual violence. It gives the victim unhindered access to and greater certainty of justice and complete freedom from stigmatization and criminalization through the legal process.

The new bill is only one step of many that need to be taken to combat the sexual violence crisis currently confronting Indonesia. The bill is a carefully designed, solid and comprehensive piece of proposed legislation. Its ratification will demonstrate to the Indonesian public the government's sincerity and dedication to upholding human rights and eradicating sexual violence.

The author is a volunteer with Komnas Perempuan in Jakarta. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Komnas Perempuan. Reproduction is authorized, provided the source is acknowledged. For enquiries, contact: jackbritton@live.com.au or jackbritton@support.komnasperempuan.go.id.

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