Dangdut Star's Viral Instagram Post Sparks Public Debate on Sexual Harassment


JUNE 06, 2018

Jakarta. A fierce public debate sparked this week by dangdut singer Via Vallen claiming to have been sexually harassed provided valuable and timely insight into how Indonesians view the matter amid the global #MeToo movement.

Via posted several stories on her Instagram account on Monday (04/06), claiming that she had received harassing text messages from a well-known football player, whom she declined to identify.

"As a singer, I was being humiliated by a famous football player in my country RIGHT NOW," and "I AM NOT A KIND THAT GIRL, DUDE!!!" Via wrote in her post.

She also shared a screenshot of the offending message, insisting that she never met the sender.

Via's posts quickly went viral, dividing Indonesian netizens between those who support her for having the courage to speak up, and those who felt that she was overdoing it.

Twitter user Diaz Wilson for example, expressed her support for Via and said sexual harassment is not a joke.

On the other hand, there were those who said she was making a big deal out of nothing. One person commenting on her Instagram post said she was "exaggerating," while others claimed that she was only doing it to get attention.

In Indonesia, female dangdut singers are often associated with erotica and sensuality, resulting in them having to endure unwanted advances from men on a regular basis. 

Many acknowledged Via for breaking the silence on sexual harassment in her industry, in line with the global #MeToo phenomenon.

"The #MeToo movement began with brave victims speaking up in public. Go Via Vallen!" tweeted Tunggal Pawestri, a feminist and human rights activist.

The #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault became a global phenomenon after African-American social rights activist Tarana Burke introduced the hashtag in 2006. The social media campaign went viral in October last year, after it was popularized by American actress Alyssa Milano.

The campaign was followed by a series of revelations of sexual misconduct by prominent figures, including American film producer Harvey Weinstein.

The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women estimates that one in three women globally has experienced physical or sexual violence, mostly by someone they know.

Unfortunately, sexual harassment is considered a social norm in many places and even global movements such as #MeToo may not bring change for everyone.

Tunggal said the movement has had an impact in Indonesia, perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that more women are starting to find the courage to speak up about their experiences.

In March, the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) said that a recorded increase in the number of cases of violence against women in Indonesia in 2017 may indicate that more victims are willing to come forward.

Six months ago, Tunggal started a Twitter thread with the hashtag #SayaJuga. She received testimonies from around 200 users, with discussions on the topic still continuing.

"More and more people are becoming aware that in order to stop sexual harassment and abuse, the victims must speak up and shout, declaring that this must not be the norm," Tunggal told the Jakarta Globe via WhatsApp.

A survey by the Indonesian Internet Service Providers Association (APJII) showed that there were more than 143 million internet users in the archipelago last year, making up more than half of the country's population.

With most of them actively engaged on social media, movements such as #MeToo are able to gain traction and contribute to better awareness of sexual harassment.

However, it is important to also consider that this segment of the population mostly lives in cities and a nationwide move to challenge norms therefore, would likely require more grassroots efforts.

"Those who are aware of the #MeToo movement, to which class do they belong? They must be in the middle-class, urban population, with access to the internet and a good grasp of the English language, no?" Tunggal said.

She expressed optimism over ongoing campaigns in rural areas to address women's rights, though these may be slower and receive less public attention.

"If those among the middle, urban class, who are more exposed [to information] can have such silly responses to the Via Vallen case, imagine those who aren't exposed. The culture of victim-blaming is still strong in our society," Tunggal said.