East Java Police chief Insp. Gen. Luki Hermawan, center, speaks to the press on Jan. 7, 2019. (Antara Photo/Didik Suhartono)

High-Profile Prostitution Scandal Shows Women Still Experience the Brunt of Scrutiny


JANUARY 08, 2019

Jakarta. As the recent arrest of two women for prostitution dominates headlines in Indonesia, it demonstrates how women still endure most of the scrutiny in such scandals, despite often being the victims.

The high-profile arrests on Saturday of two suspected sex workers, both allegedly part of a larger online prostitution ring, highlights the extent of the issue.

Readers have been presented with imbalanced early reporting by several media outlets, most going as far as identifying the women by their full names, while the same cannot be said for the men involved, or the suspects in the case.

The National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) issued a statement on Monday in response to an array of sensational reports, calling on the media to stop exploiting the two women and to refrain from reporting that tends to lay the blame on them alone.

"Everyone should be critical and look at the roots of the problem: that online prostitution should be viewed as a sexual violence trap where many women are fooled and sold," Komnas Perempuan said.

The commission added that the issue of prostitution is often not as simple as members of the public view it, with most seeming to consider it solely a matter of choice for a woman to become a sex worker or otherwise. This perspective also makes women more vulnerable to criminalization.

In addition, Komnas Perempuan called on the police to refrain from exposing details of their ongoing investigation into the online prostitution ring.

East Java Police spokesman Chief Comr. Frans Barung Mangera revealed the identity of V.A., one of the women arrested in Surabaya on Saturday. She and the other woman, identified as A.S., who was arrested separately, have been named as witnesses in the case. Both are social media influencers.

Siti Mazuma, director of the Women's Legal Aid Institute (LBH APIK), said the police's handling of the matter was an example of discrimination against women in criminal cases.

"The police's discriminatory attitude toward women will make other victims and witnesses reluctant to cooperate," Siti, popularly known as Zuma, told the Jakarta Globe via WhatsApp.

East Java Police chief Insp. Gen. Luki Hermawan was cited in a report by BeritaSatu TV on Monday as saying that 45 celebrities and 100 adult magazine models have so far implicated in the investigation.

The police have named two people, only identified as T.N. and E.S., as suspects for allegedly operating an online prostitution service that charges clients between Rp 25 million and Rp 100 million ($1,700-$7,000).

Indonesia's criminal code does not currently criminalize the hiring of prostitutes, nor the prostitutes themselves, but there are local regulations that make it illegal. However, articles 296 and 506 of the criminal code make it an offence to act as a pimp, with a maximum penalty of 16 months' imprisonment.

Research by Komnas Perempuan also showed that women involved in prostitution are often either victims of human trafficking and exploitation, driven by poverty, or providing sexual favors as part of a bribe. Many women are still vulnerable to this practice, even actresses.

Zuma said prostitution would continue as long as society regards women as commodities and sex objects.

"The government should be present to offer these women protection and rehabilitation so they can completely break free from the trap of prostitution," she said.