Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Sexual Violence Eradication in Indonesia: The Road Ahead

Jessica Vincentia Marpaung
February 3, 2022 | 6:51 pm
Participants demand the government pass a long-delayed Elimination of Sexual Violence bill during International Women Day 2021. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Participants demand the government pass a long-delayed Elimination of Sexual Violence bill during International Women Day 2021. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

The newly released, award-winning movie Photocopier has given a glimpse into the elusiveness of sexual violence in Indonesia. A very clear glimpse, in fact, as a member of its production crew ironically turned out to face a sexual assault allegation.

Both elusive and pervasive, sexual violence has increasingly captured the nation’s attention throughout 2021, from cases of campus sexual assault that called for the issuance of ministerial regulation, rape that astonishingly took place in a religious institution, to the parliamentary tug of war to pass the Sexual Violence Eradication Bill.

The bill, which has been in discussion for six years, was finally approved as a House of Representatives's initiative on Jan 18, 2022. It is on its way to being discussed with the
government and passed as a law. The issuance of the Sexual Violence Eradication Law will indeed become a significant milestone for the fight against sexual violence in Indonesia.

First, the law will provide a legal definition of what sexual violence is. So far, the positive law recognizes rape as a criminal act under Article 285 of the Criminal Code. To prove rape happens, the existence of sexual intercourse must be proven.


What about acts other than rape? The concept of ‘crimes against decency’ is regulated under Article 289 of the Criminal Code. The problem is there is currently no fixed standard of what ‘decency’ is.

Meanwhile, sexual violence is very nuanced. According to the World Health Organization’s Department of Health and Research, sexual ‘coercion’ ranges from unwanted sexual advances or harassment, sexual abuses, to rape. It can be mental or physical, with varying degrees of force and methods.

It is as clear as day that, without a clear law, there is no protection against such nuanced threat.

Actually, the Ministerial Regulation on Campus Sexual Violence Eradication has attempted to provide an all-encompassing definition of sexual violence. This regulation also emphasizes the absence of consent as a determinant indicator for violence.

However, many claim that such a concept of ‘consent’ opens up a way to permit free sex or adultery. Without an umbrella law on sexual violence, this debate and ambiguities will persist.

Second, Sexual Violence Eradication Law will provide pro-victim recourse to justice. It guarantees a clear reporting mechanism to victim assistance and protection during investigation.

Victims are presented with opportunities to receive rehabilitation and restitution. The law is intended not only to eradicate but also to prevent sexual violence.

With globalization, the exigency of sexual violence eradication becomes more apparent. The Internet enables online sexual violence to threaten both experienced adults and unassuming children. Authorities like the police and national commission must work together with various ministries, including the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, to address this issue.

A comprehensive Sexual Violence Eradication Law will serve as a much-needed basis to enable such future policies. Various parts of the world fight similar battles against sexual violence.

In the United States, sexual assaults on campuses continue to make headlines. Last year, the Netherland lawmakers introduced a new bill to offer better protection against sexual violence. The United Nation’s Human Rights Council even initiated projects to raise awareness on online sexual violence. 

Likewise, Indonesia must join the fight by revisiting its international and national commitments to eradicate sexual violence, which is a blatant form of discrimination. In 1984, Indonesia ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

This convention calls for Indonesia’s commitment to legal protection for women as a party susceptible to sexual violence (Article 2c).

Ultimately, the Human Rights Law and our Constitution reaffirm the state responsibility to guarantee freedom from fear and discrimination for all. 

Post-approval as the House of Representatives' initiative, the bill will be discussed and polished further. The Government also promises various focus group discussions to accommodate feedbacks from various stakeholders.

As R.A. Kartini once said, “After a pitch dark night comes a new beautiful morning.” Hopefully, the Sexual Violence Eradication Law will soon become the light at the end of the tunnel of Indonesia’s fight against discrimination.

Jessica Vincentia Marpaung is a lecturer of human rights law in Universitas Pelita Harapan and Harvard Law School alumna.

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