Indonesia's Punk Scene Has a Sexual Assault Problem

A video of the singer of SLOST being groped during a show has exposed an ugly side of the country's underground music scene.
December 14, 2016, 11:37am
Photos courtesy the band

It was a show like any other. The hardcore band SLOST was tearing through a ferocious set at a studio in Kendal, Central Java, when singer Debby Selviana dove into the small crowd. Suddenly a hand shot up, groping her right breast. Debby, who goes by the nickname Janet, dropped to the floor and confronted the man, swinging wildly at his head. The band cut their performance short as the audience looked on.

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The entire scene was caught on video and posted to the Facebook page of "Ini Scene Kami Juga" ("It's Our Scene Too")—an independent documentary profiling the women of Indonesia's hardcore-punk scene. In less than a month, the video was viewed more than 200,000 times. Some commenters condemned the assailant. But the comments section also quickly filled up with sexist and threatening posts.

Here's a small sampling:

Neneng Bob: "Excuse me miss, but if you don't want to be harassed, then don't stage dive. That's the risk you take. Women are still women. Their bodies are more sacred than men. Those men must've been aroused."

Dade Kusumo: "You idiot. You're a woman and you crowd surfed? No wonder you got harassed."

Syaiful Hidayah: "Its not the man's fault. The girl provoked the man to perform such an act."

The page's moderator tried to combat the sexist rhetoric only to be receive threats herself.

"There are hundreds of comments blaming Janet," said Hera Mary, who moderates the "Ini Scene Kami Juga" Facebook page. "There was one particular comment that I responded to and the person was furious. The next day I received a personal message on Facebook. It was from a man. He said, 'Tell me where you live and I'll come over to show you how good it feels [when your breasts are groped].'"

The video—and the ensuing response—has inspired soul searching in Indonesia's underground music scenes. So much of punk and hardcore is built on messages of empowerment and standing up against oppression. But then how could the same scene also harbor such resentment for a woman speaking out after a very public sexual assault?

"It's heartbreaking that there are people who are still so patriarchal and commit sexual harassment," Janet told me over the phone. "They're ruining our scene and obstructing the progress we've achieved so far. We need to fight back against these people."

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Janet has been a fixture in the scene in Semarang, Central Java, performing first in the Thrashcore band SlowXfast and now in the hardcore band SLOST. She told me that the scene has, for the most part, been a supportive community. Her time in bands has been a fulfilling experience, she said.

"The hardcore/punk scene has had a positive impact on my life," Janet told me.

She's not traumatized by the assault, but it still left her shaken and angry.

"After the incident, I felt so alone," Janet said. "After we cut our set short, nobody came up to me. Even my own friends didn't do anything. I don't know if they were too scared to act or something but the incident didn't get talked about at all."

"Janet was crucified by people because she stood up for herself"—Kartika Djahja

Kartika Djahja wasn't surprised at all by the response. Kartika, who is a member of Kolektif Betina (The Female Collective), said women in Indonesia's underground music scene face harassment and sexual assault far too often. A lot of men accused Janet of being 'dramatic," or "exaggerating," the story—despite the clear video evidence of an assault.

"Janet was crucified by people because she stood up for herself," Kartika said. "The least women can do is support each other—that's really the least we can do. But we still have a long way to go. A lot of the people who tend to blame the victims are also women."

Kartika's seen similar behavior from male audience members. During her time fronting the indie band Tika and the Dissidents, she has been groped and had men expose themselves during her performance.

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"When I performed in Yogya, someone in the audience was masturbating as I was singing on stage," Tika said. "The most recent incident was at Gelora Bung Karno. I reached the mic down so people could sing along, but instead of grabbing the mic, they grabbed my thighs."

For Jennifer Jill, the harassment started at her first show with the band Step Forward. The Jakarta hardcore band was playing a random punk show in Central Jakarta when the crowd started to turn aggressive.

"I remember seeing a punk kid with a perfectly styled mohawk standing in front of me," she said. "He unzipped his pants and pointed his dick at me. That was my first gig with Step Forward."

Ricky Siahaan, who played guitar in Step Forward, said Jill received the brunt of the harassment during the band's career. She was one of the first female vocalists of a hardcore band and she often played to a scene that was predominately male. The women who were involved in the scene back in the `90s told me they were often groped during shows. "A couple of times someone touched my ass, and when I looked around the perpetrator acted innocent or ran away," Aprillia Apsari explained.

"It's really nothing new," Ricky said of the harassment. "Back in the day, a lot of people in the audience would [sexually] harass Jill."

The abuse was a constant concern for the band. Jill said she often questioned why these—mostly middle class—men thought it was OK to harass or sexually assault women. They must not think of women as equals, she explained.

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"Maybe their family, their friends, think so little of women," Jill said. "That's why they think it's no big deal to harass a woman."

Hardcore and punk often claims to offer fans an environment free of some of the more confining aspects of society at large. But, in reality, the scene is, in many ways, a reflection of society—and it suffers from some of the same ills regarding the treatment of women, explained both Jill and Ricky.

"Equality is merely seen as a history course, so we remember Kartini," Ricky said. "But day-to-day, we live in a very patriarchal world. Men are still regarded as superior to women, and that notion has been taught to kids since a very early age at home."

"We live in a country that blames the victim of sexual assaults for what happened to them," Jill said. "They keep saying 'What do you expect, you were walking all by yourself at night.' 'You wore a mini skirt,. 'That's a very low-cut shirt.'"

Ika Vantiani. Photo supplied.

Ika Vantiani, the editor of Indonesia's first women's zine, said that it's important to keep the discussion alive, despite the backlash. The scene isn't as progressive as some hope, but the only way to change that is through continued dialogue, she explained.

"I stay in the scene because I feel supported and motivated," Ika said. "But I also notice there's an obvious ambivalence in the scene. Some people may scream equality, fuck this, fuck that, but at the same time they're reluctant to talk openly about LGBT, women, sexual assaults, and consensual sex."

In Palembang, South Sumatra, punks like Farid Amriansyah are trying to provide safer spaces for women at shows. Farid, who goes by the name Pelor, said that a lot of the posturing was just that. A lot of his friends would say progressive stuff in public and degrading things about women in private, he explained.

"Sometimes slogans don't mean shit," he said. "Some may publicly support gender equality but it's just for appearances. They don't actually practice it in their daily lives."

Farid and some other local musicians started the campaign "Punk Against Rape" as a way to counter transgressive views of women. The campaign hopes to "provide a support system in the scene, at the gigs, so that if an assault takes place we know how to deal with it," he explained.

We need to understand that we can't just let it happen or pretend it's not happening," Farid said. "We simply shouldn't tolerate it. Hardcore punk is supposed to be a counter culture, but instead they're a part of the problem. They're a part of the majority who see women as objects."