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A Campus Sex Assault Victim Is Calling for an End to Systemic Rape Culture In Indonesia

As allegations of an alleged cover-up continue to dog the University of Gadjah Mada, the victim and her supporters are pushing for a wider conversation about rape and victim blaming.
December 12, 2018, 1:00pm
Students sign a petition calling for justice for Agni at UGM.
Students sign a petition calling for justice for Agni at UGM. Photo by Umar Wicksano

The woman at the center of an alleged sexual assault cover-up implicating one of Indonesia's most-prestigious universities has declined to report her assailant to the police over fears that officers won't do enough to protect her.

Agni, as the anonymous woman is known, was sexually assaulted by a fellow classmate on a community service assignment to Maluku, in Eastern Indonesia, last year. The trip, and others like it, are sponsored by the University of Gadjah Mada and are an important part of its curriculum. The assault occurred during a campus-sponsored trip, but instead of justice, student journalists at UGM discovered allegations that the school had tried to cover it up. They broke the story in the campus press last month.

The story quickly rose to national importance in Indonesia, a country where sexual assault victims are routinely shamed by authorities and seen as somehow "asking for it." Hundreds of students rallied in support of Agni at the UGM campus, in Yogyakarta, after the story hit the press, while the university's dean criticized student journalists for "blowing up" the case.


Watch: Amy Ziering Talks Campus Rape and Why No One Believes Women


UGM has since barred Agni's assailant from graduation until the case is investigated by police. But Agni isn't so sure the police have her interests at heart, according to the spokesperson for #kitaAgni (translation: "we are Agni"). Selma Theofany, the spokesperson, told local media that this was about more than just getting justice for one woman. It was about changing a system that, far too often, refuses to believe women's claims.

"Agni wants the UGM to handle the case," Selma told local media. "This is the time for it to step up and make structural changes in dealing with sexual violence."

A criminal justice expert at UGM said that Agni was right to criticize the system because it is, by most measurements, totally broken.

"Our criminal law still sees rape and sexual assault within the context of immorality, not as a form of crime against body and soul," Sri Wiyanti Eddyono told the Jakarta Post. "This is a problem."

So how did Angi's case end up before the police then? Well, it turns out that UGM, after shaming Agni and reportedly trying to cover-up the sexual assault entirely, reported the case to the police themselves without telling her once it hit the press.

“We want to protect the students,” UGM's Deputy Rector Paripurna P. Sugarda told journalists when asked why UGM filed a police report without Agni's consent. Paripurna explained that considering the amount of attention the case was already getting, it was only a matter of time before the police got involved anyway.

In reality, officers can't investigate a rape case without a complain signed by the victim first.

Why is there so much reluctance to report a sexual predator to the police? Well, it's because in Indonesia, the authorities have a terrible track record when it comes to handling sexual assault cases.

This is the same country where the chief of the National Police Gen. Tito Karnavian told the BBC that he thought it was important for officers to ask a rape victim if she enjoyed being raped. It's a place where a young rape victim was recently jailed (then released) for aborting her rapist's child and a woman was locked up for sharing some of the sexually explicit stuff her boss sent her while he was harassing her.

That's why Wiyanti, the criminal justice expert at UGM, had no problem telling the Jakarta Post that rape culture was an ingrained part of law enforcement culture in Indonesia. And reactions like these go a long way to explain why 93 percent of sexual assault victims don't report the assault to the police. It's also why of those who do, only 1 percent on average see their assailants brought to justice.

Maybe that's why #kitaAgni caught on so fast in Indonesia. In a country where the vast majority of rapists continue to walk free and the same people who are supposed to protect victims routinely tell them they don't believe them, then there really isn't anything stopping any of us from becoming the next victim... the next Agni.