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After 14-Year-Old's Brutal Gang Rape, Indonesian Women Fight for Reform

Fourteen-year-old Yuyun, or YY, was walking home from school last month when 14 boys attacked, raped, and killed her, leaving her body in a ravine. Now, activists are demanding the country do something about its epidemic of violence against women.
Photo courtesy of Kate Walton

Early last month, the body of a 14-year-old Indonesian girl from Bengkulu, an isolated province on the island of Sumatra, was found in a creek. The girl, identified as Yuyun or YY, had allegedly been raped, beaten, and killed by 14 boys, 12 of whom are now in police custody; seven were under the age of 18, and some oulets are reporting one was her ex-boyfriend. While the tragedy would have warranted national news within days after the story broke elsewhere, the outrage in Indonesia has only become noticeable over the past week, inspiring many activists to call on the country to do more about what has become an "emergency issue" there.


News of Yuyun's death first gained attention when a Jakarta-based Australian activist, Kate Walton, posted an article about the tragedy on the Jakarta Feminist Discussion Group, where members questioned the absence of similar coverage in the local media. Then, Walton took to Twitter, tweeting at international news correspondents from the BBC and Germany's news source Deutsche Welle (among others), asking them if they would cover the murder. Meanwhile, the hashtag #NyalaUntukYuyun (which translates to #LightForYuyun) found its way to social media, with users voicing their concerns and posting videos of them speaking in the dark against light from a match.

Led by indie rock singer and activist Kartika Jahja, the group Kolektif Betina, a feminist organization that translates to Female Collective, initiated the hashtag. The campaign launched collective outrage and articles (including one by Walton) aiming to make sure that Yuyun's death, like so many others before her, wasn't in vain. "I found out about it probably way too late because there isn't much talk in the media," Jahja said in an email exchange.

In a country where violence against women has seen a dramatic increase over the last five years—and where 35 women are victims of sexual violence every day—there are many reasons the silence persists. One is predicated on the tendency to blame assaults on victims: what they're wearing, why they'd go out in the streets unaccompanied by a man. In 2011, responding to a rape that allegedly occurred on public transit, Fauzi Bowo, then the governor of Jakarta, warned that girls shouldn't be wearing tight miniskirts when they take public transportation. "Imagine if a person in public transit is wearing skirts—it can be quite titillating," he said.


Although responses like this are common in pretty much everywhere, in Indonesia they are particularly pronounced, with many activists feeling like sexual assault cases will receive ignorant responses like the former governor's at best, and radio silence at worst.

"They are both equally saddening and frustrating," Walton said over email. "Fighting against tendencies towards victim blaming will take time, so I think getting stories like what happened to YY in the media and into the eyes of the community is what needs to come first. Over time, attitudes will change."

In 2014, Wulan Danoekoesoemo, the founder of the sexual abuse survivors organization Lentera Indonesia, told the Jakarta Post that survivors in Indonesia "feel hopeless because it's difficult to process a sexual assault case," adding that "even if the cases are processed, the sentences for the offenders are too short." Danoekoesoemo was referring specifically to a case in which four men working at a bus company assaulted an unconscious woman. According to the publication, judges not only gave the men short sentences, but also "verbally harassed" the victim during the trial.

"The men were sentenced to 18 months in prison," Danoekoesoemo told the publication. "After that they will be free. On the other hand, [the victim] is traumatized. She's scarred for life and she will have a difficult time moving on."

Although it's too early to say whether Yuyun's death will provoke political and cultural change in Indonesia—the way the 2012 gang-rape of a young woman in India brought international attention and calls for reform—it's hopeful to see the efforts at it pour out the way they do. "It requires a huge level of effort from activists to take tragedies like YY's rape and murder to the national and international levels, because quite frankly, most people just don't care," said Walton.

Now, however, the call for justice is finally gaining some traction. Today, activists gathered, with rape whistles and sirens, at the State Palace in Jakarta to call for sexual assault law reform and justice for victims. Called Bunyikan Tanda Bahaya (Turn on the Danger Signs), the demonstration was advertised with hashtags such as #SOS (Save Our Sisters) and #YYAdalahKita (YY Is Us). The Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, tweeted his support for the movement, saying, "We all mourn the tragic loss of YY. Capture and punish the perpetrators as severely as possible. Women and children must be protected from violence."