Indonesia Needs to Address Its Rape Culture Problem
Illustration by Daniella Syakhirina


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Indonesia Needs to Address Its Rape Culture Problem

Rape culture is everywhere. It's in our jokes. It's in our songs. And we need to do something about it.

I am willing to accept the fact that we aren't living in a post-patriarchal society yet. I can even accept that some of our nation's lawyers are failing to uphold the integrity of their profession. But none of that stops my stomach from churning whenever I read the details of the ongoing rape case against celebrity and self-proclaimed "spiritual guru" Aa Gatot.

Here's some quick background for anyone who's not really in-tune with celebrity news and gossip. Aa Gatot, whose real name is Gatot Brajamusti, is a former actor who developed a taste for the mysticism and rebranded himself as a spiritual guru. He's also been charged with alleged possessing sabu (crystal methamphetamine), illegal firearms, and a collection of endangered animals.


After his arrest, a young woman identified in the press as CT came forward and accused Aa Gatot of repeatedly raping her for nine years—forcing her to abort her child two times (the third time she kept the baby, now a 4-year-old). The woman's lawyer said his client was merely 16 when she met Aa Gatot, and that he had promised to make her a famous dangdut star.

Enter Aa Gatot's legal team with the following defense: CT wasn't raped because there is no way a man can rape the same woman more than once. Basically, if a woman has sexual intercourse with a man multiple times without reporting it to the police then it's not rape. No, they argued, she must've just been "addicted" to sex and she is just looking for a way to gain something from Aa Gatot's fall. She now faces defamation charges—the result of a counter-complaint—and up to five years in prison.

Now there's a sad, totally miserable—but often denied—truth at the center of this story. A lot of people agree, to some extent, with Aa Gatot and his lawyers. The idea that "evil" women are out there using sex to take advantage of men is shockingly common. And there are still a great many of us, law advocates or not, who don't understand—or don't want to understand—the true nature, scope, and definition of rape.

The National Commission of Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) actually has a pretty long and comprehensive definition of rape. According to the commission, rape is "an assault targeting sexual body parts and/or someone's sexuality by using a sexual organ [penis] into another sexual organ [vagina, mouth, or anus], OR by using other body parts which are not sexual organs, OR by using any kinds of things. It is done with violence, with intimidation or threats that lead the victim to feel afraid of violence, by force, under incarceration, psychological intimidation, by abuse of power, or by taking advantages of a coercive environmental situation, or done to someone who isn't competent enough to give her true consent."


In contrast, Indonesian law defines rape as a man who, by physical violence or threat, forces a woman to perform sexual intercourse outside of marriage. Our law requires rape cases to involve three things: physical violence or a threat of violence, penis-in-vagina penetration, and sex outside of marriage.

So what about the abuse of power? Indonesia is still a very patriarchal society. And a lot of women have to face a situation where someone more powerful, at least in the eyes of society, wants sex. Imagine you're a student, or an employee, or a wife, or a girlfriend, and your teacher/boss/husband/boyfriend is a powerful man. Now he wants to engage in some kind of sexual act, and he doesn't care what you really want. He just wants it. Now. Period. Is this considered rape?

According to Komnas Perempuan: Yes. But the sad reality is that cases like these rarely result in a conviction. I spoke with Yohanna Wardhani, a law advocate who previously worked for the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation (Yayasan Lembaga Bantuan Hukum APIK) and is now a consultant at Magenta Legal Research and Advocacy. During her ten years advocating for the female victims of sexual and domestic violence, most of the cases involving adult women ended without a conviction.

A recent survey found that 93 percent of rape victims failed to file an official report with the police. And only 1 percent of those who did file a report saw the case end in a conviction.


Sure, there were a few cases where the victim immediately went to the police that resulted in convictions, she explained. But far more often, victims of sexual assault were reluctant to file a police report. They were too afraid that no one would believe them, or that they would be considered "dirty" or "immoral" for engaging in sex, she explained.

In other instances, the victim was frozen with terror, or she didn't try to fight off her attacker. But without physical evidence of a struggle, it's difficult to get the charges to stick, Yohanna said.

The data backs up Yohanna's experience in the field. A recent survey found that 93 percent of rape victims failed to file an official report with the police. And only 1 percent of those who did file a report saw the case end in a conviction. The overwhelming reason for not reporting the crime to the police: fear that they will be blamed.

All of these, the Aa Gatot case, the troubling statistics on rape convictions, the victims' fear that they may be blamed themselves, is emblematic of Indonesia's refusal to address and recognize its serious issues with rape culture.

I'm going to give you one example from my daily life. The other day I was sitting at work, a local puskesmas, when an older coworker, the father of two teenage girls, began to tell a joke. The joke centered on a female farmer who was bending over trying to pull a stubborn cassava root from the earth. The punchline involved a passing man walking behind her and sticking his penis in her. Everyone laughed out loud while I fought back the urge to vomit.


We've all heard jokes like this. Rape jokes. Sexual assault jokes. It's almost a genre of humor of itself. Plenty of popular songs actually describe rape. And we're all guilty of, once upon a time, singing along, or laughing out loud like nothing's wrong. That's rape culture. It teaches us that rape is funny. That rape is a joke. That rape is a no big deal. We may not realize it, but we internalize all of this. We get used to it. And then one day, ta-da, we stop caring because rape is a totally normal thing, right?

Rape culture teaches us that women are merely sexual objects. That a woman, body and soul, actually equals sex. A man might want sex, or even need sex, but a woman is sex. When she says no, rape culture says "but I know you really want it, don't be shy." When she says no again, it says "you're just an object—something for me to enjoy." And when she says no the third time, it says "hel-loo, no one believes you!"

The sad reality is that, in the eyes of society, it's often right. That's why we need to keep fighting against rape culture until everyone recognizes the problem.

Putri Widi Saraswati writes about feminism, gender issues, and sex education for publications like Magdalene. She's also a doctor and an avid book collector.

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