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Student Journalists Expose Alleged Sexual Assault Cover-Up at Indonesian University

UGM, one of the country's best schools, is being accused of blaming the victim on a 2017 sexual assault case.
November 7, 2018, 10:08am
The University of Gadjah Mada is being accused of covering up a rape.
Photo by Eric Beerkens/Flickr CC License

One of Indonesia's most-prestigious universities was rocked this week by allegations that it tried to cover up the sexual assault of one of its students on a school-sponsored community service trip, according to a report published by journalists at the campus news site Balairung Press.

The story, which was published on Monday and broke by student journalists at the University of Gadjah Mada, in Yogyakarta, told the story of a student who went by the pseudonym Agni and was reportedly sexually assaulted by her classmate during a community service trip to Maluku, in Eastern Indonesia.

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

The incident happened in June of 2017, when Agni was staying with a small group of her classmates in Maluku. She told reporters at Balairung Press that one night she chose to stay in the hotel room of a male classmate to avoid having to walk through a downpour her own hotel. But she later woke up to the unnamed student forcing himself on her while she slept.

When news of the assault spread amongst the UGM students and officials in Maluku, the university's staff was allegedly dismissive of Agni's story, remarking that she should've expected that such a thing would happen to a young woman who was sleeping in a man's room.


“Don’t call her a victim yet," one university official said, "It’s like a cat is given dried fish, it will at least sniff the fish or eat it."

The alleged rapist was sent home, reportedly over his "incompatibility" with the other students on the trip and Agni herself was given the grade of a C for her time in Maluku, with one university lecturer reportedly telling her that her low marks were because of the "shame" she had caused UGM.

Agni appealed the grade and was eventually given a higher mark, a refund of her tuition, and six-months of counseling paid for by the university. Her rapist was made to write a letter apologizing for his actions that he sent to Agni's parents and undergo counseling of his own. But UGM stopped short of expelling him from the university or bringing the matter to the attention of the police.

UGM responded to the allegations of a cover-up by telling the press that it had tried to bring the incident to the police for legal action, but were told to drop it by Agni's family.

"We did offer to take the legal route,” Iva Aryani, a UGM spokesperson, told Detik before later contradicting herself and telling CNN Indonesia that the university "will take this matter through a legal route so that victims will get justice."

The blowback as been swift as Indonesians accused UGM of trying to cover up a rape. Others dug up the real name of Agni's alleged rapist, sharing images his Linkedin profile online. Here's some of what they had to say:

That's because the case clearly struck a nerve in Indonesia, where something along the lines of a #MeToo movement has yet to gain any serious momentum. The victims of sexual assault are routinely confronted with law enforcement that either doesn't believe them, or doesn't care about their stories. Last October, the chief of the National Police—aka the most-powerful cop in Indonesia—told CNN Indonesia that he thought it was good police work to ask rape victims if they were at all "comfortable" during the assault. It's stuff like this, the penchant for victim-blaming and shaming of victims that's created an environment where an estimated 93 percent of rape victims choose to not file a police report.

Read: Indonesia's Police Chief Shows Exactly Why #MeToo Is So Important Here Too

This isn't the first instance of sexual assaults being covered up by a university in Indonesia either. At the University of Indonesia, another of the nation's top universities, there were at least 30 instances of sexual assault reported in a single year. The majority of those victims never saw their rapist end up behind bars.

A report by the publication Tirto collecting the stories of women assaulted on-campus found that the problem was both really common and often handled internally by university staff in order to save face and prevent any national attention or embarrassment. It's a practice that creates a system where college-aged assailants are able to continue on with their lives with little more than a slap on the wrist, while their victims are left to deal with the trauma.

It would be a different story entirely if the matter was reported directly to the police. Those found guilty of rape face up to 12 years in jail.