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The Case of Britain’s ‘Most Prolific Rapist’ Highlights Everything That Is Wrong With How Indonesia Handles Rape Cases

Sexual assault cases in Indonesia are often plagued with victim-blaming, homophobia, lack of follow-up action, and injustice.

by Laras Susanti; translated by Jade Poa
15 January 2020, 9:17am

This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.

Last week, the United Kingdom’s Manchester Crown Court sentenced Indonesian national Reynhard Sinaga to life in prison for 136 counts of rape, eight counts of attempted rape, 14 counts of sexual assault, and one count of assault by penetration. Police believe he sexually assaulted upwards of 200 men. Since the case made headlines, new survivors have also been coming forward. It has also put under the spotlight Indonesia’s problematic way of treating sexual assault cases.

The investigation into Sinaga’s case was launched shortly after he was caught in 2017, but British authorities did not release his identity nor allow the media to report on the case until January 2020. The move was meant to protect the survivors’ privacy, with law enforcement and mass media abiding by the restriction. This kind of respect for survivors is virtually unheard of in Indonesia.

Even after his sentencing, news publications in the UK still did not reveal the survivors’ identities. British police even issued a warning against a number of independent social media posts identifying survivors, considering the act to be a criminal offense. This is a stark contrast from Indonesia, where the media exploits survivors’ identities for a sensationalised story. Tabloids are quick to publish undignified descriptions of survivors, prying into their personal lives, and looking for an excuse to justify their assault.

The UK court that heard Sinaga’s case also did not discuss his sexuality beyond the fact that he sexually assaulted men. But in Indonesia, many saw Sinaga as a source of national shame, not only because he was a sex offender, but also because he was gay and a “sexual deviant.”

Some of the men Sinaga assaulted said that they were enticed by Sinaga’s friendliness and charm, which is why they decided to go to his flat, where he offered them a drink spiked with date rape drugs. In Indonesian courts, the fact that these men willingly went to his place would likely be used to justify victim-blaming.

Rape culture is often perpetuated by Indonesian government officials. It’s not unusual for a survivor’s appearance, choice of clothing, and sexual history to be called into question in court and in the media. This leads to the normalisation of sexual violence. To this day, Indonesia lacks comprehensive regulations on how to deal with and prevent sexual assault.

Survivors need more than just a system that’s on their side, they also need protection and recovery. The survivors of Sinaga’s attacks immediately had access to means of recovery, like therapy and a chance to speak up without fear of judgement if they so choose. They were also supported by the government, universities, and non-governmental organisations that helped them file reports in the first place.

Meanwhile, in Indonesia, university campuses cover up sexual assault and ride-hailing apps fail to bring justice to assaulted passengers. In 2018, a teacher was sentenced to six months behind bars after sharing a recording of her boss sexually assaulting her. Many cases of sexual assault never even make it to the courts, as the survivor is often pressured to handle the issue in a private manner.

The UK is nowhere near perfect when it comes to addressing sexual assault cases, and rape culture still persists there, with a third of Brits believing it’s not rape if physical violence is not involved, and a third of men believing a woman cannot change her mind once sex is initiated. However, as Sinaga’s case shows, more laws have been put in place to protect sexual assault survivors, and Indonesia definitely has a lot of catching up to do.

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