Illustration by Dini Lestari

Indonesian Law Is Making Victims of Revenge Porn Too Scared to Seek Help

The country’s vague anti-pornography laws can be used to jail the people who post revenge porn, and the victims as well.

|
Nov 6 2017, 9:50am

Illustration by Dini Lestari

Salwa* was spending the morning with her family when the messages started to pour in. The young woman, then 22, had just broken up with her boyfriend of two-and-a-half years. She was sick of his possessive and controlling behavior. The breakup was rough, but at least the drama was finally over. Or so she thought.

The messages told Salwa to check her Facebook. She opened the app and felt her heart leap to her throat. Her ex had uploaded a bunch of private photos. In some, she was nude. In others, she was asleep. She felt sick to her stomach. She knew her ex had her Facebook password, but she never imagined that he would do something like this.

"I couldn't believe it," Salwa told VICE. "There were so many photos, even ones of me sleeping that I had no idea he took."

She didn't know what to do. Her family had seen the images. What could she tell them? After all, they had no idea she was even dating someone. She was able to convince them that the images were Photoshopped, but the pain, and the shock, of seeing the images exposed to the entire internet left a deep scar that made her too afraid to even go to her college campus anymore.

"I was scared of being judged," Salwa told me. "I wasn't brave enough to go to campus. I even pushed back my thesis for a year so that I wouldn't have to go there. I'm more introverted now. Before I could be friends with anyone, but now I find it hard to trust people."

Her ex continued to contact Salwa and her family for the next two years, each time trying to convince Salwa that they should get back together. He eventually admitted to posting the photos online. But even then, Salwa decided against reporting him to the police. Why relive all that trauma again, she thought.

"I never tried to get any help," she explained. "I didn't consider going to the police, because the reporting process would be traumatic… I didn't go to a psychologist either, because I didn't think they would understand."

Salwa was one of the countless victims worldwide of what's now called "revenge porn"—the unethical, and often illegal, uploading of nude images by a jilted lover, blackmailing hacker, or anyone else who somehow gets their hands on your phone. "Revenge porn," is a violation of privacy, and even a form of sexual abuse, and its spread has spurred conversations worldwide as governments try to figure out how to outlaw the practice.

But the situation is even more complicated in Indonesia—a country that already outlaws the distribution of pornography but has a worrying track record of convicting the victims of revenge porn, or leaked sex videos, as well.

"I was scared of being judged. I'm more introverted now. Before I could be friends with anyone, but now I find it hard to trust people."—Salwa

A pop star was sentenced to three-and-a-half years behind bars—serving two of them—after two homemade sex tapes were leaked and posted online. The videos were stolen by an employee of Peterpan's Nazril Ilham, or "Ariel" to fans, and posted online without his knowledge or consent, but that didn't stop the courts from finding him guilty of violating the pornography law.

It's this law that makes most victims of revenge porn think twice before making a police report. The law carries a maximum jail sentence of 15 years in prison for anyone convicted of distributing pornographic material in Indonesia.

But the law also includes a second section on something called "pornoaksi"—a vague term that has been used to describe anything deemed "vulgar" by the country's moral crusaders, including suggestive dance, mini-skirts, and being at a gay sauna or nightclub at the time of police raid. The whole law is so vague that victims of revenge porn could potentially be prosecuted as well, especially if they originally sent the videos and images themselves to their lovers.

"Most cases involve people who were in close or intimate relationships," Siti Lestari, an advocate with the woman's legal aid foundation (LBH APIK), told me. "Usually, they do it because their girlfriend broke up with them, or for economic reasons."

Extortion by ex-lovers is increasingly a common component of these revenge porn cases, Siti explained. How it works is that someone, typically an ex, uses a person's nudes to try to extort them for some cash—basically saying "pay me, or these private images go public."

"In 2015, we assisted four cases of [sex-related] extortion," Siti told me. "Some were reported to the police, but many of our clients didn't want to do so… They were ashamed, scared, and uncomfortable. Not to mention the legal process is very long—this can also make people hesitant to file a report."

And even when victims do report the crime, and avoid prosecution themselves, the inherent anonymity of the internet can make it hard, or even impossible, for authorities to prove their case, Siti explained. In cases like that, legal aids and lawyers are sometimes the best chance at finding help, she added.

"Perpetrators sometimes use fake social media accounts to share the photos, so it's difficult for the police to track them," Siti told me. "So as an alternative, victims can ask for LBH APIK's help to mediate or issue a subpoena to get the perpetrator to stop what they are doing."

Salwa eventually learned to move on and accept that the past is just that—the past. She's no longer ashamed of what happened and she's trying to be more open with her friends and family.

"You also have to accept yourself, value yourself," Salwa said. "You have to accept what you did, and move on. Don't worry about others and what they think of you."

But it's even harder if to deal with revenge porn or extortion if you're gay. Indonesia is in the middle of a nationwide crackdown on its LGBTQ community. It's not illegal to be gay in Indonesia—outside Aceh province—but that hasn't stopped police from conducting raids of gay night clubs, hotels, and even private residences, arresting whoever they find under the pornography law.

So when Angga* received a threatening WhatsApp message from a man who said he would release a video of Angga doing a strip tease at an event hosted by an NGO supporting the LGBTQ community if he failed to pay him Rp 5 million ($369 USD), he panicked. The man called Angga arrogant and a bitch, and warned that bad things could happen if the video got out.

"What will happen if your family finds out?" the man said, according to Angga.

It was supposed to be a safe space, Angga told me. The organizers asked everyone to keep their phones in their pockets to protect the identity of the men and women gathered in the room. But someone recorded Angga's performance and was threatening to out him to the world—with potentially disastrous results.

"It was supposed to be something fun," he said of the event. "So they asked me to go-go dance for the community. I thought, 'Yeah, why not?' It was a supportive crowd. Everyone was a member."

Angga was scared for weeks. His family doesn't know that he's gay and he was "terrified to death" that they would find out." He couldn't go to the police though, because "telling something to the police is like telling your uncle; he can tell your mother," Angga explained.

"Some were reported to the police, but many of our clients didn't want to do so… They were ashamed, scared, and uncomfortable."—Siti Lestari

But he ultimately couldn't afford the ransom, and there was no guarantee that the man wouldn't release the video regardless. In the end, Angga didn't pay the man. It wasn't really his choice. He just didn't have that much money.

The whole ordeal has now made Angga deeply suspicious of strangers.

"You are not safe, even among friends and your own community," Angga said. "It's sad, but that's the reality. There will always be people who will target your weakness."

He also cut all ties with the LGBTQ community and no longer attends Queer-friendly events. The threat of being outed is just too great, he told me. It's safer to keep your social circle small, because you never know who you can trust and who you can't, Angga explained.

"We are supposed to stick together in the community," Angga said. "Not do shit to each other… I used to attend everything. But not anymore… Even now, I don't want to socialize. I used to trust people in the community because we have the same goals. I was really optimistic. I was really strong. Now I am just scared."

* All the names in this article have been changed to protect the victims from potential prosecution or further embarrassment.

More VICE
Vice Channels