Nearly half of the cases of sexual violence that get reported to Indonesia’s police are dropped or “resolved”, according to the National Commission on Violence Against Women: the victim’s family is paid off, or the victim is forced to marry her abuser, thus restoring family honour. The reaction to this scandalous situation from Joko Widodo’s government has been, well, pretty much nothing.
Then the gang rape of a 14 year-old girls hit the headlines, and Jokowi did what he does best. Without citing any data at all, he declared that Indonesia was suffering a moral meltdown that required extraordinary measures, and he spat out a headline-grabbing regulation that makes him look tough. This modus operandum, which he first used to deal with an alleged epidemic of drug abuse, appeals to those he has whipped into a moral panic, but that does almost nothing to address the root of the problem. The headline-grabber in this regulation is castration (of the chemical variety, the type that, in my own parents’ lifetime, the UK used to inflict on brilliant men who happened to be gay). But it includes the possibility of the death sentence, if the victim is killed, mentally damaged or contracts a disease. It’s up to the judge. That would be the same type of judge who jailed a number of almost certainly innocent men for alleged sexual abuse with the word of a five year-old boy as principle evidence. The evidence was pretty extraordinary, certainly — the kid and two others maintained that perpetrators had conjured a magic stone out of thin air to heal and induce amnesia — the stone may also have been responsible for conjuring away the [incurable] HSV-2 virus which the court decided the boy was infected with, though the laboratory could find no trace of the virus. The details of that case would fit well in one of those Indonesian novels that fills gaping holes in plot by turning people into pigs and tigers. But under the new legislation, the judge who chose to jail the men could have put them to death, and no novelist could have revived them.
Oddly, when I was looking for coverage of the castration story in Kompas, Indonesia’s most respected daily newspaper, my search threw up an unexpected parallel. A the screenshot above shows, a search on “pengebirian” yields a story about the new regulation, then one accusing Jokowi of trying to pass legislation that would castrate Indonesia’s anti-corrpution commission the KPK.
Most Indonesians are impressed by how much the KPK has done to combat corruption in the country — the institution has gone after governors and district heads, ministers and MPs, judges and cops, and it has a very high conviction rate. Certainly, one wouldn’t want to see it emasculated. But having said that, the KPK’s approach is not so different from Jokowi’s: go for the headline grabbing easy-ish fixes — the one or two big fish that will make it look like action is being taken — while leaving the underlying cultural and institutional factors that drive corruption virtually untouched. It’s that “oknum” thing again, the idea that a more or less perfectly moral system is disrupted by one or two wicked individuals who need only to be castrated, shot or jailed to restore perfect harmony. Luckily, many Indonesians don’t buy it; they know that what the country needs in order to protect both children and adults from the worst outcomes of sexual abuse is a functional, victim-friendly police; an independent, fair and accessible judicial system; and educational and cultural systems that give children and women the confidence to speak out. Let’s hope that the Members of Parliament who will debate Jokowi’s knee-jerk legislation are more thoughtful than the President.