Participants at a travel writing workshop in Jakarta, organised by sexual violence advocacy organisa

Participants at a travel writing workshop in Jakarta, organised by sexual violence advocacy organisation Lentera Sintas. (Photo: Nicole Curby)

In Indonesia, the alleged gang rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl on the way home from school in Sumatra this April, has sparked outrage across the country.

The assault has been a catalyst for street demonstrations and candlelight vigils, as well as calls to introduce stricter punishment for rapists. This week President Joko Widodo even signed a regulation allowing chemical castration and microchip implants for pedophiles/child rapists…

From Jakarta, Nicole Curby investigates what is being done at the grassroots level, to support survivors of sexual violence in Indonesia. 

It’s Saturday afternoon here in Jakarta and I’ve come to check out this travel writing workshop, but it’s not what you might typically imagine of travel writing. 

Traveling alone is one reason that is used to blame women for rape and sexual violence. But here, through writing, women are encouraged to notice details and changes in their environment, and to feel safe and confident when they travel solo.

The workshop is part of a creative campaign to start a conversation around sexual violence, using diverse approaches and tools. 

 

From Acroyoga to travel writing, these workshops are aimed at increasing self-awareness, encouraging women to acknowledge personal boundaries, and talk about issues surrounding sexual violence.

Sophia Hage is a survivor of sexual violence, and a co-founder of Lentera Sintas – the Jakarta-based organization facilitating these workshops, and the #mulaibicara, or “let’s talk” campaign. 

“So hopefully the message that you are in charge of your own body, and it is ok to say no, is one of the ways that we are trying to start the conversation in the smallest possible way,” says Hage. 

The workshops are also fundraising events that help finance free group sessions and one-on-one counseling that Lentera Sintas offers to survivors of sexual violence. 

One survivor at the workshop, who agreed to speak to me anonymously, said the sessions have really helped her, and others, process and recover. 

“We were in a bad place you know. But through the healing process, the session, by talking to other survivors, it makes me understand what happened. I’m not ashamed of myself,” she says, “And I understand it wasn’t my fault at all. What happened, it wasn’t my fault. It influenced everything in my life. Now I feel like I have a right to have a dream, I can be like normal people.”

In a society that often blames victims for the sexual violence inflicted upon them – for wearing seemingly provocative clothing, or traveling alone – it can take women a long time to speak out.

It’s a long road to recovery, and part of that journey is acknowledging they are not victims but survivors.

  

And some of the most painful wounds, explains Sophia Hage, are psychological.

“What we are trying to make the survivors understand is that it’s okay to feel that you can never get through it, it’s okay to feel that I can never forget it, that I can never move on, because that’s not the point,” says Hage, “It’s not the goal to forget it and move on. It’s how we live with the trauma, and admitting that the trauma happened and that you can lead an active and empowered life.”

According to the National Commission on Violence Against Women, or Komnas Perempuan, more than 5,000 cases of sexual violence were reported last year. 

But that’s not counting sexual violence at home, and the cases that aren’t reported.

According to Komnas Perempuan commissioner Indraswari, the state has a responsibility towards the victims of sexual violence. 

“The state has the responsibility to provide the treatment, it could be medical treatment, it could be psychological treatment, counseling. It could be economic empowerment for the victims,” explains Indraswari.


In theory, the Indonesian government should provide services in every regency and city for women and children who have experienced violence. 

The scheme, known as P2TP2A, details provision of medical, psychological and other forms of support for victims of violence. 

But in practice, it’s NGOs that shoulder most of this work. 

Kristi Poerwandari is a psychologist from the Jakarta-based NGO Pulih, which provides psychological services to victims of trauma and violence. 

In remote parts of the country, she says, there are literally no services available.

“We realize that Indonesia is very big with geographical area, so it is very difficult. In so many places there are no services,” says Poerwandari, “No services at all, actually.” 

Women’s organizations are also lobbying the Indonesian government to pass legislation on the elimination of sexual violence.


Under Indonesian law rape is considered a crime, but groups such as Pulih, Komnas Perempuan and Lentera Sintas, advocate revising the law to cover a broader definition of sexual violence, as well as include preventative measures, and the rehabilitation of perpetrators.

But most important, the focus should be on addressing the needs of survivors of sexual violence, says Sophia.

“We receive a lot of questions from survivors, where do we go if we want to report, or where do we go if we want to get counseling,” says Hage, “Not a lot of that information is readily available. So that is one thing that we want to focus this campaign on: Just to start talking about where you can get help.”

From Jakarta, it’s all about mulai bicara, or starting the conversation. 

 

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