The case against Herry Wirawan, a school teacher accused of raping 13 students between the ages of 11 and 16, shocked Indonesians when it was made public last December. Wirawan, 36, was accused of impregnating at least eight of the girls while teaching at a school in the city of Bandung, about 75 miles southeast of the capital Jakarta on the island of Java.

But the case was just one of a series of allegations of sexual abuse and assault that have surfaced in recent months at schools and college campuses across the Southeast Asian country of 274 million people. Education Minister Nobodym Makarim called the rise in cases a “pandemic of sexual violence,” with around 340,000 cases of gender-based violence reported in 2021, a 50% increase from 2020, according to the National Commission on Violence Against Indonesian Women (Komnas Perempuan).

But it was the Wirawan case that may have finally overcome resistance from Conservative lawmakers to pass a sexual violence bill that will make it easier to prosecute a long list of sexual offences, broaden the definition of rape and provide restitution and counseling for the victims. President Joko Widodo began 2022 with a plea: speed up a bill meant to provide protection against sexual violence, which has languished in the legislature since 2016.

On April 4, the Bandung High Court sentenced Wirawan to death following his conviction. Prosecutors had appealed her previous life sentence, which exceeded the recommended 15-year sentence for crimes of sexual violence against children.

Eight days later, Indonesian lawmakers passed the Sexual Violence Crimes Law. While the bill’s passage was not directly related to Wirawan’s sexual abuse case, anti-sexual violence activist Tunggal Pawestri says he helped galvanize public support for finally taking action. “There is this kind of backlog of people who are disappointed with the way law enforcement handled the case,” she says. “So I think that must have contributed to the passage of this law.”

However, advocates still worry that the new law is not enough to protect women. They say the Muslim-majority country is still struggling with conservative views and leaders who are reluctant to educate and speak out on these rights issues. For example, Indonesia only criminalized domestic violence against women in 2004, after two years of debate. “We always have a long fight when it comes to a bill related to women’s rights,” says Pawestri.

A bill long delayed by the Conservatives

Komnas Perempuan president Andy Yentriyani said in January that three women in Indonesia experience sexual violence every two hours, according to government statistics. But the commission estimates that this is only 30% of actual incidents, saying victims are often afraid to go to the police. The country’s penal code also recognizes specific forms of sexual violence such as sexual abuse, adultery and rape, which is narrowly defined as forced genital penetration, making it difficult for victims to report other types of attacks.

Survey data from the Ministry of Education in 2020 also showed that around 77% of professors admit that sexual violence has been on the rise on university campuses, where 90% of cases involve women. At least 63% of these cases were never reported to the authorities in order to preserve the integrity of the school, according to Komnas Perempuan.

Discussions about the need for a comprehensive general law to address sexual violence in Indonesia began with Komnas and civil society groups as early as 2012. The law received renewed interest following the gang rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl. years in Bengkulu province on the island of Sumatra in 2016. Not long after the crime, the House of Representatives passed the first draft of the bill.

Under this draft, nine forms of sexual violence would have been explicitly criminalized: sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, forced contraception, forced abortion, rape, forced marriage, forced prostitution, sexual slavery, and sexual torture. But the Conservatives contested the bill. One party, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), argued against provisions that lawmakers said would promote abortion, adultery and the LGBTQ community. They complained that the bill’s definitions and scope of sexual violence did not align with “eastern norms” and ignored religious values.

In July 2020, the House of Representatives removed the bill from the list of priority laws to pass, citing “difficulties” in debates among lawmakers. Discussions for the bill have been postponed until 2021.

Women’s rights advocates said a new draft, proposed last September, was watered down to appease conservative Islamist lawmakers. The forms of sexual violence criminalized by the bill were also reduced to four, eliminating rape and forced abortion, among others.

Dédé Oetomo, assistant professor of gender and sexuality at Universitas Airlangga in East Java, says part of the difficulty in pushing the law through is due to tensions over Indonesia’s religious identity. While the constitution guarantees freedom of religion, 86% of the population is Muslim, and many conservative lawmakers believe Indonesia should rule as an Islamic state. “Politicians are very careful not to ruffle the feathers of politicians. [Islamists],” he says. “You don’t want to be seen as non-conservative, especially at the national level.”

However, following protests over the Wirawan case and a push from Jokowi, as the Indonesian president is known, the bill was strengthened again this year. The text that was approved by the Indonesian legislature on April 12 increased the forms of sexual violence to nine: physical and non-physical sexual harassment, forced contraception, forced sterilization, forced marriage, sexual abuse, sexual slavery and sexual violence by electronic means. . which includes recording or transmitting sexual material without consent.

The new law also expands the definition of rape to cover marital rape and also recognizes men and boys as victims of sexual violence. (The Indonesian penal code previously only recognized rape and similar crimes committed by men against women.)

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