Jhe case against Herry Wirawan, a 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 town of Bandung, about 75 miles southeast of the capital Jakarta on the island of Java.
But the case was just one of a drumbeat of accusations of sexual abuse and assault that has emerged in recent months in schools and college campuses in the Southeast Asian nation of 274 million inhabitants. Education Minister Nadiem Makarim has called the rise in cases a ‘sexual violence pandemic’, with an estimated 340,000 cases of gender-based violence reported in 2021, a 50% increase from 2020, according to the Commission. Indonesian National Committee on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan).
But this is the case with Wirawan who 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 offenses, expand the definition of rape and provide restitution and counseling to victims. President Joko Widodo started 2022 with a plea: to fast-track a bill to provide protection from 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 his previous sentence of life imprisonment, which was well beyond the 15-year prison sentence recommended for crimes of sexual violence against children.
Eight days later, Indonesian lawmakers passed the Sexual Violence Crimes Act. While the bill’s passage was not directly related to Wirawan’s sexual abuse case, anti-sexual violence activist Tunggal Pawestri says it helped galvanize public support to finally move on to the action. “There’s this kind of buildup of people who are disappointed with the way law enforcement has handled the case,” she says. “So I think that must have contributed to the passage of this law.”
However, advocates still fear that the new law will not be enough to protect women. They say the Muslim-majority country still struggles 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, based on 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 only recognizes specific forms of sexual violence such as molestation, adultery and rape, which are narrowly defined as forced genital penetration, making it difficult for victims to report other types. of assaults.
Department of Education survey data in 2020 also showed that around 77% of professors admit that sexual violence has increased on college campuses, where 90% of cases involve women. At least 63% of these cases were never reported to authorities to preserve the integrity of the school, according to Komnas Perempuan.
Discussions on the need for a comprehensive framework law to address sexual violence in Indonesia began with Komnas and civil society groups as early as 2012. The law sparked renewed interest following the gang rape and the murder of a 14-year-old girl in Bengkulu province on the island of Sumatra in 2016. Shortly after the crime, the House of Representatives passed the first bill.
According to this project, 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 torture. sexual. But the Conservatives challenged the bill. One party, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), opposed 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 meet “Eastern standards” and ignored religious values.
In July 2020, the House of Representatives removed the bill from the list of priority laws for passage, citing “difficulties” in debates among lawmakers. Discussions on the bill have been postponed until 2021.
Women’s rights advocates said a new bill, proposed last September, was watered down to appease conservative Islamist lawmakers. The forms of sexual violence sanctioned by the bill have also been reduced to four, eliminating among others rape and forced abortions.
Dédé Oetomo, adjunct lecturer on gender and sexuality at Universitas Airlangga in East Java, says part of the difficulty in advancing the law is caused by tensions over the religious identity of the ‘Indonesia. While the constitution guarantees freedom of religion, 86% of the population is Muslim, and many conservative lawmakers believe Indonesia should govern as an Islamic state. “Politicians are very careful not to ruffle the feathers of [Islamists],” he says. “You don’t want to be seen as unconservative, especially on a national level.”
However, following outcry over the Wirawan case and a push from Jokowi, as the Indonesian president is known, the bill was strengthened again this year. The text passed by the Indonesian legislature on April 12 expanded the forms of sexual violence to nine: non-physical and physical sexual harassment, forced contraception, forced sterilization, forced marriage, sexual abuse, sexual slavery and electronic-based sexual violence. 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. (Previously, the Indonesian penal code only recognized rape and similar crimes committed by men against women.)
Indonesian teacher Herry Wirawan (C) is escorted before his trial at a court in Bandung, West Java, February 15, 2022. In April he was sentenced to death for the rape of at least 13 students , all minors.
Timur Matahari–AFP/Getty Images
Will the new law protect Indonesian girls and women?
Like many of its Southeast Asian neighbours, Indonesia keeps the death penalty in law in the belief that it is an effective deterrent to crimes and provides a solution to cases like that of Wirawan. Anindya Restuviani, program director of advocacy group Jakarta Feminist, standing up for victims doesn’t stop at condemnation.
“A lot of people are like, ‘OK, you got justice because this guy is going to the death penalty or capital punishment,'” Restuviani told TIME. “But unfortunately, in current Indonesian law, there is no policy that says, ‘Hey, you also have to contribute in some way to help victims of sexual violence.’ Specifically with the Herry Wirawan case, it’s such a horrific and so horrific case with multiple victims who are children.
Restuviani adds that the new law would only cover those who report the charge to the police. This is a barrier for many, she says, as many Indonesian law enforcement personnel do not have adequate training in handling sexual violence cases. “A lot of victims and survivors just want access to free mental health counseling or free shelters and free protections from perpetrators,” Restuviani says.
But Pawestri, the anti-sexual violence campaigner, says having a framework law addressing sexual violence will push women’s rights organizations, businesses and other institutions to implement protocols that offer new layers protection for women, including teacher training on school campuses.
Pawestri also says she hopes religious conservatives in Indonesia will see that the bill is not meant to interfere with Islamic teachings in Indonesia. “We will not punish morality here,” she said. “What we punish is violence.”
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