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'Victim blaming' in latest UGM sex abuse case angers thousands

  • Sri Wahyuni and Evi Mariani
    Sri Wahyuni and Evi Mariani

    The Jakarta Post

Yogyakarta/Jakarta | Wed, November 7, 2018 | 03:44 pm
'Victim blaming' in latest UGM sex abuse case angers thousands Indonesia's #MeToo moment?: An online petition has garnered nearly 63,000 signatories regarding a 2017 sexual assault case involving a female victim from Gadjah Mada University (UGM) and the university's initial response that blamed the victim. (Shutterstock/File)

Editor's note: This article contains explicit content that may be unsuitable for younger readers.

Gadjah Mada University's (UGM) initial response to a recent sexual assault case allegedly involving two of its students has angered thousands of people, who have signed a petition demanding that the Yogyakarta university punish the student perpetrator and the campus officials that had penalized the student victim.

In less than 24 hours, the online petition on change.org had garnered more than 55,000 signatories by Wednesday morning, with more people signing every second to reach 63,000 signatories by mid-afternoon on Wednesday.

“We demand that the UGM rector, the advisory board and the Research, Technology and Higher Education Ministry to strengthen regulations on preventing sexual assault and law enforcement against sex offenders,” the petition states as one of its demands.

A separate call to a rally on Thursday has been circulating on social media to demand that the university thoroughly investigate the case and create a safe campus environment. The call says that UGM is facing “a sexual violence emergency”, pointing out that the latest case was not the university's first and that UGM has not been siding with victims.

'Balairung' investigative report

On Nov. 5, Balairung published an investigative report based on the testimony of a female student under the pseudonym Agni, who gave the UGM student magazine permission to publish the full details of her account. 

Agni said that a fellow student had assaulted her during a community service project (KKN) at a Maluku village on June 30, 2017. The KKN is a kind of field school program that lasts several months, during which the students live with local families in the target village.

Agni said she was visiting a villager until late evening at their home where fellow KKN student "HS" was staying, so she decided to spend the night at HS’ homestay and return to her own lodging in the morning. They had to share a single room that night, Agni said, but that they were separated by some distance in the room. She also said she slept fully clothed and still in her headscarf. Early the following morning, she said she felt HS groping her, opening her top, kissing her breasts and inserting his fingers in her genitalia. She froze in momentary shock until she felt pain that prompted her to yell at HS, “What are you doing!”

Agni said she immediately reported the incident to the KKN supervisor and the UGM Community Service Department (DKPM), which managed the program. The university officials cut short HS’ program and sent him back to Yogyakarta, but Agni said they also blamed her for the incident, with one official telling her to “repent”, reported Balairung.

Agni said that after the assault, she often felt scared at night and ended up staying awake all night. She also had suicidal thoughts, she said as quoted by Balairung.

In November 2017, Agni learned that she received a C for her KKN assignment, while her peers on the same program received an A or a B. Agni said she asked about the reason for her low grade, and that the KKN management responded that she had to share the blame for the incident that “embarrassed UGM” in front of the local villagers. In the Balairung artile, a university official who declined to be named said that the student press should not be in a rush to call Agni a victim. “Like a cat given salted fish, it will at least sniff it and might even eat the fish, right?” Balairung quoted the official as saying in reference to Agni.

In December 2017, Agni reported the C she received for her KKN assignment and the circumstances surrounding it to her academic department, the Social and Political Sciences Faculty (Fisipol). The Fisipol's cooperation, alumni and research deputy dean, Poppy Sulistyaning Winanti, and the deputy dean for academics and student affairs, Wawan Mas’udi, followed up on her case to the top administrative level.

An inter-departmental independent investigation team was formed that  recommended  Agni’s KKN grade be revise from C to A/B. The team also recommended that the perpetrator write an apology and attend a mandatory counseling session for sexual abusers.

‘Abuse-free campus’

On Tuesday, in response to the Balairung article, Fisipol UGM posted a statement on its Instagram account, @fisipolugm, reiterating its commitment to “side with victim”.

“With this, Fisipol UGM states that we side with the survivor to find justice and a thorough solution to the problem,” the statement said.

It also said that steps had been taken to deal with "Agni's" case, including a letter it sent to the rector on Dec. 22, 2017 that asked the university to manage the case thoroughly.

Fisipol said that the rector arranged a closed meeting with relevant parties in response to its letter, and agreed during the meeting to set up an investigation team that involved several departments. The rector also agreed to sanction the DKPM officials for their "ignorance" in their initial handling of the incident until "the survivor" reported the case to Fisipol.

During the same meeting, Fisipol said it agreed to engage psychologists to provide trauma counseling for "the survivor".

The statement continued that, after an intensive investigation, the team submitted its recommendations to the rector on July 20, 2018, which included punishment for the perpetrator, protection and support for the victim and improvements to managing the KKN program.  

“This is why Fisipol UGM is pushing for a thorough and speedy management of the case by implementing the follow-up measures as recommended by the investigation team,” the statement said, ending with a call to all parties to create a campus that was free from sexual abuse.

Separately, UGM public relations and protocol head Iva Ariani said the university would continue its work to make sure that the victim received protection and justice.

“Next, UGM will soon take the necessary real steps to take the case to the legal domain,” Iva said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

Other UGM cases 

In 2016, a sexual abuse case that involved several female victims among Fisipol students rocked the university. The perpetrator, EH, was a respected lecturer and the head of the international relations department at the time of the incident. The victims reported that EH groped their breasts and rubbed his crotch against their’ bodies during a one-on-one academic consultation on their theses in a closed room. 

EH was stripped of his positions, but is still officially employed as a UGM lecturer.

The victim who spoke to The Jakarta Post two years ago said that even after the department accepted the sexual assault report she and the other victims had submitted, she still bumped into EH in the department's basement parking lot. 

The investigative report in the Balairung student magazine also cited other unresolved sexual assault cases at UGM.

Sexual assault at universities

Many believe that the incidents of sexual assault at universities that have emerged in the public eye are a mere tip of the iceberg.

In 2008, the University of Indonesia (UI) Law School received sexual assault reports from several students on a lecturer, TN. As in the case of UGM's EH, TN also sexually assaulted his students during one-on-one thesis consultations. TN was later dismissed from UI but he was still being interviewed by the media. 

Women's empowerment and rights activist Damairia Pakpahan told the Post in 2016 that she represented a sexual assault victim of a humanities lecturer at UGM, but that the case did not go anywhere.

The Support Group and Resource Center on Sexuality Studies (SGRC Indonesia), a youth group for university students, said in a statement on Wednesday that sexual assault had been happening at Indonesian universities for many years. 

“Growing awareness and knowledge about sexual assault inspire survivors to dare to speak out. The increasing number of reports on sexual assault does not mean that cases of sexual assault are on the rise, but that the number of survivors who dare to speak out is on the rise,” it said.

SGRC Indonesia noted that universities sometimes did not appreciate the courage it took survivors to speak about their experiences and even blamed them for the sexual assault. “This is double victimization and as a result, the survivor feels guilty [for reporting the incident and for the incident itself]," it said, and that victim blaming could disrupt a survivor's day-to-day life.

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