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Rape, too often a joke

Publication Date : 16-01-2013


"Rape is never a joke”: This phrase has spread like wildfire across social media sites since the news broke on a candidate justice joking about rape at the honourable House of Representatives. And the legislators conducting his “fit and proper” test merrily laughed along with him.

In what he described as his ice-breaker to the tense atmosphere, he had said some rape cases might involve consensual sex. “Both the victims of rape and the rapist might have enjoyed their intercourse together, so we should think twice before handing down the death penalty,” M. Daming Sunusi, a career judge from Banjarmasin, East Kalimantan, said. By Tuesday afternoon, he was reported issuing a sobbing apology.

Earlier yesterday, one of the petitions demanding that the House Commission III on laws and human rights reject Daming contained more than 4,000 signatures.

The largest factions in the House – the Democratic Party, the Golkar Party and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) — have ordered their lawmakers to vote against Daming.

But a deep problem still engulfs the nation even if his name is crossed off the list.

When men — and even women — joke about rape, as they often do here, one wonders how they can remotely imagine the lifelong scars of a rape victim. Not surprisingly victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault rarely speak up; at best they risk ridicule, at worst they face death — or the endless threat of retaliation.

Nor is it surprising that rape victims of the May 1998 riots have never seen any measure addressing their injustice. Many are among those who died ahead of the New Order’s downfall, which led to free elections — and which brought those lawmakers who treated rape as a joke to where they are now.

One of the latest victims of rape, aged 11, recently died and the perpetrator has not been found. The child of an impoverished East Jakarta family was just one of what child advocates say is an increasingly high figure of young victims of sexual assault. Another child in Bekasi, just east of here, is reportedly pregnant following a gang rape.

None of those jokers would have felt a slight connection to the massive rallies in India following the gang rape of a young woman who eventually died late last year; another gang rape followed shortly after.

What we have in common with India, apart from large-scale efforts to achieve meaningful democracy, is a violent culture hostile to some minorities, including those of “different” sexualities. A persistent streak of misogyny, or hatred against women, is clear in interpretations of religions and customs. The display of power expressed through rape is so terrifying that the victims’ names are suppressed for their own safety and that of their families — yet, the father of the first Indian victim said his late daughter should be named to help embolden other women.

Speaking up is far from easy when the woman is scrutinised and teased about what her behaviour was like to expose herself to harassment or rape.

Almost 30 years ago, we ratified the UN convention to stop discrimination and violence against women. A thorough overhaul is evidently needed on what we think we grasp about what constitutes human rights.


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