Wed, 07 May 2003

Incest cases become rampant in the country

Sari P. Setiogi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Thirteen-year-old Suti (not her real name) had become quiet and aloof recently. She was often seen alone both during classes and break periods. Sometimes, she would just stay in the classroom while her friends were playing and having fun outside.

Her change in behavior drew her teacher, Solihat's, attention. He talked to Suti and asked her to share her problem with him.

With teary eyes, Suti said that she would rather commit suicide than continue her life as it is. She told Solihat that her father had sexually assaulted her for the past three years.

Soon after, Solihat reported the case to police, who arrested Suti's father. Unable to deny his wrongdoing, Suti's father tells police investigators that he was trying to give sexual education to her daughter.

However, later Suti's case was closed because her family chose to withdraw the case and keep it to themselves. They sent Suti to a Muslim boarding school in East Java to spare her media coverage.

Suti epitomizes the suffering of women, mostly under-aged children, forced into incestuous relationships by their close family members.

According to the Women's Association for Legal Aid (LBH APIK), many incest cases occur in Indonesia every year, but only a few are reported to police authorities due to both psychological and economic reasons.

"Most incest cases happen in families of lower class background, with most victims financially dependent on the perpetrators," LBH APIK director Vony Reynata DS told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

According to Vony, incest cases have increased significantly in the past few years due at least in part to the prolonged economic crisis beleaguering the country since 1997.

"Some of the accused used to have sex with sex workers before the crisis. Since the crisis struck Indonesia, their financial capability weakened and could no longer afford to pay prostitutes, forcing them to turn to their own family members," Vony said.

She, however, was unable to provide detailed data on incest cases in the country as most victims prefer to keep it to themselves.

Vony said sometimes the victims withdraw the cases by themselves for fear that they would suffer economic hardship should the perpetrators land in jail as they are the breadwinners for their families.

Most incest cases happen as unwanted sexual relations involving coercion, threats, or harm.

In eastern countries like Indonesia, where family honor is of utmost importance, most incest victims prefer to keep the incident to themselves and remain silent. Or if it is later revealed by another family member, they would prefer not to share it outside the family circle.

"That is why the true extent of incest related violence is unknown," said Vony.

Vony said the media have reported more and more incest cases, but "only few victims came to us of their own volition for assistance".

In the last seven years, LBH APIK has only handled 10 cases, with zero cases in 1998, 2000 and 2001. "We usually approach victims that we hear of in the media. Only some come to us on their own," she said.

LBH APIK provides facilities to victims to help them recover from their traumatic experiences, to bring the case to the police if wanted and to assist incest victims to continue their lives as normal persons.