Sat, 27 Jul 1996

Neglected and raped

The court has barely closed the chapter on the series of gang rapes that shocked Jakarta this past year, now the city police have another tough case: to catch a serial killer who preys on young boys. The killer has left in his trail eight victims -- aged between 10 and 15 years -- over the past two years. Their bodies were badly mutilated and most showed traces of having been sodomized. Four of the victims still have not been identified.

Police are far from solving the mystery, but their investigation has led to a finding that is equally horrendous: pedophiles are lurking about our city preying on neglected children.

Last week, a group of street children in Central Jakarta broke their silence and told of not one, but several pedophiles who use threats and money on the boys to satisfy their sexual urges. Their confession led to the police questioning of four men. All of them have since admitted that they sodomized some of these boys, but they denied ever killing any children. But even if the police cannot try them for the serial murders, the four men should be prosecuted based on their admissions of sodomy.

We fully support the police efforts, and sympathize with the difficulties encountered, in catching the serial killer. But the investigation has again exposed many of the basic weaknesses in our legal system when dealing with sexual crimes.

The Criminal Code does not have a specific article on sodomy. The closest offense that prosecutors could pin on the four men in police custody is from the Code's article 292, which makes it illegal for anyone to engage, or be forced to engage, in sexual relations with someone underage and of the same sex. The maximum penalty is five years imprisonment, a punishment that hardly suits such a heinous crime.

If that's not light enough, our court judges have shown a tendency, for some unexplained reason, to refrain from meting out the maximum penalty against sexual offenders. Too many convicted rapists have gotten off lightly, and too many suspects have been acquitted by the courts due to insufficient evidence.

The police themselves have also admitted that they have had difficulty cracking the current serial-killer case, not only for lack of evidence but because this is no ordinary killer. As one officer privately put it, police are not experienced in handling this kind of case. For nearly two years police have been in the dark about the killings. Not until the young boys began to speak up last week did they have a clue.

Success in solving sexual crime cases hinges largely on victims coming forward to tell their story. Many victims of sexual crimes, including pedophilia, understandably are too traumatized to come forward. Acquittals of rape suspects and the light punishments given to sexual offenders further discourage the victims from going public.

If the series of gang rapes over the past year showed that the legal system is weak when it comes to protecting women against sexual crimes, the current search for the serial killer suggests that the system is also failing to protect children, especially wayward street children.

Something must be done. This is not solely the responsibility of the police and the courts. Society must take part in the effort to stamp out sexual crimes against women and children. Furthermore, the House of Representatives should move quickly to amend the laws dealing with offenders and legislate punishment more commensurate with their crimes.