Sat, 08 Mar 2003

Seeking help for rape survivors

Sheila Quarles van Ufford-Thomson, Contributor, Jakarta

What would you do if your daughter were raped? At the height of the riots that ravaged Jakarta in May 1998, at least one daughter, and likely a hundred more, were sexually assaulted.

To this day, not a single rape survivor has testified and not one perpetrator of the horrific crimes has been prosecuted.

The crisis exposed the dire lack of integrated support services available for rape survivors in Jakarta. Hospitals were not in a position to provide legal assistance, and the police failed to create spaces where survivors felt safe enough to speak out.

So as a parent today, where would you take your daughter?

One option is the Pusat Krisis Terpadu (PKT), an integrated crisis center housed within the Emergency section of the Dr. Cipto Mangunkusumo General Hospital. Established by the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) in June 2000, the PKT provides women and child survivors of violence with a one-stop service, comprising counseling, medical care, legal help and police assistance.

So far, daughters as young as 9 months of age have been treated for rape at the center. In fact, rape of girls (penal or otherwise) makes up more than one third of the 1,397 cases of violence that the center has handled. Other cases include domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, as well as rape of adult women.

In bringing your daughter to the PKT, you would undoubtedly still face frustrations, common to those experienced by other survivors. The perpetrator, fearing prosecution, could threaten your daughter and any witnesses.

"Doctors who examined rape survivors during the May 1998 crisis were afraid to go to court," said Dr Budi Sampurna, PKT chairman. "Indonesia still has no witness protection law so they fear persecution should they speak out publicly."

Doctors are often important witnesses in the prosecution process due to out-dated legislation requiring the victim to produce two forms of legitimate evidence that the rape was committed.

Another frustration is that the legal process in your daughter's rape case would be lengthy and costly. No government programs exist to date to provide financial support for rape survivors.

"Rape cases generally take at least six months to process," explained Andy Yentriyani, coordinator for Education and Public Campaigns of Komnas Perempuan. "This is a significant deterrent, especially for poor families who have to weigh their use of time with income-generation for the family and child-care."

Finally, police department regulations necessitate that your daughter testifies at the police station in the area in which she was raped.

"Women, and young women in particular, are often too intimidated to go the police station to testify," said Budi. "Those that do go are sometimes ridiculed by police officers or are questioned in an insensitive manner."

Despite these flaws in the current system, several positive initiatives are also underway.

Special women's desks, staffed by officers trained to handle cases of violence against women, have been set up in 163 police stations across Indonesia. Considerable support is still needed to upgrade and publicize these services and to further extend them.

On the legal front, draft legislation in the area of victim/witness protection has been formulated by Komnas Perempuan.

Endowment funds to support the activities of women's crisis centers are also being established by the organization. A fund- raising art exhibition will be held from March 11 to March 16 at Galeri Nasional to initiate these funds.

The prevention of rape and the provision of high quality care for survivors will require more than the work of a few committed organizations. Legal reform, regular government budgets and public support are all essential to ensure that communities are safe for our daughters.