Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) [Hong Kong]
July 20, 2022
By Siktus Harson
A culture of silence hinders fight against sexual abuse of children, especially in religion-based schools
The arrest of several alleged sexual predators over the past few weeks has revealed the bitter reality of sexual violence against Indonesian children, particularly at religion-based schools.
The latest arrest last week was of a Quran teacher in East Java for allegedly raping four underage girls in his care. One of them is pregnant and will soon deliver.
A few days earlier, police arrested Mohammad Subchi Azal Tsani for allegedly raping girls at a school founded and run by his father, a respected Muslim cleric in East Java. It took days for the police to nab him, as his supporters had declared war against the police.
Almost at the same time, authorities in East Java detained Julianto Eka Putra for allegedly harassing and raping at least 15 girls at a school he founded to help children from poor families.
Last year, Herry Wirawan, who raped 12 girls at an Islamic school in Bandung, West Java, was arrested. Nine of his victims became pregnant and had babies. The court sentenced him to death.
Another religion teacher in Cilacap, Central Java, was arrested last year for allegedly molesting 15 elementary school girls.
“What shocks the public most is that this abuse is carried out by teachers whom the children and their families trust”
The scourge is not confined to Java. It also happens in West Sumatra, where authorities have received 82 reports of sexual violence against children.
Sexual abuse does not only involve girls. Boys, too, are easy prey.
A Quran teacher was arrested for allegedly raping at least 12 boys in Bandung, West Java between December 2021 and May 2022.
His arrest reminds us of Syahril Parlindungan Marbun, a Catholic layman who abused at least two altar boys aged 14 and 15 in St. Herkulanus Parish in Bogor diocese, West Java. He was sentenced to 15 years in jail early this year.
What shocks the public most is that this abuse is carried out by teachers whom the children and their families trust.
Some of them were forced to have sex as part of a virginity test or to prove good moral conduct. Some reasoned that sexual intercourse was needed to impart positive energy or as an alternative medication. Others imposed it as punishment for mistakes or the price to get good grades.
“The rise of sexual violence — similar to widespread radicalism — at religious-based education institutes is blamed on the ministry’s failure to monitor them”
It’s insane. Some people blamed the victims. But the issue here is that abusers use their authority, power or money to trick or intimidate these young girls and boys who are mostly from poor families.
The Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry recorded 8,700 cases of sexual violence against children last year, up from 6,980 the previous year. In the first five months of 2022, there were 3,266 recorded cases.
Minister Bintang Puspayoga said the actual number could be higher because many cases are not reported. She claimed that four out of 100 boys aged 13-17 and eight out of 100 girls aged 13-17 have experienced sexual violence.
But why does such abuse continue to happen, and why is it increasing?
It involves several factors, aside from the victims’ economic situation that creates a dependency on schools.
Religion-based education centers in Indonesia are under the aegis of the Religious Affairs Ministry.
The rise of sexual violence — similar to widespread radicalism — at religious-based education institutes is blamed on the ministry’s failure to monitor them. Another major problem in the overall fight against sexual abuse is the culture of silence.
“In a culture of silence, those who dare to speak up are often perceived as rebellious”
Human rights activists, including Catholic nuns and priests who help victims, often complain about this culture of silence. They say it’s a major stumbling block in fighting the sexual abuse of women and children.
Victims’ silence is often related to shame or fear because sexual offenders threaten to kill them.
In a culture of silence, those who dare to speak up are often perceived as rebellious. Worse, is that girls who go against someone in power, like a teacher, will not get any attention. It allows perpetrators to continue abusing them.
As long as families, schools and society still believe that silence is golden, sexual abuse against children will thrive.
But a lesson was learned from the Ministry of Higher Education which recently issued anti-sexual violence regulations. It enables many victims at universities to report their ordeals to the authorities.
“Many Church-run schools have adopted preventive measures to ensure that they are free from sexual abuse”
It means that the culture of silence can be overcome by rules and regulations that stipulate clear punishments for the abusers.
Change doesn’t happen overnight. But at least school managers or councils must be proactive and must be quick to learn about the impacts sexual violence has on a child’s future. It’s devastating.
Luckily, Indonesian Catholic schools have taken seriously Pope Francis’ instruction to never brush sex abuse cases under the carpet. Many Church-run schools have adopted preventive measures to ensure that they are free from sexual abuse.
Indonesian law allows stiff prison sentences, even the death penalty for sexual abusers. But more needs to be done.
The government should exert more control over the suitability of teachers and teaching practices at religion-based schools. It’s equally crucial that teachers of religion are accredited just as is required for mainstream teachers.
Parliament passed anti-sexual violence legislation in April, which marked a milestone in combating the crime, including against children.
But keep in mind that sex offenders, especially those targeting children, tend to repeat their crimes when they have the chance to do so. A good education system will keep sex offenders out of schools.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.