This is a story of blind bigotry, injustice, denial, and a culture of blaming victims. It is also a story of wonderful compassion and tolerance.
In September of 2012, a 14-year-old schoolgirl made an error of judgement that changed her life. She befriended a young man on Facebook, one whose carefully selected ‘identity’ was superficially charming and solicitous. As young girls sometimes tend to do, she responded to his wiles, mistakenly believing that his friendship was genuine, that he was a decent person, and that he was truly interested in her.
Well he was, but not in the way that she thought. The man, identified in the press as being Den Gilang, a.k.a. ‘Yugi’, was apparently in the habit of lurking on social media specifically for the purpose of verbally seducing and meeting naive under-aged girls. He convinced her to meet him at a department store – a place that most people would think would be safe.
But of course it wasn’t. Her new ‘friend’, a predator of the worst kind, lured her into a public minivan, where more of his predator friends were waiting, and they drove her to a house in Parung, Bogor. There, she was imprisoned with several other young girls who had been similarly duped.
Over the following week, ‘Yugi’ allegedly raped her, threatened her with death if she disobeyed him, and forced her to have sex with numerous other men. The plan, as she understood it, was that she was to be ‘sold’ to someone in Batam, Riau Islands when he tired of her. During the time that she was missing, her frantic family and friends had widely distributed flyers to try and find her. The media had also picked up on the story, so to her captors, she suddenly became a liability. They dumped her at a bus terminal, where local residents recognised her and took her home.
Now the story took a bizarre turn. After spending a month to recover sufficiently, this brave girl wanted to pick up the broken threads of her life, return to her studies at Budi Utomo Junior High School - a private school in Depok – and put her ordeal behind her.
But when she returned in October 2012, she was publicly humiliated in front of the whole school at a flag-raising ceremony, where she was told that she had “tarnished the school’s image”. She was summarily expelled, and prohibited from sitting for her mid-semester examination. As so often happens to women in Indonesia, this teenager – a victim – was treated as a perpetrator.
The principal refused to meet with the girl’s parents. Journalists were fobbed off without explanation. Officers from the school’s foundation refused to comment, apart from denying, despite clear evidence to the contrary, that she had been expelled.
Following a great deal of public ire and media publicity, the school reversed its stance, saying those all-too-common words, “It was all a misunderstanding”. Mediation was agreed to, and it was reluctantly agreed that the girl could return to school. No apology was offered, and no attempt was made to rehabilitate her good name. The feelings of the girl, and her family, can only be imagined.
I spoke to a friend in Jakarta about this episode, and I must say I didn’t try and hide my feelings about the lack of compassion shown by some Indonesians towards girls and women who have been sexually abused. And while I was in mid-flight, she stopped me and said, “I agree with everything you say. But you need to know something else about this case.” What she told me provided an interesting and illuminating new perspective on Indonesian society.
During the time that the girl was missing, the predominantly Muslim neighbourhood where the girl’s family live were incredibly supportive, keeping the family calm, promoting positivity, and helping to distribute flyers. Then, after she was found, her recuperation was helped by the many caring, supportive neighbourhood visitors who brought food, money, and most of all, the gift of their time and love.
They didn’t stop with that. They started – and completed – a major fund-raising drive to enable her to finish her education privately, away from the school that had besmirched her name and honour, and treated her with such vile insensitivity. They also found her an excellent, well-qualified teacher who was also a counsellor familiar with the needs of traumatised young girls to guide her education.
The whole Muslim community in her neighbourhood rallied to help someone who was in trouble and desperately needed their help. To me, this is one of the untold stories of true, genuine compassion in Indonesia that might well be common, but largely remains un-trumpeted. Maybe this is because compassion carries its own quiet rewards.
Oh, and I nearly forgot – the girl and her family are Christians. To their wonderful, caring Muslim neighbours, that fact was, as it should be, completely irrelevant. I salute you.