“It must be due to what the women were wearing” or “It must be because the women seduced the men first” are two common accusations pointed at the victims of rape. As if being mentally, sexually and physically abused were not bad enough, these victims face a harsher fact: a Supreme Court justice candidate making a joke about rape.
Rape cases occur daily in Indonesia, and many have gone unreported because the victims were threatened by the perpetrators or they were afraid of social stigma.
But is it to be believed that a judge, who is supposed to uphold the law, made the victims of rape a laughing stock? Sadly, that is what happened. And it happened during the so-called “fit-and-proper” test at the House of Representatives.
M. Daming Sunusi responded to a question from members of House Commission III overseeing law and human rights as to whether the death penalty in rape cases was a necessary change from the existing law, which carries a maximum sentence of 12 years’ imprisonment.
“Both the victims of rape and the rapist might have enjoyed their intercourse together, so we should think twice before handing down the death penalty” was Daming’s response during Monday’s event.
What should have been a long, embarrassing silence upon hearing Daming’s answer shockingly turned into a big joke, as Commission III members laughed along with the judge.
His answer — he claimed it was launched as “an ice breaker” — shows his insensitivity of the still rampant rape cases in the country.
Daming’s remark went viral and he received condemnation on Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger. Singer and social media activist Melanie Subono initiated an online petition on Tuesday, demanding that Daming make a public apology and that Commission III not appoint him as a justice at the Supreme Court.
Lawmakers, who were trying to improve their image following their mistake made less than 24 hours earlier, implemented a damage control measure by condemning the judge, apparently bowing to public pressure. Lawmakers Pramono Anung Wibowo from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and Indra of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) said their parties would vote to reject Daming, a career judge from Banjarmasin, East Kalimantan.
Activists saw Daming’s remark as violating the code of ethics for judicial officials. “We demand that lawmakers not give the post to Daming as he has offended people’s feelings by uttering an inappropriate statement,” spokesman of the Foundation of the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute (YLBHI), Ridwan Bakar, said.
The Judicial Commission — whose main task is to supervise the performance of judges — plans to question Daming on whether or not he breached the judicial code of ethics. “We regret his statement,” commission spokesman Asep Rahmat Fajar said. “We never expected that he would express such an opinion in the selection process at the House yesterday [Monday].”
Daming is not the only one making public statements blaming the victims of rape.
We still remember former Jakarta governor Fauzi Bowo’s remark when, last year, he advised women against wearing “provocative clothes” while using public transportation in order to avoid being raped. He made his statement after several gang rape cases on public minivans, including the rape of a Binus University student who was subsequently killed.
Fauzi then publicly apologized after his statement went viral and people condemned him.
Social media has helped society to become more aware of the irregularities occurring around them. Public pressure can often be conveyed more effectively through the media rather than channeling our voices through our representatives at the House in Senayan.
Why is it so easy for public officials to raise the issue on “provocative clothes”? If men exhibit self-control, they would not commit gender-based crimes regardless of what women wear. It is unfair that the women — the victims in rape cases — are always the ones to be blamed instead of the perpetrators.
All this time, sentences for rapists have been deemed too lenient. They often get away with less than the maximum 12 years’ jail term. Such a punishment, unfortunately, is not a deterrent for other would-be criminals. Should Indonesia follow Turkey, which proposes legalizing chemical castration as a punishment for repeat rapists and pedophiles, with a wide-ranging overhaul of the country’s sexual abuse laws?
Daming apologized on Tuesday in a tearful statement. But the damage has been done. Nothing he said in his apology can heal the wound he caused. Although he claimed that his wife and daughters had also protested him, it does not change the fact that he made a joke about rape. And, significantly, lawmakers laughed about it.
A lesson to be learned for those (male) public officials: This could happen to your wives and daughters. Do not joke about it. Believe me, none of them would enjoy forceful intercourse.