As an alumna of Gadjah Mada University (UGM), in particular the School of Social and Political Sciences, I am proud of my juniors, sexual abuse survivors, who spoke up about their cases and began something that would be a good change in one of Indonesia’s oldest universities.
Next year, UGM will be 70 years old. The old central building, the Gedung Pusat, still stands gracefully, but the campus has also seen rapid changes. Last year, I went there and did not recognize my own school.
Besides having President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo among the alumni, the university has produced many other people who champion human rights and gender equality. I’m proud to call many of them my friends.
Now, it’s time for UGM to lead the change in how campuses in Indonesia deal with sexual abuses within their jurisdiction. Don’t hush victims; encourage them. Don’t blame the victims and sweep the reports under UGM’s ancient rug. Listen to the demands of students, UGM’s bright young people who would preserve the grace of Gedung Pusat while making the world better.
UGM has a chance to make history and the time is now.
The university student press, Balairung, reported on Monday about a social and political sciences student who said she was sexually attacked while sleeping fully clothed and wearing her headscarf by a fellow student during a community service assignment (KKN) in Maluku in June last year.
In less than 24 hours, a petition on change.org, which demanded UGM punish the alleged perpetrator, garnered about 60,000 signatures.
The case was under investigation by an independent team from UGM since late last year and the team recommended punishment for the perpetrator, identified only as HS, and help for the victim. HS had to write a letter of apology signed by the parents and to get mandatory counseling designed for sexual abusers.
However, the victim and many who support her find the punishment to be too lenient; they demand that HS be expelled. Tri Hayuning Tyas, the investigation team’s coordinator, told Balairung the team lacked legal ground to recommend the university expel HS.
Many were also angry that the victim had to strive at length to secure recognition that she was indeed raped. She said the perpetrator put his fingers into her genitals, which according to the National Commission on Violence Against Women’s definition of sexual violence, was rape.
Her friends had encouraged her to report her case to the community service supervisor. The supervisor decided to send HS back to Yogyakarta, but also blamed the victim for what happened. One university official even told her to “repent”, she said.
Months later, the victim learned she got a C for the assignment, while others got As or Bs. The KKN supervisor and others in charge of the program agreed to give her a C because both HS and the victim had “contributed to that incident”, which embarrassed UGM in front of the locals.
Two years ago, I met a sexual abuse survivor from UGM. She was a brave woman who wanted me to write her story that she was abused by a social and political sciences lecturer whom she respected and admired. Her lecturer is my senior and I know him. He then headed the school’s International Relations Department.
She decided to report him to the school after she heard other victims had spoken out; he was no longer the department head and an investigation team was formed.
Debates among campus officials ensued about what the school and the university should do about the lecturer. He was not fired; the survivor said she once ran into him in the basement parking lot. “I don’t think he should still have been on campus. How would his other victims react when they see him?” she told me. As of Nov. 7, I haven’t heard if he was dismissed from his position as a lecturer.
At the same time, however, I saw some positive progress in my alma mater. Sexual abuse at UGM surely already occurred years ago, but none of the cases were ever made public, let alone investigated.
During my years at UGM in the 1990s, I could not imagine that a student reporting such a powerful lecturer would get support from other lecturers. The patriarchy was even stronger then and, honestly, I could not imagine fellow student journalists writing pieces with a strong victim perspective like the one Balairung did. Feminism had begun at UGM, but most students were not as well versed about gender equality as they are now.
One disclaimer though: I feel optimistic that changes are coming to UGM and my alma mater could be the institution at the forefront of these changes because I know some of the lecturers at the school.
These women and men are perceptive enough to know that times have changed, so UGM must change too. They are people who want to make UGM a safe educational institution. They are people who want UGM to be a true educational institution, meaning it has the responsibility to teach the students (and the lecturers, too), that touching other people’s bodies without their permission is sexual abuse and a well-respected institution like UGM should not tolerate abusers.
I am certain UGM can rise to the occasion and be a shining example for other universities to make campuses safe spaces free of sexual abuse.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.