Senior lector in Indonesian at the SOAS University of London
The mass media and public have been shocked by the recent news about Reynhard Sinaga, an Indonesian, who has been convicted of over 159 offenses against 48 men between January 2015 and June 2017. The 36-year-old is a PhD student at Leeds University in the United Kingdom, and has been named as “Britain’s most prolific rapist”. Very quickly the Indonesian mass media focused on the criminal’s sexual orientation and several even compared his case to that of Ryan from Jombang, East Java. In 2008, Ryan was arrested by the police, who suspected him of murder. Later, Ryan confessed to having killed 11 people. Ryan mutilated many of his victims, some of them reportedly out of jealousy.
Most Indonesian media extensively focused on Ryan’s sexual orientation, as if the murderer’s identity as a gay person was the cause of his horrendous crimes. Meanwhile, while most British mass media outlets mention that Reynhard’s victims are males, they do not discuss his sexual orientation at length. Yet type in Reynhard Sinaga and gay or LGBT on Google, and many reports in Indonesian appear. Indeed, Reynhard’s sexual orientation is paraded on the titles of several Indonesian reports.
Many comments also condemn his sexual orientation, as if it were not the rape itself that were the problem, but his sexual orientation. In this discourse, being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) becomes a crime of its own.
I do not justify Reynhard’s crime at all. But several comments and articles that concentrate on his sexual orientation have overlooked the gravity of his crime and also missed analyzing the backgrounds of such actions. Reynhard earlier lived in Indonesia, where those known as LGBT are stigmatized. Have the newspapers that condemned LGBT people noted there are many LGBT people who are caring, humane and treat their partners very well? Have they actually published any articles about the many LGBT people who have also become great authors, scientists and human rights defenders? I doubt it. It seems the main goal of many of these media (whether consciously or not) is to slander LGBT people, so most of them mainly publish articles about the criminals who coincidentally have LGBT sexual orientations. So in the world of these media, LGBT people are rapists, murderers and/or sexual offenders.
When the perpetrators or criminals are known as heterosexuals, usually no news mentions sexual orientation.
So, let us now compare Reynhard’s case with other horrendous crimes committed by people considered heterosexuals. Take the late Anwar Congo, who bragged on camera that he had murdered hundreds of people. He even proudly said that he drank some of his victims’ blood. In the film The Act of Killing, he also acts out a scene where a victim is forced to eat his own liver. How about another member of a paramilitary organization who bragged that he had raped young girls in the same film? Has any mass media mentioned these men’s sexual orientations? Or perhaps because they are considered heterosexual then this does not need to be mentioned? Because only LGBT people must be bad?
Let us not forget several mass rapes and mass murders in Indonesia – some involving unimaginable violence. The perpetrators often escape free. And what are their sexual orientations? If people assume the perpetrators are heterosexual, then somehow this does not and should not become an issue.
Thus, clearly there is a strong culture of bullying and stigmatizing against the LGBT communities in Indonesia. Several studies demonstrate that people who have been bullied and stigmatized tend to be disruptive and exhibit antisocial behavior. Such behavior, if left unchecked, can escalate to serious crimes. If the Indonesian media and public continue to condemn Reynhard for his sexual orientation, they have caused more LGBT people to feel insecure, to do self-harm and possibly other disruptive behaviors.
We all have responsibilities toward other people: to treat them respectfully and equally. If we have treated someone without considering this person’s well-being, then we really have to question ourselves whether we actually share responsibility, whether directly or indirectly, when this person conducts any action that lacks the slightest consideration for others’ well-being.
Senior lector in Indonesian at the SOAS University of London.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.