The Jakarta Post
The only comfort for the family of the United Kingdom’s “most prolific rapist” may be that the coverage of Reynhard Sinaga was mostly in the UK, rather than in his home country.
Indonesians expressed shock at the news that Reynhard, a PhD student in Manchester, was sentenced to life for 159 counts of rape or sexual assault against 48 men between January 2016 and June 2017. Police suspect he raped many more. No prior report had surfaced of the police investigations or the subsequent trial of the 36-year-old, reportedly the son of a wealthy family in Depok, West Java.
Apart from the knowledge that anyone, including a harmless looking student, could rape not one but scores of victims before being arrested, the news was surprising because in Indonesia, other predators apart from the criminal would have been on the hunt much earlier; predators tasked with satisfying the insatiable appetite for salacious news.
This has already happened. Shortly after the news about Reynard circulated, pictures of his parents were making the rounds on social media. Worse, a man with a similar name was subject to cyberbullying. A few comments reflected a deeply misleading focus: the criminals’ sexual orientation rather than his crimes.
Here, police investigations of such crimes would be accompanied by zealous members of the press. Camera crews would be all over his house and his family members, if they could not get close to the criminal himself. Media hordes would swarm the courtroom. More dangerously, the victims would be exposed while media watchdogs might raise feeble appeals to remind the press to protect victims’ privacy and the criminal’s family and to avoid reinforcing homophobic tropes.
The lessons from Manchester that the Indonesian media and public need to be reminded of are first, to remain focused on the crimes instead of the characteristics of criminals, including sexual orientation, and second, to fiercely protect victims. Our press code of ethics includes respecting victims’ privacy, particularly victims of sexual crime. However, both media competition and the sick hunger for sensation, to consume and to click-share, often throw ethics out the window, with some law enforcers relishing the opportunity for fame. In past high-profile crimes, the criminal’s sexual orientation has fed the headlines, increasing insecurity among Indonesia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
On Thursday the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) announced they were aware of social media posts seeking to identify Reynhard’s victims. They stated that under the country’s sexual offences law, victims “have a lifelong right to anonymity and therefore any post which identifies victims of sexual offences constitutes a criminal offence.” Such posts risk jeopardizing an ongoing investigation into serious crime, the GMP said. They are tracing other potential victims, some of whom are coming forward.
In Indonesia the National Police said they were also investigating whether Reynhard committed similar crimes here. However, even though he is safely behind bars, any possible victims here would likely lie low, fearful of predators seeking to expose their identities and threaten their well-being, predators who might be just as cruel to them as the smiling rapist.