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Jakarta Post

Sexual assault survivor’s long battle to find justice in UGM

  • Bambang Muryanto and Evi Mariani

    The Jakarta Post

Yogyakarta   /   Sat, February 9, 2019   /   09:32 am
Sexual assault survivor’s long battle to find justice in UGM Gadjah Mada University students rally at the campus' central office, demanding justice for Agni, the pseudonym of an alleged sexual assault victim, on Nov. 29. (JP/Bambang Muryanto)

The survivor of an alleged sexual assault at a respected university in Indonesia finds herself on a long journey battling victim-blaming in a paternalistic society.

In the end, she says she lost some battles, but is triumphing in the war.

“I think I lost in my case. My demand for [the alleged perpetrator] to get dismissed from the university was not met, but I’m still in the fight for the bigger goal and I still have high spirits. I’m not giving up. I’m not put out,” Agni told The Jakarta Post on Feb. 6.

Agni, not her real name, is a student of Gadjah Mada University (UGM), one of the country’s oldest and largest state universities. She alleges that in late June 2017 she was sexually assaulted by a fellow student during a community development program in Maluku province. The following day she reported her case to the supervisor of the program. Since then she has received a lot of support but also a lot of blame.

Her case became public in November last year when Balairung Press, a UGM student news website, published her story and told how she reported the case to the university and received victim-blaming instead of help. The article went viral and inspired an online petition and a number of rallies against abuse on campus, not only in UGM but also in other universities like the University of Indonesia.

On Feb. 4, UGM’s rectorate, Agni, accompanied by her legal team, and the alleged perpetrator, HS, settled the case out of court. HS apologized to Agni even though he did not specify what he was apologizing about.

“This was a long battle, but at least the news [published by Balairung] has encouraged an improvement of policies. More people are aware; more people are shaken and shocked, " Agni said. 

Agni said even though she agreed to settle the case, she believed that at the end of the day, the public would hold UGM accountable for the way it handled her case. 

"So I signed the agreement, settled the case, and it’s OK that UGM did not punish [the alleged perpetrator] and did not state clearly that what happened was sexual assault, let the public evaluate it,” Agni said. 

“Agni has fought for justice with courage and strength for one and a half years,” Anastasia Suki Ratnasari, one of Agni’s lawyers, said on Wednesday.

Gadjah Mada University (UGM) students write names on a large piece of fabric to pressure university leaders to take action on sexual violence as part of a movement initiated by a group called #kitaagni (We Are Agni). Agni is the pseudonym of a student who was allegedly assaulted by a fellow student during a community service assignment in Maluku last year.Gadjah Mada University (UGM) students write names on a large piece of fabric to pressure university leaders to take action on sexual violence as part of a movement initiated by a group called #kitaagni (We Are Agni). Agni is the pseudonym of a student who was allegedly assaulted by a fellow student during a community service assignment in Maluku last year. (The Jakarta Post/Bambang Muryanto)

Trying to end the police investigation

Agni said the choice she made to finally settle the case, even without a recognition of sexual assault from UGM, was to “minimize risk”, to avoid the worst. In their settlement, Agni, HS and UGM agreed to end the police investigation, although UGM did not specify how they would do that.

From the beginning, Agni did not want to involve the police because she believed they would not give her justice. However, the Maluku Police opened an investigation on their own and they grilled Agni for 12 hours without any lawyers. Later, an official with the UGM’s rectorate, Arif Nurcahyo, filed a report to the Yogyakarta Police on Agni’s case, against her wishes, and the Yogyakarta Police questioned her for four hours.

Many of the questions touched on sensitive issues and were asked insensitively, said Agni. “[The questions] affected my psychological condition the next day,” she said on Friday.

Suharti, the director of the Rifka Annisa women’s crisis center, said on Wednesday that there were several indications the police wanted to subject Agni and the Balairung journalists to criminal charges.

Yogi Zul Fadhli, the lawyer of one of the journalists, Thovan Sugandi, confirmed that the threat was real. The Yogyakarta Police questioned Thovan and Balairung reporter Citra Maudy and they told the press that the Balairung article was fiction. The Balairung article called what happened to Agni “rape”, using the definition written by the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), which includes penetrating a vagina with a finger without consent, which according to Agni what happened to her.

"The police questioned the word ‘rape’ used by Balairung and they said Balairung’s story was like a ‘novel’,” Yogi said on Friday. The police also told the press they thought the description of the place in Maluku where the assault allegedly happened did not match Balairung’s story.

Yogi said he and his colleagues were prepared if the police accused Balairung of libel.

Last week, Thovan and Citra received an Oktovianus Pogau Award from the Pantau Foundation for their bravery in reporting Agni’s case.

However, the director of general crime for the Yogyakarta Police, Sr. Comr. Hadi Utama, said that despite the settlement signed by UGM, Agni and HS, the police would continue with the case. So far, he said, the police had concluded that the rape had not happened.

No recognition of sexual assault

In her fight to get justice since July 2017, Agni has received considerable support, including from her School of Social and Political Sciences (Fisipol), but the UGM’s rectorate continues to refuse to admit that any sexual harassment happened.

In the vocabulary of UGM’s regulations, the words “sexual assault” do not exist. What is available for Agni to pursue her case is “sexual harassment”. Agni and her lawyers agreed to that weaker term.

On Jan. 18, Agni said she felt that UGM, especially the rectorate office, did not side with her. “They did not even want to state that the sexual harassment happened,” she said.

Rifka Annisa director Suharti said the ethics committee’s conclusions hurt justice. She said UGM had promised to settle the case with gender equality in mind.  Rifka Annisa director Suharti said the ethics committee’s conclusions hurt justice. She said UGM had promised to settle the case with gender equality in mind. (Courtesy of Gadjah Mada University/file)

Following Balairung’s report, UGM formed an ethics committee.

Suki, Agni's lawyer, said the ethics committee concluded there had been no sexual harassment, but only indecent conduct.

One of the former member of the committee, Amalinda Savirani, a lecturer at Fisipol, said to her understanding the committee’s task was to follow up on the findings of an Investigation Team formed in April. That team had concluded that sexual harassment had taken place and it issued some recommendations, including for HS to undergo mandatory counseling.

Amalinda said her position on the committee was as a representative of Fisipol, which from the start supported Agni. Amalinda, however, decided to quit the committee when she saw it was taking a different perspective from Fisipol and she did not want to agree to any conclusions that were different from what Fisipol believed.

Suki, the lawyer, said that four of the seven members of the committee overturned what the investigation team had found, stating that no sexual harassment had happened. Amalinda refused to sign the conclusion, while two others, including Sri Wiyanti Eddyono from UGM’s Law School, wrote dissenting opinions.

Rifka Annisa director Suharti said the ethics committee’s conclusions hurt justice. She said UGM had promised to settle the case with gender equality in mind.  

In her dissenting opinion, Sri Wiyanti wrote that she believed sexual harassment had happened. Her dissenting opinion was an “individual opinion”, she said, and as a scholar whose expertise is in criminal law, she said she could not agree with the conclusion of the ethics committee. “It would have been unethical of me if I behaved differently from the scholarly understanding I have and I teach,” she wrote in the opinion.

Sri Wiyanti wrote in her opinion, which quoted several pieces of scholarly research, that HS admitted to “indecent conduct” toward Agni without her consent. HS said he interpreted Agni’s silence at the start as consent, while Agni told the committee that she was frozen because she was scared. For Sri Wiyanti, what happened was a difference in perception. HS’ perception resulted from a gender stereotype that was born out of the patriarchal culture. “The result of this culture is a man’s privilege to think that his perception is fact,” she said, quoting research from 2016.


This article is part of the #NamaBaikKampus (Campus Reputation) collaboration between The Jakarta Post, BBC Indonesia, Tirto.id and VICE Indonesia, in relation to allegations of sexual abuse on campuses in Indonesia.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to better clarify Agni's statement.