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Jakarta Post

Criminal law hinders quest for justice in Depok abuse case

  • Budi Sutrisno

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, July 16, 2020   /   10:04 am
Criminal law hinders quest for justice in Depok abuse case Lawyer Azas Tigor Nainggolan said that, while the victims had suffered psychological trauma, mental changes and even drug dependence, most of them were not ready to report the assaults for various reasons. (Shutterstock/BEAUTY STUDIO)

A recent case of child sexual abuse at a Catholic church in Depok, West Java, sheds light on the flaws and complexity of Indonesia’s criminal law, which has hampered the victims’ quest for justice for a crime reportedly committed over a period of 18 years.

Only three of at least 21 altar boys allegedly molested by 42-year-old church caretaker Syahril Parlindungan Marbun since 2002 have filed legal reports, and the Depok Police say they cannot “process” one of those reports because of a “lack of evidence”.

Police said they considered that claimant just as a witness rather than a victim in the case because the alleged crime happened 12 years ago, so police could not make a physical forensics report.

Lawyer Azas Tigor Nainggolan said that, while the victims had suffered psychological trauma, mental changes and even drug dependence, most of them were not ready to report the assaults for various reasons.

“The victims are ashamed and afraid. Some have moved out of town. The state must accommodate and protect the victims, and it should not create any burden for [the filing of police] reports,” Tigor told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

Tigor argued that the testimony of the victims alone, which the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) had also gathered through its complaint service at the church, should be sufficient to prove that the accused was guilty.

Even in cases where victims of abuse have the courage and opportunity to report crimes, the difficulty to meet the prevailing requirements often keeps old cases from being processed to a satisfactory extent, so the resolution may not reflect the magnitude of crimes committed.

Under the Criminal Code, which is currently the legal basis for sexual assault cases, the requirements for prosecution, aside from witness statements, include physical evidence, such as sperm marks or torn tissue in the genital area.

“Even if that one undergoes a medical examination, we won’t find anything. Moreover, it is difficult to find the witnesses,” the head of the police’s women and child protection (PPA) unit, Second Insp. Elia Herawati, told the Post.

Elia also said that the accused had admitted to harassing only 13 victims. She said the police had deployed a special team for a field investigation to identify more possible victims, but the effort was hampered by incomplete data provided by the church.

“We were looking for data on altar children in the church. The church said there was no complete data that included all the names, addresses and so on, and that it had to ask past mentors who kept the children’s names,” she said.

The case files have been submitted to the attorney for a document review before court trials. Syahril has been charged with violating the 2014 Child Protection Law, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years of imprisonment.

Law expert Sulistyowati Irianto from the University of Indonesia said there should be “a very fundamental paradigm shift”, since it was indeed difficult to follow the conventional procedural criminal law system to prove old cases.

“If a victim has testified, then that’s the proof. [...] Our obstacle now is indeed the political side of it,” she said in an online discussion on Monday, while regretting the postponement of the deliberation of the sexual violence eradication bill this year.

The bill, if passed, would forbid law enforcement officials from blaming or degrade victims or to saddle victims with the responsibility of searching for evidence in their own cases. It would also add forms of admissible evidence that provide an opportunity for the victim to meet evidentiary requirements.

Lawyer Rita Serena Kalibonso, who is also a former commissioner of the National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan), argued that sexual assault cases were unique and required specific ways to handle in court.

“There is indeed a case expiry time of 20 years in the Criminal Code. But, when many old cases surface, like in Depok, there is no need to make the victim submit the history of medical examinations or the extent of the psychological trauma,” she said. Testimonies should suffice, she said.

The head of the Ledalero Catholic philosophy school in East Nusa Tenggara, Otto Gusti Madung, called out St. Herkulanus Church for keeping the cases “silent”, arguing that an investigation should also be carried out against the authorities of the church.

It is claimed that one of the victims’ parents had reported the alleged assault to the church in 2014, but the issue was reportedly solved through mediation by the church. The current St. Herkulanus parish priest, Yosef Sirilus Natet, said he did not know whether a report had been made in 2014. He told the Post earlier this month that he would just let the police investigate.

Bogor Diocese judicial vicar Yohanes Driyanto admitted there had been an issue between the altar boys and their mentor, but he said what the parish learned was not sexual violence.

He said that, as far as he knew, the 2014 report was about two altar boys who were about to be dismissed by the suspect and protested against that. Why the suspect had threatened to dismiss the two boys from the altar service was not clear, he said.

However, Yohanes admitted that the Depok case showed a lack of support for victims by the church.