By Iwu Dwisetyani Utomo*
A recent Gender and Reproductive Health Study in Indonesia found a surprisingly high degree of comprehension of sexual harassment among Indonesian students and teachers, but there were some worrying differences across various demographics.
The findings suggest the need for more research, education and awareness-raising on sexual harassment in Indonesia, as well as institution-building for reporting and policing sexual harassment.
School students need to better understand the concept of sexual harassment in order to protect themselves. Sexual harassment can have significant negative effects on children — on their physical and mental health, safety, school enrolment, educational achievement, dignity, self-esteem and social relationships.
In severe cases of sexual violence, unwanted pregnancies can be another consequence. Child sexual harassment is also associated with psychiatric disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, substance abuse and suicide.
Children are especially vulnerable because they cannot defend themselves nor understand what has happened to them, leading to under-reporting of sexual harassment incidents. Without strategic intervention in the form of education, prevention or treatment programs, the problem is able to fester — perpetrators go undetected and victims suffer in silence.
Given the serious consequences of child sexual harassment, many developed countries have policies and programs to prevent or punish the practice. Establishing child protection commissions with reliable hotlines for emergency cases is a common strategy.
Another involves ensuring adequate understanding of sexual harassment through education programs. Some nations have sex-offender registries that allow administrators to track offenders. Many also ask visa applicants whether they have ever been charged with sexual crimes, helping them track foreigners who may be likely to offend.
Indonesia seems to have little concern for these issues, and little is known about child sexual harassment. Official data records a decline in reported incidents, although there is likely widespread under-reporting of the problem. Aside from establishing a children’s commission, few policies and programs have been implemented to address the issue. The government renewed the Child Protection Regulation in 2014 but the associated law does nothing to improve sexual education for children.
Indonesian courts tend to hand down heavy sentences for severe misconduct on the part of teachers, such as oral sex, sexual intercourse and anal sex with students. But other forms of sexual harassment by teachers rarely make it to court, such as touching, staring, using inappropriate language, and requesting sexual favours in exchange for a student passing exams. Sexual violence may go unreported unless it is manifests in extreme or serious behaviour because the prevailing culture imbues teachers with authority and encourages students and parents to be deferential.
The Indonesian Gender and Reproductive Health Study of Year 6 and Year 12 students in Jakarta, West Java, West Nusa Tenggara and South Sulawesi provides insights into how sexual harassment policy could be improved.
Female teachers appear more likely than their male counterparts to classify behaviour as sexual harassment. There are some provincial differences, with teachers in South Sulawesi the least likely to classify any behaviour as constituting sexual harassment. Those in religious schools were significantly more likely to classify a wider range of behaviours as sexual harassment. If students were harassed, teachers in religious schools would calm students, talk with fellow teachers and report the incident to the parents of the child.
Among students, girls were more likely than boys to report harassment and act. Year 6 students were more likely to report harassment to parents, police, teachers and school principals, while Year 12 students will handle the matter themselves by resisting the perpetrator or talking with friends. These results show that males, whether teachers or students, are more likely to have problems in understanding or reporting of sexual harassment. This is a major issue because most perpetrators are men.
Comprehensive gender and reproductive health education is not formally included in the Indonesian school curriculum, but reproductive health education is integrated into school textbooks in certain subjects. Information about sexual harassment has been formally included in the curriculum from Year 5, but the information is limited to descriptions of what sexual harassment is, how to avoid it and whom to report it to. The information also has a gender bias and blames girls for being harassed — it states that girls should not wear tight dresses or heavy make-up and should not walk alone on dark streets at night.
Government programs should improve the understanding of sexual harassment by including comprehensive gender-neutral sex and reproductive health education in the curricula from primary school onwards, treating it as a subject in itself and not integrating it into other subjects. They should also train both men and women teachers thoroughly on gender and reproductive health. Many do not have the skill to understand and teach this subject, and are not confident in talking about it to their students.
Parents also need to be educated about sexual harassment and gender and reproductive health so that they can talk about these issues with their children. The government should also enforce strong penalties for sexual perpetrators, especially in schools.
Campaigns, communication and education about gender and reproductive health issues, especially those relating to sexual harassment, need to be designed for and disseminated to children at the appropriate age and education level.
*Iwu Dwisetyani Utomo is a research fellow at the School of Demography, Australian National University. This article is abridged by EastAsiaForum from a version that appears in the latest issue of East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Investing in Women‘.