Student newspaper exposé on sexual assault puts prestigious Indonesian university at center of scandal

Photo illustration
Photo illustration

An exposé by a student publication at Yogyakarta-based Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) has blown the lid on an explosive rape allegation at one of Indonesia’s most prestigious universities.

On Monday, UGM’s student body publication, Balairung Press, published an article containing a student’s account of an alleged rape she experienced at the hands of a fellow student while doing a work experience (KKN) program in Maluku in June 2017.

The alleged victim, identified by the pseudonym Agni, says in the article that she chose to stay the night at the room of a fellow KKN participant, identified by his initials HS, because heavy rain prevented her from returning to her room on the night of June 30. While asleep, HS allegedly forced himself on Agni, who eventually managed to stop him just short of genital penetration.

The next day, Agni told her friend what had happened and soon the story about the alleged rape spread among other UGM KKN participants in Maluku, eventually reaching program officials.

According to Balairung’s report, those officials chose not to forward Agni’s accusation to the police. Instead they were largely skeptical of Agni’s account, with one even reportedly saying, “Don’t call her a victim yet. It’s like if a cat is given dried fish, it will at least sniff the fish or eat it,” implying that Agni is as much to blame as she chose to stay the night at HS’.

Regardless, HS was pulled from the KKN program about a week later, but not because of the rape allegations. Rather, it was because he was deemed to be “incompatible” with other KKN participants.

After Agni finished her KKN and returned to Yogyakarta in September, she was shocked to receive a C-grade for the program as she felt she deserved much more. She says one official later told her that it was his right to lower her grade because her rape allegation had caused him shame among the locals in Maluku.

Agni then filed a formal complaint about her alleged rape to higher-ranking officials at the university, who raised her grade to A/B but still did not report HS to law enforcement. Instead, the university agreed to pay for the counseling Agni had been seeking to deal with her trauma, as well as requiring HS to go to counseling as well. HS was allowed to take part in another KKN program the semester after the alleged rape, and he is expected to graduate soon.

UGM Spokesperson Iva Ariani confirmed the account as told in Balairung Press and says that the university is now taking further steps to investigate the rape allegation.

“The case as told in Balairung Press did indeed happen. UGM has extraordinary empathy for the victim, we are also concerned about the incident,” she told Kompas yesterday.

Iva added that, although UGM had already formed an independent investigative team to look into the allegation and had mediated with the parties involved, the university could turn to law enforcement in light of Balairung Press’ article.

“We will take further legal steps so that the victim gets justice. We will trust this process to the authorities,” she said.

A petition has been launched on Change.org urging UGM to set up better policies and take sterner action to prevent sexual assault incidents like this from happening, such as harsher sanctions on culprits. Around 55,000 have signed the petition at the time of writing, and you can do the same here.

People in authority turning a blind eye on allegations of sexual misconduct is unfortunately not rare in Indonesia. Earlier this year, a woman in one of the most publicized sexual assault cases in the country told us the police didn’t investigate her case until after she made it go viral on social media.

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