Legislators nix ‘consent’ from Indonesia sexual violence bill

Students and activists from Women's Movement against Violence Alliance (Gerak Perempuan) participate in a rally in front of Education and Culture Ministry on Feb 10, 2020. They demand for the end of sexual violence in the education institutions. - JP

JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network): The House of Representatives is likely to pass a watered-down version of the sexual violence eradication bill after members of the working committee tasked with deliberating the bill agreed to remove any words supporting the concept of sexual consent.

The move was apparently made in response to the controversy over a regulation (Permendikbud) issued by Education, Culture, Research and Technology Minister Nadiem Makarim to combat sexual violence on university campuses.

The regulation cites a lack of consent from victims as a critical factor that defines sexual assault, triggering protests from certain Islamic groups who interpreted the said provisions as tacit approval by the state of consensual extramarital sex.

Willy Aditya, the deputy chairman of the House Legislation Body (Baleg), argued that the bill was unlike the controversial Permendikbud, saying that it would not incorporate the notion of sexual consent in the definition of sexual violence.

“The bill is different from the Permendikbud. The public need not to worry. We’ve drafted this bill carefully by considering the social and cultural [factors]. So the phrase sexual consent is not included in the bill,” he told reporters on Wednesday (Nov 17).

The phrase “consent” in the context of sexual consent was previously mentioned in Articles 5, 6 and 7 of the bill. Articles 5 and 6, for example, would criminalise anyone who commits sexual violence using the “threat of violence, manipulation, fraud and the exploitation of a condition of powerlessness that prevents a person from giving their consent freely.”

The proposal to scrap the word persetujuan (consent) was made by National Mandate Party (PAN) politician Zainuddin Maliki on Tuesday.

The proposed changes mark yet another chapter in the long-awaited bill, which has been on and off the table at the House since the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) lobbied lawmakers to pass the bill in 2012.

The bill was dropped from the 2020 Prolegnas priority list in July last year, with lawmakers claiming that the deliberation process was “too complicated”.

Shortly after, Taufik Basari announced that the NasDem faction would lead the effort in the House to include the sexual violence eradication bill in the 2021 Prolegnas.

Lawmakers have struggled to pass the bill, which has divided the country along ideological lines despite rampant cases of sexual abuse in the country.

Even with the compromised version, temperatures during deliberation of the bill rose as some lawmakers insisted on eliminating other phrases such as “like nor dislike” and “force”. The most contentious one was the inclusion of “sexual perversion” in the bill proposed by the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), the only Islamic party in the House opposition camp, based on religious and moral arguments.

“[The current draft] leaves a dangerous norm, namely nonviolent [sexual relations] that are not being regulated. If it is not regulated, it means that it is something tolerated,” Muzamil of the PKS faction told the meeting.

Previously, the PKS faction consistently rejected the bill, and made it clear that their rejection was a party position, based on, among other things, the bill’s “permissive” attitude toward “free sex” and LGBT groups.

The faction on Wednesday also demanded that the wording of the bill’s title be changed from “sexual violence eradication” to “decency”.

The latest version has several differences from the original bill. For instance, now only five forms of sexual violence are acknowledged, not nine as in the original.

These five forms are nonphysical harassment (Article 4), forced use of contraceptive devices (Articles 5 and 6), forced sexual penetration (Article 7), sexual exploitation (Article 8), and additional offences, like silencing victims or witnesses or pressuring them not to testify (Article 9).

Activists have said that the bill should not become “more permissive” due to pressure from opponents as the country needs a distinct legal framework that acknowledges sexual violence as criminal conduct punishable by law.

“We still need to be more cautious so a covert agenda proposed by those who want to criminalise sex based on consent do not sacrifice the struggle of the victims,” said Naila Rizqi Zakiyah of the Civil Society Coalition Against Sexual Violence (Kompaks).

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Indonesia , sexual , violence , activists , bill


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