Domestic violence claims more silent victims in Jakarta

Domestic violence cases of the rich and famous have made the front page recently, with cases like that of Manohara, the model-turned-Malaysian-princess who was allegedly assaulted by her husband. A sadder picture of dangdut singer Cici Paramida with an apparent broken jaw, who claims her violent husband tried to run her over, added to the celebrities-in-distress picture. Every form of media has joined the stampede to cover these cases and their surrounding dramas, turning them into an incessant flow of news.

Some dramas however are left unnoticed, some buried for years and some still loom large in the shadows despite their actors’ fervent wishes to forget the scenarios.

“I am still traumatized until this day,” Gita Ayu, a victim of domestic violence during her childhood, told The Jakarta Post. Gita’s father beat her and her mother up since she could remember, sometimes using scissors. The abuse went on until her college days and only ended when she left home permanently to get married. “I learned to fight back since I was in the third grade,” she said, “I would fight and kick back when my drunk father came home to beat me and my mother up, but I didn’t take any legal action because I didn’t know where to go.”

Gita’s father is now sober and much less violent, especially since she bore him a grandson. “I told him to change his ways or I will not have anything to do with him anymore,” she said, “It’s amazing how quitting drinking changed him enormously.” However, the years of abuse have made their mark. “I was afraid of getting married at first, because I thought it would turn out badly like in my family.” Memories of her violent childhood resurface frequently, causing her to experience depression and mood swings.

“During the first years of my marriage I would often be angry. Like my father, I would punch and kick my husband,” Gita said, “Perhaps *the violent trait* is hereditary, or it has rub off on me.” Andre, not his real name, said he too absorbed his father’s aggressiveness, having gone through years of harsh words and beatings. “I have a tendency to be hotheaded, and get easily upset when someone disagrees with me,” he said, adding that such traits were the very ones he despised in his father.

Andre’s father, a religious man and a recognized figure in the legal and political world, often punched him and his younger brothers during their primary school years and teenage years. As in Gita’s case, Andre’s father has become much less violent these last few years, but his children’s memories of him are already tainted.

Andre said his mother, who is his father’s second wife, refrained from reporting his father to the police or legal bodies for fear of tarnishing the family’s reputation. “She always told us to be patient and tolerate his behavior.”

Tolerance and the desire to keep a family together are reasons that are keeping Rena, not her real name, from divorcing her husband, who, according to her, has been rude and neglectful toward her for years. “Once in 2003, he slapped me and held my head underwater in our bathroom,” Rena recalled with a bitter smile. “I told his mother about the incident and he never attacked me physically since then.”

What followed, however, was a mix of dishonesty, negligence and unkind words. “He started having an affair and would be oblivious to his surroundings at home, even to his own two children,” Rena said.

She went to LBH APIK, a Jakarta-based NGO that handles cases of domestic violence, and was told to bring her husband for a counselling session or divorce him altogether, but she said both were almost impossible for her.

“My husband will not get counseling. He was offended for being called a domestic violence perpetrator because he thinks that his swearing and negligence cannot be categorized as acts of violence,” Rena said. As for divorce, the thought of her two children, now aged 2 and 4 years old, growing up without a father makes her uneasy.

Siska Christanty from Mitra Perempuan, a women’s crisis center, said the fear of losing a father figure for one’s children was a common reason for women to refrain from reporting domestic violence or separating from their husband. “Some fear what their neighbors, friends and family will think of them, and some depend financially on their husbands,” she said.

Mitra Perempuan’s 2008 statistics showed around 279 cases of reported domestic violence in Jakarta, Bogor and Tangerang. Recently, LBH APIK’s director, Estu Rahmi Fanani said the NGO had received approximately 300 domestic violence cases as of June this year.

Siska said the number had increased from the past years because more and more victims were speaking up. “The government and NGOs have been educating the people about domestic violence, thus they have become more aware of what constitutes it and that there’s a law against it,” she said.

The 2004 law on domestic violence stipulates that physical and mental abuse directed to someone in the household is illegal, thus victims are entitled to sue the perpetrators. The increasing number of reports was a good sign, but it was still the tip of the iceberg, Siska said. “The actual number of cases might be ten times more than that.”


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