Sexual Repression and Misogynistic Moral Police

Faiza Mardzoeki


A man and a woman were sitting at a table, chatting intimately over a meal. They were boyfriend and girlfriend sharing an affectionate moment. Suddenly a screaming mob invaded the house. The two were forcibly dragged outside.

This violent, invading mob was led, shockingly, by a “public servant”, somebody certified by the state to serve the people: the neighborhood head, or ketua RT.

Why did the RT head and his mob invade the private house of a resident, without a warrant or any other document, and then forcibly drag the couple outside? They were suspected of engaging in extramarital sex.

Does the RT head, or anybody else for that matter, have the right to invade a person’s home based on “suspicions” about their private lives? The RT head’s position is regulated by law, and he has no such right. Neither does any other member of society.

Isn’t this incident that took place in Cikupa in Tangerang, Banten, based merely on “suspicions” about private lives, a form of indecency itself? The indecency of this behavior was then manifested in what the mob did next. Their suspicions were not confirmed when they found the couple eating, so they used threats to get the couple to “confess”.

The indecency of unfounded suspicion led to the invasion of privacy, and then to threats and a forced confession. But the nastiness didn’t stop there: The mob then stripped the couple nearly naked before the mob. The disrobed couple was filmed and then posted on social media. Who is it that has the indecent mind?

And what if you or I were subject to such “suspicions”? Or our children? Or our boyfriend or girlfriend? And who are these people who think they can read what is in people’s hearts?

What is it that causes people to be driven to such nasty, indecent violence, shaming people in public purely based on their suspicions? Why are they so motivated by others’ private lives and whether or not they are engaging in intimate acts?

What business is it of a neighborhood head to try and control the private lives of residents, and control whether they engaged in sexual relations? The neighborhood is there to help the government implement development, not to act as a moral police. Sometimes, other figures appoint themselves as moral police: a local elder, a cleric or a local security guard. In the name of “order”, they readily carry out moral persecution against local residents.

Now, it appears that the party factions in the legislature intend to strengthen the state’s power to conduct moral persecution of private citizens. The proposed revisions to the Criminal Code include criminalizing sexual relations between lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people (LGBT), as well as criminalizing all sexual relations outside formal marriage. The latter is referred to as the “zina [adultery] clause.” Violating it could result in a sentence of up to five years in prison.

There has been significant opposition to this draft revision (RKUHP) through campaigns using the hashtags #AkuJuga #AkuJugaBisaKena #AkuJugaBisaJadiKorban, meaning “me, too” and “I could also be a victim”. The campaigns point out that people who are married under customary laws or through other informal means could be imprisoned. LGBT people could be targeted for imprisonment or physical punishment, as they already are in Aceh. A rape victim who cannot legally prove she was raped could also be imprisoned.

The campaign is going on now. Some politicians are doubling down, even calling for the death penalty for homosexuals. Others are wavering, saying that they would include a provision that only parents, spouses or children can report somebody under the zina clause. But the committee examining the draft revision has agreed to it in principle. So the campaign will continue. Giving power to the state to police private lives, to police intimacy, in a society that is ridden with sexism and patriarchy will only end up creating more suffering for women.

We know, too, just how difficult it can be for female victims of sexual harassment and abuse to speak out. The #AkuJuga hashtag has been inspired by the #MeToo movement in the United States, which started with women revealing the abusive behavior of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinsten. These were soon followed by scores of other accusations against him, and then expanded to those against other men of power. Sexism and patriarchy remains a problem in many societies today, as reflected in the repulsive statement of the former American presidential candidate and now President about his right to grab women’s genitalia.

The #AkuJuga movement speaks out against these proposed revisions to the Criminal Code, but is also a general response to the prevalence of sexual violence. The national women’s rights body, Komnas Perempuan, despite its very limited resources, recorded 259,000 cases of violence against women in 2017, of which 255,000 were cases of violence experienced in the personal or domestic sphere.

So what should be society’s priorities? Broadening state power to police our private lives, or implementing legal reform and providing the resources needed to combat this massive problem of violence against women? In this context, legitimizing the idea that some third party has the right to consider the behavior of other private citizens as criminally indecent will only multiply the number of victims, especially women, whether through state persecution or mob justice.

Rather than setting this dangerous moral policing as a priority, better legal and social support for victims of violence is surely the more urgent need, as well as more opportunities for people to be educated about sexuality. But these issues seem far from the concerns of our politicians.

The writer is a playwright, theater producer and director, and feminist cultural activist.

Source: The Jakarta Post (February 20, 2018)