“What is most important is that we no longer consider violence against women and girls as a shame to be kept hidden.”
SFC-trained Community Paralegal, Bantul, Indonesia
Child sexual abuse remains a largely hidden crime and in the villages of rural Indonesia and is rarely spoken about publicly, despite an alarming increase in reported cases over the last five years. This story of impact highlights how a trusted paralegal in the community can help build a brighter future for young girls who suffer abuse and in so doing begin the slow process of changing social attitudes to violence against women and girls.
A young girl, called Tia (not her name), was miserable at home. She tried to stay longer at school and get invited to her friends’ houses in order to avoid being alone in the house. For two years – from the age of 13 to 15 years old – she had been experiencing sexual and mental abuse from her father. He forced her to have sex, threatening that he wouldn’t pay her school fees or allow her to go to school if she refused. Tia had never told anyone – not even her mother. She thought it was all her fault and that she was somehow to blame.
One day, a friendly neighbour, who considered Tia a sweet but nervous child, invited her to spend the afternoon after school. Desperate and afraid, Tia found the courage to speak to her about the abuse. The neighbour consoled Tia, but privately was horrified and didn’t really know what to do. Then she remembers she had attended a local women’s group talk on violence against women, given by a local paralegal trained by Sisters For Change. The paralegal said she had been trained in laws to protect women and children from violence and could provide basic support to victims. The neighbour approached the paralegal and asked her what to do. The paralegal persuaded the neighbours to go with her to the village chief to talk about how they could help and support the girl.
Before the village chief, the paralegal advocated that the crime must be reported to the police so that the perpetrator was held accountable and Tia could get justice. The village chief was initially reluctant – it would bring his village into disrepute and would be bad for the girl’s reputation. But the paralegal persisted and succeeded in persuading the chief to agree. So, accompanied by the paralegal, the neighbours, as witnesses, reported the crime. The police investigated and the father was put in prison. Tia was given community support, some counselling, and later resumed her studies. After years of trauma, she slowly began to rebuild her life, and hope that she might have a future after all.