Activists call for better legal support for victims of sexual violence with disabilities

Representatives from several UN agencies and communities spoke of how vulnerable many people with disabilities were to violence and noted that women with disabilities were particularly likely to be victims.

Radhiyya Indra

Radhiyya Indra

The Jakarta Post


File photo of a deserted wheelchair. PHOTO: UNSPLASH

December 26, 2023

JAKARTA – On the heels of World Disability Day this month, communities and organizations advocating for people with disabilities are calling for better access to justice to end violence against women with disabilities.

In observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Dec. 3, the United Nations brought together children with disabilities and organizations at an event in South Jakarta titled “Creative Week for People with Disabilities” from Dec. 6 to 10.

The gathering showcased over 70 works by people with disabilities and included a discussion on how to ensure their rights were upheld following a series of cases of violence against women with disabilities.

Representatives from several UN agencies and communities spoke of how vulnerable many people with disabilities were to violence and noted that women with disabilities were particularly likely to be victims.

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Women are generally prone to being victims of violence, but other groups of women are more at risk, such as women with disabilities,” Yuni Asriyanti, a consultant at UN Women, said at the discussion on Dec. 7.

The National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan) recorded 79 cases of violence against women with disabilities in 2022, with 27 cases involving women with more than one disability. This marked an increase from the 35 cases recorded in 2021.

The commission said the figure was only the tip of the iceberg. The actual number of cases could be higher, it said in a recent statement, as women with disabilities tended to be unaware about reporting gender-based violence to law enforcement.

Komnas Perempuan also said that women with intellectual disabilities were more vulnerable to violence, often from people they were close to.

In January, the Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Agency (PPPA) in Blora, Central Java, sheltered a 21-year-old woman with disabilities who was a victim of repeated sexual assault.

The woman was deaf, had a speech impairment and an intellectual disability. She was allegedly impregnated twice by her abuser.

In August, a woman with an intellectual disability from Mesuji regency, Lampung, was sexually assaulted. The woman gave birth to a baby as a result of the attack in November, and the perpetrator has yet to be caught.

The Mesuji Police are still investigating the case. They also plan to get the baby’s DNA to determine the identity of the perpetrator.

Experts say cases such as these could be handled much better, including by making it easier to report sexual crimes.

“But the problem is not just about access to filing such reports. Testimony from persons with disabilities, even when they are victims, is often disregarded particularly when they have mental or intellectual disabilities,” Sri Nurherwati, a human rights lawyer and former Komnas Perempuan commissioner, said in one of the discussions.

Such failures of justice occurred despite a 2016 law on people with disabilities that mandates equal treatment before the law and the 2022 Sexual Violence Eradication Law, which enshrines the right to legal support and special accommodations for victims of sexual violence with disabilities.

Sri said she hoped victims could at least be assisted by paralegals when reporting their cases or providing testimony to investigators. But few paralegals are available in smaller, less developed regions of the country.

“For a start, offering paralegal training for disabled people can also help,” Walin Hatarti, of the Association of Indonesian Women with Disabilities (HWDI), said during the event.

Paralegal training has increased in recent years across the country, including in Bali and East Kalimantan.

Komnas Perempuan acknowledged that the judiciary had provided a slim ray of hope: The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) issued in May a guideline on accessible and inclusive case handling to accommodate people with disabilities during a court trial.

While the guideline applies to any type of case and is not specifically for legal proceedings related to gender-based violence, Komnas Perempuan commissioner Veryanto Sitohang expressed appreciation for the AGO’s initiative as well as her hope that all prosecutors would adopt it immediately.

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