Jakarta Post, August 26, 2007

Childhood sexual and physical abuse leave an enduring mark of shame, anguish and insecurity on the young victims. Maggie Tiojakin meets survivors of abuse, and those trying to help them.

There is a reason why the phrase is used so much it has become a cliché: Children are like china. Children—not unlike our mother’s favorite china—break easily when handled the wrong way, and no matter how hard we try to glue the broken pieces back together, there is usually no turning back.

Maya Safira Muchtar, a local activist and founder of several organizations focused on humanitarian issues, spent most of her adult years piecing her life back together after being sexually abused by a teacher at the age of 12.

“I remember being lost most of the time,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do or who to turn to. I was very angry at the world.”

She confided that for many years she couldn’t make sense of what had happened to her. “I felt guilty and betrayed. I felt dirty for a very long time, and then I tried to sort it out myself. Of course, that didn’t work.”

Child psychologist Haris Surti said that “in the absence of reason”, children have the tendency to retreat inside themselves and try to solve the puzzles alone.

“Children don’t understand the many degrees of culpability in human behaviors,” explained Haris. “There is a system in every child’s life where the adults are looked upon as protectors and guides. The list of people associated with their roles in the society expands as children begin to enter new social circles — first parents, then grandparents, then aunts and uncles, then neighbors, then teachers, etc.

“But if the system fails them once, most likely it will fail them for life.”

A 2006 poll by the National Commission for the Protection of Children found that a total of 1,124 violent offenses against children had been recorded by the organization’s Hotline Service Division and Central Data and Information Division, a number which was then divided into three sub-categories: physical violence, sexual violence and mental violence.

According to the same report, 11.6 percent of recorded sexual abuse cases involved the victim’s father; 8.94 percent the mother; 6.46 percent male teachers and 16.35 percent neighbors. Although “other” at 38.21 percent was the highest individual percentage, most of the abusers were people in positions of trust.

“It’s a disturbing fact, yes,” a social worker, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said about the incidence of sexual abuse. “And it seems to get worse with time.”

In 2006, the number of sexually abused children was double the 2004 statistic. Nevertheless, UNICEF Indonesia’s Communications Officer Kendartanti Subroto said the rise in reported cases might actually indicate a greater willingness to address the problem.

“For instance, those numbers may indicate something positive. [The numbers] may show us that there are more people who care about making children’s lives better,” she said. “In this respect, there is no way for us to really know if the numbers were lower in 2004 because there had been less abuse taking place that year, or because there were more people who felt compelled to voice their concerns in 2006.”

Kendartanti also said that since the government signed a child protection bill in 2002, people are more aware of what is happening in their respective communities. However, the National Commission for the Protection of Children has emphasized the stigma associated with reporting abuse for the family of the victim.

“There is a growing misconception among people that by disclosing their children’s exposure to indecent behavior, they are putting their family’s ‘good name’ at risk,” the organization stated in its annual report.

“The lack of courage to come forward and ask for help has turned the act of violence against children into some kind of a cultural agenda. It’s sad because very few adults in this country are willing to step up to the plate and blow the whistle.”

There also is the issue of trafficking.

Last year, UNICEF placed the number of Indonesian women and children trafficked as commercial sex workers at 100,000. Globally, the number of children who are sexually exploited annually comes to an appalling 2 million, generating US$12 billion each year for the trafficking industry.

The National Commission for Child Protection monitored or received reports of more than 600 cases of child trafficking in 2005, both for sexual and non-sexual purposes. However, the media reported more than 10,000 cases, with roughly 3,000 children employed as prostitutes in the same year.

“It’s hard to say what breeds all this violence against children,” said Kendartanti. “A lot of people think poverty is to blame, but I think there’s more to it than meets the eye. Violence is an issue that goes beyond social class and economy. Permissive cultures, social surroundings and religious tenets also contribute to the practice of violence in our communities. Plus, there is the imbalance of power and gender inequality.”

Asked about current UNICEF campaigns that are geared toward ending the abuse of children in Indonesia, Kendartanti said the organization was working with the government to build “a preventive, protective system”.

“UNICEF looks at the issue as a multidimensional cause and effect, and therefore we ought to deal with it holistically so we are able to create a lasting solution.”

Holism, a healing method which concentrates on the person as a whole rather than the disease as an entity of its own, is a popular term among care providers.

“We, as people, must stop looking at violence as an esoteric problem,” said Maya, whose own method embraces holistic care. “It doesn’t happen to only the best of us or the worst of us, but people in general regardless of their predispositions.”

She was first introduced to the method by Anand Krishna, a prominent interfaith figure, who became her mentor and spiritual guru. After years of struggle, psychiatric counseling and many courses of antidepressants, Maya happily declared herself ready to reenter the world.

Two years ago, she published a book, Penggal Kepalamu dan Persembahkan pada Sang Murshid (Cut Off Your Head and Offer It to the Murshid), which discussed at length her journey toward self-acceptance and forgiveness, as well as her quest to discover her inner-self.

“I’ve been to many places around the world and seen many things that appease the eyes,” she said. “But it wasn’t until I was able to find acceptance and forgiveness that I could truly appreciate the beauty of life.”

She was quiet for a moment, and then added, “I think that that’s the hardest thing about overcoming any traumatic experience—to finally come face-to-face with ourselves and accept it with open arms.”

Eventually, she stopped taking the pills. And with her troubles well behind her, she opened a holistic care and spa center called L’Ayurveda, offering her clientele therapy not only for the body, but also the mind and soul. Once in a while, she said, she gets to sit with an abuse victim and help him or her find their own acceptance and forgiveness.

Maya says it is a shame some parents of abused children refuse to join their children in therapy.

“The problem does not stop with the child, it has to stop with the entire members of the family,” she said. “I have clients whose parents send them here to get treatment, and who alienate their children like they’re somebody else.

“Now, for me, that’s a very disturbing gesture coming from the parents.”

The social worker, who makes about 150 house-calls per week, said that due to the nature of the issue, neighbors are reluctant to get involved in the problem.

“Nobody ever thinks that they are an accomplice by standing around doing nothing when an atrocity is taking place. Nobody likes to get stuck in the middle. I personally hate to get stuck in the middle. But it’s either that, or children dying slow and quiet deaths.”

Sexual abuse is only of the problems affecting Indonesian children. According to UNICEF data, there are more than 7,000 institutions in the country caring for over 127,000 children who are orphans, neglected or whose parents have abandoned them. In the next couple of years, there may be more.

If we keep going in this direction, we may run out of glue soon.

Source -> http://www.thejakartapost.com/weekender/8life.asp