While focused on managing COVID-19, Indonesia is encountering an increase in female domestic violence victims. Though avoidable, it is never too late for Indonesia to address this emerging crisis.

Wulan Danoekoesoemo

5, January, 2021


Amidst COVID-19, there is a disturbing increase in the number domestic violence globally. In Indonesia, findings from a 2020 survey by the National Commission on the Elimination of Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan) indicates a similar trend. As governments prioritized stemming viral spread, such trends suggest an emerging crisis as states transit into a ‘new normal’. Though this emerging crisis was avoidable, it is never too late for states to address it now. To do so, specifically in Indonesia, would require an understanding of how COVID-19 have heightened the occurrences of domestic violence and how there needs to be further emphasis on victims of domestic violence and the community.

Stresses of COVID-19 in Indonesia

A major impact of COVID-19 is that longer hours are now spent at homes. This is attributed to social restrictions such as lockdowns and loss of employment. Unfortunately for some Indonesians, this also places them at risk of losing their homes. Wading further into the unfamiliar, Indonesians are left to figure out how to maintain a sense of normalcy, for example, by working from home while ensuring their children continue with their education, albeit online. Additionally, COVID-19 increases physical isolation of nuclear families. This becomes an added issue as Indonesia is a collectivist society and where religion is important in daily lives. Therefore, not only would Indonesians lose support and care from their extended families but also their religious support network. Collectively, these factors can increase the level of anxiety than pre-COVID conditions.

During this pandemic, Indonesian females tended to experience higher levels of anxiety than their male counterparts. Though there have yet to be detailed studies, the 2020 survey by Komnas Perempuan may provide insights into this phenomenon.

Briefly, respondents of this study claimed to have experienced higher household workloads and were more prone to domestic violence. The study reported numerous forms of violence experienced, with physical and sexual violence being the most frequently experienced followed by psychological violence and economic abuse. Women who were particularly vulnerable to such violence were those from households earning less than IDR 5 million monthly and working in the informal sector, aged between 31-40, caring for more than three children, and living in any of the top 10 provinces with the highest number of COVID-19 infections. Particularly troubling is that less than 10% of the female respondents reported their cases to the authority or sought help during the pandemic. A majority of those who chose to remain quiet were women who minimally possessed a tertiary level qualification. Additionally, 69% of the respondents claimed to not know how to access legal or other forms of assistance.

Despite being well-educated and the ease of access to information, the continued occurrence of domestic violence in Indonesia is ostensibly due to an imbalance of power and control in relationships. Adherence to patriarchy, which is still prevalent in Indonesia, is an important predictor of such violence. Even if Indonesian women were to seek assistance from those close to them, many are reluctant to intervene for fear of intruding into a private matter or their belief that it is still within men’s right to do so. The situation is worsening as victims are forced to spend more time with their perpetrators during COVID-19 thus further limiting their escape strategies.

Indonesia’s response to domestic violence against women is also still far from ideal. Though in need of a comprehensive legislation, the Eradication of Sexual Violence Bill is once again delayed. Proposed in 2016, this bill not only sought to prevent sexual violence but also accords more rights to victims. Without this bill, current investigations on such violence are centred solely on punitive measures for the perpetrator. Though these measures may bring some relieve to victims, whatever relieve could come undone as female victims may have to contend with the victim-blaming culture in Indonesia.

Empowering Victims and the Community

Indonesia cannot simply wait for the Eradication of Sexual Violence Bill to be passed. While waiting for the passing of this bill, the government must work closely with Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) on two factors. The first is to adopt an educational approach to empower both victims and the community. Particularly during COVID-19, female victims must be empowered to speak up. This could either be via reporting their abusers to the authorities or seeking assistance to stop the violence. Through time, victims should eventually realise the need to avoid justifying the abuse meted at them.

Education is also pertinent in addressing victim-blaming culture in Indonesia. Victims should not have to endure such biased judgements while coming to terms with their trauma. One method involves including the notion of consent, at the very latest, in university curriculum. Doing so may culminate in reducing unwarranted comments, online and in real life. Additionally, the community should also be taught to recognize signs of domestic violence. Fortunately, these signs include verbal cues which are pertinent especially during times of increased physical isolation such as during COVID-19. And rather than the community reporting on behalf of the victim, it would be ideal for them to assist victims find the courage to do so themselves.

Akin to frontliners, the community should be shown resources for them to direct victims to. It would, thus, be beneficial to have a single, central platform that is accessible via numerous means including on newer mediums such as social media. This is crucial as more time is spent online, particularly during times such as COVID-19. Collectively by doing so, not only does it shift some responsibility to the community, the community are not overburdened by it.

Towards a Centralized Assistance Platform

To initiate the development of such assistance platform, it is crucial to identify “hotspots” of domestic violence in Indonesia. This not only enables a more targeted awareness campaign in such areas, it also enables optimization of resources. For instance, shelters can be set up in these areas to offer assistance to victims seeking refuge. Additionally, by establishing a network of such shelters in Indonesia, victims who are not from these areas can be directed to the nearest shelter.

This centralized platform should also assist the community not only by providing information that can be easily understood, but also by getting them to talk about domestic violence. One way to facilitate this is through outreach on relevant mediums such as social media campaigns. This could culminate into developing a protective safety net for victims that is also not intimidating. Other essential information includes assisting the community to develop these shelters themselves and enabling trusted individuals to provide short-term care for victims who have decided to seek refuge at shelters, if required. The benefits of such organically-developed shelters are the sense of community ownership, increases accessibility for victims and reduced bureaucracy. Moreover, providing short-term care serves as humble, yet powerful motivators for victims to take a strong stance against such violence.

One key consideration of this platform is to confer anonymity to victims and the network of shelters. While it may help victims make the first move in seeking assistance, ensuring that shelters are kept anonymous provides an additional sense of security to victims. Such anonymity will safeguard these premises from unwanted visits by perpetrators of domestic violence and minimise negative perceptions while community awareness campaigns on victim-blaming are on-going.

Wulan Danoekoesoemo is a clinical psychologist, co-founder of Lentera Sintas Indonesia, and Counselling Section Head of Binus University International. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of STRAT.O.SPHERE CONSULTING.