Toward Eliminating Sexual Violence on University Campuses

Elina Welmiria Otu
Editor: Yus Broersma

The Pokja gender (working group) of the Netherlands-Indonesia Consortium for Muslim-Christian Relations (NICMCR) organised a webinar entitled “Sexual Harassment and Violence on Campus”. The webinar was conducted on 4 December 2023, aligning with the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, a global campaign observed annually from 25 November 25 to 10 December 2023. The webinar invited Prof. Mariken Blom and Prof. Siti Aisyah as speakers and M. Dluha Luthfilla as the moderator.

The initial speaker, Prof. Siti Aisyah, a lecturer from the State Islamic University of Alauddin Makassar, Indonesia, where she focuses on gender issues in her research. In her presentation, she boldly challenges patriarchal dominance and addresses sexual violence within her university. The theme of her talk, “Setting Up a Safe University from Any Sexual Violence,” emphasizes the need for universities to be secure spaces for students, faculty, and staff.

Prof. Aisyah highlights two crucial regulations guiding Islamic universities in Indonesia against sexual violence. Firstly, the Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs issued Decree No. 5494 of 2019, providing guidelines for sexual violence prevention and responses in Islamic higher education. This decree is complemented by regulation No. 30 of 2021, enacted by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology, specifically addressing sexual violence prevention and responses.

Drawing from her experiences in managing the Integrated Service Unit at her university, Prof. Aisyah sheds light on the unit’s essential role in raising awareness about sexual violence issues, empowering women to speak out against perpetrators, and supporting survivors in pursuing their cases through various services, including Legal Aid Institutes and the Women and Children Services Unit of the Police Office. Additionally, the university has an internal campus ethics committee responsible for processing survivors’ reports and offering recommendations to the university Chancellor for further action. Recognizing the challenges, Aisyah’s team collaborates with Law Offices and NGOs sharing a similar vision.

Aisyah outlines prevalent challenges faced by female victims in asserting their rights, including cultural and social pressures that discourage them from speaking out. In patriarchal societies, sexual violence is sometimes considered “acceptable,” compounding the victims’ silence. Furthermore, power imbalances exist between perpetrators, often high-ranking individuals on campus, and victims who may be students or lower-ranking staff. Despite these obstacles, Aisyah expresses optimism that awareness about the dangers of sexual violence is growing in Indonesian universities, fueled by gender campaigns and educational initiatives for students.

The second speaker, Mariken Blom, brings extensive experience as a confidential counselor for students and staff, currently serving as a general student counselor/student dean at the Department of Student Development at Vrije University (VU). Drawing from her background, Blom emphasizes the crucial role of confidential counselors in addressing undesirable behavior, guiding victims toward solutions, and staying connected with management while maintaining victim anonymity through ethical protocols.

Blom outlines three primary responsibilities of confidential counselors: providing support and care for the victim, offering information and guidance on available choices and potential effects, and maintaining communication with management by providing anonymized feedback on arising issues. These ethical practices create a safe space for victims to share their experiences.

Highlighting challenges faced by her team, Blom notes occasional difficulty in disseminating information to students due to a lack of interest. However, detailed information is made available on the VU website, and the university also hosts a student well-being office where trained fellow students provide support and share experiences.

Blom discusses various forms of sexual harassment or violence on campus, including discrimination, sexual intimidation, stalking, bullying, gossip, slenderness, exclusion, aggression/abuse of power, and violence. Contributing factors to such behaviors involve hierarchy and culture, the star status of high-ranking individuals (e.g., professors), poor leadership, work and performance pressure, and abuse of power.

VU’s ombudsman service is highlighted as a valuable resource, receiving complaints related to incorrect application of legislation and regulations, organization, education, and employee misconduct. The ombudsman aids in informing students about relevant regulations and procedures, empowering them to understand their rights, obligations, and options for problem resolution.

Blom introduces the “art of engagement” used at VU in handling cases of sexual violence, emphasizing four principles: contributing to the bigger picture, being bold and decisive, maintaining transparency and clarity, and actively listening while providing room for growth. Participants are encouraged to adopt these principles, fostering sensitivity to sexual violence issues, and promoting appropriate responses. Blom concludes by urging participants to create an inclusive environment where everyone feels welcome to share their experiences, reconsider bystander positions, build connections with victims, and avoid victim-blaming.

The webinar proceeded with a question-answer session. A couple of questions that were conveyed were steps to prevent sexual violence on campus, and responses to the campus’ closedness in responding to the issue of sexual violence. Meanwhile, one asked whether there were written regulations prohibiting campus employees from having relationships with students.

The previous questions were answered alternately by the two speakers. Aisyah explained that universities in Indonesia had just started making regulations and policies based on the Decrees from the two Ministries as explained previously. There are also special courses related to sexual violence, domestic violence, and other gender-based issues which can raise students’ awareness that sexual harassment or violence violates human rights. This awareness is needed so that victims are willing to speak out, and the campus environment does not push them into a corner but rather supports them to disclose the truth. Blom and Aisyah agreed that there is no prohibition against falling in love. However, it is prohibited to have “a dependent relationship” that causes intimidation or unfair treatment, especially towards women.

The webinar concluded with an anecdote from the moderator, who wore a scarf adorned with images of women victims of violence as part of a campaign against human rights violations. He shared his personal experience as a student at a University in Jerusalem, recalling the completion of registration questions related to gender knowledge before starting a new class. This endeavor heightened student awareness of the perils of sexual violence. The moderator wrapped up the webinar by extending an invitation to participants to explore the NICMCR’s website and stay updated on its efforts in addressing pressing societal issues.