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Belakang Panggung, the Musical

For International Women’s Day last year in 2020, my colleagues and I initiated Belakang Panggung the Musical as part of Lentera Sintas Indonesia‘s campaign of awareness towards sexual harassment. We staged 5 shows (plus an open dress rehearsal) on the weekend of 6-8th March at the French Institute Auditorium in Jakarta. The next day, Indonesia went into lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

I’m so glad we were able to “get away” with it, as it was a project I had been working on since 2017 after I met Sophia Hage.

The show gathered a huge amount of press recognition. Our main actress Mian Tiara, came out with harassment that was done to her in one of her recent films: Perempuan Tanah Jahanam.

Synopsis

A theatre company is staging the epic Ramayana. During rehearsals, sexual abuse issues surface and threatens the show and the reputation of its director. What happens when the main actress speaks up on the opening night?

Belakang Panggung was our critique of a society that judges, shames, and punishes survivors who speak up. At the same time, it was our plea to leaders in Indonesia to acknowledge this issue. They can start with approving RUU PKS, the proposed bill to eliminate sexual violence and support survivors.

We thank all patrons and individuals that supported us financially for the project. If you are interested to watch a recording of the musical, please contact me. It’s in Indonesian with English subtitles.

This year, I did a small campaign on my personal social media channels from the 1st of March until today, the 8th of March. It’s been a wonderful week of speaking up and advocating awareness surrounding an issue that is so personal to me. I thank all of you who have joined me with your voice, internet bandwidth, time, and resources.

Happy International Women’s Day!

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My #metoo Story

I am putting this down in writing so that there is a written record somewhere of the atrocious things that happened to me in 2014. In case I or anyone should forget.

There are two types of abusers: the stupid stranger on the street, and the brilliant psychopath who takes his time to groom his prey. I have survived both types. But this post is about the second type. (Trigger warnings for this post.)

When I moved back to Indonesia

I moved back from Fort Worth, Texas to Bandung, Indonesia in December 2011 after receiving my graduate degree. Upon my return, I worked in my church in Bandung as a music director. This was the church in which I grew up, so I had many childhood friends. One of them was a guy with the initials AH, who was the son of a respected leader in the church. To understand the whole picture, my father was the senior pastor of this church.

This church has many amazing people who supported me so much throughout my musical career, and also in the tragedies of my life. And yet, I do not attend this church anymore-I do not attend any church now. There are several reasons, the main one was having almost been raped by AH.

Grooming

He and his wife M were very friendly to me from the years 2011-2014. They picked me up, gave me rides, basically really went out of their way to help me run errands. Almost as if they didn’t have anything to do themselves. Back then, my back hurt a lot because I practiced piano for almost 6 hours every day in addition to my work in the church. I was not taking care of my body well and did not exercise regularly.

AH, and his wife M suggested for me to try ice therapy (also known as cryotherapy). They suggested for me to fill my bathtub with ice cubes and dunk myself in it, then get out and take a hot water shower. I told them that perhaps it might work, but there was no way I would be bothered to freeze that many ice cubes and then put them in my bathtub.

They said they would do it for me, at their house.

This might set off all kinds of alarms for someone who is thinking straight, but I was deep into the mental trap they had set out for me. They had invited me previously to their home several times- to have dinner, to just chill, even to practice aikido. AH claimed himself to be a certified aikido master. Plus this whole time, they were almost always together. The wife M was the enabler. Her presence made me feel safe-surely he wouldn’t try anything odd with his wife right there.

Testing the waters

That night M prepared all the ice cubes, and towels, while AH picked me up from my parents’ house. Upon arriving at their house, they told me everything was set up. They showed me to the bathroom and said I had to take off my clothes to dip in the tub. I hesitated. At this point, even the prey (me) knew enough to not feel comfortable. They assured me they had done this several times before, and to enjoy the full benefits of the ice therapy, I had to be naked. I thought that if that was the case, why was that information left out beforehand so I could at least have worn a swimsuit.

Seeing my reserves, AH suggested for me to keep a shirt on. And so I did. With a shirt on, I stepped into the ice-cold bathtub. A couple of minutes after, they gave me a hot shower. After that, they took me to their bedroom.

Then, they said I would need a body massage. M went off to make tea, while AH proceeded to give me a massage in his bedroom. I was not wearing the wet shirt anymore. After the massage was over, M served me the tea. Then they took me home.

This was the first time.

Several days after, they asked me how my body was feeling. I told them honestly it did feel a little better. To which they said, you should do it again. They would prepare everything. I agreed because I felt somehow indebted to them for all their “kindness”.

The second time

The second time, right I arrived in their house (picked up by AH), his wife M said that she had to help her parents do some errands, but she would be back soon. She had prepared everything. And so she left the two of us.

We repeated the whole process, except this time I went stark naked. I was in a mental limbo. Everything felt fuzzy and unreal, and yet it was real. I dipped myself in the ice and took a hot shower. Then AH massaged me in his bedroom. He touched and massaged everything, from back to the stomach to breasts to genitals. My mind was frozen, and I remembered I thought I would go crazy, so I played a song over and over in my head. I couldn’t (wouldn’t) acknowledge what was happening to me, and instead clung to the music playing in my mind. Later, some psychologists call this self-defense.

All during the massage, he told me that it’s better not to tell anyone, especially anyone in the church. Because I was the pastor’s daughter, and I had a boyfriend at the time, no one would understand this kind of “liberal” therapy.

I noticed that he was turned on, and I became even more afraid. I was already barely breathing and moving. If he tried intercourse, I would not have been able to move a muscle. For some reason unknown to me, he instead did push-ups. Looking back, it could be that he was holding himself back on purpose until the 3rd time. Or he changed his mind? I don’t know. I can’t tell you what’s in a psychopath’s mind. I can only tell you what happened to me.

After the push-ups, he suggested another shower. He helped me get up and proceeded to give me a warm shower. As in: he got into the bathtub and showered with me. Afterwards he helped me dry up and put my clothes on. Then he served me tea. Shortly after, his wife M returned and they both took me back to my house.

How the spell was broken

Upon entering my house, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that something weird, really weird, had just happened. At that moment I texted two of the people I trusted most in the world: JHL and KVC. I explained to them roughly what happened, and asked them if they thought it was normal.

JHL said she didn’t know what was happening, but she told me NEVER to go near them again.

KVC is a registered nurse in California. She asked me some more questions and warned me that I sound like someone who had just been raped. She asked me if there was any authority that I could report this to. I said I didn’t think so, precisely because my father is the senior pastor.

And so, I swept it under the carpet for two years until 2016, when the movie Spotlight came out. Note that after contacting JHL and KVC, I actively avoided AH and M. I stopped hanging out with them, and eventually stopped responding to their messages. After a while, they stopped contacting also.

Spotlight is a movie about sexual harassment happening in the Catholic church. Watching it 2 years after my experience, all the memories flooded in. I was in the theater, watching it with a date. This guy turned out to be a real asshole. When I confided in him, he told me it was my fault. Classic.

Speaking up

I then spoke out on my Facebook, leading to a conversation with several female church leaders. Through one of them, I found out that AH had preyed on someone else after me. Another girl in the church, in the year 2015. I spoke to her and found out we went through the same “process” of grooming, testing the waters, and being molested. So he was a serial. The brilliant, psychopathic type, because he knew that even if I reported, what he did would not be considered illegal due to Indonesian laws. According to Indonesian laws, only intercourse rape is illegal, and the victim needed a test (visum) to even prove it.

I have since then reached out to Sophia Hage of Lentera Sintas Indonesia. We collaborated and created a huge awareness campaign for International Women’s Day last year, in 2020. I’ll share it in my next post (to be released exactly on International Women’s Day this year). Of all the things, we chose to tell the story through the medium of a stage musical. A Musical, can you believe it!

But that’s for the next post. For now, I’m so proud to have been able to write this down. I hope it benefits #metoo research, campaigns, and efforts on this issue. Most of all, I hope it benefits my fellow survivors.

The Indonesian version is available here, in an interview with feminist psychologist Zoya Amirin.

If you need someone to talk to, you can also contact me.

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Towards International Women’s Day 2021

For International Women’s Day this year, I am so excited to be doing a campaign on my various digital channels. For each day from the 1st of March to the 8th of March, I will do one activity with the hashtag #ChoosetoChallenge. Here is my plan.

March 1

Publish a picture of myself with my hand raised, as suggested on International Women’s Day official website. I am going to tag 5 friends and see if any of them take up the picture challenge before the 8th of March.

March 2

I am going to research and choose 3 international nonprofits working towards women empowerment and gender equality and invite my followers to take a look and donate to the charities.

March 3

Publish a blog post as my response to the recent Ravi Zacharias scandals, writing from a survivor’s point of view.

March 4

Lobby at least one of the 5 friends I tagged to join the picture challenge. Hopefully one of them does! If you would like to join, please go ahead, and tag my Instagram.

March 5

Publish a blog post of one of my #metoo stories-the one in 2014 by a church member who turned out to be a sexual predator.

March 6

I am going to research and choose 3 local (Indonesian) nonprofits working in this field and invite my followers to take a look and donate to the local charities.

March 7

Make a TikTok video for Breaking the Silence- a 58-minute episode from the Leap Forward Podcast by the Global Network. I was one of the five people invited to discuss domestic sexual violence along with Sophia Hage of Lentera Sintas Indonesia, Kumudini David (Voice with Kumu), Jerry Winata (Bawa Anambas Foundation), and Ayesha Shaukatullah Awan (SEALA Network Manager).

March 8

I will be sharing the recording of Belakang Panggung the Musical, an original musical on the topic of sexual harassment which I initiated for International Women’s Day 2020 in Jakarta. If you are interested to watch the recording, you can contact me to request the link.

That’s my plan for this year’s International Women’s Day! #ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021