Indonesian netizens were all abuzz with the newest trending topic hitting the Twittersphere earlier this month. No, it wasn’t the earthquake and tsunami that ravaged the island of Sulawesi, it was something far more sinister yet unimportant. It was the news/hoax of the playwright Ratna Sarumpaet lying about being physically assaulted by unknown persons. From my understanding, this hoax was perpetuated and given life by current Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s number one fan, Fadli Zon. After it was proven that Ratna lied about the cause of her swollen face (it was actually due to facial surgery, as she acknowledged), the Deputy Speaker along with everyone else in the opposition got righteously indignant about being lied to, demanded an apology from Ratna, and were then engaged in a convoluted mental and word gymnastics to justify why they fell for her lie in the first place.
I’m an outside observer and the farthest thing from a political analyst as you can get. One thing to examine is Ratna’s motive in creating such a lie. Was she ashamed of the swelling that is a side effect of liposuction? Or was she ashamed of getting facial surgery? It’s her right as a human being with complete autonomy of her body to do so at her and her physician’s discretion. What I take issue with is lying about it and letting the lie perpetuate with no intention of ever telling the truth for unknown reasons. This incident utterly decimates her credibility. As a public figure and an activist, credibility is one of the most important qualities needed for such a career. While her compatriots at the Prabowo Subianto-Sandiaga Uno camp were busy coming to her defense with one outlandish defense after the other (from “feelings before facts” to “I’m a doctor and I still got duped”), the damage to her and Prabowo-Sandiaga camp’s credibility has been done. Ratna herself only offered as an explanation: “That was just a delusion inspired by Satan”.
Her allegations of a non-existent assault have more repercussions than one could imagine, particularly to her fellow women. The #MeToo movement is a grassroots movement established by survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault, intended to empower survivors to come forward and to raise awareness on the prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse. Victims of sexual assault and violence, mostly women, are often reluctant to come forward and report the crime due to various reasons. These reasons can range from fear of retaliation from the perpetrator, being led to believe that the assault was the victim’s fault, to the fear that even if the crime is reported nobody would believe that it even occurred. This last point is the main reason why victims don’t report the crime. Nobody would ever make such a serious allegation unless this traumatic event happened to them.
Recently the United States government was locked in a battle for the Supreme Court. With the retirement of Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, a moderate justice who is key swing vote in many landmark cases, Republicans seized the chance to put a conservative Judge on the Supreme Court. Since Supreme Court justices are appointed for life, the appointment of one justice is sufficient to have a lasting impact on the US way of life for generations to come. While Democrats opposed the judge nominated by President Donald Trump’s nominee, everyone thought that he would be in the Supreme Court by the end of September, securing the conservative majority longed for by the Republicans. However, a woman accused the judge of sexually assaulting her when they were both in high school. Suddenly the envisioned conservative majority was in jeopardy. The Senate Judiciary committee called for a testimony from the accuser, as well as the judge, to determine whether the allegations are credible.
During her testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary committee, the accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, detailed the assault that occurred 35 years ago with clarity and called for an FBI investigation on the matter. She also expressed her willingness to cooperate with any investigation. However, the accused, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, never called for an investigation and was disrespectful to the Democratic committee members. After the testimony, there was unanimous agreement that Blasey Ford was a “credible” witness and is now an icon of the #MeToo movement.
The point of this long backstory is that one of the reasons the #MeToo movement works is due to the credibility of the people involved in it. Consequently, the credibility of the women accusers as well as the accusations are of critical importance for the success of the movement.
The above incident has not only destroyed Ratna’s credibility. It has also destroyed the credibility of other women who are actual victims of assault, be it sexual violence or not. Our still patriarchal society does not have the best track record in advocating victims of assaults. Imagine now what would happen if another woman comes forward with an assault allegation?
People may just say, “She probably lied too”. The harsh reality is women have always been held to a higher standard compared to men. It’s not enough for a woman to say that an assault has happened, a woman must also be able to prove it happened, why it happened and that the assault is not a result of whatever she did (not her fault).
The #MeToo movement may not have quite started in Indonesia. But Ratna has killed it before it even started. Ratna’s actions have just lent credence to the internalized belief that assault victims sometimes lie about what happened to them. Because of her actions, it is now even harder for female assault victims to seek justice.
If the whole incident is just part of a political game, then it is truly a Machiavellian scheme that even Machiavelli would object. If it’s part of an elaborate attention-seeking scheme, then congratulations ibu Ratna, you have successfully diverged the netizens and the nation’s attention away from our brothers and sisters who are suffering in Donggala and Palu. Ratna may have issued an apology to Prabowo and blamed Satan for the fallout of her lies. She might not have envisioned the fallout of her lies, but as one known as a human rights activist, her actions are an anathema of who she is supposed to be.