Her Two Daughters Were Sexually Assaulted. She Went to the Indonesian Police, But They Arrested Her Eldest

An artist’s interpretation of the police investigation into the recent sexual assault case in Baubau. (Project M/Muhammad Nauval Firdaus)

The perpetrators, according to the victims’ testimonies, were seven adult males.

Warning: This article contains explicit descriptions of sexual violence that some readers may find disturbing.

A SINGLE MOTHER of five reported the alleged sexual assault of her two daughters to the police in Baubau, a city on Buton Island in Southeast Sulawesi. She did not have access to proper legal counsel, and the mother quickly found her eldest child, a boy, named a suspect, even though the daughters made no mention of his name in their report.

Realizing that something was not right with the police investigation and bearing the family’s psychological and financial burden alongside the threat posed by the true perpetrators, the mother took it upon herself to uncover the truth.

The alleged perpetrators were seven adult males who were in the proximity of the family’s home. The assault allegedly occurred as the mother and her eldest were out selling vegetables at the market, on a day when the mother broke her routine and left her three youngest children at home.

The mother and her son normally work at the market every day from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.. The distance from their house to the market is some 14 kilometers, and usually they take public transportation, or motorcycle taxis occasionally.

Their house was on the outskirts of Baubau, in a subsidized housing complex. The mother had just taken out a mortgage on the home, and the family had been living there for two months before the sexual assault took place.

“My God, in my 25 years of living in lodging houses, my children were fine. I regret living in that housing complex. I thought it would be safer there. Instead, this happened,” said the mother, who for the purposes of this article will be referred to as Ratih.

Ratih learned of what had happened to her two daughters on Dec. 24, 2022.

Her youngest daughter reported pain in her private parts while urinating. Upon examination, Ratih was shocked at the state of her daughter’s genitals. The next day, the child reported more pain and said a man around the neighborhood had “vaccinated” her arm.

Ratih checked her daughter’s arm. There was a new mark of an injection on her right arm and the nape of her neck. The child admitted she was not the only one who had been “vaccinated” and that the same had been done to her two older siblings, who were both below the age of 10.

Ratih saw an injection mark on the arm and neck of her oldest daughter and around the abdominal region of her third child, a son. She asked her children whether a strange man had been to their house that day.

“I was asleep then. When I woke up, there was somebody in front of the bed and in front of the door,” said her eldest daughter.

Victims’ Testimonies

On that Saturday, Dec. 24, during school holidays, Ratih had left her three young children at home as she and her eldest son sold vegetables at the market. Usually, she would bring all her children to the market, but today was an exception.

That day, Ratih returned early from the market with a friend because she was feeling unwell. She arrived at her house at 1 p.m. She saw four men drinking at one of the empty houses across from hers.

At home, Ratih found only her eldest daughter. She spotted her younger son playing with a friend in front of the house. She did not see her youngest daughter.

Ratih had a nap and woke up at 2 p.m. Not long after, she heard her youngest daughter crying. She told the older daughter to search for her, and the older found her younger sister crying beside one of their neighbors’ houses.

Around 2:30, Ratih returned to the market. She told her three children to eat and sleep and not to forget to lock the door.

On their mother’s departure, when the older daughter went to fetch water for a shower, her two younger siblings left the house. Moments later, she heard her youngest sibling crying from the direction of an empty house. She called out, but heard nothing back. She encountered a man with a mustache in the empty house and asked if he had seen her sister. The man said no.

Since she could not find her sister, the older girl went to find her younger brother and take him home.

From the youngest daughter’s testimony, when her mother had gone back to the market, she was playing at the neighbor’s warung (kiosk) when she was lifted up by a man. She managed to escape his grasp and run away, but was later caught by another and brought to an empty house located across from their home.

In that empty house, she was slapped, injected with an unknown substance and sexually assaulted by at least four men.

“Two put their lolo [penises] in my impo [vagina]. The other two used their hands,” said the youngest daughter.

One of the assaulters threatened her with a gun in her mouth, she said, and the man said he would kill her mother and older siblings if she told her mother what happened.

Sometime after 3 p.m., the older sister found her youngest sibling coming home with puffy eyes.

“I asked, ‘Where were you?’ She didn’t answer. Her face looked like she’d been crying. I thought she had fallen because she had scars on her thigh. Like cuts,” said the older sister.

Her younger brother asked for food, and her younger sister joined and ate with them. After finishing their meal, they went to sleep in the same room, which had a door facing the kitchen.

Moments later, the older sister was awakened by the sound of a door opening. She saw the faint figure of a man in the kitchen, but when she left her bedroom to investigate, she found no one. She then went to the terrace and saw the man there. Soon after, the man came in through the back door, and called for her. When she got to the kitchen, the man put a gun to her head.

“Listen closely. Do not tell your mom that I was here in your house. If you tell your mom, I will kill your mom and your older siblings. I will kill all of you in this house,” the man said, according to Ratih’s eldest daughter.

(Project M/Muhammad Nauval Firdaus)

After the man left, the older sister went back to sleep. She said she later woke up feeling hot and saw two men standing in front of the door and in front of the bed.

When she tried to scream, one of the men stuffed her mouth with a batik cloth. The other man threatened terrible consequences if she told her mother about what was happening.

Then, one of the men produced a bottle and squeezed it, causing it to emit some kind of smoke. The man put on a mask, while the other man moved away. Ratih’s eldest daughter lost consciousness.

Ratih’s youngest daughter woke up to urinate. She saw four men around her unconscious sister and saw one of them injecting her sister’s arm and neck.

The youngest sister told one of the men that she wanted to go to the bathroom. Upon returning to the bedroom, she saw one of the men holding both her sister’s hands, while another man was standing and yet another man was slapping her sister’s face.

After that, she saw the man who had been holding her sister’s hands rubbing below her sister’s stomach with his hands. She saw that her sister’s pants were around her feet. The men then told Ratih’s youngest daughter to go to sleep.

When she woke up, the older sister felt pain all over her body, including her right arm and neck, while her genitals felt like they were getting cramps.

At 8 p.m., Ratih and her eldest son arrived home. Ratih noticed the smell of an unfamiliar perfume or cologne. The front door and the kitchen door were unlocked. Her children were still sleeping. That night, her youngest daughter complained of pain in her genitals when urinating.

The Mother’s Testimony

When Ratih examined her daughters’ genitals, she saw that they were severely injured. Her youngest’s vagina was torn to the rectum and her elder daughter’s appeared exposed and inflamed as if she had just given birth.

Ratih tended to her daughters’ wounds. She was bewildered that her youngest daughter was still able to walk, even run and play. The girl initially only complained of discomfort while urinating but a week later began reporting more general pain.

Reporting to the Baubau Police

On Dec. 30, 2022, riding on a motorcycle taxi with her three youngest children, Ratih went to report the alleged sexual assaults to two district police stations in the city of Baubau. These two stations were in neighboring districts, as there was no police station in the district where Ratih lived.

At the first police station, at around 1 p.m., her report was rejected on the basis that the station did not handle such cases, and she was directed to the second station.

At the second station, at around 1:30, Ratih received a call from one of the developers of her housing complex, who asked about her whereabouts. Not long after, the developer arrived in a car.

At that second station, after hearing Ratih’s report, the police directed her to the Baubau Police. The developer drove Ratih and her three children to the Baubau Police precinct at around 2 p.m.

According to Ratih’s testimony, the developer claimed to be a family member of the victims when questioned by an officer in the lobby of the Baubau Police Station. Ratih was then greeted by a male police officer who asked her what she needed. Ratih explained that her two daughters had been sexually assaulted. A few moments later, an investigator Ratih knew named Asrianto suggested that her two daughters be examined at the nearest clinic, at around 3 p.m.

A worker at the clinic said that there was a Rp 300,000 charge per person for an examination. Ratih only had Rp 300,000 at the time. The developer helped pay for the other half. By 4 p.m., the doctor still had not arrived. Ratih then decided to go to the market with her three children, accepting a ride in the developer’s car.

After closing up her market stall, Ratih, with her three youngest children and her eldest son, returned to the clinic around 7 p.m, which was about 3 km away. The developer gave them a ride in his car, and they stopped by their home on the way to the clinic. The eldest son waited outside the clinic. Asrianto, the investigator, was also there at the clinic.

In the clinic, Ratih’s two daughters were laid down on a bed and their genitals examined with a flashlight. She heard the doctor say to a colleague, “Both are torn.”

Ratih told Asrianto that both her daughters had been injected with something, but she did not see the doctors examine the injection marks.

“After I left the clinic, Mr. Asrianto spoke with the housing complex developer for about half an hour. I do not know what they talked about,” said Ratih, who watched them from outside the clinic.

On Jan. 1, 2023, at around 11 a.m, Ratih called Asrianto the investigator to inform him that she would be coming to the Baubau Police Station that day. She arrived with her two daughters at around 2 p.m.

Asrianto as Ratih to make an official statement, and they began the process at 2:30 p.m. She was asked about what had happened to her two daughters, when it happened and how she had found out.

“They also asked about daily activities,” said Ratih.

After that, Asrianto took down Ratih’s youngest daughter’s statement. Her older daughter found she was unable to speak to the officers because of the trauma.

“Then we were told to go home,” said Ratih. The meeting ended around 3:30 p.m.

“Several days afterward, if it weren’t for me asking about any developments, there would have been no calls,” said Ratih.

No Assistance from Child Protective Services

On Jan. 6, on a friend’s recommendation, Ratih reported the situation to the Baubau Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Agency (DP3A). She met with a woman who asked whether her daughters had been medically examined, where the alleged assault had happened and who had witnessed it.

“The woman said my children might be traumatized. She said that was fine. What mattered was that I remained calm. Later on, their psychologist would examine them,” said Ratih.

As of March 11, the date this article was written, the child protective agency had yet to provide any assistance to the family, according to Ratih.

Project Multatuli contacted four officials from the child protective agency for comment, including the head of the agency, Wa Ode Muhibbah Suryani. None of the four would confirm that they had received Ratih’s report, and Suryani declined to comment.

Ratih’s lawyer, who has been on the case since Feb. 3, more than a month after Ratih initially reported the incident, said that he suspected Ratih’s daughters did not receive any clinical psychological assistance when they were questioned by the police. The lawyer, Safrin Salam from the Legal Aid Institute (LBH) of Amanah Peduli Kemanusiaan, said such an omission, if true, may have violated criminal procedure.

“If the authorities ask for a statement and a counselor deems the victims not prepared to make it, then the victims may not be asked to make a statement yet. If this is not respected, then there has been an ethical violation on the part of the child protection agency,” said Safrin.

(Editorial update: Safrin resigned as Ratih’s lawyer on March 26.)

Questionable Police Investigation

Several days after Ratih made the report to the Baubau child protection agency, Asrianto, along with a female police officer and someone Ratih assumed to be a worker from the agency, came to Ratih’s home to ask for statements from the victims. Then, on Jan. 10, investigators examined the witnesses based on statements from Ratih and the victims.

On Jan. 26, Ratih’s eldest son was called to the Baubau Police station for a statement. The next day, Ratih was again asked for a statement by investigators. In a small building located right next to the offices of the Baubau Police Criminal Investigation Agency, Ratih was questioned by at least five male police officers without the presence of legal counsel.

On the same day, Ratih and her children were brought to a subsidized housing complex by the team of investigators. Several suspects were made to stand before them. From inside the car, Ratih’s children were asked to point out the perpetrators.

“They had all shaved and cut their hair. My children were confused,” said Ratih.

On Jan. 28, Ratih was surprised by news that her eldest son had been detained after being questioned from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Ratih, who objected to the arrest of her son, got into an argument with the investigators. She asked to see her eldest, but the police would not permit her to do so. She was told by police that her son was arrested because he had confessed to being the perpetrator. The police showed her nothing but a video of the confession. Before the video had finished playing, the cellphone was yanked from Ratih’s hands.

Suspicions of Police Fabrication

Ratih’s eldest son said he did not know why the police had asked him to go to the police precinct on Jan. 26. He decided to go with his mother and his siblings.

At the Baubau Police, around 11:00 a.m., Ratih’s eldest went to the second floor of the Criminal Investigations Office. There, he met with officer Rahmiyanti Ahmad from the Women and Child Services Unit of the police. Upon learning that Ratih’s eldest was 19 years old, Rahmi said, “He’s already an adult. The parent does not need to be present.”

The eldest then asked his mother to go home. Although she was hesitant, Ratih eventually acquiesced.

Afterwards, officer Asrianto asked about the eldest son’s daily activities. He replied that he usually helped his mother sell vegetables at the market from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Asrianto then asked, according to the eldest son’s account, “Do you know what your sisters’ problem is, what happened to your sisters?”

“If I’m not mistaken I heard from my mother’s conversations at the market that it’s sexual assault,” he said. “But I don’t know the details.”

Asrianto asked whether he knew when the assault happened. He said, at the end of December 2022 after coming home from the market, his mother was angry because his youngest sibling had scars around her thigh. When asked what had happened, his mother would not respond. At the time, he had no idea what had happened to his sister. This questioning lasted until 2 p.m.

Two days later, several police officers picked up Ratih’s eldest at the market and asked him to come with them to the Baubau Police station. With Ratih’s permission, her eldest entered the police car.

On the way there, one of them said, “You, don’t be so kapatuli e [stubborn]. We ask you something, you say yes or no, that’s it.”

Upon hearing that, he had a bad feeling.

At the city police station, the eldest was taken to a small building next to the Criminal Investigations Office. At first, he was asked about his daily activities. He explained it again just as he did the first time he was brought in for questioning. However, that night he was asked to describe everything in detail. He said he did not know.

“Do you really not know? Don’t you dare lie,” said a police officer.

Not long after, a police officer asked for his cellphone and went through it. “Oh, got it. We got it already,” the officer said.

The police officer said, “Speak nicely, you hear? If you don’t, I’ll hit you in the mouth. I’ll break your teeth. If we beat you up in here, there’s nobody who will help you. You’ve got nobody here.”

“What do you search for when you’re on your phone?”

Ratih’s eldest said he usually read comic books, watched anime and watched YouTube. Because he was ashamed, he did not say that he also read adult comic books. The police then pressed him to admit it.

“Yes, sir. I read those [adult] comics too.”

One of the officers hit the table and yelled, “Not that. What did you do? Ah, you’re just talking in circles this whole time.”

After that, he was told to write down on a piece of paper the kind of content he usually read and watched on his cellphone. He wrote several titles of comic books, anime shows and YouTube channels. Again, out of shame, he did not write down any adult comic books or pornography.

“It’s clear he did it. The evidence is in his cell phone. You, tell the truth. If you don’t, I’ll shoot you in the foot,” threatened one of the police officers.

Then another police officer came, held a clothes hanger and put it to his mouth, “Tell the truth. If you don’t, say goodbye to your teeth here.”

(Project M/Muhammad Nauval Firdaus)

Terrified at the police officers’ threats, he chose to confess. Then, the officer asked him to explain the details of the sexual assault. He became even more troubled because he did not know exactly what they meant by “sexual assault”. He guessed, perhaps the sexual assault was the same as what he had read in adult comics.

During the “confession”, he was more often silent out of distressed confusion, he said.

“I was told to choose: Would I rather confess to the man who hit me or to Ms. Rahmi? Because I was scared I’d get a beating if I answered wrong, I chose Ms. Rahmi. Ms. Rahmi helped me speak when I gave my confession. Since I didn’t know what to say, I was mostly quiet.”

Another police officer entered the room, picked up the clothes hanger, and hit it against his mouth. Another officer said, “here’s a knife,” while pointing it to Ratih’s eldest and forcing the boy to confess.

During the confession, more often than not he received direction from Rahmi. He only found out then from the police’s own words that his youngest sister’s genitals were torn. He also only found out then that his sister, the older one, experienced the same thing.

“I didn’t know the confession would impact me this much. I thought, if I confessed and apologized, they would let me go. So I just went along with what they said. Shortly after that, one of the police officers came by. He recorded my confession with Ms. Rahmi. Then I heard my mother downstairs.

Rahmi then asked, “Do you think if your mom finds out about this, she’ll believe it?”

I said, “Of course not. I know this for sure because my mom knows me best. She knows I was at the market from morning until dusk. My mom is the one who keeps going back to the house, not me. My neighbors at the market also know that I’m always at the market.”

“After that they cuffed me and took me to a cell.”

A day after he was arrested, he met his mother. The police pressured him to confess to the assault to his mother. However, his mother would not accept this.

“Your mother knows from morning to dusk you were at the market,” said Ratih, who then had to see her eldest brought back to his cell.

‘It Wasn’t My Brother Who Did This’

Both Ratih’s daughters consistently said that on Dec 24, 2022, they first saw their big brother around 8 p.m. because he had been selling vegetables all day at the market with their mother.

Three neighboring grocers at the market also corroborated Ratih’s children’s testimonies.

One grocer said, “I saw him, he’d been at the market since 7:30 a.m. When I went home, he still hadn’t. It was the same for other days. His mom is the one who often leaves their stall. But him, he’s always here. That day on Dec. 24, he didn’t go anywhere. He loves his siblings deeply. He’d let himself starve because it only mattered that his siblings were fed. When he would buy cakes at the market, he’d be fine not having any as long as his siblings ate. I’d say he’s an honest kid.”

Another grocer testified, “That day, Dec. 24, from morning to dusk, he didn’t go anywhere. I was at the market until 5:30 p.m. After all, we sold vegetables next to each other. Even going to the bathroom, he’d ask permission. Sometimes, we took turns. When I had to go to the bathroom, he’d take my post. Every day he would hardly ever slip back to the house. How would he, anyway, with how far away his house is? Sometimes, he’d come to the market with his siblings and mother. He’d go home that way, too. Never alone. His siblings are really close with him. They just truly love one another. Instead of letting his siblings go hungry, he’d rather starve. He’s a very polite kid.”

“Sometimes it could be 3 in the afternoon, and he still hasn’t eaten. We’d ask why. He’d say, ‘If I bought lunch, I’d feel bad for spending what little money we have, so I’d rather spend it on a bag of rice that I can eat together with my little brother and sisters.’”

Yet another grocer gave this testimony, “He was at his stall from 8 a.m. I went home at 5 p.m., he was still there. He never left his post. Sometimes when he felt like eating, he’d order something, and eat it at his stall. Sometimes he’d work alongside his mom, sometimes his mom would leave and he’d stand by all alone.”

His legal representative, Sutri Mansyah, said this about meeting him when he was in custody: “The boy cried and said he didn’t do it. At the time of the crime, he was at the market with his mother.”

During the course of the investigation, besides the threats from investigators, “he was also never accompanied by an attorney”, said Sutri, who has been Ratih’s eldest son’s lawyer since Feb. 15.

“We have suspicions that this is all a fabrication. There is no strong evidence pointing to him as the perpetrator,” added Sutri.

On Feb. 21, Ratih’s eldest was released from custody after spending 25 days in a cell. He was told by Asrianto and Rahmi to sign a document which were letters for suspension of detention.

Sutri Mansyah said the police claimed they had three pieces of evidence to name Ratih’s son a suspect. But Sutri said the evidence had no relevance to his client’s accusation.

“Evidence ought to have relevance to the crime my client is accused of. However, there is no connection here,” said Sutri. “The visum et repertum [doctor’s forensic statement] did not show that the perpetrator is my client.”

The Victims’ Medical Examination Results 

The medical forensics statements for both victims, produced by the clinic appointed by the Baubau Police and obtained by Project Multatuli, concluded that “the hymen shows prolonged irregular tearing” regarding Ratih’s youngest and “the hymen is not intact” regarding Ratih’s first daughter.

In Ratih’s youngest daughter’s examination results, the doctors also concluded “the upper right arm shows a small puncture wound”.

Ratih’s older daughter’s examination results did not mention marks of an injection in the conclusion. Nevertheless, she and Ratih’s testimonies said both victims had been injected with something by the perpetrators. They suspect the doctors conducting the exam did not check Ratih’s older daughter’s arm.

This suspicion aligns with Ratih’s testimony regarding accompanying her two daughters for their medical examinations at the clinic on Dec. 30. She did not see the doctor examining the injection marks on her older daughter.

Police Refuse to Comment

When Ratih’s eldest son was arrested, the Baubau Police did not provide a clear statement on the reason for the arrest or the evidence that investigators had, Sutri and Ratih said.

Project Multatuli tried to verify this statement with the police, asking what evidence they had, but the police did not give a clear answer. Baubau Police chief Adj. Comr. Bungin Masokan Misalayuk only said they had “strong evidence” without elaboration.

Later, at the end of February, chief detective Adj. Chief Comr. Najamuddin sent a press release by WhatsApp to a select few reporters on “developments in the sexual assault case of underage children”. He wrote that Ratih’s eldest was the “perpetrator” and claimed the “habit of porn consumption” had created “the perpetrator’s motive for committing sexual assault” against the two victims.

Najamuddin also wrote that the first assault had occurred on Dec. 3, 2022, and that the older daughter had suffered three separate assaults and the younger two separate assaults, with both being put to sleep before the acts “at different times […] in one of the rooms of [their] home.”

Najamuddin said that on top of having obtained a confession, police had named the suspect based on other evidence, such as “witnesses, evidence on a cell phone and evidence in the visum et repertum reports.”

(Editorial update: Najamuddin was transferred to the Southeast Sulawesi Police in Kendari, the provincial capital, in early March 2023).

Mother and Children Work On Their Own to Find Perpetrators

Gathering up her courage, on Jan. 9, Ratih took the search for the perpetrators into her own hands, relying on her children’s testimonies.

She left her stall at the market to her eldest that day. Her youngest daughter said she knew where to find the warung she was playing at when it happened.

So the mother and child went to the warung, which was inside a house. There, her daughter pointed to a man with a tattoo. Ratih quietly recorded him on video. They then saw a man leave a nearby home. Then, four other men came on a motorcycle. The six men were caught on video in one frame.

When she got home, Ratih showed the picture to her older daughter, who confirmed one of the perpetrators was in the frame.

Then she pointed to another man in the same shot, whom she said she had seen during the assault as well.

Meanwhile, a man with a moustache and another dressed in red in the same shot were identified by the youngest daughter as perpetrators of the sexual assault.

From her two daughters’ testimonies and the videos, Ratih had found seven suspects.

Three were neighbors. Two, the mustached man and the man in red, lived at the market and had been to a home in the neighborhood. One was a man who managed a family-friendly tourism spot, and the last was the developer of the housing complex who had driven Ratih to the police station.

Ratih’s older daughter said the mustached man was the one who guarded the door. Her two younger siblings also saw him enter their house. Ratih asked her friend to confirm whether the mustached man had ever been to the neighborhood. The friend said the man once said his grandmother had a plot of land near the housing complex.

On the day of the assault, when her youngest daughter momentarily escaped and hid before being taken to the empty house, the neighborhood’s foreman may have been instructed to find and catch her.

After she was sexually assaulted, on her way home, the foreman said to Ratih’s youngest, “Go home, lock your door. Don’t let anyone see, or he’ll come again.”

However, the next sexual assault happened on the same day, in their home, according to the testimonies. This time, the victim was Ratih’s older daughter.

Victims’ Mother Threatened with Defamation

The testimonies from both her daughters that the housing complex developer was one of the perpetrators shocked Ratih. In response, she decided to move and has lived in rented housing since Feb. 13.

She confirmed that the developer did help her report the crime to the Baubau Police but did not at all expect her daughters to name the developer one of the perpetrators of their sexual assault.

“I believe what my daughters told me,” Ratih said.

(Project M/Muhammad Nauval Firdaus)

The victims’ lawyer, Safrin Salam, after receiving a copy of the medical examination results, told reporters that one of the suspects was the “owner of the housing complex”.

“Other than that, in the victims’ report to the Baubau Police and the victims’ first statements, the perpetrator is not the victims’ brother,” stated Safrin.

The housing developer’s lawyer, Muhammad Taufan Achmad, refuted the claim that his client was one of the perpetrators.

“From the start, our client has helped the mother of the victims. Our client accompanied them himself and even paid for the forensic medical exam,” said Taufan Achmad at a press conference on March 1.

His client had even been called by the police as a witness, Achmad said. “Our client had no involvement whatsoever,” he said, adding that his client had promised to cooperate with the police for the investigation.

Taufan Achmad, on behalf of his client, reported the mother of the victims and the media outlets that had insinuated his client was one of the perpetrators on the same day.

“Two prospective contracts for the neighborhood fell through due to the developments of this messed-up case,” Achmad sais.

The Victims and Their Family

After moving to the rented lodgings, Ratih could hardly sleep or keep her food down. She has also had financial difficulties because the time she could have been using to make a living, selling vegetables at the market, was mostly taken up by the demands of dealing with the sexual assault case, which she said was “rife with manipulations”.

For the first 10 days of living in the rented lodging, she did not go back to the housing complex. Each day the family ate whatever they could get. Sometimes, Ratih had to borrow money.

The housing complex, the crime scene, was built in an area near empty plots of land. There are nearly no residential areas around it. The distance between the main street and the housing complex is around 50 meters. The neighborhood is divided into two clusters by a small street. Ratih lives in one of 30 housing units in one cluster. Of the 30 units, Ratih recalled, only six were inhabited.

The home Ratih lived in consisted of a living room, an empty room, three bedrooms, one bathroom and a kitchen. Beside the bathroom was the kitchen door. One room was occupied by Ratih and her three young children. One other room was occupied by her eldest son. The two rooms were situated side by side. Meanwhile one other room, facing the terrace and located near the front door, was left empty.

When Project M visited the neighborhood on Feb. 3 around 11:00 a.m., not one homeowner could be seen, and there were only two workers there, who were finishing construction work for a housing unit beside Ratih’s home. At 2:30 p.m., a car entered the neighborhood and parked not far from Ratih’s home.

Ratih has been married twice and had five children. One of the children lives in a different part of the country, and the other four live with her. Her eldest son and her daughters had different fathers, and the police claimed this fact bolstered their accusation that the eldest was the perpetrator.

After leaving custody, her eldest son only slept well the first two days. Afterwards, he had frequent nightmares. He also suffered from a sense of inferiority, thinking that everyone saw him as a “perpetrator of sexual assault”, especially because many people at the market, who he had never known before, had begun to accost him. Wherever he went, he felt he was being followed.

* * *

After reporting the assault to the Baubau Police, Ratih often let her three children skip school. Her youngest daughter was still in kindergarten, and the two others were in elementary school.

Ratih once let them stay home from school for a whole month because she was worried for their safety. They went back to school for a few days, but then she let them skip again. They last went to school on Feb. 25.

Before the sexual assault occurred, Ratih routinely took them to school. When school was out, Ratih would pick them up and bring them to the market. After closing up at the market, around 7 or 8 p.m., Ratih and her four children would go home together.

On Dec. 24, the day of the assault, schools were on holiday. Ratih would normally take her children to the market on such days.

“I truly regret and question why, that day, I let my children stay at home,” she said, wiping a tear from her face.

“I feel like I’m close to losing my mind, but I have to stay strong for my children. My children must be given justice. I know I am poor, but that doesn’t mean they can do whatever they want to my children.”

Editor: Fahri Salam

Translated into English by Gabriela Moekoe, a generous Kawan M or member of Project Multatuli. The piece was first published in Indonesian.

Disclaimer: In the documents from the Baubau Police investigation, which we have archived, it is written that the mother of the victims reported the crime on Dec. 31, 2022. We have confirmed multiple times with the mother of the victims that she first reported the crime to the Baubau Police on Dec. 30, 2022, the same day her two daughters were medically examined. For this article, we used the date from the mother’s testimony rather than the date from the police report.

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