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Rape surge on Indonesian island sparks anger

Catholic-majority Flores Island has witnessed 150 cases of gender violence against women and girls this year
A video screen shot shows Thomas Barus being paraded in Indonesia's West Manggarai Regency on Sept. 2 after he reportedly raped several schoolgirls

A video screen shot shows Thomas Barus being paraded in Indonesia's West Manggarai Regency on Sept. 2 after he reportedly raped several schoolgirls. (Photo: Supplied)

Published: September 04, 2023 12:22 PM GMT
Updated: September 05, 2023 03:47 AM GMT

Police in Indonesia's East Nusa Tenggara province have detained a man accused of raping minor girls under the guise of healing them amid a surge in sexual violence in the Christian-majority region.

Thomas Barus, a Catholic from Lembor subdistrict in West Manggarai Regency, was arrested on Sept. 2 after angry residents beat him and paraded him half-naked.

West Manggarai Regency is one of the eight regencies in Catholic-majority Flores Island in East Nusa Tenggara. The island has witnessed a surge in gender-based violence against women and teenage girls.

Yostan Alexanderia Lobang, the top police official in Lembor subdistrict, told UCA News on Sept. 3 that Barus raped at least three children aged between 11 and 13 years. He is also accused of harassing another 18-year-old girl in Jong village.

"He claims to have supernatural powers to heal sick people by praying for them," said Lobang.

He said that Barus had set rules so that his victims would take turns to enter a room where he was carrying out the “healing ritual.”

“In that room, he asked girls to undress, massaged and then raped them. He then threatened to kill them if they reported the incident, which he described as a ‘secret’," Lobang added.

However, one of the victims reported the incident to her family on Aug. 31, a day after the abuse. Later, other families joined.

Lobang said angry residents beat and paraded Barus around the village.

A video obtained by UCA News showed he was bleeding after the pubic beating and kicking by an angry mob.

Lobang said Barus was undergoing treatment at a hospital.

He said the police were also investigating the perpetrators who tortured Barus.

Servasius Narto, a village head, said he strongly condemned Barus' salacious deeds but also deplored the villagers saying they had no right to harm the accused.

Lombor subdistrict recorded another highly publicized sex crime case two weeks ago when seven young men allegedly raped a 16-year-old.

"These cases are worrying because they show a trend of sexual violence against children," said Holy Spirit Sister Frederika Tanggu Hana, who acts as coordinator of the Women's and Children's Protection House, a Church-run center.

She strongly criticized the "normalization of violence against women and children."

It "occurs because of a strong patriarchal cultural environment," the nun observed.

Violence against children via the internet is also on the rise, the nun said.

On Aug. 30, she reported to police a case of online violence faced by eight female students.

“The perpetrators targeted the victims through their Facebook accounts and claimed to have a naked photo of them.”

The perpetrators then asked the victims to send more nude photos and videos. 

“In fact, the perpetrators actually did not have the photos," she said.

According to data from the Ministry of Women and Child Protection, West Manggarai Regency has recorded 44 cases of sexual violence against children so far this year.

The regency has reported the highest number of sex crime cases this year with a total of 153 reported cases in Flores Island so far.

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