Imagine coming home after a busy day, tired and eager to get out of your clothes and into the shower. But as you step out of the refreshing shower wrapped in a towel, you realize something was wrong. To your horror, you find an action camera taped on the inside of your bathroom door, its lens pointing right at you. Suddenly, the place you call home no longer feels safe.
That is what happened to “Melia”, a college student in Yogyakarta one night early this year after returning home from dinner with some friends from Jakarta. At the time she was living with four friends at the rented house. The bathroom is located at the back of the house connected to her neighbors' yard. She had a habit of showering at night and she suspected the perpetrator knew this.
When she saw the camera, Melia froze. What is the camera doing? Who put it here? A few seconds felt like forever, but as soon as she snapped back into reality, she snatched the camera from the door and rushed back to her room. In the room, as she was trying to digest what was going on, she noticed that the camera was still recording. Immediately she turned it off.
“I sat there bewildered. Should I report to the neighborhood chief and the owner of the house? Should I let this pass, but risk my safety in the future? Is the video connected to somewhere else where someone’s looking at the footage? Did someone else see my body without my permission? I felt like something was stolen from me; I felt like something has gone missing,” Melia uttered.
When she told her friends and family about what happened, they were all scared and not sure what to do. One of her housemates advised her to check the footage, but the camera's memory card was empty. They suspected that when the camera was turned off, it automatically deleted the recording.
Melia then called her mom who urged her to move out of the house and also suggested that she filed a report to the local police. After a few days, she did so.
Lack of Laws
“I told them (the local police) that this incident violated the law on pornography, but was initially told I didn’t have the proof that the footage will be or has been published,” Melia said.
“According to the Indonesian law, to be fair to all parties involved, the victim must have valid proof,” a police officer assigned to her case, who requested anonymity, told Magdalene. “In Melia’s case, the recording was not found in the memory card,”
If the video recording of Melia had been found in the camera or the memory card, the case could still be processed based on the Indonesian anti-pornography law because there is proof that someone intended to record a private activity without the consent of the object being recorded.
“Unless there is proven to be a video proof of the recording, it won’t likely be processed using the anti-pornography law,” he said, adding. “but the case is still being processed, so we will definitely look into it further.”
This challenge further complicates the efforts of those with similar experience in seeking justice. Last week Magdalene invited its followers on social media to share their experience of being a victim of voyeurism, and dozens of women have come out with various stories of being targeted by hidden camera.
One of these women, Ais, a college student in Tegal, Central Java, was having a sexual intercourse with her boyfriend when she found out that he was taking videos of her without her consent.
“When I asked him if he was intentionally taking a video of us having sex, he just laughed and showed me other videos,” she told Magdalene. “Apparently, he had been recording our sexual activities countless times without telling me.”
Ais said many people may not know that the act of recording someone without their consent constitutes sexual harassment.
“Cases like these are treated very poorly in Indonesia. They are always resolved ‘peacefully’ with the perpetrators extending their apologies. No legal action is taken,” she said.
Another woman “DP”, told Magdalene how she found a phone camera aimed at her in the bathroom of her boarding house in Jakarta a couple of years back.
At the time, part of the house was being renovated and builders were working on the construction in the day time, while staying there at night. One night, as she was showering, she saw a hole on one section of the wall, so small that it was barely noticeable. On this hole, she spotted the lens of a smart phone being aimed at her.
She ran out of the bathroom to get the phone, but found that it had been taken away. She suspected that the perpetrator was one of the construction workers, an 18-year old. After putting on some clothes, she stormed into the workers’ room swinging a piece of wood from the renovation site and shouting for all the neighbors to hear.
She snatched the phone of the young construction worker and locked herself in her room while calling her supervisor and the owner of the house. Soon the owner of the house, their neighbors, her colleagues, the neighborhood chief and the police filled the room. When the suspect was confronted, he confessed to doing it, claiming that the video was intended to be “souvenir” for the people back in his village.
The process took all night, but the recording was found to be corrupted and could not be played or saved.
“I didn’t want this case to be ignored and treated as unimportant, so I filed a report to the local police,” she said. For two weeks she went back and forth to the police office to push for the case, but in the end, the perpetrator was sent to jail for one night only, pending the decision on whether or not the legal case would be pursued.
The owner of the boarding house along with the other workers begged her to drop the case. They told her to spare him, blaming his “youthful ardor” for the incident. In the end she did.
“I still am traumatized and I still feel uncomfortable around construction workers until now. This is a serious problem.... There is nothing normal about this,” DP said.
Voyeurism and spy camera is also a big problem in other countries. In South Korea, over 6,000 spy camera cases were reported each year, but only 2 percent of the perpetrators were convicted, according to a report on the BBC.
The lack of strict law to prosecute the crime has caused millions of South Korean women concerned for their safety, especially because many of these videos taking without consent are known to be sold and shared online. Tens of thousands of women have taken to the streets of Seoul with the words “my life is not your porn” since last year.
“These online crimes against women have become a big issue here first (in South Korea). But it will not be long before they becomes a big problem in other countries. So we need to work together to solve the issue internationally," Park Soo-yeon said.
Meanwhile, Melia, who decided to continue pursuing the legal process for her case said she was still angry and traumatized by her experience.
“My mental state is still not stable. I have trouble sleeping, and I cry or find it difficult to focus. I also still feel unsafe whenever I leave my new place,” she said.