Assessing the need to sentence sexual violence perpetrators to death

Assessing the need to sentence sexual violence perpetrators to death

Misinformation circulating on social media describing the teacher that raped his 13 pupils in Bandung, West Java, is to be shot at point-blank range on the chest. (Twitter-Facebook).

The state prosecutor has demanded Herry Wirawan, a serial rapist, who abused his authority as headmaster of an Islamic boarding school in West Java and raped his 13 students, be sentenced to death.



According to the prosecutor, the death penalty was awarded to Wirawan for his immoral acts of rape that caused some of his victims to become pregnant, which was viewed as a grave crime that necessitates stringent punishment to be meted out.



The prosecutor’s decision to seek death sentence for Wirawan gave rise to a new debate about death penalty in the country, especially since death sentence for a rape suspect is considered unusual.



Some members of the public have endorsed death penalty for Wirawan, as they believe a stern sentence will have a deterrent effect to prevent others from committing rape in future.


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Those in favor of awarding death penalty, which means Wirawan will lose his most basic rights – the right to live – also viewed the sentence as testament to the government’s commitment to tackling sexual violence in the country.



For instance, House of Representatives (DPR RI) Commission III legislator Arteria Dahlan, citing the Constitutional Court verdict that declared death penalty as being in line with the nation’s Constitution, is also supportive of a death sentence against Wirawan. Moreover, a major section of society also supported Dahlan’s view.



Meanwhile, the National Commission for Human Rights and human rights activists believed that a death sentence for a rapist is not the right solution to tackle sexual violence cases in Indonesia.



Those who oppose death penalty opined that the sentence will be irreversible and violates the most basic human right – the right to live. International organizations, including the United Nations and its affiliate, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, have also voiced their opposition to the death penalty.

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Despite opposing any form of death penalty, the Commission's commissioner for monitoring and investigation, Mohammad Choirul Anam, remains supportive of another hefty sentence against Wirawan apart from death sentence.


Related news: Prosecutors demand death sentence for Herry Wirawan

Focus on victims’ recovery



Citing the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) official website, the Institute’s researcher Maidina Rahmawati warned that the death sentence may instead misdirect the focus away from providing support for rape victims, who are supposed to receive attention the most.



Instead of being solaced by the protection that they are supposed to receive, victims of sexual violence, perpetrated by Wirawan, might be exposed to unnecessary public attention that makes them more vulnerable.



Rahmawati also cautioned that the death sentence might deter other victims of sexual violence – which are often perpetrated by family members or people in a close relationship with them – from reporting their ordeal to the authority over fears that the person, who they have reported, will be sentenced to death.



Moreover, sexual violence victims and those associating themselves with these victims may be exposed to another threat posed by those close to the suspects that may start harassing the victims, whom they accuse of being the reason behind their relatives being sentenced to death.



Those issues have exposed the counterproductive sides of the imposition of death penalty against a rape suspect, the researcher noted.



Rahmawati also expressed concern that public attention to cases of sexual violence might instead focus only on the legal action against the suspects rather than the victims that should be protected in spite of the Sexual Violence Prevention Bill having laid greater emphasis on legal assurance for the victims’ protection and recovery.



Taking into account those factors and risks, law enforcers and prosecutors must be prudent in deciding the proper sentence for sexual violence perpetrators without compromising on the victims’ security and livelihood.


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Achieving restorative justice



In pursuing restorative justice, law enforcers must achieve conflict resolution, restoration of public order and societal balance, and assurance of peace and security by prioritizing law enforcement to restore normalcy in conditions rather than for reprisal purposes.



Unfortunately, eliminating a person’s right to life by imposing death sentence against sexual violence perpetrators does not guarantee complete recovery of their victims and respite from their suffering.



Rahmawati pointed out that the death penalty imposed on sexual violence perpetrators in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, had failed to have a deterrent effect to prevent sexual violence from recurring in those countries.



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Apart from failing to offer a deterrent effect, the recurrence of sexual violence cases in those countries proves that death penalty could not be the only punishment reserved for major sexual violence cases.



The researcher opined that if the judges concurred with the prosecutors’ argument and sentenced Wirawan to death, Indonesia is taking a reverse gear on its mission to pursue restorative justice in the country, as death penalty neither restores public balance nor provides peace and security.



The Human Rights Commission has defended its opposition to the death penalty against Wirawan by pressing for another hefty sentence for him without the need to end his life.


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The public must understand that in handling sexual violence cases, how the sexual violence victims will recover for now and in the future is more important than what sentence awaits sexual violence perpetrators.



This is because ultimately, either the judge will sentence Wirawan to death or long-term incarceration, his victims will move on from the ordeal created by Wirawan and continue their life.


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