INASIA

Insights and Analysis

Connecting Private Lawyers with Women Victims of Violence in Indonesia

December 9, 2020

By Ajeng Tri Wahyuni and Herlyna Hutagalung

For those in need of legal aid in Indonesia, securing the services of a lawyer in remote areas with minimal access is almost impossible. The vast archipelago, with 6,000 inhabited islands and a cornucopia of regional cultures, poses serious challenges for the delivery of services of all kinds. The National Law Development Agency (BPHN), under the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, which is responsible for ensuring access to legal aid for poor and marginalized citizens, has been addressing this lawyer shortage for several years, working with bar associations, sponsoring a paralegal training program, and supporting rural legal aid organizations.

Finding an attorney to work pro bono during the pandemic has been next to impossible. In a recent study, the Indonesian National Commission on Violence against Women reported a significant increase in gender-based violence, primarily domestic violence, triggered by rising family stress due to economic problems and restrictions on movement during the pandemic. As domestic violence has skyrocketed, its victims have found themselves unable to obtain the legal help they need to extricate themselves from dangerous, even life-threatening, situations.

Woman in a rural village in Padang, West Sumatera, Indonesia. (Photo: muhd fuad abd rahim / Shutterstock.com)

Legal aid and civil society organizations have been racing to adapt to the pandemic by changing the way they deliver services—increasing their reliance on technology and working remotely. One legal aid organization, LBH APIK Jakarta, says it is receiving 85 percent more complaints of violence than before the pandemic. Rifka Annisa, a women’s crisis center based in Yogyakarta, reports a similar increase. This flood of requests for services has stretched their ability to provide timely legal advice, psychological counseling, emergency shelter, and medical care.

On the other hand, many private attorneys who are willing and eager to provide pro bono legal services have no way to connect with these isolated victims. In recent discussions of pro bono initiatives, facilitated by The Asia Foundation, attorneys expressed great interest in providing free legal assistance to these victims but needed a way to find the women who needed their help. What’s more, private attorneys who are already providing such services are not widely known and have no place to share their experience and expertise—expertise that could be of tremendous value to their colleagues.

These discussions made it clear that Indonesia needed some sort of clearinghouse to bring all these people together. So, working with Justika, a technology enterprise focusing on legal services, the Foundation developed KONEKSI (in English, connection), a web-based platform connecting attorneys with victims of domestic violence.

Usually, a woman who has decided to take the children and leave her abusive husband needs assurance that she’s not breaking the law. Through this online platform, it’s easy for these women to contact a lawyer and get the legal advice they desperately need.

Through KONEKSI, victims can find a registered attorney who will provide a free legal consultation anywhere with an internet connection. “Usually, a woman who has decided to take the children and leave her abusive husband needs assurance that she’s not breaking the law,” says one participating attorney. “Through this online platform, it’s easy for these women to contact a lawyer and get the legal advice they desperately need,” she says.

Lawyers who specialize in cases of violence against women must be skilled at navigating the unequal status and power dynamics between victims and perpetrators; the stigma that society, including law enforcement, often attaches to victims; the lack of witnesses, because violence occurs out of sight of others; and the traditional view that domestic violence is a family affair.

Working through KONEKSI, private attorneys receive guidance from LBH APIK Jakarta to help them meet the specific needs of victims, including perspectives on trauma, skills for interacting, and techniques for preparing effective legal arguments on their behalf using the Law on the Elimination of Domestic Violence. Attorneys already in LBH APIK Jakarta’s network are also joining KONEKSI as an additional channel to reach women in need.

KONEKSI is a solution not only for the victim, but also for lawyers who are eager to provide pro bono services.

Another challenge since the start of the pandemic has been getting women who are victims of violence into state-owned safe houses, which now require a Covid-19 test as well as a police report. With support from The Asia Foundation, LBH APIK Jakarta and Rifka Annisa have responded to this urgent need by expanding their own services to directly provide shelter for women victims of violence. At the same time, pro bono lawyers, through KONEKSI, can refer cases that need shelter to one of these two agencies, depending on the location of the victim.

In the KONEKSI platform’s first month of operation, the number of participating private lawyers has steadily increased, and the BPHN has expressed interest in connecting the platform with that agency’s existing legal aid database. “KONEKSI is a solution not only for the victim, but also for lawyers who are eager to provide pro bono services,” says one participating attorney. With more lawyers registering to use the platform, and more women turning to the platform for help, KONEKSI promises access to justice for women who once had to suffer alone.

Ajeng Tri Wahyuni and Herlyna Hutagalung are program officers for The Asia Foundation in Indonesia. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected], respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, not those of The Asia Foundation.

Related locations: Indonesia
Related programs: Empower Women
Related topics: Gender-Based Violence

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