From the July 2000 Austrailian edition of Cosmopolitan Magazine. "Desperate to protect themselves from rape, many ethnic Chinese women in Indonesia only feel safe if they lock themselves into chastity belts before leaving home." An article written by Peter Henderson
Lucy applies her make-up, fixes her hair carefully and selects her favourite dress from her wardrobe, ready for another Saturday night out on the town with a group of girlfriends.
Just before she leaves, she goes to her cupboard and takes out a fairly sinister-looking white plastic and metal contraption: a chastity belt. She awkwardly steps into it, slides it into place on her body - over the top of her underwear - clicks it shut and twists the combination lock securely. Then she stands in front of the mirror to check that it looks OK. Well, not OK, but as unobtrusive as it can possibly be - so it won't show through her dress.
Like millions of girls all over the world, Lucy, an accountant, is looking forward to a good night out. But unlike most women in the year 2000, she feels compelled to wear a device that went out of fashion in the 1800s. Lucy, 26, believes she has very good reason to wear a chastity belt. "My best friend was raped and beaten. The belt, at least, gives me some reassurance that the same thing won't happen to me," she says. She's not alone.
Lucy and her friend Debi are ethnic Chinese, who were born and continue to live in Indonesia, a country where the threat of civil unrest is never very far from the surface. This is a land where vicious and organised gangs use rape to terrorize Chinese women. The violence has been perpetrated in vengeance at the success of the Chinese in carving out a better living for themselves than that which is enjoyed by many Indonesians. Human rights groups suspect that the violence is masterminded by an army which many feel could still seize power from the new democratic order, established in October 1999. Throughout the cities of Indonesia, homes and businesses remain scarred from arson attacks and looting - the result of crazed outbursts of hatred. The atrocities reached a peak in 1998, when pro-democracy demonstrators clashed with a group of supporters of longtime President Suharto and his regime. There were countless women raped and 1190 people were killed in rioting - a total nightmare indelibly fixed in the consciousness of everyone in Indonesia.
One day during the unrest, Debi was at home when three plain-clothes soldiers, all aged in their early 20s, smashed into the Jakarta home where she lived with her family. "They held my father down and kicked my brother in the head until he lay unconscious on the floor," she says. "Then they forced my dad to watch while they raped me." In the hell that followed, Debi's clothes were ripped from her body and her dignity totally destroyed, as her father begged the men to leave her alone. "They struck him in the face," recalls Debi. "I can still remember blood pouring from him as I was pushed to the floor. I was shaking with fear, but I didn't scream - I knew they'd kill us if I did." All three intruders raped Debi. It took her three months to recover from the physical wounds that she sustained during the attack. But the emotional trauma suffered by her and her father will never heal, she says. Lucy has noticed the change in Debi. "I've seen what this did to Debi," she says. "She's gone from being a bubbly, happy person to being withdrawn and depressed. For a long time, she couldn't work or go out. SHe just used to stare at the wall, sobbing. I know the chastity belt can't give us complete protection, but it might deter a potential attacker."
Perpetrators of sexual attacks aren't always rampaging gangs. At times of relative calm, the incidence of rape in Indonesia is high, which also scares Lucy and her friends. "You can never tell what's going to happen next. For me, it's good to have this belt," she says. "It gives me peace of mind."
A counsellor for women who've been raped during the riots explains, "We can only guess at the exact number of women who suffered in the gang attacks, but it's well into the thousands. Many didn't report them because of the stigma attached. One woman told me how her marriage has been wrecked because her husband wouldn't have sex with her anymore after she told him about being raped. He somehow thinks it was her fault, even though she'd have been killed if she tried to resist. A lot of women suffer horrific emotional torment in silence, too ashamed to talk about it."
"Debi says the belt won't help me if a rapist is determined and that I could risk being killed, rather than raped, if I refused to unlock my belt," says Lucy. "I heard about one girl who was so terrified she told the rapist the combination of the lock. She was walking home at midnight and a man pounced on her in the street. He pulled her into the bushes and was furious when he tried to rip off her trousers and found this metal belt in his way. He held a knife to her throat and demanded to know the lock's combination. The girl whispered it before fainting with fear as he was raping her. But still," says Lucy, "I think that it's a worthwhile precaution, even if it does seem like something from medieval England."
Lucy purchased her belt from a shop owned by Simon Sanjaya, in Indonesia's third largest city, Bandung, near where she lives. "I have many customers," says Sanjaya, who is only one of the local suppliers of belts. "Whenever the political tension rises, the number of customers rises, too. That's when the gang rapists tend to strike at the Chinese community." Simon Sanjaya has customers ranging from women in their late teens to those in their 40's. Occasionally, mothers and daughters come to buy belts together. And there are others who are accompanied by their fathers or husbands, seeking protection for the women in their family. "People - mostly men - criticise me for going into this business, and others say that the belts aren't comfortable to wear," says Sanjaya. "But they don't seem to understand the fear that women feel about rape. All of the women who work here have asked me to make them belts. Each one is measured and fitted individually so it matches the woman's body shape and is as comfortable as possible for her. They say the belts are fine to wear," confirms Sanjaya. "Though I'm not saying you'd chose to wear a belt unless you think there is a risk of getting raped."
Sanjaya manufactures the belts at his small workshop using narrow strips of steel - one fits round the waist and another passes between the legs, "tightly covering the area the rapist is aiming for." A softer, plastic lining is then fitted over the steel structure. Sanjaya has tried to make the belts as aesthetic as possible. "There are optional clip-on extras - one's in the shape of a heart - to make the women feel better about wearing them," he says. There are some men who come here and order belts for their wives, usually to protect them from rape," adds Sanjaya. "But some buy them because they think they can stop their women from having lovers, or prevent their daughters from losing their virginity." Though it's not like the old days, where the man could keep the key to the chasity belt, and unlock it at his own discretion. "The owner of the belt - the woman - has to choose her own three-digit code for the combination lock and she also has to make sure she doesn't forget it," he says. "In any case, the woman must know the number and be able to remove the belt, otherwise she can't go to the toilet," Sanjaya points out.
On an extremely hot Sunday morning, a steady stream of customers start arriving at Sanjaya's cramped workshop. One couple who don't wish to be named, have come for the woman to collect her newly made belt, known here as an "anti-rape device." "I would feel happier if my wife had one of these belts," says her husband, looking approvingly at the bizarre gadget. "I was against it at first," says the woman, "but when I tried it on at the fitting, it didn't seem too bad. I feel better for having one because you never know what's going to happen." Another customer, Nora, 23, says, "I sometimes wear my belt when I go out in my area because there's a serial rapist hanging around, who the police can't find."
Hera, 27, bought the device after she was subjected to a sexual attack when she was walking through a park a few months ago. "This man grabbed me round the neck and pushed me to the ground," she says. "He groped me but it was obvious that he wanted to do more. Luckily, some people who were passing by saw me struggling in the bushes and screamed at him to leave me alone. At first, he just ignored them and kept banging my head on the ground to make me quiet. But then they came towards us, and he ran off." The experience has left Hera terrified. "I wear the belt for my peace of mind. You wear it over your knickers and under a skirt or trousers and it's OK for several hours. After that it does start feeling a bit tight and unnatural, but not overly uncomfortable. Last week I wore it to the movies and it was fine. It's terrible that girls feel they need to wear one of these, but they do," she says.
Lily, a computer analyst, bought her chastity belt after her friend Lucy persuaded her by telling her about the terrible trauma Debi suffered. "At first I laughed about getting into this strange contraption," she says. "But rape is horrible wherever it happens. Also here in Indonesia, there's a real stigma if an unmarried girl has sex with someone - whether she's forced to or not, or when a wife is raped." It can be that the husband or father won't forgive her, despite the victim being completely blameless. Lily says, "My husband agreed with my friends I should have a chastity belt as a precaution. He trusts me totally, but he thinks it could save me if I ever get into a difficult situation. I'm not so sure about that, but I'll go along with it."
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