Despite the decline in tourism, the child sex trade in Bali continues

The 16-year-old girl met the man on a messaging app. He proposed to drive her to the lake for sightseeing. For a poor daughter who picks up rubbish, this is a luxury she cannot refuse.

They spent a day visiting the centuries-old temple with another teenage girl, but when night fell, the atmosphere became tense. The 20-year-old man named Aldi had disheveled hair and tattoos on his arms. He told the girls that it was too dark to drive home and forced them to stay in the motel.

When they arrived, Aldi revealed that the car was rented and he could not pay for food or room. He suggested that girls open an online account to make money by having sex with strangers. They resisted. He confiscated their mobile phones and threatened to beat them. For the next two months, Aldi imprisoned the girls, transferred them to different motels, and forced them to have sex with up to 8 men every day, sometimes without condoms.

A girl is sitting at the coffee table, with her back to the camera.

At the end of 2020, a 16-year-old girl was abducted for two months before escaping. She aspires to become a teacher.

(Adi Renardi/Times)

“He would hit me and throw things at me,” the girl said, and her name was hidden to protect her from further stigma. “He used to beat me with a broom until it broke. He threw a beer bottle and hit my head, causing me to bleed. It was a nightmare.”

It was not until one day that Aldi forgot to lock the door at a motel that the girls were able to escape and reunite with their families. He was arrested in May last year and sentenced to six years in prison.

The violent ordeal unfolds at the same time COVID-19 lockdown The island has been emptied of foreign tourists, highlighting the changing nature of Indonesia’s most famous international destination sex trade. For decades, this trade has been driven by foreign pedophile gangs and lonely predators-the most notorious is Robert Fiddel Ellis, the 72-year-old Australian Convicted of sexual abuse of 30 girls in 2016, one of whom was only 10 years old.

People talking at the coffee shop counter

The Hope Cafe, run by the non-profit organization Gerasa, teaches survivors of human trafficking work skills.

(Adi Renardi/Times)

The loss of tourists from abroad has helped fuel the development of tourism, which accounts for half of Bali’s economy and employs nearly a third of its workforce, refocusing the industry on relying on domestic tourists and locals. The coronavirus has also created new traffickers, such as Aldi, a migrant worker who was unemployed due to the pandemic. They prey on disadvantaged girls from desperate families in the sex trade, which is often beyond the scope of the police.

“People only think about tourism in Bali. They don’t realize how much poverty there is,” said Yohana Agustina Pandhi, a lawyer who led the police department in Bali to protect women and children. “As the economy deteriorates, more people, including many minors, will be lured into prostitution and fall into human trafficking.”

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, this is a trend affecting countries around the world. Which reported The number of victims of child trafficking has tripled in the past 15 years, and the economic recession caused by COVID-19 has made the situation worse.

Bali is an island with 4.3 million inhabitants, about the size of Delaware, but the authorities seem to be unprepared. Aldi’s arrest and conviction is one of only five human trafficking cases successfully prosecuted by Bali authorities since 2019.It is believed that the actual number is much higher; 2018 Global Slavery Index It is estimated that 1.2 million Indonesians live in modern slavery, whether as laborers, fishermen or sex workers.

The low number of cases in Bali reflects the continued weak enforcement of illegal sex trafficking, and its migration to encrypted applications has accelerated with the closure of the red light district during the months of lockdown.

The police said that this technology-including applications such as WeChat, Telegram and MiChat-made it impossible for them to monitor abuse. Actions are usually only taken when the victim stands up or someone accuses the crime.

In October, residents of a community in western Bali reported that after suspicious men frequented rented rooms, a teenage prostitution group involving 15-year-old girls was disbanded. The police arrested a 28-year-old woman named Khomsatun Hasanah. She allegedly tricked the girl from her home in East Java and promised to work in a cafe in Bali. The girls were held for three months and forced to have sex with strangers. Hasanah uses MiChat to attract customers, a Singapore dating app that government officials are considering banning in 2019 because it is related to online prostitution. Hasana told the police that she turned to human trafficking because the pandemic made her unemployed.

“This is a struggle to prove online human trafficking,” said Kompiang Srinadi, the current head of the Women’s and Children’s Protection Department of the Bali Police Department. “We need the support of the network unit [in the capital Jakarta] If we want to investigate. We just don’t have enough staff. “

Activists say the police can do more.

Luh Putu Anggreni, legal counsel of the Bali Women’s Legal Aid Organization, said that due to inherent gender discrimination against women and girls, the authorities will not take human trafficking as seriously as other crimes. This can lead to a lack of empathy when dealing with female victims.

“The law enforcement agencies issued questions like’Are you really a victim? Why are you dressed like this?'” Anggreni said. “The victim is being stigmatized.”

Once rescued, the government will hardly support the recovery of sex trade survivors. Due to lack of state funding, most people must seek asylum from non-profit organizations. The Witness and Victim Protection Agency and the Ministry of Social Affairs, two national agencies responsible for helping victims of violence and trafficking in a country of 270 million people, have their budgets drastically reduced from 10.3 million U.S. dollars in the previous year to 3.7 million in 2020 Dollar.

At the same time, Bali’s tourism economy is striving to recover from the devastating 2020. In 2020, it will shrink four and a half times the national economy.

The second year was not much better.Bali It is said that Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Indonesia only received 45 international tourists in 2021, while in 2019 it received more than 6 million. The cancellation of domestic travel last year brought thousands of Indonesian tourists every weekend, helping to moderately restore the economy. This is also sufficient to help maintain prostitution, although the price of sexual services is said to have fallen by half, to between US$10 and US$30.

Except for the hordes of stray dogs, the white sandy beaches on the island are basically deserted. Despite the removal of border restrictions in October, foreign tourists are still reluctant to accept a 10-day quarantine to travel to resorts. The rapid spread of Omicron variants around the world will only increase uncertainty.

It was in the Tabanan district of western Bali that Aldi’s now 17-year-old victim got the help she needed in a safe house run by a non-profit sexual abuse victim named Gerasa, the area known for its breathtaking Rice terraces are not famous for resorts.

The girl in the cafe wears braided bracelets.

The trafficking survivor found help in the safe house to deal with her trauma. “I won’t be obsessed with the past.”

(Adi Renardi/Times)

Before that, she worked hard to adapt to life after her release. After her classmates bullied her, she refused to go to school, calling her a “worker in linearity”, and shared the MiChat account that Aldi forced her to create with obscene pictures.

Gerasa’s consultant Krisdiyanti Mayangsari said that for many victims who showed physical and psychological trauma, the girl’s experience was common. “After what happened to them, most of them felt that they did not belong to this world,” she said. “We tell them that they are precious people.”

In Gerasa, the girl received treatment and learned new skills such as embroidering eyebrows, manicure and makeup. She is the youngest of six children who grew up in a family where money and food are scarce, and she dreams of becoming a school teacher one day. Although her abuse always haunts her, she said that she is trying to live in peace with the past to enhance her happiness.

“I won’t pester the past, I have forgiven him,” she said. “I only think about the future now.”

Reporting by Reinaldi, a special correspondent for Bali, and Pearson, a special writer for the Singapore Times.

The report in this article was funded by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.