Social media

Sexual predators in Indonesia use Facebook to meet victims

Girls are being abducted after meeting their captors on the social network site in Indonesia. Action is urged before more become victims

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2012, 3:16am

When a 14-year-old girl in Indonesia received a Facebook friend request from an older man she didn't know, she accepted it out of curiosity.

It's a click she will forever regret, leading to a brutal story that has repeated itself as sexual predators find new ways to exploit the country's growing obsession with social media.

The junior high school pupil was smitten by the man's online flattery and they agreed to meet. After telling her mother she was going to visit a sick girlfriend on her way to a church choir practice, she got into the man's minivan near her home in Depok, on the outskirts of Jakarta.

She said the man, a 24-year-old who called himself Yogi, drove her for an hour to the city of Bogor, West Java,

There, he locked her in a small room inside a house with at least five other girls aged 14 to 17. She was drugged and raped repeatedly, losing her virginity.

After one week of torture, her captor told her she was being sold and shipped to the faraway island of Batam, known for its seedy brothels and child sex tourism that caters to men coming by boat from nearby Singapore.

She sobbed hysterically and begged to go home. She was beaten and told to shut up or die.

Her case is not unique. So far this year, 27 of the 129 children reported missing to Indonesia's National Commission for Child Protection are believed to have been abducted after meeting their captors on Facebook, said the group's chairman, Arist Merdeka Sirait. One of those befriended on the social media site was found dead.

"Maybe Indonesia is kind of a unique country so far. Once the reports start coming in, you will know that maybe it's not one of the countries, maybe it's one of a hundred countries," said Anjan Bose, a programme officer who works on child online protection issues at ECPAT International, a non-profit global network that helps children in 70 countries.

Websites that track social media say Indonesia has nearly 50 million people signed up for Facebook, making it one of the world's top users after the United States. Jakarta was recently named the most active Twitter city by Paris-based social media monitoring company Semiocast.

Many young Indonesians, and their parents, are unaware of the dangers of allowing strangers to see their personal information online. "We are racing against time, and the technology frenzy over Facebook is a trend among teenagers here," Sirait said. "Police should move faster, or many more girls will become victims."

The 27 Facebook-related abductions reported to the commission this year in Indonesia have already exceeded 18 similar cases it received in all of last year. Overall, the National Task Force Against Human Trafficking said 435 children were trafficked last year, mostly for sexual exploitation. Many who fight child sex crimes in Indonesia believe the real numbers are much higher.

Facebook says its investigators regularly review content on the site and work with authorities, including Interpol, to combat illegal activity. It also has employees around the world tasked with cracking down on people who attempt to use the site for human trafficking.

"We take human trafficking very seriously and, while this behaviour is not common on Facebook, a number of measures are in place to counter this activity," spokesman Andrew Noyes said in an e-mail.

He declined to give any details on Facebook's involvement in trafficking cases reported in Indonesia or elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the Depok girl, wearing a mask to hide her face as she was interviewed, said she was still shocked that the man she knew for nearly a month turned on her.

"He wanted to buy new clothes for me, and help with school payments. He was different ... that's all," she said. "I have a lot of contacts through Facebook, and I've also exchanged phone numbers. But everything has always gone fine. We were just friends."

The girl said the man did not have the money for a plane ticket to Batam, and also became aware that her parents and others were relentlessly searching for her. He ended up dumping her at a bus station, where she found help.

"I am angry and cannot accept what he did to me. I was raped and beaten," said the lanky girl with shoulder-length black hair.

The girl's case made headlines this month when she was expelled after she tried to return to school. School officials claimed she had tarnished the school's image. She has since been reinstated, but she no longer wishes to attend due to the stigma she faces.