Crackdowns on Sex Work and LGBT Community in Indonesia Impede HIV Service Access

Asia Pacific Regional Correspondent

A spa and sauna house used by gay men in Jakarta has become the latest target of an ongoing police crackdown against sex workers and the LGBT community in Indonesia. On 6 October 2017, 51 men were arrested and detained, with media reporting that some could face up to six years in prison under pornography and sex work laws.

While homosexuality is not criminalised in Jakarta or most of Indonesia (Aceh Province, in northern Sumatra, is one exception), the last few years have seen increasingly conservative politics, with increased crackdowns on sex workers’ workplaces and gay saunas.

The crackdowns on gay saunas have been enabled by Indonesia’s anti-pornography law, which defines ‘deviant sexual acts’ to include oral sex, anal sex, and same-sex relations., Police also often assume sex between men is sex work, despite a lack of evidence. For example, Jakarta Police spokesman Argo Yuwono told Reuters, “LGBT is clearly between men and men or same-sex relationships. Male prostitution.”

Andreas Harsono, a Jakarta-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, said targeting clubs because gay men use them is an “abuse of power’ adding, “if there is no victim, there is no crime.”
NSWP has previously reported on increased raids on red-light districts and brothel closures in Indonesia since 2014. In 2015, the Indonesia government launched an anti-sex work strategy called ‘Indonesia Free of Prostitutes by the Year 2019’.

Harsono notes increased police actions targeting the LGBT community in Indonesia in 2017. On 2 September, West Java police entered the private homes of 12 women they suspected were lesbians and forcibly evicted them from the village. On 8 June, Medan police conducted a raid targeting five “suspected lesbians”, ordered their parents to supervise them and shared a video of the raid and the names of the five women with reporters.
Police actions against gay men have been largely using anti-pornography laws or allegations of sex work to justify raids and humiliation.

In May, officers detained 141 men in a raid on the Atlantis sauna in Jakarta, accusing them of involvement in a “gay prostitution ring.” Although nearly all of the men who were detained were later released without charge, police subjected them to humiliation and breaches of privacy. Individuals were strip searched and marched semi-naked from the venue into police vehicles, and photographs taken of them during the raid were shared on social media. 
On 30 April, police in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second biggest city police conducted a raid on an alleged “sex party.”  The 14 men they detained were forced to take HIV tests, and the results were released publicly.

Tactics such as brothel raids and closures, forced testing, public outing and humiliation of people living with HIV violate human rights and have significantly undermined HIV prevention and access to healthcare in Indonesia.

NSWP member OPSI previously reported that brothel raids and closures in Indonesia result in loss of livelihood, forced displacement, violence and extortion at the hands of police, and barriers to accessing services for sex workers. And service providers and members of the LGBT community say that because of the public disclosure of people’s HIV status during the Spring raids, many now fear getting tested, worrying they will be outed.

HIV testing and treatment has also gone underground. Even Jakarta’s main clinic for HIV testing is only known “by word of mouth” and has no website to offer information. OPSI previously reported that crackdowns on sex workers’ workplaces disperse sex workers, making it harder for outreach programmes to find and provide services and condoms to sex workers. Outreach workers in Indonesia are also afraid of being targeted in raids and police actions, and this has led some programmes to close. For example, until mid-May 2017, Fajar Prabowo supervised mobile HIV testing units to gay saunas and bars in Jakarta. The mobile units reached hundreds of men who did not go to clinics because they were afraid of being identified as gay men or as living with HIV by the health system. The mobile test units conducted outreach at the Atlantis Club only a few days before the raid that resulted in the detention of 141 men. The mobile test unit programme has been suspended indefinitely because of fear that outreach workers and the NGO would be caught up in the raids and detention.

NSWP has previously documented the harms of non-rights based HIV programming around the world, and the harms of brothel raids and other coercive practices throughout Asia-Pacific.