An Interview with Dr. Kristi Poerwandari

In the second part of this section, we present an interview with Kristi Poerwandari. She is born in Purwokerto on July 2, 1963, finished her undergraduate degree in Psychology, Masters of Women’s Studies and Doctoral Degree in Philosophy, from the University of Indonesia (UI) Depok. In addition to actively teaching in the Faculty of Psychology, especially in the Department of Clinical Psychology at her alma mater, she also serves as the Head of Master’s Program of Women’s Studies at UI. Together with several colleagues in 2002, Kristi established the PULIH Foundation, a professional and independent nonprofit organization engaged in psychosocial services for the prevention, treatment, and recovery of psychological trauma and psychosocial problems. Here are excerpts of Swara Rahima interviews with Kristi Poerwandari in the midst of her busy time. 

To start this conversation, we wonder why Violence against Women is often referred to as gender-based violence?

Violence against women is indeed often referred to as a gender-based violence,  because the violence is more likely to occur as a result of an imbalance of bargaining power or female power when compared to men. Women experience violence as a result of the construction of the gender role they bear. This construction makes women in a lower position than men and contemptible.

Can you mention some examples of Violence against Women?

The forms of violence against women vary, ranging from violence in the form of ideas (thoughts) to concrete violence. In term of ideas, violence can occur when one considers women as lower than men, her body is dirty and invites lust. Such ideas can be said to be violence. But usually, the forms of violence include physical, psychological, economic, sexual, and social deprivatization. For example, women are locked up, should not interact with others and even prohibited from interacting with their own mother. 

So far, the cases of domestic violence continue to increase and it is known that the perpetrators are people who have familial relationship or other close relationship with the victim such as husband, father, biological children, uncle etc. Why do you think the victims of domestic violence do not want and do not dare to tell or report the case to the nearest people or police officers?

It is very difficult to make the victims dare to report. Let alone to report, just to tell the story is also difficult. This happens because of the attitude of our society that has already put women in a lower position. Violence of this type is very difficult to be revealed because, first, domestic violence by most people will be regarded as a normal or common thing. Second, women as victims of violence think that other people do not take this matter seriously. Women tend to choose silence and hold their own problems because they are afraid if they talk and ask for support or help from others they will be blamed again. In addition, they are also afraid of not getting support from the family. Often, if the victim reports to the police, sometimes the victim gets an answer that family problems must be solved internally within the family. 

Then how can the victims dare to tell the crime to other people?

I think, to encourage women dare to report we need to socialize that violence is not something that can be accepted. Nevertheless, a mere socialization is not enough. Take for example the socialization of the Law on the Elimination of Domestic Violence (UU No. 23/2004 PKDRT), although the law has been passed and many people expect from the law but unfortunately the support system is not ready. For me, things like these can disappoint the victim again. Frankly, I wonder as women activists have been working maximally and long enough to deal with the issue of violence but very little progress has been achieved. At least the progress is on the fact that the issue of violence has been discussed openly and many victims become braver to tell their story. I think that is a good sign because women no longer need to see this case as a very shameful case or they are the only victims. The more victims of violence out there who dare to tell their bad experiences, the more women will have confidence that they are not the only ones to be the victims of violence. Yet they are strong to deal with it.

In the midst of phenomenon when marital rape is often considered ordinary by the society on the grounds of being “raped” by her own husband. What do you think about it?

I think that is also violence. On the one hand women experience beatings, forced to have sex and on the other hand, they also have to survive in their marriage for years. Maybe they were not enjoying their life anymore and find it heavy to face it. There are even certain women who do not survive and experience mental disorders. In western countries in which the people are generally middle class and use excellent medical technology – such women would prefer to take drugs to reduce stress and depression but not drugs (NAPZA). However, the negative effects of these drugs certainly make them like experiencing dependence.

Many psychologists argue that the practices of sexual violence and domestic violence against women have a very significant impact on the victims, what do you think?

That is true. But there are differences and similarities between them. Sexual violence that occurs in households occurs repeatedly, for example, a husband who always imposes a painful sex. But sexual violence in the form of rape does not always happen repeatedly, like an episode that happens only once or twice. Domestic violence tends to be repetitive, today the husband hits her, the next day he becomes good, then the husband hits her again, and good again and so on and on. The impact of post-traumatic stress disorder on the victims of sexual violence is generally more visible. To illustrate, someone who has had an accident, then she gets shocked, frightened, afraid to go through the highway, feared cars, afraid to cross the road, afraid to see cars that go fast, her heart is beating fast. These are the symptoms that happen to victims of sexual violence – fear of a man with a certain figure, afraid to pass certain places, disfavor certain smells that are reminiscent of events. Because the episodes of sexual violence do not always last long, then the subject could digest what happened. Sexual violence can indeed be very painful for the victims because it deals with female sexuality. Society demands special female sexuality, for example in the case of virginity – women must be sacred and women must always be able to take care of themselves. Such provisions play a role in shaking women’s self-esteem and self-belief. The impacts that appear are more evident in behaviors such as fear of men, avoiding heterosexual relationships, feeling that they are worthless, dirty, bad, and always blame themselves. The difference from domestic violence is that usually other people do not know if there is violence in the household. A wife who suffers beatings, experiences forced sexual relations, humiliation, scolded, then she becomes shocked, anxious, sad, angry, panicked, frightened and at the same time confused because the perpetrator is, in fact, the person she cares about. In domestic violence, before the victim can recover from the trauma, the violence happens again. So she has to create a survival mechanism like those in the conflict area – not yet recovered from a trauma of a sudden bomb, suddenly the next day the bomb went off again. Before she recovers from her trauma, she has to take her children to school, take care of housework, serve husbands etc. and she is forced to build a self- adjustment mechanism. Consequently, her post-traumatic stress (anxiety, panic, fear) is not too visible because she must survive. What more developed are the psychological feelings such as feelings of confusion, tension, becomes unpleasant individual when she socializes with her friends, often suspicious of others, very sensitive, quickly offended, get angry easily to her children. These conditions certainly disturb the overall psychological state of the victim.

Do all women victims of violence, especially those of sexual violence feel traumatized?

Yes. It only appears in different forms. Can you imagine? For example, I was always in a good situation and then suddenly I experienced something very bad, there must be a trauma, upset and shocked. But for female sex workers, they are used to experience things that are not unpleasant in sexual relationships. Whether they are humiliated or they enjoy the sexual relationships no one cares, the important thing is that they are paid and are very likely to experience rape. So that trauma is not too visible. Even so, the trauma heaps up and builds up a certain mechanism on them. Some time ago there was a psychology student who just wrote a thesis about female sex workers. It was interesting that the research managed to find out how these female sex workers became mechanical once and there were some women who tried to separate their feelings from their bodies. Even small children who always see their mother beaten by their father, the trauma can vary. Although there is the same feeling: fear, confusion, panic, anger but the appearance of the behavior is different, some withdraw, some become very embarrassed, some bed-wet again, some become very aggressive, for example, they like to beat their mates. They became anxious. So, it depends on the characteristics of each person personality.

What factors can help accelerate the recovery of violence victims?

First of all, it is very important that the victims get social support from the closest people such as family. They are expected not only to know but also to try to understand that the victims have experienced a special situation, so do not overemphasize, try to listen, try to adjust to the situation of the victims. Second, the post-traumatic stress must be properly handled. If the post-traumatic disorder is not properly handled, then the victim of rape will continue to think that sex is something scary, disgusting, painful and makes wounded. While others who do not experience sexual violence think that sex is a pleasant thing, for the victims, having sex will be reminiscent of unpleasant things. Third, providing a proper understanding of female sexuality to the victims of rape. For example, a woman who experienced rape and she became embarrassed and angry at life and at the men in general – but not only that, there is something else that is a bigger concept about men and women. Self-understanding of the concepts of female sexuality needs to be solved, cleared, and opened so that the victims do not blame themselves. Then, avoiding victimization of the victim by asking the questions such as: have I ever experienced bad things? Am I a person born in a fairly comfortable and empowering environment? or do I have painful experiences throughout my life and in such a way shape me into my present state? Things like this should be dismantled. The social support must indeed be provided by the environment, but the concept of female sexuality must be provided by a psychologist. Psychologists help the victim to reconstruct (technical term used in psychology) her life experience and also the concept of herself so that it becomes more positive.

In your experience so far when helping the victims of violence, what approaches do you often use to recover or strengthen their psychological state?

We run various ways of accompaniment. There is such thing as general accompaniment and there is a psychological accompaniment such as counseling. Actually, if we talk about psychological reinforcement (psychosocial), it can be viewed from the Mental Health Paradigm. The principle is somewhat similar, someone who has severe psychological disturbance is at the top of the pyramid. Around 3-4% victims are at this level. While others are at the lower level. The treatment is different if a victim is already at the top level of this pyramid, she needs a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist. A clinical psychologist will really give therapy in detail; checking on the past, helping victims to reflect on their past that might have been closed on purpose. While psychiatrists provide medicine. At level (2) two are occupied by about 20% of those victims and are handled by clinical psychologists in collaboration with social workers. At level (3), there are counseling or conversations for psychological reinforcement of the victim or it could be in the form of accompaniment. These accompaniments are usually mostly carried out by NGOs in general, for example, Mitra Perempuan and PUAN Amal Hayati. The accompaniment is: when a woman experiences violence, she is accompanied to go anywhere. That is, there are others who do not necessarily have the detailed competencies related to counseling but she accompanies, shows that she cares, takes care of the time when filing a complaint with the police and it is very helpful. Then the level 4 has the most victims because there are empowerment activities, support groups, a gathering of mothers who are fellow survivors. All these are also conducted by women’s NGOs such as LBH Apik.

As part of the movement to eliminate violence against women, how is the process of establishing Yayasan Pulih?

Yayasan Pulih was established in 2002, in fact, the idea of ​​establishing a foundation has been there since 1999-1998 when the May riots occurred. Some people at that time were wondering why there were no psychologists involved in assisting the trauma recovery of the victims of violence? Even the needs were immense. I always remember whenever there were women who became the victims of violence that needed psychologists, I was always asked for help. Considering the situation, I, who was concerned about the issue of gender-based violence from the beginning, with Livia Iskandar who was at that time involved more in conflict areas decided that there should be an institution that had many psychologists to pursue this issue. But at that time we were not focusing only on gender issues but on all other social issues such as conflict, violence, and crime. Although not only gender, but we believe that gender-based violence became something very prominent among the problems.

Do you have any messages regarding International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women? 

Maybe not messages, let us just talk about how we make strategies. I think those working in this field are not many but the work is very hard, like LBH APIK etc. But the achievements are still insignificant. I feel that gender-based violence is still rampant and even worse the society still see it as something not important and it is like “it’s not my issue”. Yesterday when I lectured at the Faculty of Nursing, I asked some mothers: what percentage of gender-based violence occurs? They answered “at least 25% of the population”. I asked them back “is it really 25%? Honestly to hear the 25% figure I got scared. Estimating 15% figure alone is enough to scare me. In our environment, there must be women who experience violence but people tend to think “who cares, I am not the one who experiences it”. And it seems they are too embarrassed to get involved. The women themselves, I think, tend to feel ashamed to see the issue of violence against women as a collective problem. Well, now I think what strategy can be done to make people see the issue of domestic violence as a collective problem. I am confused why we have not succeeded to see it as a collective problem? Is it because this issue tends to be dichotomous? such as gender-based violence, men are so brutal and always victimize women that it makes people uncomfortable. In the future, we have to devise strategies that are more acceptable to the society.  


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