Pelacuran di Indonesia | Sejarah dan Perkembangannya

(Prostitution in Indonesia, its History and Development)

By Terence H. Hull et al.

Pustaka Sinar Harapan in cooperation with Ford Foundation, Jakarta, 1997
Tebal buku: 157 pp + ix
Harga: Rp 15,000

JAKARTA (JP): Everybody knows the sex industry is as old as the history of humankind, but nobody seems to be able to pinpoint when exactly its commercialization started.

In Indonesia, prostitution was definitely recorded during the time of the Mataram kingdom in 1755. The trade in women was a complementary part of the feudal government system.

The king was often viewed as a noble power holder; thus he was not only the owner of material wealth, but also the lives of his underlings, including the women who were his concubines.

There were usually beautiful women from particular regions. They were sold, or presented, by their families to the king.

According to research by Koentjoro published in 1989, there were 11 regencies in Java known as suppliers of women who, knowingly or not, become prostitutes: Indramayu, Karawang and Kuningan in West Java; Pati, Jepara, Grobogan and Wonogiri in Central Java; Blitar, Malang and Banyuwangi in East Java.

The above introduces the reader to an in-depth study of the sex industry by noted demographers Gavin Jones and Terence Hull, and labor analyst Endang Sulistyaningsih. The demographers, both of whom have held positions as Canberra’s Australian National University, have worked here since the early 1970s, assisting government institutions and teaching at state universities.

This work, based on an earlier monograph, traces early policies attempting to regulate the sex industry, which persisted despite government efforts to check their growth and the spread of sexuality transmitted diseases.

Authors quote a study published in Dutch in 1901, in which the writer, in a book related to public health, recommends that each woman involved in the sex business be obliged to carry brochures with information on syphilis.

Close to the end of the century, we can still see the government trying to come to terms with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and its confusion over how to handle prostitution, a very lucrative business as the book and any study on the subject show.

It also describes how the industry began in different areas. In Surabaya, for instance, prostitutes in the 19th century were allowed to board ships arriving in the new port city.

The authors quote a study on prostitution in the colonial era by historian John Ingleson. He wrote that the policy of overseeing a crew’s private activity on board was considered better than having them roaming around for women.

This work, the third in a series on reproductive health, culture and society, is not the first to analyze prostitution. A well-known book on Dolly, the red-light area of Surabaya, was published in 1979 by Yuyu A. N. Krisna, a woman who went undercover to conduct her research.

But the fascinating business of sex for pay, in all its permutations, is revealed in the new book, covering both the unorganized sex business and those controlled by pimps.

In Jakarta’s downtown area of Mangga Besar alone, the authors estimated a minimum turnover of Rp 1 billion a night from the sex business.

In Surabaya, transactions in the sex business are estimated at Rp 380 million daily. Estimates put the value of the sex industry in Indonesia at from 0.8 percent to 2.4 percent of the total GDP.

Officially registered prostitutes in the country numbered 47,454 in 1992/93, 65,059 in 1993/94 and 71,281 in 1994/95.

According to a report Rehabilitation of Prostitutes published by the Ministry of Social Affairs in 1994, East Java province was the biggest supplier of prostitutes: 12,426 in 1993/94 and 14,190 in 1994/95.

Have we learned anything from a history of commercial sex regulation? Can an improved economy, which was the case for most of this decade before the crisis struck, check its growth?

In the concluding chapter, the authors speculate that while demographic figures show women aged 15 to 24, the main source of prostitutes, are not increasing significantly in their ranks, an improved economy means the greater ability of men to buy sexual services.

The conclusion also points out inconsistent policies – the calls for morality, the rejection of the Ministry of Manpower to recognize prostitution as a job, and the taxing of the industry by regional administrations. Meanwhile, “the absence of public debates”, partly because of the taboo nature of the subject, “are justified in the name of stability”, they write.

“But this stability has been paid by the exploitation of women by their bosses,” they added. They also raise the issue that the pimps, backers of the industry and married men are patrons have received little attention from the public.

Of course, the recent monetary turmoil has done much to undermine their contention on the greater “purchasing” power of patrons, although it follows that prostitution may well increase in line with people’s desperation.

Books like this are worthy in that they force us to look at embarrassing truths, which promise to remain given our muddled views on the dilemma of prostitution.


–R. Masri Sareb Putra

The reviewer is an editor in a publishing company in Jakarta

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