If the Law Can’t, We Will: How Digital Vigilantes become the Safe Haven for Victims of Online Sexual Offender (A closer look at @aliskamugemash exposé account)

March 22, 2021 5:10 pm || By

The Internet has quite literally opened up a whole new world and opportunities for extensive human connection. It has become quite common to meet new people through cyberspace, and thus it has become increasingly normal to find dates while surfing the Internet. Some people didn’t necessarily have dates in mind when they signed up for dating apps. They simply wanted to meet new people or find friends to connect with, even during the current pandemic[i]. Unfortunately, as with most technological advances, these opportunities are followed by threats.

At the end of January, Indonesian netizens were surprised to find an anonymous Instagram account @aliskamugemash that shared plenty of evidence regarding an alleged sexual predator identified as LWD. This account has compiled reports of sexual abuse in the form of stories from women who came forward as victims of the alleged predator. Oftentimes, screenshots of chats, phone calls, voice notes, and/or photos of the offender’s residence and various dating app profiles are shared to cement the allegations’ credibility.  The Jakarta Post has described this account as ‘a growing online movement’ to expose an alleged sex offender who has apparently been preying on women through mobile dating apps for years’[ii].

This isn’t the first-time people banded together to expose online sexual offenders. New York has Team Loyalty Makes You Family, a Facebook page that’s dedicated for hunting pedophiles.[iii]. There’s also an online website called the “Digital Prison” which publishes the names of people who have found guilty of serious crimes, especially those related to sex offenses.[iv]. The #MeToo in Twitter has also exposed (and to some extent, dox) various sexual offenders in the past.

 Thus, what makes the @alishkamugemash account different from the rest? My assumption is that this account exposed the alleged offender in such an elaborate way that has never before been seen in the movements that preceded it. I myself have been following this account since January 2021 and since then has been aware of the predator’s modus operandi and places he frequented. If you look close enough, you can even discern the alleged offender’s tendency through people’s reports.

The existence and rise of this movement posed two questions I’d like to answer in this writing. The first question will be: why do these victims prefer to talk to these vigilantes instead of the authorities? Indonesia has the proper outlet for sexual offense cases, namely the police. But instead of going to the authorities, the victims came forth with an exposé account to shared their stories. Granted that through this account, the authorities have been notified of the notoriety of this alleged offender and has since encouraged the victims and informants to report to the police[v], but this poses my second question: are these vigilantes right in exposing, doxing, and publicly shaming this alleged offender in the name of justice that is unreachable by law?

Let’s start with the first question. Why is it that these victims prefer to come forward to anonymous administrators of @aliskamugemash account instead of going to the police? My answer is that it can be attributed to the social stigma around sexual offense cases. According to the research done by Bieneck and Krahé, legal decision making has shown special leniency towards the perpetrators of rape due to how the blame is more attributed towards the victim[vi]. Criminologists refer to this phenomenon as ‘victim blaming’ or ‘blaming the victim’, an ideological process that blames the victims for their own misfortunes. It happens when society as a whole assumes that a social problem is caused by the cultural deficiencies of the people who are afflicted by the said problem[vii]. Thus, it is the victim’s behavior that caused them to be afflicted by the said problem. If they do not change, they are seen as responsible for their own victimization[viii].

If we apply the term within the boundaries of this case, it is clear why the victims preferred to talk to the exposé account instead of the authorities. If we look at the evidence displayed in the account, all the victims’ names and pictures are whited out to protect their identities. By doing so, the victims’ everyday lives are protected from societal judgment while still enabling them to share their stories. This is starkly different from the procedures of reporting a sexual offense case to the police where the victims are asked to provide their information for legal purposes. There is also the looming problem of how the current Indonesian law does not side with victims of sexual offenses and how it often backfires and in turn blame the victims instead[ix]. These two reasons, the fear of being judged by the society and the hopelessness due to the law itself being against them, are the reasons why the victims much preferred the anonymity the exposé account granted them. The administrators of @aliskamugemash account acknowledge this sentiment in their statement to The Jakarta Post team below:

“The confessions are published here only with the victims’ consent,” the account’s anonymous administrator told The Jakarta Post via Instagram’s direct messaging platform. “This account is a safe space for the victims to talk about the sexual abuse/violence they suffered during their time with LWD. This account will also connect the victims with professional help if they want to be assisted in handling their trauma.”

Now, moving on to my second question. Are these vigilantes right in exposing, doxing, and publicly shaming the alleged offender in their quest of providing a safe haven for the victims who suffered during their time with the offender? To answer this question, let’s start with the definition of how digital vigilantism works.

In its purest form, digital vigilantes are set out to do what the law can’t: to swiftly execute offenders with the practice of publicly shaming them. Trottier further explains that the practice of vigilantism includes, but not limited to, ‘naming and shaming’ type of visibility, where the target’s home address, work details, and other highly sensitive details are published on a public site (‘doxing’), followed by online as well as embodied harassment[x]. While it provides the victims with a safe space to talk about their misfortunes, it also poses a discourse regarding how it supersedes the procedure of law itself.

The case of @aliskamugemash and other forms of digital vigilantism in Indonesia is an interesting one. Because the visibility brought upon by these vigilantes eventually brought awareness to the authorities, who’d encourage them to bring the case into proper court. Vigilantism in its practice is an attack towards the perpetrator’s individual rights, yet it also brought justice to the victims of the said perpetrator. Since the alleged offender is also a citizen of Indonesia, they also have the rights to be protected from such attack. Thus, Digital vigilantism remains a contested practice: Terms of appropriate use are unclear, and public dis-course may vary based on the severity of the offence, the severity of response, and on participants’ identities and affiliations[xi].

If I am to contribute my own thoughts on this case, I would say that it falls into a gray area. On one hand, a certain degree of digital vigilantism, such as compiling stories from the victims (and providing a safe haven in the process) and spreading awareness about this case through social media, is needed to emphasize the degree of severity of this case to the authorities. On the other hand, it also exposes how our existing law handles cases of sexual offenses. As a criminologist, I believe that cases with sexual undertones are much more complex due to its overarching problems of patriarchy and gender roles in Indonesia. Thus, it is impossible to judge solely by the ‘rights’ or ‘wrongs’ of the case itself.

And yet, here is the closing question of this writing: if the victims of this case had gone to the authorities by themselves, would they have gotten the same attention it currently garners through the exposé account? Or would they just disappear under dozens of other cases while being judged by our existing law and authorities? I believe that this case also serves as a wake-up call for all of us to see sexual offense cases in a new light.

Author: Irnasya Shafira
Editor: Amelinda Pandu Kusumaningtyas

[i] Gisela Swaragita. December, 2020. People still find intimacy through dating apps despite pandemic accessed through https://www.thejakartapost.com/life/2020/12/15/people-still-find-intimacy-through-dating-apps-despite-pandemic.html on 17 February 2021

[ii] The Jakarta Post. February, 2021. Online cause seeks to expose sexual abuse on dating apps accessed through https://www.thejakartapost.com/paper/2021/02/01/online-cause-seeks-to-expose-sexual-abuse-on-dating-apps.html#_=_ on 17 February 2021 (requires Premium account)

[iii] Hanna Kozlowska. July, 2019. There’s a global movement of Facebook vigilantes who hunt pedophiles accessed through https://qz.com/1671916/the-global-movement-of-facebook-vigilantes-who-hunt-pedophiles/ on 17 February 2021

[iv] Korea JoongAng Daily. July, 2020. Sex offender doxing site crowdsources justice accessed through https://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/2020/07/09/business/tech/prison-digital-prison-personal-information/20200709194200398.html on 17 February 2021

[v] JPNN.com. January, 2021. Bakal Sikat Predator Seksual, Polri Pasti Lindungi Korban dan Pelapor accessed through https://www.jpnn.com/news/bakal-sikat-predator-seksual-polri-pasti-lindungi-korban-dan-pelapor on 17 February 2021

[vi] Bieneck, S. and Krahé, B., 2011. Blaming the victim and exonerating the perpetrator in cases of rape and robbery: Is there a double standard?. Journal of interpersonal violence, 26(9), pp.1785-1797.

[vii] Ryan, W., 1976. Blaming the victim (Vol. 226). Vintage.

[viii] Wilson, J.K., 2009. The Praeger handbook of victimology. ABC-CLIO.

[ix] Martalena, M. and Yoetadi, G., 2019. Kekerasaan Seksual di Mata Konde (Analisis Framing Kekerasaan Seksual terhadap Perempuan pada Rubrik Perspektif Konde Edisi November dan Desember 2018). Koneksi, 3(1), pp.7-14.

[x] Trottier, D. 2017. Digital Vigilantism as Weaponisation of Visibility. Philos. Technol. 30, 55–72. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13347-016-0216-4

[xi] Trottier, D. 2020. Denunciation and doxing: towards a conceptual model of digital vigilantism. Global Crime, 21:3-4, 196-212, DOI: 10.1080/17440572.2019.1591952