Toxic masculinity is a product of oppressive and toxic traditional gender roles. It is when men are expected to conform to inhumane and unrealistic standards of ‘masculinity’—dominant, tough, aggressive, strong, unemotional, etc. Male sexual assault is closely linked to toxic masculinity because male sexual assault victims aren’t handled in the same measures as other sexual assault victims are (Russel, 2007, p. 22-23). Men are most likely expected to prevent themselves from being hurt. Through a sociological lens, the stigma of toxic traditional gender roles has made it more difficult for male sexual assault victims to seek proper help and justice. The stigma plays a substantial role in influencing the public’s view of male victims.
While men are expected to conform to and uphold a strict masculine image, those who fall short of the standard are discerned as less than, not man-like, impuissant, or feminine, which in this context, femininity is weaponized in derogatory ways to enforce toxic gender roles (Nelson, 2019, p. 38). When toxic gender norms only portray men in a certain standard, it enforces toxic masculinity, which will later play a crucial role in men’s lives (Nelson, 2019, p. 38).
Sexual harassment, though is different from sexual assault, still falls under the same scope. “There are various problematic behaviors that fall under the definition of sexual harassment, but regardless of the level of severity, catcalls, sexual comments, ogling, wolf-whistling, and groping in public spaces by strangers debilitate the survivor’s liberty to freely enter public spaces without fear” (Wikström, 2019, p. 29). Sexual assault and harassment definition is commonly determined by each country’s law, and though differences in culture and beliefs also influence the definition of sexual harassment and assault, the general phenomenon is when victims receive unconsented contact or non-contact sexual gestures, either verbally or physically.
On September 1, 2021, allegations of sexual assault and harassment occurring within the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission, Komisi Penyiaran Indonesia, KPI, stroke the internet. The victim, with the initial MS, claimed to have experienced harassment and sexual assault throughout his years of working within the company. He claimed after filing reports, both to the police and his superiors, no immediate action was taken (Guritno, 2021). It is reported that the police suggested resolving the issue internally within the company (Ramadhan, 2021).
The Case Chronology
The victim started working in KPI in 2011. It started as verbal bullying, the victim felt pressured, intimidated, insulted, and hurt, showing signs of feeling unsafe in his workplace as it gradually becomes worse throughout the years. In 2015, MS was reportedly held down by his coworkers while they assaulted him (Ramadhan, 2021). This took a toll on his mental health as he grew more stressed and developed trauma, yet the harassment continues (Ramadhan, 2021).
In 2017, MS contacted Komnas HAM, the Indonesian human rights organization, via email, and Komnas HAM suggested that he should directly report the case to the police as the case was considered a criminal case. In 2019, MS took the case to Polsek Gambir or the police sector of Gambir, in hopes to get his case processed, however, he claimed that they suggested resolving the case internally within the KPI office (Ramadhan, 2021). Additionally, due to his worsening mental health condition, he had to seek help from a psychologist, which he was later diagnosed with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) (Catherine, 2021).
As 2020 rolled in, MS once again reported the case to the police, yet nothing was done to assert justice (Ramadhan, 2021). After claiming that no actions have been taken against the perpetrators, who were reported, consisted of 8 people (Dirgantara, 2021), MS took matters into his own hands and uploads his side of the story to social media which he gained an immense amount of attention and support. On September 1st, MS reported his case to Polres Jakarta Pusat or Cental Jakarta Resort Police, accompanied by KPI’s commissioner and the case is finally being processed (Ramadhan, 2021).
The Public’s Reaction
The perpetrators stated that the incident was only done as mere jokes shared amongst colleagues (Luxiana, 2021). This reaction further indicates how trivial sexual assault and harassment are taken in the community. Conveniently, after the case gained attention on social media, MS was able to gain support and attention and the case was finally being processed legally, nonetheless, it raises questions of the neglect of the case for many years, even after reporting, and how the urgency was only acted upon after the case became viral.
In the most recent update, fewer and fewer headlines have gotten published in defense of following up with the case. KPI refused to be transparent regarding the internal investigation of the case to the public. Reportedly, Deputy Chairman of the Central KPI, Mulyo Hadi Purnomo, refuses to disclose any more updates to the public worrying that it could affect the investigation. (Anugrahadi, 2021).
Sexual assault against men often receives different reactions from their environment compared to other sexual assault victims. Male sexual assault victims are expected to be able to prevent the incident to happen, this common misconception, not only is harmful but invalidates the victims and enforces toxic masculinity (Nelson, 2019, p. 41). In MS’s case, he claimed his case has not been taken as urgently as it should be, as it has been happening for years, yet no urgent actions were taken (Catherine, 2021).
Toxic Masculinity and the Perception of Male Sexual Assault Victims
According to the journal Traditional Gender Roles: The Culture of Toxic Masculinity and the Effect on Male Rape Victims by Michael Nelson, the concept of heterosexuality and homosexuality were constructed by doctors between 1800-the 1820s, this later shaped the definition of traditional gender roles and masculinity until today (Nelson, 2019, p. 37-38). Consequently, heterosexuality was portrayed as “normal” yet homosexuality is “abnormal”. Homosexuality was later linked to femininity as it is not masculine.
Male victims of sexual assault are more reluctant to report sexual assault against them. This has made it difficult to truly comprehend the number of sexual assault cases against men, as most cases go unreported. Therefore, data regarding sexual assault or violence against men has almost entirely been under-represented (Russel, 2007, p. 22-23). According to Koalisi Ruang Publik Aman (KRPA), in a survey involving 62,224 respondents, 1 in 10 men has experienced harassment in public spaces (Prasetya, 2020). Recent data from Komisi Perlindungan Anak (KPAI) shows that most sexual assault victims in 2018 consist of 60% boys and 40% girls (Prasetya, 2020), yet very little awareness are being brought up against it.
Men are expected to uphold a set of standards of masculinity to live up to and as masculinity exists as the opposite of femininity (Wikström, 2019, p. 28), those who are not able to live up to the utmost ‘masculine image’ or standard, and challenges the gender roles, are more socially threatened, as the fear of being perceived as “non-masculine” or feminine stays prevalent amongst men (Wikström, 2019, p. 29) in a patriarchal society. “This leads to anything potentially feminine or feminine to be looked down upon and treated as lesser” (Nelson, 2019, p. 40).
The ultimate rejection of femininity as a response for upholding masculinity manifests into toxic masculinity. This fear of being perceived as anything less than masculine enforces toxic masculinity and influences how inclined male victims are to report on their case because of “the potential to be perceived as less than “a man” for failing to adhere to the strict standards of what it means to be masculine” (Nelson, 2019, p. 41). Male victims also feel the need to be able to prevent sexual assault to occur to them in the first place, as they are taught to maintain hyper-masculinity and dominance (Nelson, 2019, p. 41-42).
On the contrary, some men report on their victimization, although most find it difficult, however, male victims receive responses of disbelieves and often lack seriousness, which invalidates the victims rather than advocating justice (Nelson, 2019, p. 49-50). This result aligns with MS’s case in KPI as MS claimed to have experienced the harassment for years, yet only dared to report it after a while (Ramadhan, 2021).
Knowing how prevalent traditional gender roles and toxic masculinity still are, it is important for society to continuously educate and spread awareness against them. Education against this needs to be taught evenly as everyone can be the victim of toxic gender roles. Since toxic masculinity is learned, boys need to have positive role models and education from early on (Nelson, 2019, p. 41-42), whereas men should continuously unlearn these standards that have been embedded in them, furthermore, everyone collectively should participate in dismantling toxic traditional gender roles and hold perpetrators accountable.
Catherine, R. N. (2021, October 6). Hasil Pemeriksaan di LPSK, Korban Pelecehan di KPI Mengalami PTSD. Retrieved from https://nasional.kompas.com/read/2021/10/06/15181041/hasil-pemeriksaan-di-lpsk-korban-pelecehan-di-kpi-mengalami-ptsd.
Catherine, R. N. (2021, September 28). Pegawai Korban Pelecehan Disebut Kecewa atas Perlindungan dan Pendampingan KPI. Retrieved from https://nasional.kompas.com/read/2021/09/28/13285481/pegawai-korban-pelecehan-disebut-kecewa-atas-perlindungan-dan-pendampingan.
Dirgantara, A. (2021, September 2). PeHanya 5 dari 8 Terduga Pelaku Pelecehan Seks yang Dilaporkan, Ini Kata KPI. Retrieved from https://news.detik.com/berita/d-5707651/hanya-5-dari-8-terduga-pelaku-pelecehan-seks-yang-dilaporkan-ini-kata-kpi#:~:text=Pelecehan%20seksual%20dan%20perundungan%20pegawai,8%20karyawan%20terduga%20pelaku%20tersebut.
Guritno, T. (2021, September 28). Komnas HAM Susun Kronologi Peristiwa Pelecehan dan Perundungan Pegawai KPI. Retrieved from https://nasional.kompas.com/read/2021/09/28/14133481/komnas-ham-susun-kronologi-peristiwa-pelecehan-dan-perundungan-pegawai-kpi.
Luxiana, K. M. (2021, September 7). Pengacara Korban: Dalih Terlapor Pelecehan di KPI Cuma Bercanda Keterlaluan!. Retrieved from https://news.detik.com/berita/d-5713203/pengacara-korban-dalih-terlapor-pelecehan-di-kpi-cuma-bercanda-keterlaluan.
Nelson, M. (2019). Traditional Gender Roles: The Culture of Toxic Masculinity and the Effect on Male Rape Victims [Master’s Theses and Projects, Bridgewater State University]. Virtual Commons of Bridgewater State University Repository. https://vc.bridgew.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1071&context=theses.
Prasetya, E. (2020, March 14). Laki-laki di Balik Kekerasan dan Pelecehan Seksual: “Kami Juga Seorang Korban”. Retrieved from https://ksm.ui.ac.id/laki-laki-di-balik-kekerasan-dan-pelecehan-seksual-kami-juga-seorang-korban/.
Ramadhan, F. M. (2021, September 4). Kronologi Dugaan Pelecehan Seksual dan Perundungan Terhadap Pegawai KPI. Retrieved from https://grafis.tempo.co/read/2794/kronologi-dugaan-pelecehan-seksual-dan-perundungan-terhadap-pegawai-kpi.
Russel, W. (2007). Conflict-Related Sexual Violence Against Men and Boys. Pp. 22-23. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/260002638_Conflict-related_sexual_violence_against_men_and_boys.
Wikström, M. C. (2019). Gendered Bodies and Power Dynamics: The Relation between Toxic Masculinity and Sexual Harassment. Issue on Gender Issues and How They Affect Human Lives. Pp. 28-29.
This article was written by Chiara Abigail. She is a student currently studying at high school grade level based in Bali. Her enthusiasm in gender, humanities and social related studies has helped her deliver her passions into her writings through her school projects such as this case study. For more information find her through firstname.lastname@example.org and @chiarabgl on Instagram.