CEASE is proud to present our new ‘Spotlight’ series, a series of interviews highlighting the fantastic work organisations and individuals around the world are doing to combat sexual exploitation of all kinds. As a non-partisan, non-religious human rights advocacy charity, we are proud to platform the work of different groups and organisations from across the spectrum who have a shared purpose: to end all forms of sexual exploitation. 

This week, we had the opportunity to sit down with Indonesia-based organisation ‘Dark Bali’, who are a “non-profit organization which aims to represent and strengthen a growing coalition of NGOs and residents of Indonesia who are committed to combating sex trafficking in Indonesia.”  Trafficking in Indonesia is a hugely pressing issue, with the latest Trafficking in Persons Report stating that: “up to 30 percent of individuals in commercial sex in Indonesia are female child sex trafficking victims”

CEASE: Tell us about Dark Bali

Dark Bali: Like a lot of good things in life, Dark Bali started by accident. I was living in Indonesia and working for an Indonesian non-profit that runs a safehouse for trafficked teen girls focusing on staff development and support. In the context of that role, I came into contact with several other tiny, local organizations focused on anti-trafficking, and my Indonesian boss encouraged me to include them in the training that I was doing for our safehouse. Soon I realized that there was a need for an organization that could provide support, resources, and networking to all these organizations across Indonesia, and Dark Bali was born. Over the last few years, we have evolved into a coalition of grassroots anti-trafficking organizations with Dark Bali providing some of the infrastructure to support this network.

CEASE: How did you get involved in this sector/area of work? 

DB: In my work in anti-trafficking in California, I saw that there were so many resources through our county’s Human Trafficking Task Force, and I saw the huge disparity between what was available for the sector in the USA versus places like Indonesia. That doesn’t seem right to me. When such a huge percentage of the world’s human trafficking victims come from Southeast Asia, we should be investing in counter trafficking there.

Indonesia, as a whole, has been mostly left behind in the modern anti-trafficking movement, and I want to be a part of creating more balance in terms of what is available to that country as well as amplifying the voices of some amazing Indonesians who have been working quietly for years without notice from anyone on the global stage.

CEASE: What is the landscape of sexual exploitation like in Indonesia?

DB: Unlike some more developed countries where sex trafficking victims are often trafficked by a boyfriend through a romantic relationship, most Indonesian victims are groomed through promises of well paid jobs in other cities in Indonesia or other countries. They migrate and find themselves in debt bondage at a brothel and are exploited there. Many of them are underage and often recently divorced and with a small child they are trying to provide for, so the practice of child marriage is directly linked to sex trafficking in Indonesia as well.

There are several cities in the country that are known for sex tourism. Bali and Batam islands in particular have significant sex tourism problems, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Buyers are pretty evenly split between Indonesians and foreigners. There have been some significant interventions by local law enforcement that we are excited about.

For example, a few years ago the Australian Federal Police reported that Bali was the number one destination for Australian registered pedophiles with two dozen entering the island every month. A year later, the Balinese immigration authorities began systematically denying entrance to many registered child sex offenders when they receive notices from Interpol.

CEASE: Part of CEASE’s mission is to highlight the links between different forms of sexual exploitation, to show that it is an interconnected system (such as trafficking individuals into prostitution/pornography etc). Can you tell me about some of the links between different areas that you might have come across in your work.

DB: There is a taboo on topics of sexuality, and frequently cultural norms such as the value of a girl’s virginity keep girls and women from speaking out about any kind of sexual abuse or exploitation. In Indonesia, 97% of rapes are unreported, and we’ve found that most victims (or victim’s families) do not want to speak up about their abuse or trafficking because of the social stigma around sexuality. In mainstream Indonesian culture, parents do not talk about sex or sexual abuse with their children, so many children learn about sex through pornography or through assault or by way of their first sexual encounter. The intersection of cultural taboos on topics of sex, the association of a girl’s value in her virginity, and pornography as an educator makes it very difficult to deconstruct false narratives about sex and sexuality and provide quality prevention resources. Frankly, it makes the grooming process much easier and keeps victims hidden because coming forward is terrifying.

I am aware of several cases in which children and teen girls were being exploited while still living at home with their parents. However, with no norm of talking to parents or teachers or religious leaders about anything related to sex, self-reporting abuse and exploitation is very rare.

CEASE: What are some of the challenges you have faced/are facing in recent months (Covid-19 related or otherwise). 

DB: Interestingly, COVID-19 has provided some incredible opportunities for our coalition. I am very proud and pleased with how our community was able to quickly respond to the changing needs that the pandemic brought. In early April, some of the coalition’s leaders gathered over Zoom to discuss what needed to shift, and soon we saw an emerging pattern in organizations throughout our coalition.

Those involved in outreach programs were reporting that individuals in the sex trade and trafficking victims were stuck in the red light districts without access to food, and organizations involved in aftercare were finding that they needed to be able to quarantine and provide COVID-19 tests to incoming residents which was out of their budget. Dark Bali did some rapid fundraising and has been providing grants to organizations within our coalition to provide weekly food and hygiene care packages to their beneficiaries in red light districts around the country and also assisting aftercare facilities with temporary quarantine housing and COVID-19 tests for incoming survivors.

CEASE: What do you hope to achieve in the future, and do you have a “call to action” for the coming months? 

DB: Our core program is developing Human Trafficking Task Forces in cities across Indonesia that are all connected to one another in a large national Task Force. We finished a three-year pilot project in Bali for our first regional task force that was very successful and have several others getting started across the country. In August, we hosted our first ever National Task Force Zoom meeting. It was amazing to have people from all over the country together on one call to discuss what is needed at a national level and strategize for how to get there.

Our role as a coalition backbone is simply to facilitate this. We provide the space, organize the events, and support the frontlines with what they have articulated as the needs. The reality is that there are hundreds of incredible leaders across Indonesia doing so much with so little. Our role is to smooth the way for them, fill in gaps like data collection and research, and provide support, training, and resources so that they can do their work more successfully. One of the most inspiring things one of our new local partners told me at the first training she attended recently was “I am discovering that there are abolitionists in Indonesia that I didn’t even know existed. If we can be connected, we can do more… and we won’t feel so alone.” Dark Bali’s vision is to see sex slavery abolished in Indonesia, but we do that through our mission which is to support and equip those on the frontlines so that they will never feel alone.

Please support Dark Bali’s work by following them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and visiting their website here.