The recent arrest and conviction of Reynhard Sinaga, a gay serial rapist living in the United Kingdom, has ignited heated discussions around issues of prejudice and discrimination in both Western and Eastern cultures.
The 36-year-old Indonesian national was found guilty of 136 counts of rape, eight counts of attempted rape, 14 counts of sexual assault, and one count of assault by penetration, against a total of 48 victims — making him the most prolific serial rapist in the U.K.’s history.
Beyond the unfathomable effects this type of violent crime has on its victims and their mental and emotional health, what kind of global impact do such crimes have on the advancement of civil rights for immigrants and LGBTQ people worldwide when the perpetrator is from within these communities?
Many activists argue that problem number one is how some media outlets perpetuate racist and xenophobic stereotypes by hyping up or sensationalizing stories when the alleged perpetrator is of color, an immigrant, or LGBTQ. This is problematic for marginalized communities in the Western world, but far worse in places like Sinaga’s homeland of Indonesia, where LGBTQ people are already struggling against rampant homophobia.
“The case of Reynhard Sinaga has already provoked a backlash against LGBTIQ people in Indonesia,” says Paul Jansen, senior advisor for global advocacy at OutRight Action International. “Indonesian media sensationalized the case, presenting it not as the actions of one criminal, but rather as representative of the nature of all LGBTIQ people. In response, the city of Depok, south of Jakarta, has announced a witch hunt to chase LGBTIQ people out of the city, as ‘perverts and criminals have no place in the city.’ Other officials and other cities may follow suit. Rising hate speech is likely to increase hate-motivated discrimination, harassment, and violence against LGBTIQ people.”
In one example, Mohammad Idris, the mayor of Depok, recently directed police to weed out “LGBT behavior” and called on local agencies to stop the “spread of LGBT,” according to The Guardian. Using Sinaga’s crime as justification, Idris also vowed to launch a center in Depok to rehabilitate LGBTQ “victims.”
In addition to causing backlash for queer Asians, Sinaga’s case could also be detrimental to immigrants, especially in the age of Donald Trump’s “build a wall” rhetoric. Right-wing extremists are all too hungry for real-life examples of immigrants who commit such atrocities.
Furthermore, Jansen believes this case could lead to harsher enforcement of existing anti-LGBTQ laws in Indonesia.
“LGBTIQ people have been a particular target of persecution since 2016 under the country’s pornography and public nuisance laws, as well as Sharia laws in certain provinces,” Jansen explains. “A national level law criminalizing same-sex relations has been pending since 2008. This case and its portrayal will likely boost levels of persecution and calls for criminalization.”
Jansen and many other human rights activists argue that the key is in fair media representation of such cases and of LGBTQ people in general. Without this, he says it will be difficult, if not impossible, for activists to turn the tide alone.
“Local activists are trying to challenge the portrayal by going back to the one individual, and his specific actions, and steering the conversation away from LGBTIQ people more broadly,” Jansen concludes. “However, the already hostile environment, the prominence of social media, and unregistered media which does not answer to any watchdog, makes this an uphill battle.”
Sinaga, already serving life in prison, received an additional sentence in January, which now means he will have no possibility of parole for 30 years. Police say additional evidence shows there may have been up to 190 victims in total.
Greater Manchester Police ask that anyone who believes they may have been attacked by Sinaga still report it, providing information online or calling 0800-092-0410 from inside the UK, or 0207-15-0124 from outside the UK