Indonesian Women Raped, Killed in Hong Kong, Forgotten at Home

A migrant workers alliance group holds placards last October to protest the killings of two Indonesian women in 2014 outside the High Court in Hong Kong. Photo: Vincent Yu / Associated Press

JAKARTA — The Hong Kong trial of a British stock trader who murdered two Indonesian women and horrifically tortured one of them, recording the three-day ordeal on his phone, has barely registered in the victims’ home country, let alone elicited shock or sympathy.

Poor and vulnerable, nobodies in a sophisticated and clinical metropolis far from their humble villages on the islands of Java and Sulawesi, they were brutalized by a member of the global 1 percent, a Cambridge University-educated 31-year-old who boasted that he spent his half-million-dollar salary on drugs and prostitutes.

The prosecution’s evidence last week made headlines in international media: Three days of escalating torture for the first victim, Sumarti Ningsih, with repeated rape, the battering of her genitalia with fists, mutilation of her body with pliers and the slow cutting of her throat with a serrated knife. A juror wept as defendant Rurik Jutting’s smartphone videos were played.

“I’ve never seen anyone that scared,” Jutting said of Ningsih in one of the videos. “She would voluntarily eat feces out of the toilet and then smile and thank me afterward. That’s how scared she was. She would just do anything.”


And in Indonesia, the reaction: Scarcely anything.

Social media didn’t stir. There were no dramatic headlines or outraged editorials about the plight of the millions of vulnerable Indonesian women compelled by poverty to work abroad. Broadcasters did, on the other hand, devote hours of live coverage to the Indonesian trial of a privileged young woman accused of murdering her friend with cyanide-laced coffee, allegedly because she was angry about a tiff over boyfriends.

“We find no support from the government and media in our own country,” said Ningsih’s brother Suyit Khaliman. “We don’t understand, maybe because she was a maid or whatever. No matter how she worked for her family, she deserves justice,” he said.

In the two years since Ningsih was killed, no one from the government has been in touch with the family, Khaliman said. They heard the trial had started from reporters and some online news reports.

The family is also grappling with the future of Ningsih’s son, now 7.

One day, Khaliman said, “The boy will know how his mother died, perhaps from the internet, and we are worried about that.”

Closing arguments in Jutting’s murder trial are expected by the end of this week. He has pleaded not guilty.

Ningsih, 23, and the second victim, 26-year-old Seneng Mujiasih, were among the legions of Indonesians working abroad, many of them undocumented, and vulnerable to exploitation.

The International Labour Organization estimated their numbers at 4.3 million in 2012. Migrant Care, an Indonesian advocacy group, says most are not educated beyond primary school and 85 percent are women. It says government commitments to bolster protections are still mainly only on paper.

Ningsih had worked in Hong Kong for several years and was on a visitor pass at the time of her murder. Jutting had paid her for sex on a previous occasion. Her family, who she was in regular contact with, believed her most recent job was working as a waitress.

Mujiasih had an employment pass to work as a maid but also worked at a bar where Jutting met her and offered her a large sum of money for sex. At his apartment, Jutting cut her throat during a struggle after she saw a rope gag he tried to hide under a cushion, according to the police summary of facts.

Mujiharjo, the 56-year-old father of Mujiasih, said daily life for the family was difficult, emotionally and financially, but they tried to accept what happened and move on. Money she sent every month had helped pay to build a new house for the family in South Sulawesi, he said.

Khaliman, Ningsih’s 27-year-old brother, said the family was surprised to learn the source of the money she sent back to Indonesia.

But it is relatively common for earnings from the sex industry to keep families back home afloat, an unpalatable fact in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim, socially conservative country of more than 250 million people.

Dina Damayanti, an Indonesian reporter living in Hong Kong who covered the trial for Suara, a newspaper aimed at the city’s large Indonesian community, said she was disheartened by the lack of interest back home.

Distance was one factor, she said, and the attention given to the cyanide trial.

“I feel a little bit sad because this is a very important case for me,” said Damayanti. “Indonesia is so complex. There are so many cases in my country.”

Anis Hidayah, the executive director of Migrant Care, said the murders, which occurred within days of each other, made headlines in Indonesia two years ago.


But with many migrant worker deaths abroad from suicides, killings, accidents in dangerous workplaces and other causes, the case was quickly forgotten. The victims were also stigmatized because of their involvement in prostitution and were wrongly blamed as contributing to their own misfortune, said Hidayah.

“We should think of how migrant workers are the economic backbone of their families,” said Hidayah. “Most of their families at home are very poor and their lives are very dependent on the sweat of migrant workers.”

Story: Niniek Karmini, Stephen Right