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Prostitution in Indonesia just a newspaper away

Jakarta - In Indonesia, newspaper readers who are tired of daily politics and endless domestic problems sometimes skip the headlines that makes them frown and turn to the classified advertisements.

It is both shocking and amusing.

'Would you like a second honeymoon? Call me, Rosita, a sweet and aggressive woman, sexy, bra size 36C, able to cure premature ejaculation, great service, 250 thousand rupiah (about 30 dollars), for hotel and motel only,' read an advertisement in Rakyat Merdeka daily, a widely circulated newspaper.

'I find it very funny, and I can't stop thinking how can people blatantly advertise themselves for prostitution like that in newspapers,' Budi Widiawanto, 29, a Jakarta bank employee, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

'Me and my friends talk and laugh about it, especially if we find men with the same name as us advertising themselves,' Budi said. 'I thought there was some kind of control mechanism within newspapers.'

Not really. The classified ads of many Indonesian newspapers are an open window for male and female prostitutes to solicit clients. Some ads even offer women from various professions such as secretaries, models or sales promotion girls to boost their sales.

'I feel so insulted that they have misused my profession for prostitution ads like that,' Frida Attila, 29, a secretary in Jakarta, told dpa. 'They're taking advantage of the old stereotype of a secretary who is just attractive but has no skills, and it's not like that nowadays,' she said. 'Of course it's one part of secretarial work to provide service - but not that kind of service.'

After being unshackled following the fall of dictator President Suharto in 1998, Indonesia's media has blossomed into hundreds of publications that are free of government censorship or interference.

'Yes, of course I notice those ads and it's totally against the journalistic ethic code,' said RH Siregar, deputy chairman of Indonesian Press Council.

'Unfortunately, there are segments of readers who are looking for those kind of ads, there is a market demand and obviously, of course, an economic consideration,' he said adding that the council has no power to stop the practice. 'It's not like the old days.'

During Suharto's 32-year regime, a special department in the Ministry of Information could revoke at will the licenses of publications that displeased the government.

'Now, we can only attempt to persuade the media; no repressive action can be taken,' Siregar said.

Surprisingly, classified sex ads fall below the radar screen in the ongoing debate within Indonesian society about morals and personal freedoms. Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim-majority nation, but its government is secular and the country has large minorities of Christians, Hindus and Buddhists.

Hard-line Islamic groups, backed by Muslim-based political parties, are attempting to impose their version of morality on the country, including a controversial anti-pornography bill that bans public kissing and jails women for wearing skirts.

These groups have violently protested the new Indonesian edition of Playboy magazine, even though the publication does not show nudity. The magazine was forced to relocate its editorial offices from Jakarta to Bali after rock-throwing protestors attacked its building following the release of the first edition in April.

On the other side of the fence, thousands of people from various cultural groups, including artists and performers, have rallied against the proposed law. The legislation, initially proposed in 1999, is strongly supported by orthodox Muslim groups, but its vague definitions allows for multiple interpretations.

Some provinces, such as Hindu-majority Bali, flatly reject the draft, saying it does not accommodate local cultures and tries to push a certain religious belief.

The articles on public dress and restrictions on nudity in the media and art are particularly controversial. Women who bare their shoulders or legs, or artists who include nudity in their work, could be prosecuted and thrown in jail for up to 10 years.

Amazingly, no Islamic group has made a peep about the classified ads. And some of the publications that run them insist they are a form of expression in Indonesia's more open society and one of many ways readers can interact with their newspapers.

Many newspapers run personal ads from people looking for companionship, not necessarily just offering sex for money.

'The idea at first was to help our readers find their soul mate, although I realize it is a bit slanted these days,' said Karyono, the advertisement manager of Non-stop daily newspaper.

Karyono, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, said his newspaper, with a circulation of 125,000 copies, allows readers to submit personal ads via mobile phone text message.

'It depends on how you look at it,' he said. 'Sure it may violate ethics codes, but I know someone who found his wife from those ads. After all, it has a good impact on people's lives.'

Date posted: September 8, 2006 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 5065