Renowned Jakarta International School hit by rape scandal
CLEANERS gang-raping children in school toilets; teachers sexually abusing students while the kindergarten principal videotapes; secret rooms; dodgy office renovations; school cover-ups.
This, some parents allege, is what has been taking place at one of Asia's most renowned schools, the Jakarta International School (JIS), in the past year.
The row started in March, when the parents of a then five year-old boy asked for an emergency meeting with the head of school. Their son had been raped by several cleaning employees in one of the school bathrooms, they claimed.
Thomas and Ria (their names have been changed) say they first suspected something was wrong with their son when he started having nightmares in which he screamed "Please don't hurt me, please let me go."
He was also aggressive, he wet himself at school, "because he was scared to go to the toilets."
His mother says she discovered bruises on her son's stomach and anus. He eventually told them what had happened.
Their son underwent medical examination - the forensics report, which was shown to The Independent by the school shows he had contracted proctitis, an infection of the rectum. An anoscopy also revealed pus and lesions.
The school says they had agreed with the parents to keep the case confidential to protect the child, and were surprised when Thomas and Ria shared the details with other parents, and then organised a press conference, to reveal what had happened.
Thomas and Ria say they weren't satisfied with the response of school officials, who they say had advised them against reporting the assault to the police.
Following the claims, six Indonesian cleaners, five men and a woman, were arrested. One of them died while in custody; the police say he committed suicide.
The four other men all admitted to the crime, but have since retracted their statements, saying they were obtained under torture. Their lawyers also argue the medical examinations of the boy do not show evidence of rape. Their trial began early September.
A few weeks after the first claim, a second family came forward. "They were concerned their child had been physically, not sexually, abused," the head of school Tim Carr says.
The second mother later claimed her son was regularly raped during morning breaks over a seven month period of time. "They were anal rapes, plus physical abuse and hurting until he can't scream any more, then raping him," she told Australia's Fairfax Media.
She believed he had been raped at least 20 times, sometimes by six people in a row. She also said he was threatened with death if he told anyone. Aside from the cleaners, she alleged teachers were also involved in the abuse.
British-Canadian school coordinator Neil Bantleman and Indonesian teacher-assistant Ferdinant Tjiong had raped her son, as well as other children, she claimed.
She believed the primary school principal Elsa Donohue, an American, was also involved in the abuse. Each of the allegations are vigorously denied by all three accused.
The second mother sent emails and pictures of Mr Bantleman, Ms Donohue and Mr Tjiong (who are suing her for defamation) to several parents, asking them to show them to their children, as her son had identified them as other victims.
Thomas and Ria say they then discovered their son too had allegedly been assaulted by the teachers, after the mother of the second victim suggested to her he had seen Ria's son being raped by "the boss." After talking to her son, Ria believed this was true, and reported it to police.
Ria claims her son had mentioned "the boss" - Mr Bantleman - and "Miss Evil" - Ms Donohue - to the police "even before the cleaners were arrested," without knowing who it referred to.
A third family made similar claims, which the school confirmed to this newspaper. In July, Mr Bantleman and Mr Tjiong were arrested.
They have not been charged and no specific allegations have been made against them, but their detention was again renewed for 30 days in mid-October. Under Indonesian law, suspects can be detained for up to 120 days.
Ms Donohue has been questioned by the police on several occasions - as a witness rather than a suspect - but hasn't been arrested.
In a statement the school acknowledged a "horrific crime" had taken placed when the first case emerged.
When the further allegations against the teachers later surfaced, Mr Carr says, the school had no doubt they made "no sense".
"We have conducted our own internal investigations and through the entire process have updated the police almost every day."
"They're not physically possible and we do not believe them to have an ounce of truth to them," he says.
The parents claim their children were sometimes assaulted in Mr Bantleman's or Ms Donohue's offices, although these are located in a building the school calls an "aquarium."
The walls are made of floor to ceiling glass windows, and it seems hardly probable that assaults could have taken place there without anyone noticing.
But the parents say the offices have been renovated, however the school says the renovation happened in the summer of 2013, before the alleged assaults took place.
Parents also claim their children were assaulted in "secret rooms," that have since been "hidden." The school denies this allegation.
Transcripts of the children's statements to the police, leaked to the Wall Street Journal, show that one boy claimed Ms Donohue drugged the children with a blue-coloured drink and videotaped the assaults.
The transcripts also mention a "magic stone" that "the boss" is said to have made appear in his hand and used to anesthetise one boy before raping him. Mr Carr calls the claims "so outlandish, so crazy."
But to Thomas, this is just the way children talk. "He's just six year-old. If the boss tells him it's a magic stone, he'll believe it."
Thomas says his son once mentioned one of the cleaners' "bird" becoming a "pink giraffe."
Thomas and Ria have no doubt their son was assaulted. They claim he's mimicked sexual positions when asked by the police to show how he had been "punished" at school.
"He knows all kind of sexual positions, I'd be the craziest mum if I didn't believe him," Ria says.
School officials question whether the children were ever assaulted at the school. The school believes the medical examination of the first alleged victim show no evidence of rape.
The evidences in the case appear to be mainly based on the children's claims, and the school believes they might have been a result of repeated and suggestive questioning.
"The story has changed many, many times," says Mr Carr. When the first case emerged, he says, "we told the community that a tragedy had occurred. And now we wonder whether that's true."
In May, Thomas and Ria, who had filed a civil suit against the school, raised their claim from $12m to $125m, which the school says "calls into question the motive of the suit."
Mr Bantleman's wife Tracy, who's also a teacher at the school and taught the three boys, says the past months have been "frustrating" and "so disheartening."
"There is no evidence," she says. "Our husbands have not been asked any questions about any evidence. They've only been asked very basic questions, such as 'have you sodomised that boy'."
Sisca, Mr Tjiong's wife, says her husband told her he was "ashamed" of the Indonesian justice system. "It's been very hard, very difficult for me, my husband and my children," she also says.
JIS, of which the British Embassy is a founding member, educates more than 2,000 children of well-off expats and Indonesians. "Our community has been very supportive," says Mr Carr.
Every Friday, a candlelight vigil is organised at the school. When The Independent visited, it was attended by some 150 parents, faculty and students, many wearing "Free Neil and Ferdi" T-shirts.
An online petition asking for their release has also collected over 10,000 signatures.
Ana whose daughter was in one of the alleged victims' class, says she believes, like many others at the school according to her, that the "whole story is a set-up" and that no children were ever abused.
"I can't believe children were raped by several people, in places people go in and out of all the time, without anyone noticing. It's not possible."
Like many others, she has signed one of the several huge "Free Ferdi Free Neil" banners hung at the campus' entrance and inside the school.
Sophie, whose child was also in the same class as one of the alleged victims, decided to move him to another school. "He was happy there, but everyone was constantly talking about this case, it was just too heavy for me," she says.
At the vigil, Mr Carr's position is straightforward. "We stand with these two fine men," he tells his "community". "We'll walk with them every step of the way, no matter how long it takes to clear their names."