At a meeting of 50 mothers on the Indonesian island of Flores several years ago, Servants of the Holy Spirit Sister Eustochia Monika Nata asked the gathering if their husbands had ever hit them. “Only two mothers said never,” she recalls.
Domestic violence on the 1.8 million strong island is thought to be common, with women bearing the brunt of a patriarchal society where the government has historically neglected the plight of abused females, children included.
Experiences such as this, and many others, were formative for the Sister, based in Sikka district in the predominantly Catholic province of East Nusa Tenggara. It all started in 1997, when she took an active role in counseling programs for mothers facing domestic violence.
At that time there was no data highlighting the scale of the problem – she had merely been moved by the plight of several victims who came to her community house to seek help. Then in 1998, a Divine Word priest brought a girl who was raped by her father to the community house.'
'I tried to protect the girl, but her family came and said that I kidnapped her. I was intimidated,' Sister Eustochia says. Following the formation of the Volunteer Team for Humanity in Flores (TRUK-F) in February 1999, the nun’s workload suddenly surged.
A UN-sponsored referendum called overwhelmingly for Timor Leste’s independence from Indonesia, and with that, Jakarta-aligned militias went on the rampage, killing hundreds and destroying infrastructure and buildings.
An estimated 250,000 people fled to Indonesia, some into the arms of Sister Eustochia. 'I could see the suffering of women who were raped. I often cried … asking why,” she says. “This encouraged me to pay more serious attention to victims of violence.'