Jakarta. The December 2014 sexual assault convictions of cleaners employed by ISS at the Jakarta Intercultural School dominated local media for weeks as questions over the legitimacy of the charges were raised.
The charges involved allegations of abuse of a 6-year-old male student at the school’s kindergarten campus. The boy’s mother went public with laboratory results she claimed proved her son had contracted genital herpes from the alleged rapes.
Police investigators were so sold on this “evidence” that they had the accused janitorial staff tested for genital herpes — under the mistaken assumption that if the victim had herpes, so too must at least one of his alleged attackers.
The single laboratory report that appeared to support the claim of genital herpes in the boy was obtained from the iSOS clinical laboratory in Jakarta following an examination on March 20, 2014.
The findings included a positive test for antibodies against the virus that causes genital herpes: herpes simplex virus 2, or HSV-2.
However, clinical microbiologist Kevin Baird of Oxford University explained in court and to the media the importance of considering which type of anti-HSV-2 antibody was present: IgG or IgM.
The iSOS laboratory tests came up negative for IgG and positive for IgM.
Baird further explained how the IgM test for HSV-2 was highly unreliable, often resulting in a positive for other innocent and common infections like chicken pox or strep throat, and not HSV-2.
The US Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization both often warn of the possibility of false results from IgM tests.
Baird expressed the views of health authorities that a positive IgM for HSV-2 must not be considered proof of HSV-2 infection.
No medical expert, however, could declare testing had proved that the boy did not have herpes. That would require a second finding of IgG negative for HSV-2 at least a month after the initial test — consecutive negative IgG tests months apart would confirm the absence of HSV-2.
However, during the trials of the janitorial staff, no such follow-up laboratory tests were made available in the prosecution’s dossier of the case — it was the iSOS laboratory report alone that was available throughout the trials.
Baird could not say that the boy did not have the HSV-2 infection — only that the evidence did not prove he did.
However, on April 7 this year, evidence was introduced into the civil case filed against JIS by the boy’s mother, seeking $125 million in damages, which revealed that follow-up testing on the boy for HSV-2 in fact had been carried out.
The first follow-up test was done at Pondok Indah Hospital in May 2014 and again showed a negative IgG result.
Then, on July 16, 2014, the boy was examined at the National Police hospital’s clinical laboratory with the same findings: a negative IgG and a now “borderline positive” IgM test.
Neither laboratory report had been included in the prosecution dossier against the cleaners and were unknown and unavailable to the legal teams defending the cleaners.
The Jakarta Globe spoke with Baird about the significance of the recently revealed findings.
Q: You testified and provided a sworn affidavit concerning a laboratory report from the police hospital of findings on the alleged victim examined on July 16, 2014. Why is that report so important in the criminal case against the JIS cleaners and the civil suit against JIS?
A: That report, taken with the initial lab examination of The boy at iSOS on March 20, 2014, proves that the boy did not have genital herpes or any other sexually transmitted infection as late as July 16, 2014.
The positive IgM result, which many misunderstood as proof of infection, was thus confirmed as a false positive result. This is a fact because the boy tested negative for IgG in March and again in July. No one actually infected with herpes remains IgG negative for so many months.
It means he does not have herpes, and the same goes for the many other sexually transmitted infections included in both of those examinations.
I think the importance of this fact to both the criminal and civil cases in the JIS affair is obvious — the only objective physical evidence that the boy had been sexually assaulted is an error. It does not exist.
When you testified in the case you argued only that the IgM test was unreliable and did not prove the boy had herpes. In the civil case you say the boy does not have herpes. What swayed you on this crucial point?
The police hospital laboratory report of July 16, 2014, changed everything so far as the scientific facts. This was not included as evidence in the dossier against the cleaners, and that dossier was all that was made available for examination by the defense lawyers.
No one on the defense was aware of the report until long after the verdicts against the cleaners had been issued. The plaintiffs in the civil suit against JIS entered that report into evidence and we were finally able to consider it.
The attorneys also introduced into evidence a description of a laboratory examination of the boy conducted Pondok Indah Hospital in May of 2014 that showed the same findings — negative IgG for genital herpes. This also was excluded from the dossier against the cleaners.
Can you explain the importance of this regarding the convictions of the cleaners?
Four of the five men accused of raping the boy repeatedly were reported by the police hospital laboratory as being infected with genital herpes.
They were described in the dossier as positive for HSV-2 IgG. We know genital herpes is highly contagious. A single sexual contact with a partner shedding herpes virus is all that is required to become infected.
The prosecution alleged those men gang-raped the boy more than a dozen times over a period of four months.
It is virtually impossible that such abuse could have occurred and the boy emerge from it with no sexually transmitted infection whatsoever, especially with four attackers known to be infected with genital herpes.
The objective laboratory evidence from both the cleaners and the alleged victim speak loud and clear — those attacks could not have occurred as described in the charges filed. In my opinion, the new evidence forensically exonerates the cleaners.
If the reports from the Pondok Indah Hospital and police laboratories was so important in this case, why were they not included in the dossier against the cleaners?
I cannot imagine any medically trained person not understanding the significance of consecutive negative IgG tests for genital herpes months apart.
The law enforcement officers and prosecutors involved in the JIS affair of course have no medical training. If they received guidance and advice from medical professionals on this technical matter, it apparently was either incompetent or not heeded.
The fact is, the evidence from the boy in those three examinations proves he was not exposed to any sexually transmitted infection, and the mismanagement of that crucial evidence — both by flawed technical interpretation and a failure to place key evidence in the dossier — prevented this fact from being considered by the judges who ultimately convicted the cleaners.
Why and how this happened is a question for the people who created and managed that evidence. I believe it quite likely that those actions caused a tragic miscarriage of justice.