‘I was gang-raped. I was fourteen. I was the leader of my youth organization in my neighborhood and we were all friends. It was the birthday of one of our members and we had a small party. I was not used to alcohol but in the spirit of fun I had some, not a lot, with my friends. I got dizzy so I said I would sleep a while. I was in a small room when four of my ‘friends’ raped me. It was not a nightmare. There was evil laughter, loud and very scary. I was sure I was going to die.’
This is a real story. This happened more than 10 years ago but I vividly remember these words in between sobs, sometimes hysterical crying, from this pretty, smart girl. She was with her mother and my group’s help was sought by our members because they were poor. Hers was a single mom trying to raise three kids on her own. And this happened.
We assisted them with the case. Two of her rapists—they were all minors except for one who just turned eighteen—escaped. Because they went to court, the family, especially the girl, was harassed, threatened, and ridiculed by neighborhood thugs and relatives of her rapists. The place was abuzz with all sorts of gossip against her and her family. In the eyes of many, she was at fault because, according to the chismis, she was wearing shorts and drank with the boys. Therefore, she was asking for it.
We made her undergo regular counseling. Still, her ordeal was becoming too much that we had to get her out of the neighborhood to save her from all the threats and nasty talk. She was determined to fight, and fight, she did.
It took several years before the court decided in her favor. One of those who escaped was arrested and is now in jail with the other two. The girl is now a woman with a job and family of her own.
Hers was just one of the rape cases we helped. We were not always successful because of the many difficult challenges that needed to be overcome. There were more instances when rapists could not be located despite the warrants. Some families were forced to give up because of abject poverty or direct assaults against them. There were rape survivors who could not take the way they were treated by the legal system. We are familiar with how difficult it is to fight for justice for rape victims, but can only imagine the hell these survivors go through.
The passage of the present anti-RH law was not a walk in the park. It took us, women’s groups and our champion legislators foremost of whom were former senators Leticia Shahani and Nikki Coseteng, a decade of non-stop hard work to pass.
We had to struggle against very archaic notions about women, our rights, and rape itself among legislators. Many, especially the male lawmakers, were boxed in the thinking that rape is a crime against chastity and not the person; that rape is only penile penetration; and that women do things that cause them to be raped.
Through the many years of advocacy, numerous women had to publicly break their silence, relive the horrors of their rape experience to make Congress and people understand the ordeal they experienced in the hands of their abusers, lawyers, the court, and even their families and communities. These women braved public exposure, which, in not a few cases, was followed by ridicule. They spoke up so other women will be protected.
These experiences together with data on rape became the rationale for the need passage of a more progressive, though not perfect anti-rape law. We rejoiced when the law was passed. Then, we saw this as a major triumph
for the Filipino women. At least there is a law that is more attuned to the realities and needs of rape victims and survivors.
As expected, rape culture did not stop because of the law. Victim-blaming is still strong. Violence against women (VAW) remains a major problem that our country confronts day in and day out. Many things remain undone to really address VAW.
And now comes presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte, who, from the start of the campaign, has been consistently disrespecting women, portraying them as “sex toys” to be used as he desires. His attitude, actions, and words in the campaign trail reeks of machismo, of the sexism that the women’s movement has been struggling against. He makes women the laughingstock of his sorties while extolling his masculinity.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was the video of him on the gang rape of an Australian missionary. He said the woman was very beautiful and he, as the mayor, should have been first and not the rapists. This gross statement coming from someone who wants to, and can be president of this country, cannot be justified.
Duterte stated that he said those not as a joke and I believe him. He is really like that. What he fails to recognize I think is, words have power, especially from someone as popular as himself. He was sending a message that it is ok to rape women. He is telling the world that women are inferior beings that can be abused.
Check the reactions of some of Duterte’s supporters. There have been threats of rape against women who criticize their idol. It is very much like a cult that is being led by Duterte.
Rape is not, and can never be a joke. Rape is a violation of human rights, and the entire personhood of the victim. Rape’s impact is often felt for many years. Some women are unable to fully recover from it.
Duterte’s manner against women should be condemned in the strongest of terms. Someone who does nor respect human rights, particularly, women’s rights cannot be president.
He told women leaders who lodged a complaint against him with the Commission on Human Rights to go to hell. Indeed, it will be hell-like for women if he wins the presidency. Whatever gains have been made by the Filipino women’s movement will be put at risk.
Women, and men who value human rights should vote against Duterte.
@bethangsioco on Twitter
Elizabeth Angsioco on Facebook