“This culture in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused should not be tolerated.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – “Where are the bruises?”
This was the question allegedly posed by Iligan National Writers Workshop director Christine Godinez Ortega in a letter reportedly addressed to a young writer who came out to the public to expose how she was sexually taken advantaged of at a writing fellowship some three months ago.
However, this very question, too, goes to show how far we are as a nation in matters relating to violence against women, particularly rape.
On Aug. 2, young writer posted on her Facebook account a cryptic message on “how established writers take sexual advantage of young writers” during writing workshops and how such incidents are tolerated by workshop organizers and directors to “keep the prestige of the workshop’s name.”
Three days later, the victim elaborated in her Facebook Notes post how she was sexually assaulted during the workshop. She said she reached out to the workshop organizers on the incident but her search for justice had seemingly fallen on deaf ears – and instead responded with one hand condoning sexual assaults while the other has swept it as a “private matter between two consenting adults.”
Lawyer and long-time women’s rights advocate Alnie Foja told Bulatlat that there is still no court ruling clearly defining “consent” in matters relating to rape. However, the Philippine law on rape clearly states that rape may be committed even when the victim is “deprived of reason or is unconscious.”
This, too, is further backed by a 2016 Supreme Court ruling (People of the Philippines vs. Caga) that said “physical force, threat or intimidation is not necessary” for rape to occur for the “simple reason that an unconscious and extremely intoxicated woman cannot freely and voluntarily give her consent to engaging in sexual intercourse.”
While it is not an element in the crime of rape, Foja said power relations come into play in crimes of rape as women are seen as sexual objects, which has been “tolerated by the society for the longest time.”
Assistance for rape victims
The victim noted that she decided to make her plight public because she did not find “any sort of justice from the workshop after filing the administrative complaint.” Her seeming lack of available options to help her seek justice should have never been the case.
Passed in 1998, the Republic Act No. 8505 or the Rape Victim Assistance and Protection Act stipulated that a rape crisis center should be put up in government hospital or clinics or other suitable places in every province and city. These centers are tasked to provide rape victims with psychosocial counseling, medical and health services, including medico-legal examination, among others.
These rape crisis centers were also tasked to secure legal assistance for rape victims, if necessary, and to assist them as they seek justice, from the arrest of the accused to filing charges before a court.
However, Foja noted that these centers have yet to materialize.
“There are so many rape victims who have nowhere to go. Even those in the Women’s Desk are not fully equipped on how to handle and intervene in cases of rape,” she said.
Women’s Desk, which is also stipulated in the Rape Victim Assistance and Protection Act, is a police desk dedicated to conduct investigation of rape complaints.
Gabriela Women’s Party, for its part, is set to raise the absence of these centers in the budget deliberations in a few weeks time.
What to do
Given the dire conditions that rape victims have to confront in their search for justice, Foja noted that they should begin with ensuring the safety of the victim. Physical injuries and others that need medical attention should also be treated first.
The lawyer added that it is also important to keep safe pieces of evidence such as the underwear and clothes that the victim was using during the incident, text or other messages, photos, among others, that may be used during the trial.
But most importantly, Foja stressed the importance of psycho-social counseling for rape victims. Filing charges before a court may bring trauma when she is called to testify and relive in her mind her painful experience.
Rape is rape
In a statement last week, Gabriela Women’s Party said it has filed a bill to amend the present anti-rape law, “placing in the very core its definition, the lack of consent.”
“No matter where or how sexual assault happens, the victim is never at fault or to blame. This culture in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused should not be tolerated,” said Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas.