June 09, 2016
Busting Myths on Sexual Abuse: Who's to Blame?

There is a need to shift the blame, advocates say, away from the victim. To do this, Filipino society must bust the many gender-based myths on sexual abuse.

by Fritzie Rodriguez
Issues // Gender and Sexuality
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Rape is the 3rd most reported case of Violence Against Women (VAW) in the Philippines from 2004 to 2013, the Philippine Commission on Women reported. In 2014 alone, over 7,000 cases were recorded by the Philippine National Police (PNP), while many others may have gone unreported.

Survivors of rape and other forms of abuse may experience discrimination, even while seeking help or justice. Instead of support, their stories are sometimes met with doubts and taunts.

Such stigma roots from misinformation.

There is a need to shift the blame, advocates say, away from the victim. To do this, Filipino society must bust the many gender-based myths on sexual abuse:

Myth: It's the girl's fault for getting drunk




The most important thing to remember is consent. If you engage in sexual activitiy with someone without getting their consent, then you are violating that person's rights. If a woman was drugged, drunk, or unconscious, then she cannot give consent.

Under Philippine law, rape is committed if there is "force or intimidation," or "when the woman is deprived of reason or otherwise unconscious."

A common modus is spiking drinks during parties, observed Prescilla Tulipat of the University of the Philippines' Gender Office. Such drugs could distort the victim's memory, hence straining the ability to recollect what had happened.

A person who feels she or he was violated while intoxicated may seek legal action. Aside from getting a medico legal examination, their testimony could be used in court.

At the same time, perpetrators should not blame their crime on alcohol or drugs. Rape is rape; it is never justified.

While Tulipat advises both women and men to be careful when drinking, looking down on women who go out, drink, or party does not help eliminate violence. This only reinforces stereotypes dictating how "proper" women should act. 
     
Myth: It's not rape if you are married, dating, or in a relationship

Just because you are a couple, it doesn't mean you are entitled to sex. No means no.

In 2014, a man from Cagayan de Oro was found guilty of marital rape. This landmark case stressed that consent always matters even between couples, either married or not.

Among married Filipino women aged 15-49, 5% reported being "physically forced" to have sex with their husbands, the 2013 National Demographic and Health Survey revealed.

"Kung mahal mo, ibigay mo. Nasa culture natin 'yan (If you love them, give it to them. That's in our culture)." observed Tulipat, who reminds the youth to respect their partners, and more importantly, themselves. 
     
Myth: It's the girl's fault for going out alone or late at night

Not everyone has 9-to-5 jobs; some work night shifts, forcing them to commute at wee hours. Aside from work and school, women also stay out late for various reasons.

Why are we putting the burden on women? Ideally, everyone should be able to travel safely, especially in their own country. Philippine reality, however, proves otherwise.

Instead of blaming women, advocates say authorities must focus on enabling safer environments. Do not dictate what women can and cannot do, but educate men on what they should not do to women.

It's also important to note that abuse is not only done by strangers, but could also be committed by acquaintances, friends, and even relatives. It could happen within homes.

Myth: It's the girl's fault for wearing skimpy outfits

Although this myth has been busted over and over by women's rights advocates, with some help from the media, many Filipinos – men and women alike – still believe this.

Clothes do not cause rape. Men rape. Many Filipinos, unfortunately, base respect on clothing.

This myth justifies the crime by placing the blame on women. In a way, it also insults men by implying that all men are incapable of self-control.
     
Myth: If the crime happened a long time ago, how come the victim only reported it now? She must be lying.

Not all victims file a complaint right away for various reasons. Many delay reporting, in fear of discrimination: Who will believe me? What if no one believes me? What if he comes after me?

Authorities – including health workers, police officers, social workers – should treat survivors with respect. Some care providers tend to "re-victimize" survivors by doubting them or blaming them for what happened.

"It takes time to process everything. It takes courage," said Tulipat, "That's why there shouldn't be an expiry," referring to the 20-year prescriptive period under Philippine laws.

While the PNP encourages victims to break their silence, counselors like Tulipat also reminds the friends and families of survivors of abuse to refrain from exerting too much pressure.

"You can listen and advise, but support whatever action they decide to take," Tulipat added, "Don't force them to file a case. When they're ready, they will come to you again."

If the person is not ready to file a formal complaint, she may seek counseling from non-governmental organizations.

Myth: Only certain types of women become victims

Anyone can be assaulted, regardless of looks, age, class, sexual orientation, race, and other factors. Both women and men can be victims, as well as perpetrators. There is no single profile for both parties.

Some would even joke that only "attractive" women get raped, or that homosexual women and men "deserve" it. These comments are not only false and insensitive, but also trivialize the crime. 

This story was first published in Rappler.com, a Manila-based social news network where stories inspire community engagement and digitally fuelled actions for social change.