There have been 45 child rape cases in recent months, involving 43 girls and two boys as victims, according to a GMA-7 newscast Monday night.
I did an Internet search on local reports and found grim statistics from the Philippine National Police: 4,234 reported child rape incidents in 2013, up from 3,355 in 2012.
As I searched the Internet, “child rape” yielded far fewer results than “bata ginahasa,” suggesting that it is Filipino tabloids, and newscasts, that tend to report these cases, keeping the problem out of sight for upper-class Filipinos.
The cases are horrifying, involving even infants. The perpetrators are often stepfathers or family members, but there are also cases involving strangers. A few weeks back there was one case where street CCTV cameras caught a man abducting an infant sleeping with her parents on the street. The infant was found later, dead and a victim of sexual abuse.
Children as property
I had intended to publicly thank De La Salle University for its Scholarum award, which was given for a column I wrote last January, “Child rights and WCST.” There had been much publicity about WCST, or webcam child sex tourism, following a disturbing exposé by Terre des Hommes Netherlands of a global child porn network, with the Philippines figuring prominently, on parents literally selling their children to perform, live, on the Internet for pedophile viewers.
My column went beyond the exposé to ask why the Philippines has been a haven for pedophiles, dating back to the 1970s with child prostitution in Ermita, the entire town of Pagsanjan where parents allowed young sons to have sugar daddies in exchange for houses and other perks, and now, this Web-based sex tourism.
It’s often argued that poverty drives child prostitution and WCST. I’d argue there’s much more involved; it’s the way our culture looks at young children. We see them as chattel, without any rights. They are expected to obey our every command and, in the case of child labor, to help support the family financially, even if it means selling their bodies.
The spate of child rape cases made me decide to do a whole column as a sequel to that January column. It’s time we thought hard about whether we have a Lolita complex creeping into our national culture, making it easier for adult males to victimize young girls.
Let me explain this Lolita complex.
In 1955, the Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov wrote a novel titled “Lolita.” The novel opens with a description of an adult’s attraction to a 9-year-old girl, “4 feet 10 in socks.” The novel stirred controversy, yet it was made into movies (the first one was Stanley Kubrick’s “Lolita,” made in 1962) and plays, perhaps in part because it had dared to probe into an underside of many people’s psyche.
In 1965, American Russell Trainer wrote a book, “The Lolita Complex,” expanding on Nabokov’s novel. It was translated into Japanese and led to the Japanese coining the word “lolicon” (or “roricon”) to describe sexual attraction to young girls. The Japanese manga comic book industry picked up on this, creating an entire genre that is still popular today, where young girls are depicted in cartoons, and later, in hentai (pornographic animé) as sexual objects.
“Lolita” has now entered the vocabularies of several languages to refer to a young girl who looks seductive or precocious.
In Japan, “lolicon” has become almost a national obsession, even leading to mainstream “Lolita fashion” where adult women will dress up like schoolgirls. There is even a version now called “shotacon,” with young boys as the object in manga and hentai, although with a twist here because the following is mainly of women, and not of gay men.
Last June, Japan outlawed the possession of child porn but exempted manga and animé, lawmakers bowing to lobbying from comic book manufacturers that there had been no proof that the “lolicon” cartoons were harmful.
It is not just in Japan where the Lolita complex becomes legitimized. Last year, the French Senate banned beauty contests for minors, defined as those below the age of 16. Such contests originated in the United States and has caught on as well in the United Kingdom. In these contests, very young girls dress up like adults, complete with makeup and “sexy” outfits, including bikinis, sashaying down the ramp and performing to vie for titles and prizes, including scholarships.
I see some signs of a “lolicon” in the Philippines. There are all kinds of noontime talent contests where young girls (and occasionally boys) are made to sing and dance, with a premium placed on how “sexy” they can be. It all looks like innocent fun, but remember the furor a few years ago where a young boy broke down crying as he was made to perform macho dancing.
I see a creeping “lolicon,” too, in the way young girls are made to dress up in outfits with bare midriffs, platform shoes, or even heels. I’m no prude and would normally have no problem with clothes that are sometimes described as “kita na ang bituka (so skimpy you can see the intestines),” but I worry about, besides the sexual aspects, the practicality of these fashions. The platform shoes and heels are definitely problematic, making the young girls more prone to falls and sprains, and some of the body-hugging clothes they wear are just not made for the rough-and-tumble world of children.
Children would be more comfortable, and safer, if they just wear loose jeans and a T-shirt, but I’ve actually been told by other parents that they don’t want their daughters becoming “tomboys” by wearing such apparel.
We sexualize girls, making them feel they have to be like all those starlets on TV and in the movies. In a sense, each foray into the mall becomes almost like a beauty contest, with young girls imitating adults with swaying hips.
The American Psychological Association notes that “girls sexualized early will tend to gather their self-worth as an adult based on their appearance.” Ask around, especially in urban poor areas, and you will find young girls’ ambitions to become an artista. Ask them to name which artista they want to emulate, and you’ll get the names of the sexy ones.
Certainly, the problems of child rape and sexual abuse do not just involve the Lolita complex, “lolicon” itself being embedded in broader power relationships, adults over children, males over females. I also hope the broadcast media can be more introspective when reporting child rape cases, wondering if perhaps we’re seeing a serial effect from all the sensationalism around these crimes.
Let’s be conscious about how our blind spots in culture may increase the children’s vulnerability, and let’s work harder to let our children enjoy childhood.
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