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At Large
Experiences of sexual harassment

By Rina Jimenez-David
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:52:00 05/31/2008

Filed Under: Crime, Law & Justice

THIS PAST MONTH OR SO WHILE I WAS ON leave, I had been grappling with the issue of sexual harassment from both a personal and ?professional? standpoint.

Personal because a young relative of mine had found herself embroiled in a sexual harassment case as a complainant. And ?professional? because two other cases came my way about the same time as my relative and her family were grappling with her case. One was by way of text messages and phone calls from one victim who wanted to know what she could do against a perpetrator who worked with her in a foreign diplomatic office. While the other was through a phone call from Margie, mother of actor William Martinez, who wanted to know how she could get the support of a women?s group because William?s daughter had just filed a case of sexual harassment against the actor Baron Geisler.

I?ll discuss Patricia Martinez?s case first because that has received a fair amount of publicity. Patricia has gone public with her story about her unpleasant encounter with a drunk Geisler at a bar and through her lawyer filed a case of ?lascivious behavior? against the actor. ?Lascivious behavior? is a fairly low-level crime in our penal code and this is what Patricia?s lawyer had to resort to because the present anti-sexual harassment law does not apply in this case, there being no ?superior/subordinate? workplace relationship between Patricia and Geisler.

But that does not diminish the impact of Geisler?s behavior on Patricia, nor does it excuse Geisler from facing the criminal, civil and moral implications of his behavior.

I for one find it strange that Geisler?s home network has not seen fit to discipline or censure the actor in any way since the accusation was made. Apparently, the network bosses, including its new woman president, accept his explanation that not only was he drunk at the time he made passes and made a lewd suggestion to the young woman, but that he had just come from an acting workshop where he was play-acting the role of a rapist. This is absurd and stupid, and for the public and the network to accept it as a plausible excuse is scandalous. If every actor who portrays a rapist feels justified to act out his role in real life, then we would have had a slew of complaints by now against, say, Rez Cortez, who is the ?favorite? rapist of many actresses, apparently because he knows how to acquit himself in his role without hurting or offending his co-stars.

If Geisler is so vulnerable an actor he needs to act out his workshop assignments on hapless young women, then the network should perhaps refrain from employing him, as he?s a danger to his co-workers and to ?friends? he parties with.

* * *

THE OTHER young woman has already filed a case against the foreigner who sexually harassed her, but is facing harassment of a different sort from the lawyers of the accused. They have warned her against releasing her affidavit, which is a public document and is hers to do with as she pleases.

As with most other victims, this young woman?s chief concern is protecting her privacy while pursuing the case. The legal and administrative system grinds exceeding slow, and Filipino lawyers are particularly adept at delaying procedures until everyone involved, especially the victim, just gives up in frustration.

Another question bedeviling the young woman is what, exactly, our local laws can do against a foreigner who enjoys some sort of diplomatic status. I?m no lawyer and I advised her to seek legal advice, but I wonder what the foreigner?s (and the complainant?s) employer is doing in the meantime. Has it bothered to investigate the young woman?s complaint at all? Is it not concerned that the foreigner?s behavior could affect its image and reputation, since it?s engaged in promoting good relations between its country and the Philippines? The accuser has done her part and filed a case, but there are other ways to pursue the ends of justice, and an employer should not be seen as tolerating, much less encouraging, abusive behavior from anyone, diplomatic personnel or not.

* * *

AS for my relative, her case has reached a stalemate. The accused, a senior official of a broadcast network affiliate, has reportedly resigned after receiving notice that a formal complaint of sexual harassment had been filed against him.

The network reportedly claims that it can do nothing at this point, since the man is no longer an employee. There has been no hearing as yet, and whatever investigation was conducted was cursory at best. Has the case, indeed, been resolved by the man?s resignation?

In the first place, what prevents the network?s big bosses, who apparently have been friends with the man since way back, from re-hiring him, say, a few months or a year from now? And will they institute measures to protect other women employees from predators like him? Many of these victims have kept silent for fear of losing their jobs.

After a small blind item appeared in this space about the case, a senior official of the network called me and reassured me that they would pursue all the legal avenues to investigate and resolve the case. I took him at his word and waited for developments. I now feel duped and used.

But that is nothing compared to what my relative must be feeling. At the very least, she says, she wants not just the harasser but also all her other superiors to acknowledge that a wrong was done to her. She wants her feelings of violation and betrayal recognized and validated. She wants the company, for whom she had worked for a year relishing the creative challenges and the trust put upon her, to say: You were a valuable employee and we?re sorry this had to happen to you.

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