The terrible vulnerability of female children is constantly illustrated by radio/TV news reports on rape, and the recent revelation of Assumption College president Carmen “Pinky” Valdes of having been thus violated when she was 6 years old trains the spotlight more urgently on the alarming incidence of the crime.
The circumstances are so commonplace as to become almost a pattern.
Last October, a 5-year-old girl in Zambales was rescued from her father who had reportedly been molesting her.
Last June, a father in Masbate was charged with repeatedly raping his daughters aged 5, 10, 13 and 15; two of them were reported to be pregnant.
Just last month, a 40-year-old man in Lanao del Sur was arrested for allegedly raping his 16-year-old deaf-mute daughter.
And these are just some of the grim incidents that have made it from the dark into the light of day.
In 2016, the Department of Social Welfare and Development reported more than 2,000 cases of child abuse in the first quarter; more than one-fourth of these cases were sexual in nature.
According to the first ever National Baseline Study on Violence Against Children (NBS-VAC) released in 2016 by the Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC), one in five children below 18 has experienced sexual violence while growing up.
Yet these statistics and news reports do not fully capture the actual incidents happening on the ground.
What about those sexual crimes that have been kept under the radar because the children had no access to any form of assistance?
Or worse, because they were afraid, not only of their attackers but also of the stigma brought by having been raped or otherwise sexually molested?
As highlighted by Valdes’ case, the abuse cuts across classes; as shown by numerous cases in radio/TV reports, the perpetrator is almost always a male relative: father, uncle, cousin, even a close friend or neighbor of the family.
This is consistent with the findings of NBS-VAC that the common perpetrators of sexual violence are brothers or cousins.
Even among young male victims of sexual violence, the frequent perpetrators are cousins, fathers and brothers, the NBS-VAC report said.
In short, most of the victims knew their attackers, and were the weaker side of the power equation. Chances are the victims were afraid that speaking up about the rape would isolate them from their basic social support group — their family.
It took six decades before Valdes could tell her family about the abuse. As an educator, she is advocating that schools help students overcome their trauma by including dealing with abuse and violence in certain subjects. She believes that such actions would help overcome the social taboos that perpetuate the culture of silence.
There are many mechanisms in place to prevent child rape in this country. There are enough laws protecting children from the crime: Republic Act No. 7610 (Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act), RA 7877 (Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995) and RA 9262 (Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act of 2004), among others.
There are also enough government agencies tasked to come up with policy and program responses to child maltreatment: the Committee for the Special Protection of Children based at the Department of Justice, and barangay community councils, aside from the DSWD and the CWC.
There are also nongovernment organizations like the Preda (People’s Recovery, Empowerment and Development Assistance) Foundation that saves children from sexual abusers.
Why then does child rape prevail, and at apparently increasing levels?
It is evident that a radical change is urgently needed in the way children, particularly female children, are viewed by society at large — that is, mainly as chattel, as commodities.
It is equally obvious that rape and other forms of sexual violence are not funny, even if it’s the President cracking the “joke.”
It is not enough to be shocked momentarily until one becomes inured to reports of child rape.
Just as there is a growing movement worldwide among women who have been sexually abused by men of power and privilege, there should be a similar movement to shame and punish those who prey on children.
It should not be the victims, whether still in their youth or now advanced in years, who should bear the stigma and endure the pain.
Which PH institutions are holding fast?